Macron promises ambitious green policies, courting the left in the second round

It was an ambitious promise for a president whose green policies have been criticized in repeated climate protests, condemned by the courts for “inaction” and marked by a failure to meet targets. But above all, Macron’s wish was a direct appeal to voters on his left, who hold the key to a final victory in the second round of the presidential election – and for whom the climate has become a key issue.

Macron devoted about three-quarters of his one-and-a-half-hour speech to environmental issues. He promised to appoint ministers responsible for long-term environmental planning, to plant 140 million trees by 2030 and to rapidly reduce dependence on oil and gas by developing nuclear and renewable energy.

“Inaction – not for me!” he told a jubilant crowd of some 4,000 people gathered in the Parc du Pharo, on the heights of Marseille, for what was perhaps Macron’s last rally before the vote on April 24.

The event symbolized Macron’s strategy for the second round between the incumbent centrist and his far-right opponent, Marine Le Pen: courting the left with progressive policies and campaigning in working-class towns where he is trying to shake off his image of a distant president, detached from daily realities. If large numbers of left-leaning voters stay home for the second round of voting or migrate to Le Pen’s camp, it could spell serious trouble for Macron.

Stewart Chau, an analyst for polling firm Viavoice, said Macron’s main objective was to “seek voters for Jean-Luc Mélenchon”, a far-left candidate who came third in the first round of voting – but first in Marseille, with 31% of the votes.

In September, the president unveiled a multi-billion euro plan to tackle crime and poverty in Marseille.

Promising a “complete renewal” if re-elected, Macron also used his speech to attack Le Pen, accusing him of wanting to restrict press freedom, undermine gender equality and lead France out of the European Union. He is trying to rekindle the “dam” traditional voters have long formed by voting for anyone over a Le Pen – either his current opponent or his father, Jean-Marie, leaders of France’s far-right for years 1970.

Saturday’s rally capped an intense week of campaigning for Macron, traveling the country since Monday to make up for a lackluster initial campaign. Visiting only places where Le Pen or Mélenchon came out on top in the first round, he risks engaging with angry locals in an attempt to show that he too can feel their pain.

By contrast, Le Pen, who has long struggled to soften her public image, has been more risk averse, limiting her campaign trips in the past week. Instead, she tried to consolidate her credibility with two press conferences on her institutional overhaul proposals and her foreign policy program.

But those events partly backfired after her party’s refusal to accredit some media outlets caused a stir, and as she detailed contentious plans to get closer to Russia and leave Russia’s integrated military command. NATO.

Le Pen has faced more scrutiny since another far-right candidate, Éric Zemmour, failed to make it to the second round. His inflammatory comments opposing immigration and Islam diverted much of the attention from Le Pen, long known for similar positions.

“Form meets substance,” Chau said, adding that Le Pen’s sanitized image now clashes with “the reality of his ideas, which are anything but appeased, anything but softened.”

At a Thursday rally in the southern city of Avignon, Le Pen only mentioned immigration three times, despite it being a cornerstone of his platform. She proposed deporting foreigners after a year of unemployment, giving priority to ethnic French people for social housing and benefits, and removing the right to nationality by birth in France.

His supporters were more direct. “She still wants to deport immigrants,” said Aline Vincent, a French flag in her right hand, who attended Le Pen’s rally with around 4,000 others. “But she doesn’t say it the same way.”

In Marseille, Daniel Beddou said he was “very worried” about the rise of the far right. Holding a European flag in his left hand, he said he was satisfied with Macron’s environmental plans. He said they embodied the president’s “at the same time” approach, referring to his habit of borrowing policies from left and right.

As he appeals to the 7.7 million voters who supported Mélenchon in the first round and seem to hold the key to an eventual victory, Macron has tempered some of his proposals, such as a plan to raise the legal age of retirement from 62 to 65, which he now says he could be sweetened.

On Saturday, he also insisted on long-term “environmental planning” – a concept that was a cornerstone of Mélenchon’s platform – promising to appoint a minister “directly responsible” for it, assisted by two ministers in charge of energy and environmental transition.

“There is a real desire to speak to a popular electorate, a left-wing electorate that we missed in the first round,” said Sacha Houlié, deputy and spokesperson for Macron’s campaign.

It remains to be seen how well Macron’s last-minute left tilt will yield results at the polls.

Many voters remain disappointed with Macron’s rightward shift in recent years. François Dosse, a French historian and philosopher who was one of Macron’s most enthusiastic supporters in the last election, said his tough stance on immigration and against Islamic extremism amounted to “recycling fears of extreme right” and to indirectly give credence to Le Pen’s speech. .

“It’s about playing Russian roulette,” Dosse said of Macron’s strategy of triangulating the French electoral landscape. “And it’s a dangerous game in which you can lose – and lose democracy.”

Macron won 28% of the vote last week, against 23% for Le Pen and 22% for Mélenchon, with a host of others trailing behind. Already, some voters are considering not participating in the second round, disappointed by the results of the outgoing candidate.

“In 2017, he was a new face, he was young, he was ambitious, but in the end he did nothing,” said Nadia Mebrek, a 48-year-old Mélenchon supporter, adding that she would abstain. most likely. . She stood in rue d’Aubagne, where two buildings collapsed in 2018, killing eight people – a testament to Marseille’s endemic housing crisis and poverty.

“Macron, he protects the rich more than the poor,” said Mebrek, who as a caregiver has always been paid minimum wage.

Polls show that only a third of Mélenchon’s supporters would support Macron in the second round to prevent Le Pen from taking power, with the rest split between voting for Le Pen and abstaining.

But the first week of the second-round campaign seemed to favor Macron. Voter polls show his lead in the second round has widened. The French president would get 56% of the vote, against 44% for Le Pen – his biggest lead since the end of March.

In Marseille, many Mélenchon supporters like Nate Gasser, 26, said they would hold their noses and back Macron to defeat Le Pen. “It annoys me to do this, but we will vote for Macron,” he said, insisting that it was not “a membership vote”.

“And after that,” he said, “we will take to the streets to protest.”

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