Zemmour Goes for the Votes, and Money, of London’s French Bankers
(Bloomberg) -- As he weighs a bid for the Elysee Palace, Eric Zemmour is doing what many presidential hopefuls have done before and beating a trail to London with its thousands of wealthy French financiers.
The City of London’s French financial community overwhelmingly backed incumbent President Emmanuel Macron in 2017, and is largely lining up behind the former Rothschild & Co corporate financier once again.
But speaking to Bloomberg News, two London-based French business executives said they were interested to meet Zemmour, and one of them expressed an interest in potentially funding his campaign, should he run in April’s election.
The 63-year-old ultra right-wing journalist turned political phenomenon hasn’t spoken much about the economy, or business, opting most often to talk about Islam and immigration which he says are destroying French society and culture from within. He has divided the support base of the more established far-right leader Marine Le Pen as well as the traditional conservative right, with both hardening their rhetoric on migrants and identity in response.
As befits the controversy generated by Zemmour, a planned talk on Friday night at the prestigious Royal Institution was cancelled at the last minute, according to his team, who said their booking had been withdrawn without reason. The Royal Institution said the private event was axed following “the normal process of due diligence.”
That decision capped a week of bad news for Zemmour. His surge in some polls to second place has stalled somewhat. And on Wednesday evening, a Paris prosecutor recommended that he be fined for incitement to racial hatred for describing unaccompanied migrant youths as “thieves, murderers and rapists” on France’s Fox-style CNews network last year. A verdict is due in January.
Olivier Pardo, Zemmour’s lawyer, said opponents were seeking to stir up a “trial by public opinion” and the charges were unfounded.
The now cancelled Royal Institution talk was just one part of a wider charm offensive by Zemmour as he promotes his latest book, “France Hasn’t Spoken Its Final Word,” and looks to build support with London-based French finance workers.
People familiar with knowledge of such events said the standard form was for candidates to host a series of lunches and dinners with would-be backers in an attempt to elicit the maximum 7,500-euro ($8,530) donations allowed under France’s electoral law.
Paid dinners are popular and often held in the environs of South Kensington, people familiar with Zemmour’s plan said. The upmarket London district is home to thousands of French nationals working in the City for investment banks and hedge funds, who are attracted by the presence of the elite Lycee Francais.
Winning over the Macron-supporting, U.K.-based French financial community will not be easy. Polling this month by Odoxa for L’Obs magazine suggested Zemmour would get between 14% and 14.5% of the vote in the first round of next year’s election compared to Macron’s 25%.
The French government has made luring banks and bankers from London to Paris a central plank of its economic policy in the wake of Britain’s withdrawal from the EU. Macron has made great play of holding events for Wall Street CEOs, including JPMorgan Chase & Co Chief Executive Officer Jamie Dimon and Goldman Sachs Group Inc boss David Solomon.
Taking a harder line on the U.K. has become a theme of the contest to replace Macron. Speaking to reporters this week, Le Pen, the far-right presidential hopeful, said France had “to raise our voice with the U.K.” amid a continuing dispute with London over licenses for French fisherman to operate in British waters.
Following the rejection from the Royal Institution, an elegant and historic building in the heart of London known for its scientific research in the 19th century, Zemmour's team had to downgrade.
They booked a conference room at a three-star hotel in a neighborhood of west London.
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