Macron Seals Alliance, Le Pen Rebuffs Charges in Tight Race

  • Centerist Bayrou takes aim at Le Pen with Macron endorsement
  • French voters have exactly two months until first round vote

Independent presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron agreed to a key alliance to boost his campaign while Marine Le Pen brushed off charges against her head of cabinet in a roller-coaster French election that has exactly two months to run until the first round of voting.

The 39-year-old Macron agreed to work with Francois Bayrou, another centrist politician who would have competed on the same political space as Macron if he had run. “I am happy Bayrou can join our work,” Macron told reporters late Wednesday. “This is a turning point in the campaign and in French politics.”

Macron and Bayrou will meet Thursday afternoon, Richard Ferrand, secretary general of Macron’s political campaign, said on RMC radio. National Front leader Marine Le Pen is due to make a speech on foreign policy, while she and Republican candidate Francois Fillon will speak at a forum organized by the construction industry.

Bayrou, the 65-year-old mayor of the southern town of Pau, was a contender in the 2007 presidential election when he won 18.6 percent of the vote in the first round, narrowly missing out on making the run-off. His share of the vote slipped to 9.1 percent in 2012 and recent polls have shown only about 5 percent would back him this time.

With the 2017 race shaping up as a tight three-way contest, even that might have hurt Macron. Bayrou noted that his aim is in part to prevent Le Pen from seizing power with an anti-euro, anti-immigration agenda.

“We are in such a risky situation and for this situation we need an exceptional answer,” Bayrou said at a press conference in Paris. “Maybe for me it’s a sacrifice, but sometimes you must make a gesture that reflects the gravity of the situation.”

Market Impact

Le Pen’s prospects have driven French government bond yields higher in recent weeks and they fell back on Bayrou’s announcement. The spread between the yield on French 10-year bonds and similar German securities was at 73.1 basis points Thursday morning after having hit 80 basis points two days ago, the widest since 2012.

“Pressure is probably too high on French bonds, and the selloff has been excessive,” said Marc-Henri Thoumin, a strategist at Societe Generale SA in London.

Recent polls have all shown nationalist Le Pen leading the first round on April 23 with about 26 percent while the race for the second slot in the May 7 run-off is a dead heat between Macron and Fillon. An Elabe poll Tuesday showed a Bayrou candidacy would have drained most support from Macron.

A Harris poll released Thursday put Fillon at 21 percent and Macron at 20 percent, while BVA had Macron on 21 percent and Fillon at 19 percent. Both polls were taken before Bayrou’s announcement.

Latest Polling

Surveys show that whoever clinches the second spot in the run-off will become strong favorite to be France’s next president. Harris had Macron defeating Le Pen by 60 percent to 40 percent in a second round, with Fillon winning by a narrower 57 percent to 43 percent margin.

The race has swung back and forth. Fillon, 62, had been ahead until he was placed under investigation in late January over allegations he’d hired family members for no-show jobs. That affair thrust Macron into lead, but he in turn faltered last week when he had to apologize after saying French colonial rule in Algeria had been a “crime against humanity.”

Macron has also come under fire for failing to provide a complete and coherent set of campaign promises -- something he pledged to rectify by next week.

Bruno Cautres, a political scientist at Sciences Po institute, said on LCI television that Bayrou’s insistence on strict anti-corruption laws could lure some Fillon voters unhappy about the jobs-for-family affair. “Macron can embody the moralization of political life, which is an important issue for many voters,” he said.

Fillon supporters sought to downplay the news. “Francois Bayrou is just grabbing onto a life raft given his low score in the polls,” Francois Baroin, who was budget minister and government spokesman when Fillon was prime minister, said on Europe1.

Le Pen, meanwhile, was seeking to brush off her own legal troubles. Her head of cabinet was charged late on Wednesday for being the recipient of misappropriated funds, according to the Paris prosecutor’s office. Le Pen’s body guard, who was also interrogated, was released without being charged.

“I formally contest the facts for which we’re being charged,” Le Pen said on TF1 television Wednesday evening. “The judicial system shouldn’t be upsetting the presidential campaign.”

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