"Nothing is impossible" in France today with almost equal chances for Macron and Le Pen

Just a month ago, the aftermath of the war in Ukraine seemed clear: French President Emmanuel Macron would remain in power.

Do citizens usually re-elect their leaders when security is at stake, when their country and, in this case, their continent are at a turning point, the consequences of which are likely to reverberate for decades?

Forty-six days after the start of the war, nothing seems certain, while the risk of victory for his main opponent, the far-right (and increasingly left-wing) Marin Le Pen in the first round, seems real, and the scenario of the latter cannot be completely ruled out.

As Macron himself said, “Nothing is impossible.” The answer to the above question may be “no”.

At the beginning of March, Le Pen was ten percentage points behind. On Friday, one poll, by Elab, gave the president 26 percent, compared to 25 percent for Le Pen. The third is the far-left Jean-Luc Melanchon with 17.5, fourth – the former contender for the runoff Eric Zemour with 8.5, in fifth place was the conservative Valerie Pecresse. Paris Mayor Ani Hidalgo can take just 2%. Another poll, by Harris Interactive, showed a similar result, but with a difference of three points (27% for Macron and 24 for Le Pen). From Ipsos to IFOP, all other polls show the same thing: the distance between the two has narrowed to just a few points. In the sum of Politico polls, the difference is three.

Even if the next runoff (and there will be a second-round because no one takes more than 50% of the vote) is in Macron’s favor, as the same polls show so far, a turnaround like Le Pen’s victory in the first round would be enough to shake the European political scene. With a statistical error of one or two percent, as reported by the agencies, Le Pen could hope for such a reversal.

The question is whether, in the second round on April 24, when the two remain, the other political forces and the dropped candidates will bet on the still radical Le Pen, or call on voters to give another chance to the former investment banker who shook the political scene five years ago.

Uncertainty about what will happen today is only exacerbated by the expected lower-than-usual turnout: abstentions could reach 30%.

With voting starting at 8 am local time (9 am Bulgarian time) in mainland France (and much earlier – in some overseas territories), a cycle begins that will continue until the parliamentary elections on 12 and 19 May – important for both to be president if he wants to successfully push through his agenda. In the last partial vote, the parties of both Le Pen and Macron were defeated.

The stakes are global, the decision is French

What will happen today and in the run-off on April 24 in France is important for the whole of Europe and beyond. The European Union’s second economy is also the country with the largest and strongest army in the bloc since Britain left. Its leader is trying to establish himself as the leader of Europe after the resignation of Angela Merkel as Chancellor of Germany. France is also the only nuclear power in the EU, the bloc’s only permanent member of the UN Security Council, and the only one with a veto.

The United States will also be watching closely: Macron and US leader Joe Biden have built a good relationship despite a dispute last year when the United States and Britain partnered with Australia in the Pacific behind France, thwarting a deal to deliver French submarines to Canberra. tens of billions of euros. The vote is also important for the Middle East and Africa, where France still has interests because of its colonial past.

However, the choice of how France will change Europe and the world is up to the French themselves. It does not depend on the candidates’ foreign policy vision for the next five years. For them, economics is expected to be more important than geopolitics: 58% of respondents in a representative Ipsos survey say that their purchasing power is most important (a trend that has been growing since the introduction of the euro). It is followed by healthcare (27%), then the environment (25%).

Along with the coronavirus pandemic, and the energy crisis it has spilled over, and with the war in Ukraine, inflation has reached decades-long records, and food prices have risen. The French healthcare system was under strong pressure because of COVID-19. At the same time, the economy fared much better than expected after the pandemic: gross domestic product grew by 7% in 2021, and unemployment was 7.4% in the last quarter of the same year, the lowest value since 2008. However, radical forces managed to channel the dissatisfaction of millions of low-income French people and the feeling of collapsing living standards for years.

Macron: Putin’s frustrated interlocutor

Macron had just over a month to campaign; others started much earlier. The war in Ukraine has changed Europe’s agenda, and the president has relied heavily on it to try to engage with Russian President Vladimir Putin in finding a solution before Russia invades its southwestern neighbor. Moreover, a few years after shaking the world with the words that NATO is in a “brain death”, the head of state became part of the conversation, which breathed new life into him. The president is the only one of 12 candidates to strongly support France’s place in the defense union. During his time, defense spending increased by 7 billion euros a year (a double-digit rate).

Macron has been criticized – including by Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki – for his communication with Putin. However, he replied that he was a far-right anti-Semite who oppressed the LGBT community. Warsaw later called the French ambassador for talks.

