IF THERE IS a city which should be a natural habitat for Emmanuel Macron and his centrist party, it is Paris. Cradle of the country’s liberal elite, as well as eco-types of self-service bicycles that applauded the President’s commitment to “make our planet even more beautiful”, the French capital is a world away from roundabouts of the anti-Macron yellow vests. In the second round of the 2017 presidential election, 90% of the city’s voters supported Mr. Macron. However, thanks to internal rivalries and mismanagement, his party is currently hashing the race for mayor of Paris.
The capital, along with all the other municipalities, will go to the polls for two ballots on March 15 and 22. In order to dislodge Anne Hidalgo, the socialist mayor of Paris in office, the party of Mr. Macron, La République en Marche (LREM), is, in fact, not with one candidate, but with two. The first, Benjamin Griveaux, is the official candidate. The other, Cédric Villani, failed to obtain the party’s nomination but insisted on staying in the race anyway.
Mr. Griveaux and Mr. Villani are both LREM deputies, elected for the first time in 2017. Mr. Griveaux is one of the original “Macron boys”: a co-founder of En Marche, the party that Mr. Macron launched to win the presidency, and a initiate of the campaign which was propelled directly to the government. Mr. Villani is an award-winning mathematician, known for his three-piece suit and spider pins, who has published research articles on subjects such as kinetic collision theory. It was sort of a coup for En Marche to have incited him to run for parliament.
Last July, when the LREM the nomination committee chose Mr. Griveaux as the official candidate, but Mr. Villani refused to withdraw. The selection process was flawed, he said; he also defended his right to “freedom”. The result was to divide the LREM vote. Polls now suggest that Mr. Griveaux could rank third in the first ballot, behind Ms. Hidalgo and Rachida Dati, the center-right Republican candidate, with Mr. Villani in fifth place. A vote in the second round would then keep Ms. Hidalgo at work.
Efforts are underway to try to negotiate a peace and persuade Mr. Villani to give up. Macron even summoned him to the Elysee Palace, but Villani emerged to declare that he had “a major difference” with the president. On January 29, after numerous internal intrusions, LREM decided to expel Mr. Villani from the party. Disappointing for the president, he says he will continue his campaign as an independent.
Other realignments are possible, notably that around the Greens candidate, David Belliard. Making Paris greener is the only idea on which all the candidates agree. For his part, Mr. Griveaux says that his “door remains open”, in case Mr. Villani changes his mind on the race. But time is running out. History teaches that the presidents of France, like its Bourbon kings, often find it difficult to impose their will on Paris, a turbulent city which does not have the kindness to take decisions imposed from above. ■
This article appeared in the Europe section of the print edition under the title “How not to do it”