On Monday, 24 April, France’s outgoing president Francois Holland urged people to back centrist Emmanuel Macron in a vote to choose his successor next month and to reject far-right leader Marine Le Pen, stating that her place in the run-off on 7 May represents a “risk” for the country. Mr Macron and Ms Le Pen, leader of the National Front (FN), go head-to-head on 7 May after taking the top two places in Sunday’s first round.
During a televised address, President Hollande, a Socialist, threw his weight behind his former economy minister, stating that Ms Le Pen’s policies were divisive and stigmatised sections of the population. He stated that “the presence of the far right in the second round is a risk for the country, adding “what is at stake is France’s make-up, its unity, its membership of Europe and its place in the world.”
In the days since Sunday’s vote, global markets have acted with relief, with the euro touching five-month peaks as surveys point to a clear macron victory, which has soothed investors who have been unnerved by Ms Le Pen’s pledges to ditch the euro, print money and possibly quit the European Union (EU). There were growing concerns of another anti-establishment shock following Britain’s “Brexit” vote and Donald Trump’s election as US president.
In recent weeks, opinion polls have indicated that Mr Macron, who has never held elected office, will take at least 61 percent of the vote against Ms Le Pen after two defeated rivals, Francois Fillon and Benoit Hammond pledged to back him in a bid to thwart her eurosceptic and anti-immigrant platform.
Late on Monday, Ms Le Pen disclosed that she was taking” a leave of absence” from leading the FN in order to focus on campaigning, in a move that appeared to be a mere formality that changes nothing in her campaign platform. Speaking to France 2 television, she disclosed, “I feel more free and above all, above party politics, which I think is important.” For months now Ms Le Pen has stated that she is not, strictly speaking, an FN candidate but a candidate backed by the FN. She has also long distanced herself from her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, the former FN leader, and her election campaign has put neither her party’s name nor its trademark flame log on her posters. She has instead focused on battling Mr Macron, highlighting the continuing threat of Islamist militancy, which has claimed more than 230 lives in the country since 2015, and stating that her opponent was “to say the least, weak” on the issue. She also stated that she wanted to talk to sovereignist Nicolas Dupont-Aignan, who won nearly five percent of the first-round vote and who has not disclosed which side he would take in the next vote. She disclosed on Monday that “his platform is extremely close to ours. Patriots should come together to fight those who promote unbridled localisation.
Security has been a major issue in France in recent years, as the country has been affected by a number of terror attacks. Throughout her campaign, Ms Le Pen has promised to suspend the EU’s open-border agreement on France’s frontiers and expel foreigners who are on the watch lists of intelligence services. Meanwhile Mr Macron’s internal security programme calls for 10,000 more police officer and 15,000 new prison places. He has also recruited a number of security experts to his entourage. Opinion polls throughout the course of the campaign however have consistently found that despite the security issue, voters are more concerned about the economy and the trustworthiness of politicians. On Monday, Ms Le Pens’ campaign took aim at what they see as further weak spots: including Mr Macron’s previous job as an investment banker and his role as a deregulating economy minister under President Hollande.
Last week reports emerged that the centre-right UDI party will no longer campaign for Francois Fillon in France’s presidential election after he was placed under formal investigation. The presidential candidate has called a probe targeting him and his wife “political assassination” and has reused to quit the race.
While the UDI, which has about 30 MPs in the French parliament’s lower house, announced its support for Mr Fillon back in November, on 1 March it announced that iw as now “suspending” its backing. The party leadership is due to meet next week in order to discuss whether it will permanently withdraw all support for Mr Fillon. The party’s youth wing is already supporting his rival Emmanuel Macron.
The Republican candidate has been summoned by judges investigating allegations that he gave his wife a taxpayer-funded “fake job.” He has disclosed that he is due to meet with them on 15 March. On Friday it was announced that his spokesman has resigned. Thiery Solere’s resignation adds to a slew of notable departures, which include the campaign treasurer who resigned on 2 March. Two deputy directors and Mr Fillon’s foreign affairs spokesman are amongst others that have resigned, with more than sixty politicians stating that they can no longer support him.
