Narrowing gap between Macron and Le Pen in French polls rouses concern

Incumbent President Emmanuel Macron is set to face-off against the right's Marine Le Pen in a tense race in under a week. EPA-EFE/IAN LANGSDON [EPA-EFE/IAN LANGSDON]

In the latest French presidential election polls, the gap between Emmanuel Macron and opponent Marine Le Pen is narrowing, despite optimism from the incumbent’s camp at a recent campaign meeting. EURACTIV France reports.

After a ‘rally round the flag’ effect at the beginning of the war in Ukraine, the outgoing president’s poll popularity is flagging, and far-right candidate Le Pen is gaining ground in both the first and second-round polls.

Some polls in recent days have shown such a narrow gap in the case of a second-round between Le Pen and Macron that, taking into account the margin of error, a victory for Marine Le Pen is now possible.

At Macron’s only campaign meeting on Saturday (2 April), EURACTIV France witnessed the hopeful demeanour of his supporters but also noted their awareness of the challenge posed by Le Pen.

“It’s good that he’s getting into the arena”, said an elected member of the presidential party after weeks of waiting for a formal campaign launch by Macron.

Some members of Macron’s campaign were disappointed that the campaign had been somewhat slow to get off the ground, leaving the way clear for the opponents.

“With the rules on speaking time, we have the feeling that we are being taken advantage of,” a member of Macron’s campaign said.

Since the end of March, the strict equal airtime rule requires television channels and radio stations to give each of the twelve candidates the same airtime. “On TV, we didn’t see anything of the last part of the speech, which was the most touching and the least [technocratic],” complained a long-time supporter the day after Saturday’s rally.

The shadow of Le Pen

Macronists appear more worried than before about “Le Pen’s danger”.

Ministers and executives at the rally all hammered the same message of avoid complacency.

“We must stop banalising Marine Le Pen”, Elisabeth Borne, Minister of Labour, said.

“She has a much more sympathetic image, but behind [that image] it is the far-right […] she is an ally of Putin, she wants to withdraw from the [Eurozone], she wants to withdraw from Europe”, Borne continued.

Frexit and the withdrawal from the single currency are no longer part of Le Pen’s 2022 program.

However, some of the measures she is proposing contradict the EU treaties, which would, in some cases, amount to a de facto exit from the European system, particularly concerning the free movement of goods and people.

Le Pen wants EU to be 'association of free nations'

After the defeat in the 2017 French presidential election, Marine Le Pen’s right-wing Rassemblement National renewed its discourse about Europe, aiming to appeal to a wider electorate, but it is uncertain if this shift will give Le Pen a shot at winning the keys to the Elysée Palace in April

Concerned about the possibility of  low voter turnout, Emmanuelle Wargon, Minister Delegate for Housing, insisted on “remembering who she [Marine Le Pen] is”: between “national preference” for jobs and housing and the “abolition of the European contribution”, Le Pen is still continuing to pursue a far-right agenda.

“The Republican front is crumbling,” Éric Woerth, a Les Républicains deputy, said.

Woerth is a recent supporter of the president and a specialist on the traditional right. Since there is a risk that several elected officials and voters on the right will be tempted to vote for the far-right — notably Éric Zemmour —the Republican front, which has helped prevent the far-right from coming to power so far, has now been significantly weakened.

Shortly after Emmanuel Macron’s speech, the Mayor of Poissy, Karl Olive — a person close to the French president — who also sees the far right as a “danger”, said that “in times of crisis, the extremes join forces, and here we are not far from it”.

Despite all this, François Bayrou wants to believe that against Le Pen, “it will all come down to the debate. Emmanuel Macron is better equipped to deal with reality than she is”.

Macron's rivals bemoan lack of debate ahead of first election round

With the presidential elections less than a month away, a proper debate between candidates is yet to occur, with some even refusing to do so before the first round of voting. EURACTIV France reports.

[Edited by Alice Taylor]

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