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In the French presidential campaign, shadow-boxing with Emmanuel Macron

Hello, it’s lunchtime in Paris and seven presidential candidates will hold rallies today. Far-right candidate Eric Zemmour could announce the endorsement of Marion Maréchal-Le Pen, his arch-rival Marine Le Pen’s niece. She is a former MP and has been at odds with her less conservative aunt for months.

What happened yesterday? Outgoing president Emmanuel Macron published his campaign video.

Why does it matter? Emmanuel Macron enjoys a commanding lead in the polls but wants his voters to remain focused. « Nothing is written, » he said in a campaign ad published on Friday on YouTube. The election of April 10 and 24 is « not at all a done deal, » he added.

The main candidates were at first complaining that the outgoing president was reluctant to enter the fray. They lamented that he was escaping a frank and uncompromising debate. They had a point as outgoing presidents running for reelection are not used to waiting that long before announcing their candidacy. They claimed that the reasons he gave for delaying his decision (the pandemic, the Ukrainian war) were actually excuses, and they blamed him for hiding in his office. Now that Emmanuel Macron is a candidate, the situation has not improved for his opponents yet.

The latest Le Monde poll shows that the invasion of Ukraine has become, in a couple of weeks’ time, a major concern for French voters. Purchasing power is still topping the list of issues of concern (for 52% of the voters) but the consequences of the Russian war are a close second (50%), far ahead of climate change (25%), and immigration (23%). Such an international crisis plays in favor of the incumbent. While his voting intentions are up, those of his right-wing opponents are down.

This is particularly the case for Conservative Valérie Pécresse (Les Républicains) who is suffering the consequences of the rally ’round the flag effect. Emmanuel Macron enjoys a commanding lead in all age groups, especially among 70 and above (38%), a traditional stronghold for conservative candidates. The outgoing president is also in the lead among almost all socio-economic categories except blue-collar workers for whom far-right candidate Marine Le Pen (le Rassemblement National) does not give up any ground (35% compared to Macron’s 16%).

Leftist Jean-Luc Mélenchon (La France Insoumise) is the only one rising in the polls. His voting intentions have increased from 9% to 12% in one month. This is all the more remarkable since his opponents on the left have severely criticized his position on the war (he wants France to leave NATO to make its voice heard). Jean-Luc Mélenchon who describes himself as « a wise turtle » is still facing an uphill battle in the event of a second-round against Emmanuel Macron. He would be soundly defeated (67% to 33%) if the runoff was to take place today, as a majority of environmentalist Yannick Jadot and Socialist Anne Hidalgo’s voters would choose the outgoing president over him, despite a small boost from Marine le Pen voters.

As long as this rallying reflex behind the president lasts, his opponents will have a hard time being heard. Last but not the least, the number of French people satisfied with his action has steadily increased over the past two years. The outgoing president is now almost back to the level of approval of May 2017, just after his election (30%).

They pounded heavily on him after he threw his hat into the ring. Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s party mocked the letter he published in regional newspapers to announce his candidacy, saying that the president should have written an apology letter. Far-right candidate Eric Zemmour (Reconquête !) spoke as if the first round already happened. « I was waiting for you. Here you are at last: the whole of France has been waiting for our face off. It can now begin, » he said in a campaign ad published on YouTube, eventhough the second round remains currently out of reach for him.

In his first campaign ad, Emmanuel Macron was careful to deny that the election is already decided. However, the nervousness of the conservative camp is palpable. The former head of Les Républicains, Laurent Wauquiez, attacked Emmanuel Macron head-on, on Friday, during a round table describing « a president who is both a monarch and a dictator. » He had to back down publicly afterwords.

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Far-right presidential candidate Eric Zemmour was convicted Friday of « copyright infringement » after the unauthorized use of famous French film footage in his campaign announcement video. He said he would appeal the decision. It’s the fourth time that he has been sentenced. Eric Zemmour, his party Reconquête! and one of his relatives, François Miramont, were ordered to pay a total of 70,000 euros to the plaintiffs. In addition to the sums to be paid as compensation, the court ordered that the ad no longer run with those extracts.


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Thanks for reading, see you on Monday.


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