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French presidential hopeful Macron shocks by speaking English

France’s Emmanuel Macron has come under fire for addressing a conference on the European Union in English, with the far right accusing the centrist presidential candidate of disrespecting both his country and the language of Molière.

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Macron, 39, a French investment banker turned economy minister turned presidential candidate, gave a speech in English on Franco-German relations and his hopes for the European Union at the Humboldt University in Berlin on Tuesday.

He also tweeted from the conference in both English and in French.

The leader of France’s anti-EU National Front party, Marine Le Pen, immediately criticised the move, tweeting that [see original tweet below in French]: “Presidential candidate Macron goes to Berlin to do a conference in English ... poor France!”

Florian Philippot, Le Pen’s right-hand man, chimed in, saying: "It's not just that he doesn't respect our language, he doesn't believe in France".

Rare for French politicians to speak English

It is quite rare for French politicians to speak in English – even when they travel abroad – as many of them do not have good grasp of English and take pride in preserving the French language. Former French president Jacques Chirac, for example, reportedly stormed out of an EU summit in 2006 in protest at a French delegate addressing the audience in English.

An increasing number of France’s young people, however, feel that their leaders need to improve their English. A poll conducted by language school ‘ABA English’ last year showed that 64 percent felt the English language skills of their politicians were inadequate, so perhaps Macron’s skill is in fact a bonus for the electorate.

Hailing Merkel’s policies

While in Berlin, Macron, who quit President François Hollande’s Socialist government last year to run as an independent in the upcoming presidential election, also defended the EU and hailed German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s policies on both migrants and the economy.

This stands in stark contrast to Hollande’s former prime minister Manuel Valls who, while visiting Berlin last February, called Germany’s liberal policies on refugees “unsustainable”.

Although analysts see the outcome of this French presidential election as highly unpredictable, Macron is increasingly seen closing in on both Le Pen and François Fillon of the center right who are currently favourites.

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