Le Pen Tries to Reassure on Euro Exit as Macron Gains

  • Ten senators endorse Macron citing unity, fairness of reforms
  • National Front leader loses ground after ‘chaos’ accusation

Le Pen Pledges Careful Steps to Appease Voters

French presidential candidate Marine Le Pen tried to reassure voters that any exit from the euro would only come after a national debate, as she and fellow front-runner Emmanuel Macron stepped up attacks on each other.

Withdrawing from Europe’s single currency is both the 48-year-old candidate’s most distinctive proposal and her most difficult sell. While she has firmly held the support of about a quarter of the French electorate for months -- enough to qualify for the second-round runoff on May 7 -- Le Pen has also struggled to expand beyond that base as she needs to do to win a majority of votes in that contest.

Marine Le Pen on March 26.

Photographer: Christophe Morin/Bloomberg

Multiple surveys indicate that a large majority of the population wants France to stay in the club of 19 nations that have replaced their national tender with the euro. About 72 percent of voters want France to remain in the single currency, according to an Ifop poll published in Le Figaro newspaper Saturday.

“We have to listen to the people, but we also have to warn them, to give them the keys to understand why unemployment is massive, why austerity policies are everywhere,” Le Pen said Monday on Europe1 radio. “I note the the polls but believe me, once there is a proper debate, people won’t be in favor. There has never been a debate about the euro in France, because if you criticize it you are accused of blasphemy; some are attached to it in an almost religious way.”

In the first of three televised debates between presidential candidates last week, Republican Francois Fillon accused Le Pen of ushering in “economic chaos” with her plan to drop the euro.

‘Final Step’

“I don’t want chaos, it needs to be done carefully,” the National Front candidate said of euro exit in Le Parisien newspaper Sunday. Reinstating border controls and stopping factory jobs from moving abroad will be her priorities if she wins power, she said, and “the euro will be the final step because I want to wait for the result of the German election.” Germany’s vote is slated for Sept. 24.

In the week since the debate, independent candidate Macron has pulled ahead of Le Pen in first-round voting intention polls by Ifop, Elabe and BVA, and a run-off between the two is looking ever more likely as other candidates fade away. OpinionWay estimates that Le Pen retains a one-point lead, though like other pollsters it predicts that Macron would defeat her in the runoff ballot two weeks later.

With four weeks to go until the first-round vote, Bloomberg’s composite of French polls gives Macron 26 percent of the vote in the first round, compared with 25 percent for Le Pen and 17.5 percent for Fillon.

Campaigning in the overseas department of Mayotte Sunday, 39-year-old Macron said Le Pen “lied to you” when she claimed she can stop illegal immigration to the Pacific island and its neighbor Reunion. Back in Paris, the pro-Europe candidate chalked up more support from established public figures with the endorsement of 10 senators, including three from the center right UDI party, as well as Michel Mercier, justice minister under former President Nicolas Sarkozy and then-Prime Minister Fillon.

“It’s because he wants to unite instead of oppose and create a new discussion between the French and their elected officials that we wish him success,” they wrote in an editorial for Le Journal du Dimanche. He is promising reforms that can advance the country and “they are achievable because they they share the efforts fairly among st everyone.”

Fillon Travails

Fillon, struggling in third place in the election, lashed out again over the weekend at President Francois Hollande in relation to his own legal battles. After accusing the Socialist president on Thursday of manipulating the country’s courts in a covert operation to destroy his candidacy, the Republican candidate said Saturday that the head of state has also probably listening in on his telephone conversations, Le Figaro reported.

Having started the year as the front-runner, Fillon’s campaign was derailed in mid January
by almost weekly revelations in the newspaper Le Canard Enchainé and other media about his finances.

On Thursday night, he accused Hollande of orchestrating those leaks and said the president himself should be investigated. Noting that documents seized by investigators in his office at the National Assembly appeared in the press 48 hours later, Fillon said only the highest authority could have allowed the information to get out.

The French president fired back within the hour, releasing a statement excoriating Fillon for making “false allegations” and “provoking unbearable trouble” for the presidential campaign.

Either way, Fillon’s legal travails aren’t about to go away. His wife is due to meet with judges by Tuesday in a hearing that normally leads to charges. Fillon himself has already been charged with misuse of public funds. He has repeatedly said that he and his spouse are innocent.

And Socialist candidate Benoit Hamon said Sunday night in a television interview that he’s been “stabbed in the back” by members of his party who have endorsed Macron, and called on leftist voters to back him. He’s languishing in fifth place in the polls.

— With assistance by Carol Matlack

(Corrects affiliation of senators in ninth paragraph.)
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