Spezet, FRANCE – French far-right leader Marine Le Pen, who has narrowed the gap with Emmanuel Macron in opinion polls ahead of the presidential election on April 10, enough to rattle financial markets, sought on Tuesday, April 5, to further detoxify her image.
Macron, meanwhile, went on a walkabout in a small town in northwestern France, shaking hands, hugging people and beaming to crowds shouting “Macron President!” as he seeks to revive a lackluster campaign which he started much later than his rival.
Le Pen, whom Macron easily beat with two-thirds of the vote five years ago, has got so close that who will win in a likely run-off on April 24 is now within the margin of error, one opinion poll showed on Monday, April 4.
Since her resounding 2017 defeat, Le Pen has patiently worked on softening her image, striving to appear as a potential leader rather than a radical anti-system opponent.
Polls show this has worked on a growing number of voters, with a survey saying the once vilified candidate has become the second most-liked politician in the country, something long thought impossible in France.
“I always try to have the most reasonable view possible, and one that defends the interest of France,” Le Pen said in an interview with France Inter radio, spelling out her views on topics ranging from foreign policy to climate change.
But France’s benchmark CAC-40 index abruptly lost ground on Tuesday, with traders citing election nerves, while the spread between French and German 10-year government bonds stood at its widest in two years.
“Markets woke up on Le Pen,” said Jerome Legras, head of research at Axiom Alternative Investments.
Le Pen has continued to improve on her pre-first round polling, at 23% vs Macron’s 27%, a poll by OpinionWay and Kéa Partners for the Les Echos daily and Radio Classique showed.
The poll also showed 59% of those surveyed expected Macron to win a second mandate – which opinion polls all still point to as the most likely scenario.
After people in Macron’s own camp worried over his late campaign start and with Le Pen’s ratings boosted by months of canvassing small constituencies, the president spent hours talking with voters in the Brittany town of Spezet’s main square, taking selfies amid cheers and a handful of boos.
“You can count on me…on my determination. I will, in the coming days and weeks seek out, one by one, the confidence of our compatriots, to (have the mandate to continue) to act in the years to come for our country, for Europe,” he said.
Macron focused a half-hour speech, squeezed between two walkabouts, on how crucial Europe was for France – and criticized, without naming her, Le Pen’s lingering euroscepticism, stressing his own experience as a statesman.
“Projects that turn their backs on Europe are harmful and deadly…for our future,” he said, concluding with a resounding: “Vive la France, et vive l’Europe!”
While she has ditched plans to leave the euro or the EU, which had put off many voters from backing her in past elections, Le Pen has kept a eurosceptic stance, with plans to hollow out the EU by giving preeminence to French law, and replace the bloc with a “European Alliance of Nations.”
Le Pen started her campaign early, with mostly small-scale meetings in little towns, at a time when voters say they want candidates to be close to them.
“I have been campaigning seriously, I’ve been in the field for six months…others chose not to campaign, including the president of the Republic,” Le Pen said on France Inter.
Macron only threw his hat in the ring at the beginning of March and has had few campaign events.
Le Pen, who has taken great pains over recent months to stress her love of cats more than her anti-immigration views, has not changed the core of her far-right party’s program.
She would end a number of welfare benefits for foreigners, stop family reunification, give preference to the French for jobs and social housing, ban the hijab in public spaces and kick unemployed foreigners out of France.
She defended those views on Tuesday.
“Being French should give you more rights than being a foreigner,” she said.
But this is not what she has focused on in a campaign pegged on purchasing power, which has struck a chord with many voters.
The candidacy of Eric Zemmour, who is even further to the right than Le Pen, and very outspoken about his inflammatory anti-immigrant ideas, has helped Le Pen by contrast to soften her image and appear more palatable to voters. – Rappler.com