Le Pen’s concern for Macron in France could raise NATO and give Putin a boost, analysts say

Campaign posters for President Emmanuel Macron of France, LREM’s center-right candidate for re-election, and Marine Le Pen, leader of the far-right National Rally (Rassemblement National), as seen in Mitry-Mory outside Paris on March 22. (Benoit Tessier / Reuters )

With everything from EU cohesion to NATO’s strength hanging in the balance, the unexpectedly strong challenge of far-right nationalist Marine Le Pen to center-right President Emmanuel Macron gives many French citizens a sense of déjà vu mixed with horror.

“The social climate in France is tense,” Mathias Bernard, political historian and president of the University of Clermont Auvergne, told Yahoo News.

In 2017, Macron won Le Pen in the presidential election and won 66% of the vote to her 34%. Since then, traditional loyalties have become more sharply divided, with the divide between cities and rural areas being exacerbated by rising energy prices. Macron and Le Pen, the winners of Sunday’s first round, which reduced the candidates from 12 to two, must now appear on April 24.

President Emmanuel Macron, wearing a sad expression, lays his hand on his heart with a foreground of tri-colored flags.

French President Emmanuel Macron on election night at his headquarters on April 10 in Paris. (Thibault Camus / AP)

Macron himself stressed the uncertainty of the moment and warned supporters last Sunday when he received over 27% of the vote that “Nothing has been decided.”

After traveling the country on a charm offensive, promising to be “the voice of the forgotten”, Le Pen received more than 23% of the votes in the first round – the highest ever for a far-right candidate – and told her fans on Sunday that she was convinced that in the last round the French would “vote for our civilization, our culture, our language.”

The far-left candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon, who received 21 percent of the vote on Sunday, called the forthcoming vote between Macron and Le Pen a “choice between two evils.” “We know who we will never vote for,” Mélenchon said, adding, “Not a single vote must go to Mrs Le Pen.”

Jean-Luc Melenchon caught on full blast, with both hands boldly gesturing.

French left-wing candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon comments on the preliminary results of the first round of the Paris presidential election on April 10 (Michel Spingler / AP)

Since the final outcome depends on the decisions of those who originally supported Mélenchon, “The outcome of the second round remains uncertain,” Bernard said, in part because Mélenchon refused to support Macron. Surveys also suggest that a third of the 47 million people who voted for him may actually back the far-right candidate, and another third may skip the last round altogether, making the election a nail-biter. An opinion poll after the election on Sunday night showed Macron with 51% support to 49% for Le Pen. Other things polls give Macron an eight-point leadbut analysts warn that the situation is changing and that the final results could be a game-changer not only for France but for the West.

“This election could potentially reshape not only France, but reshape Europe and reshape the world security order,” historian Andrew Hussey, a political essayist for the British magazine New Statesman, who has lived in Paris for two decades, told Yahoo News. The White House is equally concerned and fears that Le Pen would tear France out of NATO – or at least from the military side of the alliance.

Marine Le Pen poses with a radiant smile for a selfie taken by one of her followers, also middle-aged and with bleached blonde hair, at a campaign meeting.

French right-wing extremist leader Marine Le Pen poses for a selfie with a supporter at a campaign rally in Perpignan in southern France on April 7 (Joan Mateu Parra / AP)

Philippe Waechter, head of economic research at Ostrum Asset Management in Paris, calls the impressive turnout for Le Pen a “wake-up call” – and not just for the financial markets. He fears that a Le Pen victory will weaken the EU as a single political institution, especially in light of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. “With Le Pen as president,” he told Yahoo News, “we risk she would work more with Putin than with Europe. And in that case, Europe’s ability to be strong and be a real negotiator with Russia will disappear.”

What makes this choice more unstable and unpredictable is that French society is in a moment of increased dissatisfaction due to the rapid rise in the cost of living, which voters in a recent poll described as their No. 1 concern. The price of gasoline has risen to over $ 8 per gallon. gallon in recent weeks, electricity prices have more than tripled this winter and inflation has exceeded 7%.

President Emmanuel Macron in full swing holds a microphone at a rally while a pensive Brigitte Klinkert listens on the sidelines.

President Emmanuel Macron speaks while Brigitte Klinkert, a junior minister of economic inclusion, is on a campaign visit to Chatenois, near Strasbourg, in Alsace-Lorraine, France, on 12 April. (Johanna Geron / Reuters)

“The economy is doing quite well in terms of jobs and in terms of purchasing power,” Waechter said. Nevertheless, “people are of the opinion that inflation is high and that the government is not doing anything for poor people.” What’s more, he said, Macron apparently can not shake the notion of being a “president of the rich,” a term he earned in some circles after lowering taxes on the wealthy and reducing subsidies to citizens with low income in its time. first weeks in office.

