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2022 FRENCH PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION

France braces for Le Pen-Macron showdown

France on Saturday prepared to choose between centrist President Emmanuel Macron and far-right challenger Marine Le Pen to rule the country for the next five years after a bitterly contested and polarising election campaign.

A pedestrian walks past campaign posters of French President and La Republique en Marche (LREM) party candidate for re-election Emmanuel Macron (L) and French far-right party Rassemblement National (RN) presidential candidate Marine Le Pen
A pedestrian walks past campaign posters of French President and La Republique en Marche (LREM) party candidate for re-election Emmanuel Macron (L) and French far-right party Rassemblement National (RN) presidential candidate Marine Le Pen in Eguisheim, eastern France, on April 21, 2022, ahead of the second round of France's presidential election. SEBASTIEN BOZON / AFP

Macron is the favourite to win re-election in the run-off ballot on Sunday, and there are indications he bolstered his advantage with a combative performance in the one-off election debate against a somewhat defensive Le Pen.

But the president and his allies have insisted over the last week that nothing is in the bag, with a strong turnout crucial to avoid a shock in France comparable to the 2016 polls that led to Brexit in Britain and the rise
to power of Donald Trump in the United States.

A Le Pen victory would send shockwaves across Europe. Left-wing EU leaders including German Chancellor Olaf Scholz have pleaded with France to choose Macron over his rival.

The stakes are huge — Le Pen would become modern France’s first far-right leader and first female president. Macron would be the first French president to win re-election in two decades.

If elected, Macron is expected, in a symbolic gesture, to address supporters on the Champ de Mars in central Paris at the foot of the Eiffel Tower.

Saturday is marked by a campaign blackout, with no campaigning allowed and no more polls published.

Polls in mainland France will open at 0600 GMT on Sunday and close 12 hours later, immediately followed by projections that usually predict the result with a degree of accuracy.

READ ALSO: Follow Sunday’s French election result in The Local’s live blog

Final campaign flurry
But voters in French overseas territories that span the globe start voting earlier, beginning with those in North America and the Caribbean on Saturday, followed by the Pacific and then the Indian Ocean.

The first to have their say in the election were voters in the tiny island territory of Saint Pierre and Miquelon off the northern coast of Canada who began casting ballots at 1000 GMT.

Macron and Le Pen threw themselves into a final flurry of campaigning Friday, firing off attacks in interviews before last-minute walkabouts and rallies.

Le Pen insisted that opinion polls giving Macron the lead would be proved wrong and took aim at her rival’s plan to push back the retirement age to 65 from 62.

Macron for his part said Le Pen was trying to mask an authoritarian “extreme right” platform that stigmatises Muslims with a plan to outlaw headscarves in public.

READ ALSO: Le Pen’s plan to legalise discrimination against foreigners in France – including dual nationals

But the campaign also had some lighter moments. Macron’s quizzical stares during the TV debate and a daringly unbuttoned shirt during a campaigning break that provided a glimpse of his strikingly hairy chest became instant
Internet memes.

READ ALSO: 7 of the best Macron memes from the French election campaign

Polls have shown Macron with a lead of some 10 percentage points. The highly anticipated TV debate did not change the trend and, if anything, allowed Macron to open more of a gap.

But the result is predicted to be closer than in 2017, when the same candidates faced off but Macron carried the day with 66 percent to 34 percent.

Turnout ‘real risk’
Analysts say abstention rates could reach 26 to 28 percent, with reluctant left-wingers needing to back the president for him to be sure of victory.

Spring school holidays will also be in full swing across much of the country this weekend, although the 1969 record for a second-round abstention rate of 31.1 percent is not expected to be beaten.

Far-left leader Jean-Luc Melenchon, who scored a close third-place finish in the first-round vote on April 10, has pointedly refused to urge his millions of followers to back the president while insisting they must not cast
a single vote for Le Pen.

According to Martial Foucault, director of the Cevipof political studies centre, the greater the abstention rate the more the gap will narrow between Macron and Le Pen, describing this as a “real risk” for the president.

In a final plea, Macron urged voters not to repeat the mistake of those who opposed Brexit and the election of Trump but decided to stay at home.

“They woke up the next day with a hangover,” he told BFMTV. “We are going to decide the future of the country on April 24 and not the opinion polls on April 22.”

READ ALSO: PODCAST: Why France will remain divided whoever wins Sunday’s election

But even before the results are in, eyes are already turning towards legislative elections which will in June follow hot on the heels of the presidential elections.

French political scientist Chloe Morin told AFP that whoever wins the presidential polls, France would be “harder to govern” in the next five years.

