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Moroccan fans gather on the Champs Elysees in Paris to celebrate Morocco s qualification for the semifinals of the World Cup.

Benjamin Beraud / Hans Lucas via Reuters Connect

What We're Watching: Morocco plays French politics, 11th-hour EU/Hungary deal, big energy milestone

Atlas Lions vs. French far-right

When reigning champion France takes on underdog Morocco in the World Cup semifinals on Wednesday, French President Emmanuel Macron will be in the stands. And whatever happens on the pitch it’s almost certain to cause tremors for him at home. The “Rocky Balboa” success of Morocco’s “Atlas Lions” – the first Arab or African team ever to make it this far in a World Cup – has struck a chord with millions of first- and second-generation French citizens of Arab and African origin. The worry is that a small minority of those fans may riot in the streets after the match — regardless of whether Morocco wins or loses — as they did last weekend in Paris after first Morocco beat Portugal and then France defeated England in the quarterfinals. Popular far-righters like TV provocateur and former presidential frontrunner Éric Zemmour will surely seize on any unrest to advance their calls for tighter restrictions on immigration. And that will cause a problem for Macron himself, who’s under pressure from the French right to pass a new law targeting illegal immigrants.

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Annie Gugliotta

Five choices

We have lots of big elections on deck in 2022. Today we’ll preview five that will feature high international stakes and especially colorful candidates.

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Paige Fusco

The Graphic Truth: French presidential frontrunners

France's presidential election is only three months away, and it’ll be no snoozer. Although barely one-quarter of French voters back current president Emmanuel Macron, he’s heavily favored to win re-election because he’d almost certainly beat far-right hopefuls Marine Le Pen or Éric Zemmour in a runoff. But the center-right French president now faces an unexpected challenge from the old establishment right: Valerie Pécresse, the nominee of the Les Republicains party, could give Macron a run for his money if she makes it to the second round. We take a look at how the top four French presidential candidates have polled over the past six months.

The French election is getting hot

Germany has been the European center of political attention in recent months, as punk-rock god Angela Merkel exits the stage after almost two decades at the helm. But there’s another big election heating up in Europe. The French will head to the polls in just twelve weeks, and the race has started to get very interesting.

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What We're Watching: Who's running for president in France?

France’s right-leaning election. Valérie Pécresse, a minister in former president Nicolas Sarkozy’s government, won a primary on Saturday to lead France’s conservative Les Republicains party in next year’s presidential election. Pécresse is the first woman to head the party of Charles de Gaulle and Jacques Chirac, and is hoping to reinvigorate a party that’s become mostly irrelevant in French politics as anti-establishment sentiment grips the electorate. But Pécresse – a mainstream conservative – has her work cut out for her in an election where far right firebrands Marine Le Pen and Éric Zemmour are holding their own in the polls. President Emmanuel Macron is still five points ahead of Le Pen, who is currently in second place, and would reap about a quarter of the vote if the April elections were held today. But Pécresse’s entry into the race could cause some trouble for Macron. He has tried to paint himself both as a political outsider and as a middle-of-the-road liberal but he is broadly seen as a wishy-washy ideological chameleon. Macron could now be forced to veer further to the right to attract voters who might resonate with Pécresse’s tough-on-immigration and pro-business agenda, particularly amid fears that the omicron variant could force Macron to re-impose unpopular lockdowns.

What We’re Watching: Zemmour jumps in, Bong bows out, Turks get mad

Zemmour for president. After months of rising in opinion polls, far-right French polemicist Erich Zemmour has made it official: he’s running in next year’s French presidential election. Zemmour, who blames Muslims, liberals, elites, and the EU for what he sees as the decline and emasculation of France, says he is running in order to “prevent our children and our grandchildren from experiencing barbarity.” Could he win? Never say jamais these days, particularly as Zemmour has something of Donald Trump’s provocative star power and media savvy.Still, most polls show that while he could reach a second-round runoff against current President Emmanuel Macron, he would then lose decisively as moderates from across the political spectrum unite behind the incumbent. The more immediate political problem is for far-right stalwart Marine Le Pen who, in trying to broaden her appeal beyond the far right, now finds herself outflanked by the more unapologetically extreme Zemmour.

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Eric Zemmour poster pasted sticks on a wall, with the text Zemmour President, in Hautes Alpes, Briancon.

Thibaut Durand / Hans Lucas

The provocateur who is scrambling France’s election

He has been convicted of inciting racial hatred. He wants to stop immigration and force Muslims to take Christian names. He thinks women wish to be dominated by men. He says France's wartime Nazi collaborators were actually good for the Jews. His name is Éric Zemmour and he is, at the moment, the biggest sensation in French politics.

Over the past several months Zemmour, an outspoken far-right TV personality, has surged in the polls ahead of next April's presidential election. Although Zemmour hasn't formally entered the race, one recent survey placed him second only to beleaguered President Emmanuel Macron, surpassing even Marine Le Pen, stalwart of the French hard right.

So, who is this guy?

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