Melenchon Softens Attacks on Euro as French Race Tightens

  • Communist-backed candidate uses holograms to reach cities
  • Surveys show vast majority of French voters want to keep euro

Communist-backed Jean-Luc Melenchon is toning down his anti-euro rhetoric as his chances rise of reaching the runoff in France’s presidential election.

“Don’t believe what they tell you: ‘He wants to get out of Europe, of the euro,”’ Melenchon, 65, told a meeting in Dijon on Tuesday, simultaneously appearing as a hologram in six other locations, including the distant island of Reunion. “Come on, let’s get serious.”

Jean-Luc Melenchon

Photographer: Christophe Morin/Bloomberg

Only days before the first round of voting on April 23, the fan of Cuba’s Fidel Castro and former Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez is closing in on the election front-runners, sowing concern among investors.

Melenchon’s support has almost doubled in the past month to reach 19 percent in the Bloomberg Composite of polls for the first round. Centrist Emmanuel Macron leads at 23.5 percent with the far-right National Front’s Marine Le Pen at 22.5 percent and Republican Francois Fillon at 19.5 percent. The top two go through to the runoff on May 7.

Still, Melenchon and Le Pen’s attacks against the euro and the European Union are seen as a brake on their potential support. About 72 percent of voters want France to keep the euro, according to an Ifop poll published in Le Figaro newspaper last month.

In his program, Melenchon explains what he calls Plan A as “a joint exit from European treaties by abandoning existing rules for all countries which desire it and the negotiation of other rules.” If such negotiations fail, Plan B involves “the unilateral exit from European treaties by France to propose other forms of cooperation.”

‘A Very Nice Guy’

The candidate repeated his threat to pull out of the euro in an April 2 interview with the Journal du Dimanche, saying that France should only stick with the currency if the rest of the union accepts his demands such as revoking the independence of the European Central Bank.

Melenchon said at his Tuesday rallies that he was “sure” that he would manage to negotiate changes to European treaties. Other European countries, he added, “are not our enemies but neither are they our masters, they are our partners and in a partnership you discuss problems to resolve them.”

Melenchon’s rivals have attacked him on his Europe plans. “Jean-Luc Melenchon -- he’s a very nice guy but his promises are impossible to deliver and his program would be a disaster for France,” Macron said on April 9. “He’s for the destruction of the European Union, the Europe that protects us.”

Le Pen stuck to her criticism of the single currency on Wednesday, saying it was better to negotiate an exit from the euro before a potential crisis hit. “The euro will die,” Le Pen said on BFM television. “We must together negotiate a return to national moneys to avoid chaos.”

With her long-time lead erased in the final weeks of the campaign, even Le Pen has wavered over just how sure she would be to break up the currency union.

Le Pen, who refused to have an EU flag on display during the interview, also denounced the bloc: “I consider that the EU tramples on our sovereignty, undermines our economy, and prevents us from protecting ourselves.”

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