Macron Zeroes In on Le Pen’s Putin Link as Campaign Steps Up
(Bloomberg) -- French President Emmanuel Macron ramped up his campaign for a second term, with his allies zeroing in on rival candidate Marine Le Pen’s links to Russia’s Vladimir Putin.
As the second round of campaigning began on Monday ahead of a final vote in two weeks’ time, Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said voters have a choice between an “ally of Vladimir Putin” and a president who had put France at the forefront of Europe.
“Another battle is commencing with two visions of France,” he told RTL radio on Monday. He said a Le Pen victory would see France turn its back on its European Union partners and leave working people poorer.
The nationalist leader finished 4.7 percentage points behind Macron in the first round of the French election on Sunday and the two will face each other in a runoff vote on April 24. While polls give 44-year-old president an advantage heading into the final phase of the campaign, Le Pen has been gaining momentum and she’s already added more than 10 points to her showing in the 2017 election.
Macron and his allies are dialing up the rhetoric at the start of a potentially volatile sprint to stop Le Pen, 53, from taking control of Europe’s second-largest economy in the middle of Putin’s war against Ukraine. Le Pen has dropped her calls for France to leave the euro but has opposed Macron’s plans for more EU integration and his efforts to make France more attractive to investors.
A Le Pen victory in France would be a shock for the EU to compare with Donald Trump’s U.S. election win of 2016. French 10-year yields held near a seven-year high seen last week, when investors were spooked by polls showing a narrower lead for Macron over Le Pen.
“A Macron victory would be welcomed by the markets as markets would price in diminishing political uncertainty and continued business-friendly administration,” Lale Akoner, a senior market strategist at BNY Mellon Investment Management said in an email. “In contrast a Le Pen victory would mean heightened political uncertainty and instability which would lead to broad market sell-off.”
So far, Le Pen’s past connections to Putin haven’t had an impact on the election. She secured a loan for her party from a Russian company in 2014 and visited the Russian president in Moscow in 2017 -- photos of the encounter re-surfaced recently. Le Pen distanced herself from Putin after his invasion of Ukraine but some people close to her have continued to express sympathy. For his part, Macron has been speaking to Putin regularly to try to end the crisis, and rivals have accused him of being naive in his interactions with the Russian leader.
Throughout his presidency, Macron has struggled to shift perceptions that he is arrogant and aloof, which helped Le Pen to frame him as “the president of the rich.”
A big task for Macron heading into the second round will be to convince more young people and lower-income workers to back him. A survey of the first found vote by Ipsos-Sopra Steria for public broadcasters showed Le Pen got more votes on Sunday night than Macron in every age category apart from those over 60. Macron was ahead among white-collar workers and the retired, but Le Pen took around twice as much of the blue-collar vote.
Macron plans to campaign in northern France on Monday, in an effort to claw back voters in a region he lost to Le Pen.
Macron has reordered French politics. The country’s traditional parties of the right and left have imploded since he emerged at the head of his own movement in 2017. The Republican got 4.8% on Sunday while the Socialist had just 1.8%.
With support for radical politics increasing during his five years in office, another far-right candidate, Eric Zemmour, claimed 7.1% of the vote and endorsed Le Pen’s candidacy on Sunday. Far-left candidate, Jean-Luc Melenchon got 22%.
Melenchon’s voters may play a crucial role in the final phase of the campaign -- while Melenchon himself urged them not to back Le Pen, he did not endorse Macron. The Socialist, Communist and Green candidates -- who tallied a combined total 8.7% -- called on their supporters to vote for Macron.
Le Pen’s protectionist stance on economic issues has allowed her to reach some voters who have traditionally backed left-wing candidates and have been angered by Macron’s support for business and investment.
“The game isn’t over yet,” Macron told his supporters in a short speech on Sunday night. “The debate we‘ll have in the next two weeks will be decisive for our country and for Europe.”
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