Macron and Le Pen Spar, Anticipating French Election Runoff

  • Senators from UDI party endorse Macron’s presidential bid
  • National Front leader loses ground after ‘chaos’ accusation

With more than three weeks still to go before the first round of voting, Marine Le Pen and Emmanuel Macron are already campaigning like they were the only candidates left in the race to become France’s next president.

With most recent polls suggesting anti-euro Le Pen and the centrist Macron are more than five points ahead of their nearest challenger for the two slots in the May 7 runoff, the front-runners traded barbs over the weekend as the other candidates faded into the background. Macron called Le Pen a “a liar” over a pledge to eliminate immigration, while the nationalist portrayed her rival as a puppet of the French elite. On Europe 1 radio on Monday, she said he’s soft on migration.

“I am free, free to fight for you,” Le Pen told several thousand supporters at a rally in the northern city of Lille on Sunday. “I have no media to thank, no big boss to pay back, no bank, no insurance company, no pharmaceutical company to repay.”

Le Pen and Macron have been running neck-and-neck in polls for the first ballot since the Republican Francois Fillon’s campaign was upturned at the start of the month when prosecutors moved to press graft charges against him. They both have about quarter of the vote while Fillon is struggling to reach 20 percent.

“We’ve entered the initial phase of the second-round for Emanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen,” said Philippe Moreau Chevrolet, a communications consultant and professor at Sciences Po in Paris. “Macron is doing it because he wants to drive home the idea that he’ll be the one in the second round and that a useful vote is a vote for him. Le Pen is doing it because she wants to face Macron, who she’ll paint as defender of globalization while she’s the one offering protection to the people.”

Macron returns from a three-day trip to French territories in the Indian Ocean to pit his pro-European platform against Le Pen’s plans to see the bloc “die.” Both will speak Tuesday to the Medef business group on their economic plans and at the farmers’ congress in Brittany.

Campaigning in the overseas department of Mayotte Sunday, he said Le Pen “lied” when she claimed she can stop illegal immigration to the Pacific island and its neighbor Reunion while capping immigration to France at 10,000 people a year. Surveys project that Macron would beat Le Pen by about 20 points in the runoff.

Taking Aim

The 39-year-old is increasingly taking aim at the National Front political heiress. He opened fire on March 20 national televised debate calling her a “trivia junky.” The former economy minister often said in the past months on the campaign trail that he would seek to block Le Pen’s access power and her plan to exit the euro currency.

Le Pen has tried to reassure voters that any exit from the euro would only come after a national debate and after the election in Germany slated for Sept. 24.

“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.”

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.


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.

“I note the polls but believe me, once there is a proper debate, people won’t be in favor,” Le Pen said Monday on Europe1 radio. “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.”

Meanwhile, the pro-Europe candidate Macron chalked up more support from established public figures Sunday with the endorsement of 10 senators, including three from the center-right UDI party.

“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’s promising reforms that can advance the country and “they are achievable because they share the efforts fairly, among everyone.”

— With assistance by Mark Deen

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