Meanwhile on 2 March, Mr Fillon’s Paris home was raided by investigators as part of the inquiry into the payments to his Welsh-born wife, Penelope. The Le Canard Enchaine newspaper alleges that she was paid US $900,000 over several years for working as a parliamentary assistant for Mr Fillon and his successor, however she had no parliamentary pass, which raised questions over whether she did the work that she was paid for.
Mr Fillon’s ongoing woes have raised speculation that ex-PM Alain Juppe could return to the race, if Mr Fillon were to pull out. Mr Juppe was overwhelmingly defeated by Mr Fillon in the Republicans’ primary in November, securing only 33% of the vote to Mr Fillon’s 66%. Sources close to Mr Juppe have disclosed that he would be prepared to step in, but only with the unanimous support of the party and only if Mr Fillon were to go voluntarily. Mr Juppe has kept a low profile as the mayor of Bordeaux since his defeat in the primary.
The latest poll suggests that Mr Fillon would be eliminated in the first round of the presidential election voting on 23 April, and that far-right candidate Marine Le Pen would challenge independent centrist Emmanuel Macron in the two-candidate run-off on 7 May. A number of opinion polls have suggested that Mr Macron would win that contest.
The deadline for candidates to declare that they are running in the presidential election is 17 March, two days after Mr Fillon is due to appear before a judge overseeing the investigation.
Officials announced this month that the Eiffel Tower in Paris, France is to have a 2.5m-high (8 ft) wall of reinforced glass built around it as protection against terror attacks. The wall will be designed to stop individuals or vehicles from storming the site.
The Paris mayor’soffice has disclosed that th wall will replace metal fences, which were put up for the Euro 2016 football tournament. The project, if it is approved, is expected to cost about 20 million euros (US $21 million) and work on it should begin later this year. The project will also involve reorganizing pathways around the tower.
The French capital has been on high alert since attacks by jihadists in November 2015 left 130 people dead. Last July, 86 people were killed when a lorry ploughed through a crowd celebrating Bastille Day in the southern city of Nice.
According to the assistant mayor for tourism, Jean-Francois Martins, the Eiffel Tower, which is one of France’s most famous landmarks, attracts more than six million visitors each year. He disclosed that the terror threat remains high in Paris and the most vulnerable sites, led by the Eiffel Tower, must be the object of special security measures. He went on to say that itwill replace the metal grids to the north and south with glass panels, which will allow Parisians and visitors a very pleasant view of the monument, adding we have three aims to improve the look, make access easier and strengthen the protection of visitors and staff.
News of the glass wall project comes after earlier this month a man wielding two machetes attacked soldiers at Paris’s Louvre Museum. President Francois Hollande has since stated that there is little doubt that the incident was a terrorist act.
According to an opinion poll that was published on 6 February, French far-right leader Marine Le Pen and independent centrist Emmanuel Macron are set to make it through to the presidential election’s second round in May, with Macron comfortably winning the runoff.
The IFOP rolling poll of voting intentions indicated Le Pen garnering 25.5 percent of the vote in the 23 April first round of voting, up 1.5 percent since 1 February, with Macron getting 20.5 percent, up 0.5 percent over the same period. Conservative candidate Francois Fillon, who is in the midst of a political scandal, placed third with 18.5 percent, down from 21 percent. Socialist candidate Benoit Hamon has also lost momentum since his nomination in a primary vote and was not seen gathering 15.5 percent of the votes, down from 18 percent on 1 February.
