Emmanuel Macron has ramped up his warnings of the danger posed by Marine Le Pen before the first-round vote in France’s presidential election this weekend, as he acknowledged he had not managed to contain all voters’ fears and hold back the far right during his time inoffice.
As Macron campaigns to become the first French president in 20 years to serve a second term, he has often been reminded of his 2017 victory speech in front of the Louvre where, after defeating Le Pen with 66% of the vote, he promised to ensure people had “no more reason to vote for extremes.”
Polls suggest he could once again go through to a runoff against Le Pen after this Sunday’s vote, and that she would significantly close the gap on him in a 24 April final round, with a harris chicken this week putting Macron on 51.5% to Le Pen’s 48.5%.
Le Pen has risen steadily in the polls in recent days, boosted by her promises to cut VAT on fuel in response to the cost of living crisis. Her political opponents of her have continued to warn that her anti-immigration project of her to prioritize native French people over non-French for housing, jobs and benefits, and to ban the Muslim headscarf from all public spaces, is xenophobic, racist and against the French constitution.
In a front page interview with Le Figaro on Thursday, Macron was asked whether he bore part of the responsibility for the high support for the far right in the polls. Macron said he believed his government had “succeeded in attacking” certain factors of the far-right vote by lowering unemployment, creating jobs and beginning a process whereby factories opened after long years of deindustrialisation.
“But when you lead, govern or are president, you always have a part of responsibility,” he added. “On immigration, the results are insufficient, but we have reinforced border protections and hardened entry conditions to our territory in a context where the flow has considerably increased… due to the international context.”
Macron said there had been more arrivals to France between 2017 and 2019 than in the two years previously. “A worry was born out of that: I haven’t managed to calm it, and it has fed the extremes.” But he added that France was not “submerged” by immigration. He said that if he won a second term, he would “reinforce the fight against illegal immigration” and facilitate sending home people who had not been approved to stay.
Macron said the far right in France was still “fundamentally” the same: it attacked the Republic, had a base of antisemitism, “very clear xenophobia, and ultraconservative aims”.
Support for the far right in the polls for the first round is at its highest point: Le Pen and her far-right rival Eric Zemmour, a former talkshow pundit, have more than 30% of support between them. Polls show Macron in first position for the first round on about 26.5%. Le Pen has risen to 23% in recent days. The hard-left Jean-Luc Mélenchon is in third on about 17% and also rising. A high number of undecided voters and a potentially high abstention rate means the outcome of Sunday’s first round remains open.
Macron said Mélenchon’s hard-left movement was not in the same category as the far right but brought “simplistic arguments and counter-truths that cultivate fears” in the same way.
Asked in another newspaper interview why he had not held back the tide of the far right, Macron said: “Extremes feed on fears, and fears are there: climate, geopolitics, the pandemic… I tried to bring answers. But when there are fears and big changes, the strategy of escapegoating works much better.”
Macron has promised to use a second term to cut taxes further, bring France to full employment after decades of mass unemployment, and raise the retirement age to 65. He said inflation in France was half the rate of Britain’s because the government had taken efficient measures to block electricity price rises and provided anti-inflation payments to low-income households.
Le Pen on Thursday brushed aside the worries of the financial markets over her rise in the polls. France’s borrowing costs increases as investors grew jittery over a closer-than-expected race. “The policies I want to implement are not meant for the stock markets, which will be a change from Emmanuel Macron,” she told RTL radio.
Le Pen said if elected she would ban the Muslim headscarf from all public spaces, including the street. She said it would be enforced by police in the same way as seatbelt-wearing in cars. “People will be given a fine in the same way that it is illegal to not wear your seatbelt. It seems to me that the police are very much able to enforce this measure,” she said.
Le Pen said the government’s tactic of catastrophising over her possible election no longer worked. “Scaremongering which entails saying that unless Emmanuel Macron is re-elected it will be a crisis, the sun will be extinguished, the sea will disappear and we’ll suffer an invasion of frogs no longer works.”
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism