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Macron’s Europe minister Beaune risks losing job in faltering election campaign

PARIS — Clément Beaune has gambled his job as France’s Europe minister. And he might lose. One of President Emmanuel Macron’s closest advisers, Beaune is among three freshly appointed ministers whose prospect of a parliamentary seat, as well as their current ministerial portfolio, are under threat in the parliamentary vote Sunday.

Hoping to galvanize voters ahead of the runoff, 40-year-old Beaune enlisted former Prime Minister Edouard Philippe to add star power to his show at a campaign event Wednesday. With the hairy arm of the center-right political heavyweight around him at a cafe in the midst of cheering supporters, fresh-faced Beaune aims to close the gap with Caroline Mécary, a lawyer and LGBTQ activist, who came out ahead in the first round of France’s parliamentary election in Paris’s 7th constituency. She beat Beaune by 2,600 votes in the first round.

A seasoned TV polemicist and rookie politician, 59-year-old Mécary is running under Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s new left-wing coalition Nupes in an expensive, hipster enclave known not only for being a cradle of activism, but also for a strong current of identity politics that runs through it.

Beaune will, as per convention since the Sarkozy era, lose his job as a government minister if he doesn’t flip the tables on Mécary in the second round. Looking at the results tally, the center-left Beaune now sees a chunk of several thousand right-wing voters as key to victory.

Clément Beaune joined by Edouard Philippe in the 12th arrondissement of Paris on June 15, 2022 | Peter O’Brien/POLITICO

He can more or less depend on the ballots of the 2,370 people who voted for the traditional right-wing Les Républicains candidate, and there will be those on the left who see Nupes as too extreme. But things can change quickly in a constituency that is a hotbed of activism, and tends to vote left. Success is by no means a given.

Where’s the fun factor?

On a street not far from Beaune’s campaign event, 31-year-old Nadège, adorned with glitter, is flicking through a Telegram channel dedicated to organizing local support for Mécary. She says she “wouldn’t necessarily have voted for one of Mélenchon’s candidates two weeks ago,” but was swept up when she met some of Mécary’s supporters in a bar. “It was fun, the people were young. I related to this wave of enthusiasm and this desire to change things.”

It’s the kind of thing you heard about Macron when he surged to power five years ago. The thoughts shared at the cafe by Macron’s former prime minister, however, betrayed a sense of doom.

Mélenchon’s desire to disobey EU rules would, Philippe said, “inevitably bring about the end of this amazing collective [European] adventure.”

Insisting he remained positive, Beaune followed much the same line. While denying there was a “dynamic favoring Jean-Luc Mélenchon,” he nevertheless said that his constituency, as well as others, were “in danger” from “candidates who have said extremely radical things and mimic the constantly aggressive methods of [Mélenchon’s party] France Unbowed.”

Such was the perceived threat from radical, aggressive Mélenchon supporters that journalists weren’t given information on where Beaune would be handing out flyers later in the day.

Left-wing voter François sniffed out a certain shift in approach, saying “I don’t like Clément Beaune. He was very friendly with everyone before the first round, and now he’s saying we’re the same as the far right.”

He didn’t need to do this

After the presidential election in April, Beaune told Pauline de Saint Rémy, of Paris Playbook fame, that it was suggested he run for one of France’s 11 constituencies abroad, most of which are safe wins for Macronist candidates. But no, he wanted a challenge, he indicated with a hint of pride. Running for a foreign constituency “would’ve been like being appointed [instead of being elected],” he said, adding that Macron “values staffers who climb the ranks, but also those who take risks.” A career civil servant, this is Beaune’s first election race.

On reflection, did he underestimate the risk? “No,” he says, “I wanted to represent the city that I’ve lived in for 40 years, in a neighborhood I know very well. Edouard Philippe always has the guts to stand for election in Le Havre, even when it’s difficult. I wanted to represent Paris because it’s my city.”

Identity politics à la française

As much as France likes to dismiss identity politics as being incompatible with its republican, universalist values, LGBTQ credentials carry significant weight in the 7th constituency, which contains part of the Marais, the traditional home of the city’s gay community.

An election poster in Paris’ 7th voting constituency | Peter O’Brien/POLITICO

It’s no coincidence that Beaune, Mécary and Pacôme Rupin, the previous MP, are all gay. Beaune made a notable coming-out in 2020, and attempted to visit an “LGBT-free zone” in Poland, though that trip was ultimately thwarted. Mécary, however, appears to have a stronger track record on social issues, having campaigned for LGBTQ rights for decades.

Beaune hopes there are enough voters that recognize his work as Macron’s main man in Europe since 2020, or at least want to make sure Macron gets a majority in parliament, which is far from certain. Voting for Mélenchon’s candidates would bring France a step closer to “giving birth to a baby Frexit, swaddled in pretty clothes,” Beaune said.

If he loses on Sunday, it will be Beaune himself making a dramatic exit.

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