Macron urges France to ‘look to the future’ as presidential bid picks up steam
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Centrist French politician Emmanuel Macron seized upon the growing momentum surrounding his presidential bid on Saturday, using a major campaign speech in Lyon to challenge rival candidates for the spring election.
special correspondent in Lyon, France
Macron, a 39-year-old former economy minister, struck a patriotic tone as he addressed supporters in a sports arena filled to capacity in the city centre. At least 8,000 people waved flags and chanted “Macron, president!” inside the venue, while hundreds more watched the event on a large screen set up outside.
He launched a full-scale attack on far-right candidate Marine Le Pen, who is also set to give a major campaign speech in Lyon over the weekend. “They are not speaking in the name of the people,” he said of Le Pen’s anti-EU National Front, calling her party the antithesis of the French values of liberty, equality and fraternity. “They are speaking in the name of a France that never existed.”
“Together we will tell all those who believe in nothing, in the defeatists and those in their entourage, that the best is yet to come, that the best belongs to us,” Macron added, stirring a deafening roar from the crowd.
The independent presidential hopeful has moved up in opinion polls, following a week that saw his rivals struggle with financial scandals and in-party divisions.
A survey published in the French business daily Les Echos on Thursday showed Macron moving ahead of mainstream conservative nominee François Fillon in the first round of the presidential election on April 23.
Although Le Pen was on pace to finish the first round in first place, the poll showed Macron would beat her in a run-off ballot on May 7.
Indeed, Macron reserved the bulk of his ire for the far-right leader, challenging Fillon and Socialist Party nominee Benoît Hamon only indirectly.
In his lengthy speech to a crowd brimming with young people, Macron was careful to honour political heroes from both the political right and left, saying their actions had surpassed party politics for the benefit of all French people.
At the same time he dished out criticism for the conservative Fillon, who is suspected of having paid his wife Penelope Fillon €900,000 as a parliamentary assistant for work she allegedly never did.
Fillon has denied the allegations, but several reports this week – including a 2007 video in which Penelope says she never worked as his assistant – have nevertheless damaged a candidate who crafted an image of scrupulous morality.
Macron said French politics needed to be “uncompromising” when it came to financial transparency, promising that none of his parliamentary candidates in next spring’s legislative elections will have had previous run-ins with the justice system.
The presidential hopeful also lashed out at Hamon, saying the Socialist’s plan to give a so-called basic income to all French people regardless of employment or wealth, deteriorated “the value of work”.
He also poked fun at Hamon’s pledge to tax robots who take the place of French workers. “We don’t have enough robots in France,” Macron said, questioning his Socialist rival’s ability to encourage innovation.
Hamon emerged victorious from France’s left-wing presidential primary on January 29, but since has failed to secure an endorsement from French President François Hollande, while a handful of other Socialist Party leaders have come out publicly in favour of Macron.
Macron also challenged US President Donald Trump, urging scientists and university researchers who feel threatened by the new White House administration to move to France, where their work “would find a new motherland”.“I don’t want walls,” Macron said in another slight at Trump. “I assure you there will be no walls in my programme.”