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It has been an excruciating decision for Mr Bayrou: the mayor of Pau has spent decades cultivating the centreground, coming close to qualifying for the presidential runoff in 2007 (but Segolene Royal made it to the second round against Nicolas Sarkozy). Read more

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In Clermont-Ferrand on Tuesday, a reporter asked Manuel Valls how he felt about former economy minister Emmanuel Macron filling a 2,000-seat venue in the same town three days earlier (500 other fans were refused entry because it was just too packed). Predictably, Mr Valls, who not so long ago was Mr Macron’s boss, did not take it well. Read more

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Message to the world: No, French pollsters are not to blame for failing to predict the stunning outcome of the French rightwing primary last Sunday. Read more

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First, Emmanuel Macron, the young economic adviser the French president promoted as economy minister in 2014, is to confirm his presidential bid, whether or not his mentor decides to seek re-election next year. Read more

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Normally, only 20 sign up for presidential visits.For the embattled socialist leader, who is seeking to restore his shattered popularity before (probably) seeking reelection next year, the northern French port was a photo opportunity he had managed to avoid – choosing to expose his interior minister Bernard Cazeneuve instead. The “Jungle” – a shantytown in the fringe of Calais where 9,000 migrants from Africa and the Middle East live in squalor in the daytime and risk their lives to reach the UK at night – has become the symbol of the failure of France and the EU to deal with the largest migration to affect the continent since the second world war. Read more

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Francois Hollande’s rentrée speech yesterday was first and foremost a feel-good exercise. For an hour, the French socialist president, whom nearly 90 per cent of the French do not want to see running for a second term next year, was surrounded by true friends – zero risk of betrayal à la Emmanuel Macron. Read more

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Manuel Valls’ dark prediction after attacks in Paris in November, that more lives would be lost as France grapples to contain the most severe terror threat since the Algerian independence war, materialised in Nice on Bastille Day.

But being right about innocent people dying is not a winning political strategy for any government.

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What if ‘Brexit’ – an outcome dreaded in Paris and European capitals – was a gift in disguise? The thought crystallised in François Hollande’s mind on Saturday, when he sat with Marine Le Pen, the leader of the National Front party, at the Elysée Palace. The French president hosted the full spectrum of French politicians to assess Britain’s Brexit vote. All eyes though were on Ms Le Pen, who had been sporting a victorious smile since the UK result.

The far-right leader quickly reiterated her wish to hold an EU referendum herself. “What would be the question?” the president asked her, according to a person who attended the meeting. In or out, she replied. “Out of the EU or the eurozone?” Of the EU, she confirmed – of the eurozone, the Schengen passport free zone, and all the rest. Ms Le Pen’s position has changed – in the 2012 presidential race she focused on scrapping the single currency. Like kindred spirits on the right of Dutch and Danish politics, she has been emboldened by the UK referendum, and become more radical.

For Mr Hollande, who despite record levels of unpopularity is contemplating reelection, it makes sense. Ms Le Pen’s core battle is immigration and she can blame the EU for a refugee influx. By putting the EU at the heart of the campaign, she also seeks to revive the eclectic 2005 coalition that voted down the EU constitution.

But it is a risky strategy. Read more

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A select group of foreign media were ushered to the Matignon palace on Wednesday evening for a reassurance session with Manuel Valls, the French prime minister battling union opposition after ramming a jobs bill through parliament without a vote.

The goal? Try and fix the fast deteriorating image of France abroad after a week of messy protests. Do not draw the cliched conclusion that France is a chaotic and unreformable country, he pleaded, even if the country’s largest union – headed by thegrumpy-looking, mustachioed Philippe Martinez – threatens to disrupt transport and fuel supplies during the Euro 2016 football championship. “Tell your readers: ‘Come by plane. Come by car. Come by train’,” Mr Valls urged.

It was also an attempt by the 53-year old to quash mounting suspicion in Brussels and Berlin — perhaps rising as fast as the Seine levels after a week of unusually heavy rains — that the much-awaited jobs reform may not be one after all. “The CGT knows my determination,” Mr Valls insisted. “I won’t change a thing.” What Mr Valls really meant was that he would refuse to touch article 2 of the reform, a key provision stipulating that companies’ deals with their unions and employees on overtime would supersede sectoral collective bargaining.

There were personal political motives too: to reclaim his place as reformer and taboo breaker of the French left, which the iconoclastic, younger and more popular Emmanuel Macron now seems to occupy. Since being appointed by François Hollande in 2014, Mr Valls has had to be loyal and defend whatever the deeply unpopular president initiated — including the controversial and failed attempt to change the constitution to strip Frenchterrorists of their citizenship. As a result, Mr Valls’ popular backing has sunk to levels almost as low as the president’s abysmal approval ratings.

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