– I think we need change. We must return to the down-to-earth and the simple, says champagne farmer Damien Cez to TV 2.
Damien shows us around among his vines in the heart of the Champagne district of France. Slaughtered green-brown landscape and vines as far as you can see. Small villages are lined up. It smells like wet soil in the mild winter cold.
He loves to make champagne, but is less happy with how his home country France has developed in recent years.
Damien is 49 years old and separated. He lives in a village with around 1500 inhabitants. He is not a big champagne producer, and works mostly alone on the farm. In high season he hires some help. Most of the production for making champagne is still done by hand in the “old way”.
Always voted right
Damien has always voted for the right, except in his very first election: when Jean Marie Le Pen, the father of the current presidential candidate, Marine Le Pen, shocked France by coming to the crucial round of elections in 2002.
In just over two months, there will be presidential elections in France again.
French voters flock to the right. Nearly a third of voters say they will vote for a candidate on the far right.
There are candidates with a national conservative and right-wing populist policy, with a clear message against, among other things, immigration and Islam. TV presenter and provocateur Eric Zemmour (63) has drawn voters by claiming that France is already in a state of civil war, a battle between civilizations. He has been convicted several times for hate speech against immigrants.
Zemmour and Marine Le Pen (53) are fighting over many of the same voters. Le Pen appeals more to working-class voters, while Zemmour’s voters more often come from the middle class.
Not vaccinated and against bureaucracy
Damien eagerly shows TV 2 around the farm and explains the process of making champagne.
We go down to the basement where we find the bottles, which are eventually filled with golden bubbles, around 36,000 bottles a year. These bottles must be turned in the rack where they stand, every single day. Damien shows us with quick movements how it happens.
CHAMPAGNE: In the middle of the district of the same name as the golden drink, Damien Cez runs a winery. The production of champagne takes place mostly without machines, but by hand, as in earlier times.
– How many bottles have you turned in your life?
– Many more than I have drunk, that’s for sure, laughs Damien.
Damien thinks there will be too much bureaucracy and too many demands with the green shift. He believes that the fight against climate change is happening too fast.
He has not been vaccinated against corona, but emphasizes that he is not a vaccine opponent. He only believes that it is not necessary to be vaccinated against covid-19. Besides, he has had a corona and it went just fine.
– The recent time with the corona … Excuse me, but I think the restriction of personal freedom is exaggerated. Some people understand that, but I have a hard time doing it, he says.
During the pandemic, he believes that the authorities have over-controlled the people, and is concerned about what will happen to people’s freedom in the future. He says that people have now had enough, and wants change after almost five years with Macron.
– We must not be afraid of the people from the far right. We have to give them a chance to try.
The election is usually conducted in two rounds, because no candidate tends to get more than 50 percent of the votes in the first round. Two candidates advance to the election final.
At the moment, President Emmanuel Macron (44) is best placed to go to the second round, even though he has not declared himself as a candidate. It will probably happen on March 4.
Believes Zemmour should resign
About half an hour’s drive from Damien’s farm, people have lined up one early morning. Many with large French flags. Some with flags and T-shirts that say “Marine President”.
Presidential candidate Marine Le Pen from Rassemblement National (National Assembly) has added the election campaign opening to Champagne. She wants to promote French values and way of life, and Champagne is perfect for the message.
It starts with a press breakfast, where TV 2 is not allowed to film or do interviews. It’s mostly about the fight between her and Zemmour.
ELECTION CAMPAIGN OPENING: Right-wing populist Marine Le Pen is struggling to get to the second round of the presidential election this year, even though the voters she has are very loyal. The match has hardened to out on the far right wing.
Both are against immigration, and otherwise use the election campaign for costly election promises that are about the individual’s wallet. “Purchasing power” is the issue that voters are most concerned about.
For a long time, it seemed that Le Pen would face Macron in the decisive election round. This weekend, a poll showed that Zemmour and Le Pen are equal. The traditional right-wing candidate Valerie Pecresse is right in front of the two far-right candidates, but the field is tight.
At the press breakfast, it is clear that Le Pen believes that Zemmour is doing everything to ruin her election campaign. She thinks they should rather cooperate and that he should withdraw. Le Pen believes he attracts Nazis.
She emphasizes that she has cleaned up her own party, and no longer surrounds herself with the most extreme on the right.
Eat each other
The two candidates eat each other, and maybe it ends up that neither of them gets to the second round of elections. Both are also struggling to get 500 signatures from leading politicians, who are needed to stand for election.
Le Pen has spent several years making the party more room-clean and more edible for more voters.
Winemaker Damien Cez thinks this has led to Le Pen becoming a less clear politician. She has also toned down opposition to the EU, while many of her voters are against the EU.
In recent weeks, several of the profiles in her party have dropped out and instead stood behind Zemmour. Even her own niece Marion Maréchal (32), who is predicted to be the next big leader on the far right, has left her aunt. She is now considering running for Zemmour’s party.
Does it make sense?
Damien is invited to the election campaign opening of Le Pen with his champagne. For 4 euros, around 40 kroner, people can buy a glass of champagne. Sales are going well. Some also buy a whole box of champagne for 100 euros. The mood is loose in the hours before Le Pen goes on stage.
French election rallies are somewhat similar to American political rallies, popular rallies. Lots of flags and loud music. The crowd in Reims shouts alternately “Marine Presidénte”, “Vi skal vinne” or “On est chez nous”. The latter can be translated as “It is our country”. An expression of opposition to immigration and immigrants.
From the rostrum, Le Pen promises that France will get its country back. She wants to let people decide immigration policy in a referendum.
– France will be in charge of its own immigration policy. The foreigners who come here for us to pay for their needs. We are the ones who will decide who gets to stay and who has to go out, she thunders from the podium.
She promises that all households will get 2000 kroner more to spend a month, by cutting VAT on electricity, gas and fuel.
Damien has planned to vote for Zemmour in the first round, but Le Pen in the second, if she gets there. But maybe he will change his mind, and switch to Le Pen in the first place as well.
– I will vote for change. I do not yet know on whom, but for a change. That’s for sure.