Macron and Le Pen kick off the French presidential election campaign

PARIS (AP) – French President Emmanuel Macron on Monday said he wanted to “convince” a wide range of French voters to support his centrist vision, starting a two-week battle against far-right Marine Marine Le Pen ahead for the country’s presidential election. vote.

Le Pen, meanwhile, is ready for battle, eager to highlight rising energy and food prices, which have hit poorer households particularly hard recently as Macron has focused his efforts on seeking a diplomatic solution to the war in Ukraine.

The two candidates came out on top in Sunday’s first round of the presidential election, setting up for a repeat of their duel on April 24, 2017. Macron beat Le Pen five years ago in the presidential election, but all opinion polls show that the leader of The National Rally is this time much closer to a potential victory.

The outcome of the French presidential election will have a major international impact, while Europe is struggling to curb the chaos created by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Macron has strongly supported EU sanctions against Russia, while Le Pen has worried about their impact on French living standards. Macron is also a staunch supporter of NATO and of the close cooperation between the 27 members of the EU.

Macron went to an economically depressed area in northern France on Monday, where a majority of voters had chosen Le Pen, close to her stronghold Henin-Beaumont.

“I’m here and I’m determined to fight,” the 44-year-old president said during his visit to the city of Denain, adding that he has heard the concerns of people struggling to find a job and earn more. money.

“They need to be reassured,” he said.

For her part, Le Pen met with National Rally officials to plan her outflow strategy and visited a grain producer in the Burgundy region to talk about rising prices and make “strong, urgent decisions to protect the purchasing power of the French.” The topic has been at the heart of her campaign this year, but Macron’s team claims that due to the economic consequences of the war in Ukraine, France does not have the financial means to fulfill Le Pen’s campaign promises.

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Macron said he wants to woo those who voted for the “extremes” or chose to stay home. He met with residents of Denain, many of whom criticized his proposed pension changes, which include raising the minimum retirement age from 62 to 65.

Denain’s mayor Anne-Lise Dufour-Tonini told reporters she would vote for Macron ‘without hesitation’ in the second round, but intends to push for him to adopt more “left-leaning proposals.”

Many of the 10 presidential candidates defeated in the first round on Sunday called on voters to choose Macron in the second round, including the Conservative candidate Valérie Pécresse and the Green and Socialist candidates. Pécresse warned of “the chaos that would ensue” if Le Pen was elected.

The far-left candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon, who finished third in Sunday’s vote, urged voters not to vote for Le Pen, which implicitly suggested that just staying home could also be an option.

Le Pen was backed by the second far-right candidate who was defeated, former TV expert Eric Zemmour.

On his third attempt to become France’s first female president, Le Pen was rewarded on Sunday for his years-long efforts to rename himself less extreme. Macron does not buy it, however, but accuses Le Pen of making a dangerous manifesto about racist, ruinous policies. Le Pen wants to roll back some rights for Muslims, ban them from wearing headscarves in public and drastically reduce immigration from outside Europe.

Macron and Le Pen are set to debate on national television next week.

“Our focus now is on the project and the values,” said Senator Francois Patriat, a member of Macron’s party.

Le Pen’s camp, meanwhile, hopes to exploit Macron’s anger over policies believed to favor the rich.

“Now anything is possible,” said Aurélien Lopez Liguori, a councilor for Le Pen’s party in the southern city of Sete, adding that compared to 2017, “now Macron has a record, a bad record.”

French European Affairs Minister Clément Beaune told the Associated Press that just five years ago “Le Pen proposed – do not forget – to leave the euro, to break Europe, as Brexit and Frexit were trendy.”

Le Pen has dropped previous threats to withdraw France from the EU and abandon the single euro currency if elected, but some of her proposals, including the establishment of a national border control, are in breach of EU rules.

With all first-round votes counted on Monday, Macron had 27.8% support, Le Pen captured 23.1% and Melenchon was third with close to 22%.

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John Leicester and Elaine Ganley in Paris contributed.

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Follow all AP stories about France’s presidential election at https://apnews.com/hub/french-election-2022

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