Macron takes French presidential campaign to London

Daniel Leal-Olivas, AFP | French presidential election candidate for the En Marche! movement Emmanuel Macron arrives outside 10 Downing Street in central London on February 21, 2017.

French presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron on Tuesday urged expats in London to bring their talents home to France, following a meeting with Prime Minister Theresa May.


Addressing more than 2,000 French citizens and others at the Methodist Central Hall, opposite the Houses of Parliament, Macron said he wanted to convince them to return and "innovate, seek, teach".

"I want (France) to be a country where we can do all this," the centrist former economy minister said, addressing an audience including entrepreneurs and finance workers.

Britain is home to an estimated 300,000-plus French citizens, largely based in the capital.

"We must love success," or risk French citizens looking elsewhere for opportunities, Macron said, referring to a "fear of failure" he sees in France.

The ex-investment banker also took the opportunity to joke about rival François Fillon, as a new poll showed Macron losing ground ahead of April's first round of the presidential election despite Fillon being mired in scandal over claims he gave his wife a lucrative fake parliamentary job.

Macron referred to the "money I earned myself" ahead of launching his political career. "I can assure you, it's me who earned it. I had a job, it seems awful," he joked.

Cheers for Europe

In the packed hall, where people waved French and EU flags, Macron drew the biggest cheers when he spoke in favour of the European project.

“Our country cannot succeed without Europe,” he said.

He advocated a “special relationship” between the EU and France on the one hand and Britain on the other. The term is more commonly used in Britain to describe ties with the United States.

“Nothing will be the same (after Brexit), but I think we can defend mutual interests over the long term,” he said, citing close cooperation between London and Paris on defence and security.

As well as business professionals, the audience included footballers Steve Mandanda and Yohan Cabaye, who play for the French national team and the English side Crystal Palace, Macron's campaign team told Agence France-Presse.

Britain's former deputy prime minister and current Liberal Democrat MP, Nick Clegg, also went to hear the French candidate speak.

PR coup

Macron visited May at her Downing Street office and later met Britain’s finance minister Philip Hammond, a public relations coup for the young centrist at a time when his campaign appears to be losing momentum.

“Brexit cannot lead to a kind of optimisation of Britain’s relationship with the rest of Europe. An exit is an exit,” he told reporters outside 10 Downing Street after meeting May.

“I am very determined that there will be no undue advantages.”

Macron, who created his own En Marche! (On the Move!) party, also slammed his far-right rival, National Front leader Marine Le Pen.

He accused her of wanting to "divide France into non-Muslim people and Muslim people", and said her "programme is one to push France into the 19th century".

Opinion polls suggest Le Pen would win the first round of France's presidential election on April 23, but would lose in the run-off vote on May 7.

Macron had been the favourite to take her on, but a new Elabe survey published Tuesday suggests conservative Fillon has overtaken him again.

Despite the damaging fake-jobs investigation weighing down Fillon’s campaign, the conservative former prime minister was up three points to 21 percent, while Macron was down five to 18.5 percent.

Le Pen polled at 28 percent, up two points on the same poll in early February.

Rare Downing Street reception

It is unusual for a British prime minister to host a foreign candidate for elected office, although Downing Street noted that former prime minister Tony Blair had hosted Nicolas Sarkozy months before he became French president in 2007.

"Monsieur Macron was already in London, he asked for a meeting and we were able to accommodate," May's spokesman told reporters.

Asked if May would be prepared to meet Le Pen, he said: "There's a long-standing policy that we don't engage with the Front National."

Conservative leader May promised a close post-Brexit relationship with France on security and defence as she met with French Prime Minister Bernard Cazeneuve in London on Friday.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP and REUTERS)

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