The more radical parties are likely to only win “weak representation” in parliament and set to wage their struggle in the media and the street, she said.

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POLITICS

‘Build together’: The French government’s to do list for the next five years

France’s Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne outlined on Wednesday the government’s plans for the next five years in her first speech to the National Assembly since June’s legislative elections.

'Build together': The French government's to do list for the next five years

After congratulating newly elected deputies, Borne called on opposition parties to work with the governing party to reform, the French having chosen during the last legislative elections not to give them an absolute majority. 

“The French are asking us to take our responsibilities. We will do it. Together we will respond to the challenge of abstention … the demand for action … we will meet the requirement of responsibility,” she said.

“They urge us to do things differently, a sustained dialogue, the active search for compromise. The context obliges us, the war in Ukraine reminds us how fragile peace is”, she continued, also referring to “the ecological emergency which is becoming more present every second”. 

She added: “The French are asking us to talk more, to talk better, to build together.”

Among the challenges facing the government, Borne spoke of “environmental responsibility” and “improving the public accounts”. 

Here are the key points of her speech:

Cost of living

A bill to help French people with the cost of living and improve purchasing power will be the first major piece of government legislation put to the Assembly, on July 18th.

Borne, heckled by a febrile parliament, singled out the abolition of the TV licence, saying it would “save €138 per year for the French. Taxation will be one of our areas of debate, but it can be a subject of compromise.”

Pensions

On pensions, Borne said: “Our social model is a paradox: one of the most generous and one of those where we work the shortest. For the prosperity of our country and the sustainability of our pay-as-you-go system (…) we will have to gradually work a little longer”.

She promise to consult with social partners on pension reform.

Energy

Elisabeth Borne confirms the government’s intention to hold “100 percent of the capital of EDF” – effectively announcing the re-nationalisation of the energy supplier. “We must ensure our sovereignty in the face of the consequences of the war in Ukraine,” she said.

The State already owns about 80 percent of the business.

“This evolution will permit EDF to reinforce its capacities to carry out in the shortest possible time its ambitious and indispensable projects for our future energy” supplies, she added.

Shares in EDF jumped more than five percent higher, having traded down five percent before the prime minister’s speech.

Environment

“As of September, we will launch a vast consultation with a view to an energy-climate orientation law,” Borne said.

The “ecological emergency” is one of the government’s biggest upcoming challenges, she said.

“We will undertake radical transformations in our way of producing, housing, moving, consuming.”

“We will be the first major ecological nation to get out of fossil fuels,” the Prime Minister said, indicating that the government was putting nuclear energy at the heart of its green policy. “It is the guarantee of our energy sovereignty, the preservation of our purchasing power.”

She added that it would also create jobs.

Employment

Borne welcomed France’s improving employment figures, highlighting the success of apprenticeships, training for job seekers and the Un jeune, une Solution scheme. “Our country can get out of the vicious circle of mass unemployment,” she said.

Borne insisted that “full employment and good employment” is “not an illusion, not an unattainable goal” – but is “within our reach”.

Combatting ‘Séparatisme’

The prime minister also prioritised security in her speech, promising that “Separatism and Islamist extremism will be fought.”

As a result, Borne plans to present a bill for the creation of 200 additional gendarmerie brigades throughout the country. She also called for faster court decisions and for victims to be listened to. 

Education

Borne promised to improve teacher salaries, as she pledged “priority action” for schools and young people, and also said the government would continue developing the universal service scheme introduced by Emmanuel Macron during his first term in office.

“During our discussions, I saw another common desire emerge: to build the Republic of equal opportunities”, continues Elisabeth Borne. She assures that President Macron wants to “break the inequalities of destiny to allow everyone to choose their future, to trace the paths of emancipation”.

National debt

Borne set out an objective of reducing France’s national debt by 2026, and bringing the deficit below 3% from 2027.

Housing 

Borne said the question of housing is a major concern for French people and announced that her government has decided to put a ceiling on rent increases, and will work to build new housing.

Inequality 

The prime minister also announced plans to reduce inequality by offering single-parent households with childcare assistance for children up to age 12. Borne also pledged to simplify the student grant system, extend the culture pass from 6ème (age 11-12), and provide 30 minutes of sport for primary school students.

The PM also discussed potential reforms to disability benefits, which are currently partially dependent on spousal earnings.

At the end of a speech that lasted 90 minutes, Borne said that she wanted “to write a new page in the political history” of France. “I pledge never to break the thread of dialogue, to build ambitious compromises. The French have called for responsibility, and we will be there. We all have a part to play, we have everything to succeed. Building together, we will succeed.”

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