On Monday, Fillon vowed to fight on for the presidency despite a damaging scandal involving taxpayer-funding payments to his wife for work, which a newspaper alleges she did not do. Speaking at a news conference in Paris, Mr Fillon, 62, apologised for what he said was his error of judgement regarding the employment of family members. While he disclosed that his wife’s work as parliamentary assistant over fifteen years had been genuine and legal, he noted that the campaign of “unfounded allegations” against him and his family would not make him abandon his bid for the presidency as the nominee of the centre-right. He stated, “there is no plan B,” dismissing reports that other centre-right candidates were being lined up to replace him, and adding “I am the only candidate who can bring about a national recovery. I am the candidate of the Right and I am here to win.” He announced that he would launch a new phase of his campaign from Tuesday. Mr Fillon, a former prime minister, called the news conference after members of his own party, The Republicans, urged him to quit the race to give the party time to find a replacement candidate. He will hop that his apology and denial of wrongdoing rally the party and voters behind him. Prior to the scandal surfacing in a weekly satirical newspaper nearly two weeks ago, opinion polls had shown Mr Fillon to be the clear favourite to win the election over Le Pen. Since then, his approval ratings have plummeted and he is now seen as failing to reach the second round of voting in May.
The stakes are high for France’s Right, which is battling to return to power after five years of Socialist rule under President Francois Hollande.
Last Friday (3 February), another attempted terrorist attack took place in Paris, when French soldiers shot and critically wounded a man who attacked them with a machete at the Louvre while shouting “Allah Akbar”. Reportedly, a group of four soldiers guarding the entrance of the Louvre shopping centre had refused him to entry with two backpacks. When the troops stopped him, he launched the attack, wounding one of the soldiers. Hundreds of visitors were inside the museum after the incident and were evacuated. According to the police, the man has been identified as Abdullah Reda Refaei al-Hamamy, a 29-year-old with Egyptian identity paper who arrived in France last month.
After initially refusing to talk, the man, who remains under arrest in hospital, has confirmed his identity. Agence France-Presse has reported that Hamamay had visited Turkey in 2015 and 2016. Afterwards, he entered in France on 26 January on a flight from Dubai and stayed at an apartment costing € 1,700 (£ 1,470) a week near the Champs Elysees that had been reserved last June, months before he applied for a tourist visa in October.
The man’s father, a retired Egyptian police general, said his son had never shown any signals of radicalisation. He said his son is a sale manager and also justified his stay in Paris as a business trip. According to his family, Hamamy was expected to go back to the Emirates soon, as he has a wife and a seven-months old son and they have accused French authorities of seeking to justify their shooting with false allegations.
No group has claimed the attempted attack so far, and no link to extremism was found during a search of the apartment. Moreover, after few days, Hamamy has broken the silence about his intentions, claiming that he acted of his own will and intended only to damage works of art at the gallery as a symbolic attack on France.
However, investigators do not fully believe his statements after they found out a series of tweets posted in Arabic few minutes be fore the assault was launched. In those posts, in which he exalted Allah and the creation of an Islamic State, he does not refer to ISIS by its Arabic acronym, Daesh, but used the phrase “Dawlat al-Islam”, which is commonly used to refer to the group’s territories by its supporters.
Egyptian officials, who are collaborating with French authorities, have declared that local security agencies are gathering information to help establish if he was a member of any militant groups or had been radicalised in the past. In the meantime, President Francois Holland has labelled the act as “clearly an act of terrorism” and prosecutors in Paris said they would ask judges to file preliminary charges of “attempted terrorist murder” and “terrorist criminal conspiracy”.
Since 2012 the country has struggled against Islamic terrorism, which has already caused 250 victims. A French mayor and member of the French National Assembly, Jaques Myard, has blamed the Schengen agreement, which allows traveling throughout much of the EU without border-controls. According to Mayard, France is in a dark place, as it has to face to threats: the threat of terrorists coming from abroad, and an internal threat, because of its large Muslims community. He reiterated that, although not all Muslims of course are radicals, over 10,000 of those could be radicalised across France. In those conditions it is impossible to really prevent anything, since it is impossible to have 100 per cent security everywhere. The only possible thing for citizens to do, Mayard added, is to be vigilant and always on guard, alerting the police every time they see something suspicious.