The narrow gap between the candidates who will participate in the settlement shows how Le Pen has adapted. In fact, she beat Macron in all demographic age groups in the first round except with voters 60 years and older.

Despite reducing unemployment from 10% to 7.5% and pumping up the economy, Macron has angered those who believe he has ignored the needs of non-urban residents. Others are outraged that he has fallen short on his climate goals and that he embarked on a failed attempt at pendulum diplomacy with Putin. The invasion of Ukraine is only number 14 among the biggest concerns of French voters. In the weeks leading up to the first round of voting, Macron barely campaigned. He held only one convention in Paris. Macron has compared himself to Jupiter, the Roman equivalent of the Greek god Zeus, and as Romain Meltz, a social scientist and political scientist in Lyon, dryly commented: “He forgot to come down from Olympus.”

Emmanuel Macron raises his hands as he speaks to protesters with signs saying: Help Ukraine with weapons, and today Kyiv, tomorrow [not visible, but possibly Europe].

Emmanuel Macron speaks to women protesting Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on his first campaign trip on March 28 in Dijon, France. (Aurelien Meunier / Getty Images)

Meanwhile, Le Pen campaigned across France, holding rallies in rural cities, promising to drastically lower taxes on energy and to lower taxes on workers under 30 and lower the retirement age from 62 to 60. In contrast, Macron announced that he hopes to raise the retirement age to 65 years.

The 2017 French presidential election also put Macron, a former banker and somewhat of a political questioner at the time, up against Le Pen, a descendant of Jean-Marie Le Pen’s virulent anti-immigrant National Front. The hard-right nationalist party was so controversial that in 1976, when Marine Le Pen was 8 years old, a bomb blew up her family’s Parisian home, in an apparent assassination attempt on her father. To begin with, she followed in his footsteps, lifting him from his party in 2015 and softening some of his views after he chose to dismiss the Holocaust again as “a detail in history.” Four years ago, she changed the name of her party to the National Rally, further distancing herself from her father.

In the 2017 election, however, the contrasts were clearer. Le Pen, who had flown to Moscow weeks before to meet with Putin and led this year’s campaign with a $ 10 million loan from a Russian bank, then promised warmer ties with Russia, agreed to drop the euro, pull France out of the EU and set a moratorium on all legal immigration to France. Macron promised to forge closer ties with the EU and to tackle the country’s high unemployment.

President Vladimir Putin carries an amused smile as Marine Le Pen, perhaps 3 inches taller than he is, looks sincerely into the camera in a magnificent cabin decorated in turquoise and gilded.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, poses with Marine Le Pen in the Kremlin in Moscow in March 2017. (Mikhail Klimentyev, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

Since the last election, even Le Pen’s opponents have noticed that she has polished her image and further softened her rhetoric. She now says she wants France to join the euro, opposes splitting with the EU and has downplayed its relationship with Putin.

“Le Pen was utterly charming and charismatic,” Hussey said of a recent interview with her. Nevertheless, he added, she still hopes to drastically tighten immigration – this time by putting the matter to the vote – and promises to ban public use of the veil by Muslims. Analysts fear that, after all, she’s the same old Le Pen, just smarter.

Analysts also see this year’s tight choices as underscoring a growing tension between French city dwellers, served by an impressive mass transport system, and those in poorly connected towns and villages that are dependent on cars – and thus more vulnerable to rising petrol prices.

Marine Le Pen looks at a massive bull in a leather harness, with photographers in the background flashing her image.

Marine Le Pen has a few words for a cow at the 58th International Agricultural Fair at the Porte de Versailles Exhibition Center in Paris on March 2 (Johanna Geron / Reuters)

“The people affected by the rising cost of living are not just the poor, who now make up 15% of the population in general,” Bernard said. “There are also people who live on the outskirts of urban areas and who suffer from debt and travel costs.”

The same dynamic was evident during the Yellow West protests in 2018, when violent demonstrations over increases in diesel prices brought the country to a standstill.

Although left-wing candidates who lost in Sunday’s first round have urged supporters to block Le Pen, Bernard is not sure voters will listen.

“Emmanuel Macron is no longer the candidate for change,” he said, “but is responsible for a record condemned by many left-wing voters. Meanwhile, Le Pen has referred identity and nationalist themes to the background and instead develops social proposals: She “she no longer wants to appear as an extreme right-wing candidate; she prefers to be the purchasing power candidate, which can attract left-wing voters.”

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