Team Macron Says French Race Far From Over as Lead IncreasesBy
Le Canard reports Fillon paid for setting up Putin meeting
Elabe projects Macron winning runoff by 28 percentage points
Emmanuel Macron’s advisers are calling for caution as their candidate strengthens his lead in the French election race and Republican rival Francois Fillon is hit by another scandal, this time reports he profited from ties to the Russian government.
Macron rose half a percentage point, to 26 percent, in an Elabe survey of first-round voting intentions in Wednesday’s edition of L’Express while Fillon dropped a half-point, to 17 percent. The nationalist Marine Le Pen also slipped half a point to 24.5 percent and would lose to Macron by 28 points in the runoff on May 7, Elabe projected.
“We must be humble -- we have 30 days to go,” Macron’s closest campaign aide Richard Ferrand said on Radio Classique. “It’s not over at all.” All the same, he targeted a victory over Le Pen in the first round on April 23 to deprive the far-right of a propaganda coup.
Macron’s team is trying to rein in expectations following his strongest polling numbers of the campaign as Fillon struggles to prevent his center-right party missing out on the runoff for the first time in its history. The Republican nominee is already facing criminal charges over his family finances and newspaper Le Canard Enchaine reported Tuesday that he earned 50,000 euros ($54,000) in 2015 arranging for a Lebanese billionaire to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The governing Socialist Party called on the Republican nominee to quit the race on Wednesday, saying the lengthening list of scandals makes his position untenable. “The relentless flow of accusations creates such noise that it prevents any calm debate on our country’s future,” the Socialists wrote in a statement on their website.
Prosecutors have also asked judges investigating Fillon’s family finances to widen a criminal probe stemming from an earlier report in Le Canard to include charges of fraud, forgery and falsification of records, according to a person familiar with the process. The satirical weekly’s drumbeat of revelations about Fillon’s financial affairs is providing the Macron campaign with evidence to back up its argument that the political class is outdated and rotten.
Macron, a 39-year-old former economy minister running in his first ever campaign, argues that he can offer a clean break from the bad old ways of doing politics.
“For too long now, politicians have lived in another reality, beyond reality, and there is some behavior that must stop now,” Eric Halphen, a former magistrate and a member of Macron’s team, said on Europe 1 radio.
Fillon aide Bruno Retailleau said in an interview on RTL radio Wednesday that the candidate’s work was “absolutely legal” and had been reviewed by officials at the National Assembly.
It’s not just the Republicans facing ethics problems though. Socialist Interior Minister Bruno Le Roux resigned from late Tuesday after reports showed he employed his two teenage daughters for several years as parliamentary assistants.
Macron meanwhile picked up the endorsement of Junior Biodiversity Minister Barbara Pompili Tuesday, the first member of the Hollande cabinet to back him and on Monday night he bolstered his position by fending off attacks from both sides in the first televised debate of the campaign.
Fillon clinched the Republicans’ nomination in November, promising a major departure from incumbent Hollande’s handling of Russia. While Hollande has backed European efforts to limit Russian meddling in Ukraine and Syria, Fillon wants to revive France’s relationship with Moscow and ease its reliance on the U.S., a throwback to the Cold War policy of Charles de Gaulle.
In Monday’s debate, Fillon said he was prepared to discuss redrawing the borders of Crimea, the Ukrainian territory that Russia annexed in March 2014, citing the right to “self-determination of people.”
Macron marked a clear difference on Russia from both Fillon and Le Pen, who has also expressed sympathy for Putin. “I will not fight for France’s independence by getting closer to Russia like you’re suggesting,” Macron told Le Pen,
Back in November, Putin said that he has a “very good” personal relationship with Fillon and that he wants to “fully restore Russian-French relations.” After the Republican primaries concluded, Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, struck a more cautious note, saying Russia doesn’t get involved in other countries’ elections.
Sees No Threat
Fillon often referred to Russia as a “great nation” in his presidential campaign and didn’t see the former Soviet Union as a threat to Europe. Staffing his campaign team with two longtime advisers -- Jean de Boishue and Igor Mitrovanov -- descended from Russians exiled after the 1917 revolution, Fillon has called on France to work with Russia, even in Syria and Ukraine.
That relationship was thrown into a harsher light on Tuesday with Le Canard’s report that Fillon’s advisory firm, 2F, was paid by Dubai-based Future Pipe Industries Group Ltd. to set up a meeting between its director, Lebanese billionaire Fouad Makhzoumi, Putin and Total SA CEO Patrick Pouyanne at an annual economic conference in St. Petersburg, Russia, in June 2015.
While photographs published by Russia’s official news agency, RIA Novosti, show Putin and Fillon meeting with Makhzoumi, Peskov denied that Fillon had played any role in organizing the meetings.
“Another fake,” he said in a text message.