Emmanuel Macron is set to win another term at the helm of Europe’s second-largest economy as nationalist leader Marine Le Pen runs out of time to close the gap between them ahead of Sunday’s presidential poll.
The two candidates are organizing their last rallies in regions where they came out on top in the first round two weeks ago – Le Pen chose the northern region of Hauts-de-France. Macron is in the southern town of Figeac.
In an interview with France Inter radio on Friday, Macron pledged “to try to find a path where we will rediscover together the reasons that make us live as a united nation”. He says he has failed “to give a perspective of progress and security to the French middle and popular classes”.
The gap between the two has widened since April 10 to around 11 percentage points, according to an average of polls on Friday, as Le Pen’s weaknesses on the economy became more apparent and politicians on the left and on the right rallied to Macron. He also benefits from his stature as an experienced statesman amid the war between Russia and Ukraine.
Le Pen needed to land a heavy blow in Wednesday night’s presidential debate to catch up, but he failed to do so. The well-publicized tete-a-tete was ultimately uneventful and did not appear to help either candidate win new voters, or cost them much. A snap survey published afterward suggested that viewers found Macron a bit more compelling. The markets were reassured.
Yet their different worldviews have become very clear, especially on Europe. Le Pen says she wants to transform the European Union into an alliance of nations. Macron said his ties to Russia and other eurosceptics would destroy the bloc from within. He wants to continue to strengthen the EU by building unity on issues ranging from health to defence.
European leaders are following the elections closely and with concern. German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez and Portuguese Prime Minister Antonio Costa called on voters not to support Le Pen while refraining from explicitly supporting Macron, in a joint column published in several newspapers on Thursday.
The choice is between the incumbent who values ”democracy, sovereignty, freedom and the rule of law” and a nationalist who sides with autocratic leaders like Vladimir Putin who reawakened “memories of the darkest times of Europe,” they said.
Macron leads Le Pen by 56.2% to 43.8%, according to a poll average calculated by Bloomberg on April 21. That would give him a narrower margin of victory than five years ago. But if Le Pen wins more than 40% of the vote, she would likely emerge stronger as he may find it harder to implement his reform agenda, depending on the outcome of the June legislative elections.
During a stopover in Roye, in the Somme, on Thursday, Le Pen briefed him on the bread-and-butter issues that have been at the center of his concerns throughout the campaign, posing for photos and signing posters with truck drivers. She said she wanted to be the president of people who are “struggling” and called on voters to vote with their “sanity” and their “heart”.
The president was in the country’s most diverse department, Seine-Saint-Denis, near Paris, in a clear attempt to woo France’s “beavers” – left-leaning voters who built “dams” to prevent the far right to take Power.
“It’s not over yet,” Macron said, calling on all his supporters to try to convince as many people as possible to support him. “We shouldn’t get used to the advance of far-right ideas.”
Green leader Yannick Jadot has urged voters to support Macron “without pleasure, but without hesitation” – a sign that an informal cross-party alliance against the far right is not entirely collapsing despite Macron’s unpopularity among many on the left . Far-left leader Jean-Luc Melenchon, while not explicitly supporting the president, said no one should give Le Pen “one vote”.