Students occupy universities to protest Macron-Le Pen face-off

"Democracy is made of rules. [...] If we start challenging all the rules, it's anarchy," Macron told broadcaster Franceinfo on Friday. "There is no such thing as purity, you have to agree to choose something that is not totally what you believe in, but which is as close as possible to it." [shutterstock/tommaso79]

Students have staged protests at France’s main universities, with hundreds opposing the prospective leadership of both outgoing president Emmanuel Macron and far-right leader Marine Le Pen, the two candidates in the run-off of the presidential election. EURACTIV France reports.

Sciences Po, the Sorbonne, and the École Normale Supérieure were among the university sites occupied by students on Wednesday and Thursday (13-14 April).

The students, mostly with far-left leanings, claimed they did feel not represented in the programmes presented by either Le Pen or Macron, expressing anger and disappointment at the result and clashing with far-right activists and the police. As the premises have now been closed, relative calm has been restored.

The students chanted the words “neither Macron nor Le Pen”, with some going further, comparing it to a choice “between the plague and cholera”.

The overwhelming majority of those protesting voted left, often for radical-left candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon.

For the second election round on 24 April, many have said they will abstain or vote blank.

Reactions to the protests

Le Pen and Macron both reacted to the protests, with similar messages of surprise at how these young people view the democratic process.

“Democracy is made of rules. […] If we start challenging all the rules, it’s anarchy,” Macron told broadcaster Franceinfo on Friday. “There is no such thing as purity, you have to agree to choose something that is not totally what you believe in, but which is as close as possible to it.”

Le Pen echoed his statements in an interview with broadcaster RMC-BFMTV. “What they are doing is profoundly undemocratic,” she said on Friday, adding that they have “obviously missed the course on democracy.”

The youth vote

The prospect of numerous young people abstaining is especially worrying for Macron’s campaign, as the loss of left-leaning voters could provide a boost for Le Pen and her far-right party.

Radical-left leader Clémentine Autain also voiced her concern about young people’s rejection of both candidates. She said she is against the idea of “drawing an equal line between the far-right project and the ‘Macronie'”.

Although Autain deeply disagrees with Macron’s programme, she fears the Elysée may soon be subject to a “racist project of withdrawal” that “will push millions of people into poverty”.

Mélenchon also said that the programmes of Macron and Le Pen are not equal, especially in their support of the social project. While not directing his supporters to vote for Macron, he asked that no votes be given to Le Pen.

In the aftermath of the university protests, trade unions and some student movements have made the call to stage countrywide protests against the far-right on Saturday.

Macron and Le Pen head for cliffhanger 24 April election runoff

French leader Emmanuel Macron and challenger Marine Le Pen qualified on Sunday (10 April) for what promises to be a very tightly fought presidential election runoff on 24 April, pitting a pro-European economic liberal against a far-right nationalist.

 

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