Pro-EU Macron surges in French election polls
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Once seen as a wild card in France’s increasingly unpredictable presidential campaign, former economy minister Emmanuel Macron, an independent who has never held elected office, is gaining seemingly unstoppable momentum on a strong pro-EU platform.
The centrist, who quit President François Hollande’s government in August 2016 to pursue his own presidential ambitions, is running as an independent and claims he is “neither left nor right”.
As an independent, former investment banker Macron has distanced himself from the toxic image of the unpopular ruling Socialist party, in the middle of a lacklustre primary campaign to choose a left-wing presidential candidate, branding himself as the anti-establishment figure who can pull France out of the political and economic doldrums.
His strongly pro-Euro message, however, is the polar opposite of notable anti-establishment political upsets of 2016 such as Britain’s Brexit vote and the November victory of US President Elect Donald Trump, who this weekend declared his enthusiastic support for Britain leaving the EU.
Macron and whoever wins the left-wing primaries on January 22 and 29, will be up against front-runners François Fillon, a Catholic conservative former prime minister, and France’s arch-eurosceptic Marine Le Pen, head of the far-right National Front party.
Immigration and security are key issues in the campaign, and here Macron has set himself firmly against Le Pen (predicted to come first in April in the first round of the presidential election) who wants to end the Schengen borderless zone and eventually hold a “Frexit” referendum on EU membership.
"We are Europe, we are Brussels, we wanted it and we need it," Macron told a packed concert hall in the northern French city of Lille on Saturday.
"We need Europe because Europe makes us bigger, because Europe makes us stronger," Macron told 5,000 mostly young supporters, enthusiastically waving EU flags, in the traditionally Socialist city that has seen Marine Le Pen’s National Front perform strongly in recent local elections.
Macron said that in order to counter illegal immigration European states must reinforce controls at external borders, have a common asylum policy managed from the countries of origin, and a joint intelligence, security and defence policy.
"I don't propose an ideological policy in terms of immigration, but one that would be efficient, clear and carried out with our European partners," he said.
Macron, 39, has been filling venues to the brim with young and jubilant supporters in rallies since he officially launched his presidential campaign (with his own “En Marche!” [Forward!] political party behind him) two months ago.
At the same time, his poll ratings have soared, leaving his likely opponents in the April/May presidential elections eyeing him nervously.
A POP 2017 poll on January 12 put Le Pen in first place for the first round of the election on 25 percent, just ahead of Fillon on 24 percent, although if Fillon were to face her in a second round, the same poll predicts he would beat her comfortably.
The same poll shows Macron steadily gaining ground on Fillon and Le Pen, on 20 percent. He would also, according to the surveys, comfortably beat Le Pen in a second round, in which he is a whisker ahead of Fillon.
An Elabre poll published on January 12 showed that Macron was France’s most popular politician, with 41 percent saying they had a positive image of him, ahead of Fillon (35 percent) and Le Pen (29 percent).
Betting markets also show a swing behind a candidate who was seen as a rank outsider at the end of 2016. The bookmakers’ odds of him winning have jumped from 7/1 to 4/1 in as little as a week, although Fillon remains firm favourite, in front of Le Pen at 3/1.
Being ahead in the polls or on the betting markets doesn’t necessarily translate directly to success at the ballot box, as 2016 has shown, but Macron is riding a wave that makes him a serious contender in this year’s elections.
Perhaps the biggest victim will be the ruling Socialist party, in the middle of lacklustre primaries that have been eclipsed by headline-grabbing Macron.
Weekly newspaper Le Journal du Dimanche on Sunday reported Dominique Villemot, a close friend of Hollande, saying that the French president may well support his former protegé Macron in the presidential election.
Hollande’s office has denied this, but even the hint of Hollande’s support is bad news for Valls as he tries to get the left-wing nomination.
Ségolène Royal, the environment minister and former partner of Hollande, may also back Macron, the newspaper said. “I’ll do what seems to me the most helpful for the left,” Royal was quoted as saying in a separate interview with Le Journal du Dimanche. "But Macron looks to the future."