I take full responsibility for speaking to the President of Russia on behalf of France. I have never been naive, unlike others. I have never been an accomplice, unlike others.

The head of state angered some voters with his plans to raise the retirement age to 65, and the remuneration of teachers to depend on what they do at work (but did not come up with the ideas of Nicolas Sarkozy, who wanted to abolish the 35-hour workweek – something, which is now proposed by his opponent Valerie Pecres).

Other plans include a “nuclear renaissance”, 30 billion euros in investments in high-tech industries, and steps to return some protectionist policies (such as Le Pen’s), such as buying more French products from the state.

Le Pen: the mother who no longer hates the EU

The far-right camp has different tactics from the middle of the last decade – sharp criticism of the European Union, but not Frexit: only more sovereignty, less EU. Part of the electorate approves the stimuli for the economy, the mass vaccination, possible due to the collective European efforts, is considered successful in the fight against the pandemic.

The re-election of Victor Orb├ín in Hungary drew attention to Le Pen, his ally and leader of the National Assembly. Her victory – at a time when, according to Susie Denison of the European Council on Foreign Relations, nearly a third of French people are ready to vote for the far-right and a total of 50% for extremist candidates – could create something like an axis in Europe: Orban, Le Pen, Polish President Andrzej Duda (Dnevnik interview with Denison on other European topics read here).

Le Pen seemed vulnerable to the war: Putin publicly backed it in previous elections. The national sum repays a loan to a Russian bank.

However, her political acumen helped her get out of the scandal unscathed. He still speaks against immigration, but against the uncontrolled (as against the public covering of the head with hijab or niqab) and much more – “for” a generous housing, labor, and social policy, for several years, talking about her personal life as a mother who she manages on her own and who also takes care of her cats.

The working class has proved to be a key electorate of Le Pen, who has turned left into the economy: he seeks the possibility of government intervention to set prices, offer subsidies to troubled sectors and create a sovereign fund for investment in strategic industries.

An analysis of its pre-election economic platform shows that at least two-thirds of it is left-wing policies. There has been no such share in the party’s platform since the mid-1980s.

Zemur: The “useful idiot” who fell behind

The issue of migration and French cultural identity also remains on the agenda, but Macron has managed to defuse tensions over time by tightening the tone and tightening migration rules, limiting the rise of the far-right on this very topic.

Yet on the right, migration has found a place in the debate in recent months – including over identity issues. The summary of these topics at the end of last year could be presented by a name that did not belong to Le Pen, but Eric Zemour. In the autumn, he briefly got a chance to face Macron in the runoff, even without officially running for president. This publicist and commentator managed to attract the French, who were disappointed by the softening of Le Pen’s messages – those who did not recognize her as far-right enough.

However, Zemur made a mistake: he attacked Ukrainian refugees (as they are in European public discourse, while those fleeing conflicts in the Middle East and Africa are migrants) and could not distinguish himself from Russia. “I would say that (Zemur’s) campaign was destroyed by Ukraine,” Le Monde, an election specialist at the Le Monde, told the BBC.

Le Pen adapted quickly: she managed to take a more moderate position despite ties with Putin and accepted the need for France to accept Ukrainians. In contrast, according to Paris, Zemur proved to be a “useful fool” who ceased to be acceptable (unlike Le Pen) to the traditional right.

Melanchon: the opponent on the left, still capable of surprise

Before Zemur – but after Le Pen – there is still the far-left Jean-Luc Melashnon, known for his pro-Russian views, including the war in Ukraine. He ran in both 2012 and 2017. He spoke of a new strategy, the fight against capitalism, and the end of the significant presidential powers introduced by Charles de Gaulle, to introduce a proportional electoral system, to remove the extraordinary powers to pass laws without here in parliament.

This is the man who can still bring surprise and turn the campaign around. He managed to find support among the “Yellow Vests” – Macron’s most famous opponents, although he was careful with them so as not to repel moderate voters. At a time when the campaign of the other candidates on the left is not going well, he is trying to attract votes from both the Socialists and the Greens.

His generous social program also includes raising the minimum wage to 1,400 euros a month from 1,269 now, limiting the pay gap between CEOs and other company employees to a ratio of 1 to 20. He wants to offer permanent employment to 800 people in the public sector who are on temporary contracts. Melenchon wants a sharp rise in taxes (and the introduction of progressive corporate), probably in violation of the constitution, and wants all inherited amounts over 12 million euros to be confiscated.

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