Saturday, March 2

Macron heads polls but Ukraine overshadows the debate

The first round of the French Presidential Election 2022 takes place on Sunday 10 April.

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With the first round of voting in France’s presidential election less than two weeks away, the political debate is heavily influenced by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Far-right political leaders have suffered a setback in opinion polls for their links to Russia’s President Vladimir Putin while incumbent Emmanuel Macron has been criticized for being absent from the political campaign as he tries to deal with the geopolitical crisis on the continent. And, above all, the war in Ukraine has pushed up energy and food prices across Europe — fueling concerns also in France about the cost of living.

“This campaign is strange but special in a way,” Clement Beaune, France’s minister for European affairs and supporter of Macron told CNBC’s Charlotte Reed.

He added that when Macron was elected for the first time in 2017, people did not know him or his platform. “Now the French people know him. People know what his DNA from him is about,” he said, explaining why the president has not been campaigning as much as five years ago.

At the same time, he added, “people would not expect him or like him to be absent, to be absorbed by rallies, campaigning himself so basically he needs to be president.”

Macron is the European leader who speaks with Russia’s President Vladimir Putin the most and has tried to act as a bridge between Moscow and Kyiv and attempts to reach a ceasefire.

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Opinion polls predict that Macron will receive 28% of the public’s support in the first round of voting, due to take place on April 10. This is followed by anti-immigrant party leader Marine Le Pen at 19% and by the far-left political veteran Jean-Luc Melenchon at 14%, according to Poll of Polls.

The same polls suggested prior to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on February 24 that Macron was going to win the first round with 25% and Le Pen would come second with 17% of the votes. The European security crisis that ensued pushed public support for Macron to 30% before coming down to the current 28%.

“Emmanuel Macron maintains a clear lead over his challengers. However, the initial boost in support for him after Putin started his invasion of Ukraine has largely worn off,” Holger Schmieding, chief economist at Berenberg, said in a note Monday.

Nonetheless, the expectation for now is that Macron will be re-elected after a second round of voting on April 24.

“Although the pandemic has slowed down his reform momentum temporarily and contributed to a significant shift away from fiscal consolidation, we maintain our long-held call that France is heading for a golden decade of faster trend growth,” Schmieding also said, based on the economic reforms that Macron has put forward both as economy minister and then as president of France.

For the far-right, the tables have turned in the wake of the invasion. Eric Zemmour, a new face in French political scene, dropped 4 percentage points in opinion polls and is now seen to be outside of the top three candidates in the first round.

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Zemmour has said that Ukrainian refugees with links to France should receive visas, but defended different rules for asylum seekers based on their religion. Prior to becoming a candidate, Zemmour also said that he would like a “French Putin“to lead the nation.

Marine Le Pen, running for a third time in France’s presidential vote, has regained some political support for her comments on the cost of living and her more moderate comments on the European Union, but she also faced an initial embarrassment in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Her anti-immigrant party not only received funds from Russian banks, back in 2014, but she also printed a number of campaign flyers with a photo of herself and President Putin — which have now reportedly been binned.

“The (European) skepticism is not the same as it was five years ago,” Beaune told CNBC in comparison with the 2017 election.

The deep reality is that people want Europe to survive, especially now against a backdrop war, he added.

Macron is once again campaigning on a pro-European platform and has used the war in Ukraine to get backing from other European leaders for some of his long-term policy aims, notably a more independent security policy for the bloc.

88% of French voters said they are worried about the situation in Ukraine in a poll shared by Ifop Monday. However, only 40% of respondents said that this would likely influence their vote in the first round of the French election.

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