Macron turns to cities to try to connect with the average citizen

Emmanuel Macron entered the electoral campaign two weeks away from a regional election from which he has little to gain and one year from the presidential elections where, except for capital surprise, he opts for re-election. The French president armed himself this week with “pilgrim staff”, as they say, on a tour of tourist and picturesque towns to “take the pulse of the country”. France is emerging from a year of confinements and restrictions with a mixture of optimism for a summer at liberty and concern over the economic and social effects of the pandemic.

This is not the start of the campaign, officially, nor Macron was proclaimed a candidate, but the tour of Wednesday and last Thursday through the department (province) of Lot, in the southwest of France, had the ingredients for a pre-election tour. . Not in view of the regional elections of June 20 and 27, of which his party, La República en Marcha (LREM), is preparing to cash in a bad result, but the presidential elections of April and May 2022. According to polls, the President of the Republic will contest his re-election with Marine Le Pen, leader of the far-right Regroupement national (RN) party.

For Macron, it is about reconnecting with what in other times we would have called the real France, the deep France, or the provinces. From now on, we are talking about territories, a fetish word in French political jargon which designates everything that is not large agglomerations.

In the coming months, the president plans to repeat multi-day visits to the territories to speak face to face with voters and project an image of a leader who listens and not disconnected from citizens after four years in power. The method Рgetting out of the Elys̩e bubble and discussing with the French on foot Рwas useful to him in overcoming the worst political crisis of his presidency, the revolt of the yellow vests, which erupted between fall 2018 and winter 2019. Now, after the pandemic, he is trying again.

The territories are numerous in France, in fact. Rural France and those of medium-sized towns. The one that the demographer Christophe Guilluy called the “peripheral”, far from the nodes of communication and the nuclei of political and economic power, and detached from prosperity and globalization.

There are, at the same time, territories which prosper far from centralizing Paris or which live “a happy form of rurality”, as the president said in reference to the stages of the itinerary of this week, medieval cities like Saint-Cirq-Lapopie (200 inhabitants) or Martel (1,600), always classified in the televised competitions among the “most beautiful” of the Hexagon.

“The Lot department is the average France, tourist, postcard, without factories closing, a fairly stable France”, analyzed the day before the trip Jérôme Fourquet, director of the Opinion department at the Ifop survey institute and author of The French archipelago (“The French Archipelago”), a demographic and sociological dissection of the country which has become a reference cited on the left and on the right.

Fourquet adds: “President Macron says to himself: ‘Now the regional ones are coming, but I am marking my own course.’ For the French, it is a question of being able to go on vacation and have their family barbecues. This is what the French are waiting for at the moment. Then comes the question of whether the economy is growing. Now he is dealing with the lack of focus and enjoying the morale boost. “

The world used this week, in an editorial, the neologism invite, a contraction of covid and the displaced Spanish word, alluding to the atmosphere of euphoria and creativity of 1980s Spain. The acceleration of vaccination, the reopening in May of terraces, shops, museums, cinemas and theaters, and the proximity of the holidays are fueling optimism after the long winter of covid-19.

But France is a volatile country and the question is whether the good mood will persist after the summer or if it is temporary. “Everything coexists in French society,” says Fourquet. “What Macron is trying to do is take things in a positive direction.”

Today is the time to invite. But two weeks ago, headlines dominated citizen insecurity, police killings and manifestos of ex-servicemen speaking of a pre-civil war environment and hinting at the need for a coup. ‘State. This environment favored the extreme right.

At the regional meetings of June 20 and 27, the RN opts for victory, at least, in Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur, the region of Nice and Marseille. And the polls give Le Pen the favorite for the first round of the 2022 presidential election. Even if he would lose to Macron in the second round, the margin is too narrow for the president to be confident. In 2017, Macron won 66% of the vote and Le Pen, 34%. Now there are polls that predict a margin in favor of the current president of just six or eight points.

Macronists will try to relativize the value of the regional as a dress rehearsal for the presidential elections, because they take defeat for granted and trust the strength of the president. Despite the fact that Le Pen, engaged in an effort to moderate his image, is rising in the polls, Macron enjoys a popularity of around 40%, higher than that of his predecessors, the socialist François Hollande and the conservative Nicolas Sarkozy . “If the virus leaves him alone,” says Fourquet, “he is not in the worst possible situation.

During the tour in southwestern France, someone asked him if he would be a candidate in 2022. “It’s too early to tell,” replied the president. Few believed him.

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