By Sylvie Corbet | Associated Press
PARIS — French President Emmanuel Macron said Monday he wants to “convince” a broad spectrum of French voters to support his centrist vision, launching a two-week battle against far-right challenger Marine Le Pen ahead of the presidential runoff.
Le Pen, meanwhile, is ready for the fight and plans to highlight rising energy and food prices, which have hit poorer households particularly hard lately as Macron has focused his efforts on finding diplomatic solutions to the war in Ukraine.
The two candidates prevailed in the first round of Sunday’s presidential election, setting up a repeat of their 2017 duel on April 24. Macron beat Le Pen in the presidential runoff five years ago, but all opinion polls show the leader of the National Rally is much closer to a possible win this time around.
The outcome of the French election will have major international impact as Europe struggles to contain the chaos wrought by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Macron has strongly supported European Union sanctions against Russia, while Le Pen has worried about their impact on French living standards. Macron is also a staunch supporter of NATO and close cooperation between the 27 EU members.
Macron traveled Monday to an economically depressed area of northern France where a majority of voters had opted for Le Pen, near their voting stronghold of Henin-Beaumont.
“I am here and I am determined to fight,” the 44-year-old president said during his visit to the city of Denain, adding that he had heard the concerns of people who are struggling to find jobs and earn more money to earn .
“You need to be reassured,” he said.
For her part, Le Pen met with National Rally officials to plan a strategy for the runoff. Later on Monday, Le Pen was due to visit a grain producer in the Burgundy region to discuss rising prices and “strong, urgent decisions to protect the purchasing power of the French”. The issue has been the focus of her campaign this year, but Macron’s team argues that the economic impact of the war in Ukraine leaves Le Pen without the financial resources to fulfill her campaign promises.
Macron said he wanted to court those who voted for the “extremes” or chose to stay at home. He met with Denain residents, many of whom have criticized his proposed pension changes, which include raising the minimum retirement age from 62 to 65.
Denain Mayor Anne-Lise Dufour-Tonini told reporters she will vote for Macron “without hesitation” in the second round but intends to press him to accept more “left-wing proposals.”
Many of the ten presidential candidates who lost in the first round on Sunday encouraged voters to choose Macron in the second round, including Conservative candidate Valérie Pécresse and the Greens and Socialists candidates. Pécresse warned of “the chaos that would follow” if Le Pen were elected. Leftist candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon, who finished third in Sunday’s vote, urged voters not to vote for Le Pen, implicitly hinting that staying at home could be an option.
Le Pen was supported by the other far-right candidate, former TV pundit Eric Zemmour.
In her third attempt to become France’s first female president, Le Pen was rewarded on Sunday for her years of effort to portray herself as less extreme. Macron doesn’t believe it, however, accusing Le Pen of promoting a dangerous manifesto of racist, cutthroat politics. Le Pen wants to take back some rights for Muslims, ban them from wearing headscarves in public and drastically reduce immigration from outside Europe.
Macron and Le Pen will debate on national television next week.
“Our focus now is on the project and the values,” said Senator Francois Patriat, a member of Macron’s party.
Le Pen’s camp, meanwhile, hopes to capitalize on anger at Macron over policies seen as favoring the wealthy.
“Now anything is possible,” Aurélien Lopez Liguori, a Le Pen party councilor in the southern city of Sete, told The Associated Press, adding that compared to 2017, Macron “now has a record, a bad record.”
French Minister for European Affairs Clément Beaune told the AP that “Le Pen proposed – must remember – five years ago to leave the euro, to break Europe, when Brexit and Frexit were the trend”.
Le Pen has dropped previous threats to pull France out of the EU and abandon the single euro currency if there is an election, but some of her proposals, including setting up national border controls, run counter to EU rules.
After counting all the first round votes on Monday, Macron had 27.8% support, Le Pen 23.1% and Melenchon third with almost 22%.
The euro rose on Monday, trading 0.27% higher at $1.09, indicating investors’ relief that Macron came out on top in the first round.
John Leicester and Elaine Ganley in Paris contributed to this.
https://www.mercurynews.com/2022/04/11/macron-le-pen-kick-off-runoff-campaigns-in-france/ Macron and Le Pen launch runoff campaigns in France