Macron called 'brave' by MEP over handling of UK fishing dispute
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The French President has been embroiled in a post-Brexit fishing row with the UK in recent weeks. France had demanded greater access to British waters for its fishermen under the trade deal struck between the UK and the EU. After the UK refused to grant permits to some French vessels, Mr Macron vowed to respond with sanctions. However, the French leader changed tack at the COP26 climate change summit last week as he dropped the threats against the UK and said “talks need to continue”.
The political events of the next five months may take on extra significance for Mr Macron ahead of the French presidential election in April.
Although he has not officially announced his bid for a second term in office, the incumbent Mr Macron is widely seen as the favourite for the presidency.
However, the French leader has been warned by Dr Paul Smith, an expert in French politics, that he will not win the election by being “unpleasant” towards the British.
The Associate Professor in French History and Politics at the University of Nottingham spoke to Express.co.uk.
He said: “None of the French presidential candidates will win the election on the basis of being pleasant or unpleasant towards the British.
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“The French electorate actually don’t care very much about Britain – why would they? – any more than the British electorate care about the French.
“It’s very rare that anybody wins an election on the basis of foreign policy.
“The last person who won an election on the basis of foreign policy was probably Margaret Thatcher in 1983 when she used the Falklands factor to go for an early election.”
As well as Brexit, Mr Macron has also taken aim at the UK during the pandemic in relation to COVID-19 vaccines.
In January the French President questioned the reliability of the jabs developed by British-Swedish pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca and Oxford University, claiming they are “quasi-ineffective for people over 65”.
He has also been accused of pushing for EU export controls on shipments of vaccine doses produced in Europe that were destined for the UK.
Dr Smith said Mr Macron is likely to use France’s vaccination rollout and his response to the pandemic, including the use of COVID-19 immunity passports, in his election campaign.
He said: “This idea that when they started the vaccination programme, they talked a lot in France about how successful the rollout was in Britain, and you can’t dispute that.
“But there was always going to come a point where everybody else caught up.
“He won’t necessarily look at the figures in Britain, Macron, but he will say ‘look, the COVID passport thing hasn’t been popular, but people have done it.
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“‘The vaccination program wasn’t popular but actually people have got themselves vaccinated’.
“And we’re now in a position where today they’re talking about the possibility of relaxing restrictions quite considerably in some parts of France.
“He will use the recovery from the pandemic, as part of – it won’t be all – but it will be part of his strategy.”
Mr Macron’s main rival is the far-right candidate Marine Le Pen of the Rassemblement National.
The politician, who takes a hard line on immigration, was defeated by Mr Macron at the 2017 election.
Also hoping to unseat Mr Macron is the EU’s former chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier, who announced his presidential bid in August.
Although he once hailed the principles of the bloc, the former EU man has surprised observers with some of his Eurosceptic language.
He has called for France to reclaim its “legal sovereignty” from the European judicial systems and has proposed a moratorium on immigration.
One of the other notable frontrunners for the presidency – although he is yet to announce his candidacy – is Eric Zemmour.
The controversial former columnist is known for his tough stance on immigration and has previously been convicted of provoking racial discrimination and provoking hatred towards Muslims.
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