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.
France’s interior minister disclosed yesterday that two Frenchmen were arrested in Marseille on Tuesday, adding that they were planning an “imminent and violent attack” ahead of the first round of the presidential election on Sunday 23 April.
Speaking at a news conference, Interior Minister Matthias Fekl disclosed that “these two radicalized men…intended to commit in the very short-term – by that I mean in the coming days – an attack on French soil,” adding that a “definite terrorist act” had been foiled. The two men – who have been named as 23-year-old Clement Baur and 30-year-old Mahiedine Merabet – were seized in the southern port city a few moments apart from each other on Tuesday morning. Local mayor Lisette Narducci has disclosed that explosives had ben found after a search of an apartment near Marseille’s largest train station. Sources close to the investigation have also divulged that at least two assault weapons had been found. Neither the interior minister nor police have given nay precise details of what attacks the pair had been planning and whether they were intending to target one o more of the election candidates. Far-right National Front leader Marine Le Pen, one of the foremost candidates, is scheduled to hold the last big rally of her campaign in Marseille this week, according to he programme.
Campaign officials have reported that France’s internal intelligence agency, which had been looking for the two suspects for more than a week, had warned main candidate in the election that there was a threat to their security. Comments made by officials indicate that candidates Francois Fillon, Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen, who are the three leading contenders, wer amongst those warned of a security risk.
France is due to go to the polls on 23 April, with a second round to take place on 7 May, in what is one of the most unpredictable elections in its modern history. Security has been a key campaigning issue after attacks by militant Islamists have killed more than 230 people in the past two years.
Centrist Emmanuel Macron has kept his position as favourite to win France’s presidential election after a televised debate on Tuesday night, during which he clashed with his main rival, Marine Le Pen, over Europe. The debate comes just nineteen days before the election.
Criticising Ms Le Pen, the leader of the National Front (FN) who wants to leave the euro, hold a referendum on European Union (EU) membership and curb immigration, Mr Macron stated, “nationalism is war. I know it. I come from a region that is full of graveyards.” Mr Macron, who has voiced his strong pro-European views, comes from the Somme region, which was a major battlefield during World War One. Ms Le Pen however hit back at Mr Macron, stating “you should pretend to be something new when you are speaking like old fossils that are at lest 50 years old,” to which Mr Macron replied “sorry to tell you this, Madame Le Pen, but you are saying the same lies that we’ve heard from your father for 40 years.” The comment appeared to be a swipe at Le Pen’s efforts to clean up the image of the party that her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, founded and to make it more palatable to mainstream voters.
According to a snap survey, Mr Macron was seen as having the best political programme, with the survey also placing him as the second most convincing performer in the four-hour debate, which involved all eleven presidential candidates. The Elabe snap poll, which was tkane when the debate ended in the early hours of Wednesday, gave firebrand leftist Jean-Luc Melenchon, a veteran of France’s political circuit, first place as the most convincing performer. Ms Le Pen lagged in fourth place, behind Mr Macron and Francois Fillon. Mr Macron was also seen in the same poll as having the best programme of all the candidates by 23 percent of viewers, followed by Melenchon, whose ratings have been rising since the first televised debate in March, to the detriment of Socialist Party candidate Benoit Hamon.
While the Elabe poll did not show voting intentions, other surveys have consistently shown Mr Macron and Ms Le Pen qualifying for the 7 May runoff, with Mr Macron ultimately winning the presidential election. However the high level of undecided voters means that the ballot remains unpredictable.
It currently remains unclear if a final televised debate, due to take place on 20 April, will occur after several of the leading candidates have disclosed that it is being held too close to the election itself, with the first round of voting due to take place on 23 April.
Late on Wednesday 15 March, Prime Minister Mark Rutte stated that Dutch people rejected the wrong kind of populism, as he celebrated victory in the election.
The Prime Ministers centre-right VVD party lead positioned him for a third successive term as prime minister and easily beat the anti-immigration Freedom party of Geert Wilders. With all but two vote counts complete, the prime ministers party won 33 out of 150 seats a loss of eight seats from the previous parliament. The Freedom party came in second place with 20 seats, a gain of fiv, while the Christian Democrats (CDA) and the liberal D66 party, tied for third with 19 seats each. The Green-left party gained 14 seats, an increase of 10. The Labour Party (PvdA), which is the junior party in the governing coalition, suffered a historic defeat by winning only nine seats a loss of 29. Labours defeat appeared to signal that voters were shifting to the right, as many of the seats it lost did not go to other left-wing parties. Voter turnout was 80.2% – the highest for thirty years, with analysts saying that this may have benefited pro-EU and liberal parties.
The Dutch race was seen as a test of support for nationalist parties that have been gaining ground across Europe. Mr Wilders however has insisted that the patriotic spring would still happen.
Fellow eurozone countries France and Germany also face elections this year. France will hold its first round of voting in its presidential election on 23 April, with the second round being held on 7 May. The far right National Front is forecast to increase its vote dramatically. Meanwhile, Germany will hold its general election in September, where the popularist Alternative for German (AfD) may win seats in parliament for the first time. Mr Rutte had already spoken of the election as a quarter-final against populism, ahead of the French and German polls, and his victory was warmly greeted by other European leaders and politicians. French President Francois Holland stated that Mr Rutte had won a clear victory against extremism, while German Chancellor Angela Merkel hailed a very pro-European result, a clear signaland a good day for democracy. Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy praised Dutch voters for their responsibility, while Martin Schulz, president of the European Parliament until earlier this year, stated that he was relieved that the Freedom Party had lost, adding we must continue to fight for an open and free Europe.
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.