President Emmanuel Macron sets out to seek greater re-election support from France’s former industrial heartland in the north, a labor stronghold of far-right rival Marine Le Pen, whom he will face in a second round on April 24.
Macron, 44, is in the running to become the first president in two decades to win a second term, but faces a tough challenge from Le Pen, who has tapped into anger over the cost of living and the perception that Macron is disconnected from daily difficulties.
A victory for Le Pen would send shockwaves across Europe and beyond, and cause a similar jolt to the establishment as Britain’s Brexit vote to leave the European Union or Donald Trump’s entry into the European Union. White House in 2017.
Macron and Le Pen came out on top in Sunday’s first-round vote, setting up a repeat of the 2017 run-off between the pro-European economic liberal and the Eurosceptic nationalist.
Voters on the left will be crucial in determining the outcome of the election. Hard-left veteran Jean-Luc Melenchon, who finished third on Sunday, told his supporters no vote should go to the far right – but he refrained from endorsing Macron.
“Make no mistake, nothing has been decided yet,” Macron told cheering supporters late Sunday after partial results showed him through to the second round.
A tally by the Interior Ministry showed that with 97% of votes counted, Macron had won 27.60% of voter support. Le Pen obtained 23.41% and Mélenchon 21.95%.
Polls are predicting a close second round with one survey predicting Macron will win with just 51% of the vote and Le Pen 49%. The gap is so tight that victory either way is within the margin of error.
European neighbors are closely watching events in France, which, together with Germany, has been the engine of post-war European integration.
The possibility of a Le Pen victory was a worrying prospect for the EU and must be prevented by the French people, said Luxembourg Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn.
“It would not just be a break with the core values of the EU, it would totally change its course,” Asselborn said ahead of a meeting with fellow EU ministers in Luxembourg on Monday.
Macron headed for the northern town of Denain, which once boasted of being the mining and steel capital of France but where, in 2019, nearly half the population lived in poverty.
Le Pen won 42% of the vote in the city on Sunday.
As the results filtered in, Macron took aim at his far-right rival over funding for his economic program, which would see the retirement age lowered to 60 for those who start working before age 20, income tax income cut for those under 30 and a tax cut for energy.
Le Pen brought his far-right party’s image closer to the mainstream at a time when France also swung to the right in the wake of Islamist attacks. Even so, his softer, less combative manner belies a hardline anti-immigrant agenda.
But it’s its focus on cost-of-living issues and its ability to connect with everyday people that has proven particularly popular.
Macron’s supporters and some of his campaign insiders said he needed to do more to win over the left.
Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said left-wing issues such as climate change and the strengthening of the European Union would play a key role in the next two weeks of campaigning.
Australian Associated Press