As rivals catch up, Macron holds campaign meeting with great fanfare

Emmanuel Macron held his first major campaign rally with thousands of supporters and most of his government ministers as rival candidates catch up in the polls just eight days ahead of the first round of the presidential election.

At a meeting in the largest European arena located outside of Paris, analysts on public television described his rally as a boxing match, as the incumbent president walked through the arena with large sparklers lining his path.

Macron made official his reelection campaign in the beginning of March with aletter published in local French newspapers but he hasn’t held many campaign events since.

At his meeting in Nanterre on Saturday, the French president focussed his speech on what he views as his successes in the five years of his presidency.

He opened the rally by speaking about the war in Ukraine as Macron works to put an end to the conflict through diplomacy.

Macron said his project was one of “progress, independence, and a future for France and Europe” even as his opponents have criticised him as sharing many of the same proposals as his right-wing rivals.

AP Photo/Francois Mori
Supporters cheer French President Emmanuel Macron and centrist candidate for reelection during a meeting in Paris, Saturday, April 2, 2022.AP Photo/Francois Mori

He has said that only work can bring progress in the country, defending his proposal to raise the retirement age to 65 and reduce unemployment.

In a separate rally on Saturday, communist candidate Fabien Roussel criticised those who are urging the French to work more and longer as part of their campaigns.

But the incumbent president has led in the polls for months even before he officially declared that he would run for re-election.

Now in the last few weeks, far-right candidate Marine Le Pen, who Macron faced in 2017, has begun to close the gap in the polls.

Le Pen has for years worked to make her candidacy appeal to the greater public, toning down her far-right positions in a campaign to “un-demonise” her anti-immigration party.

In the first round, the latest poll from French cable channel BFM-TV put Macron at around 28.5% and Marine Le Pen at around 22%. In a second round between the two candidates, Le Pen is polling within the margin of error.

It comes as Macron is plagued by his spending of hundreds of millions of euros on private consultants, such as the US consulting firm McKinsey, a scandal that was detailed earlier this month in a Senate report.

The report accuses the government of a lack of transparency over the increased use of consultants and accuses McKinsey of not paying taxes in France.

Far-left candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon assured voters that he would not use private consultants if elected to the presidency while right-wing candidate Valérie Pécresse said she wasn’t against partnerships between the public and the private sector but that she wouldn’t pay consultants the same amount of money as the government.

Defending himself at the rally, Macron said some of his critics had used consultants in their own governments or local cities.

He worked to draw attention to his programme, released just two weeks ago, speaking of “injustices” that he wanted to change during a possible second mandate, including aid for single moms and his plans for students.

He also emphasised the role of security, promising to double the number of police officers in the street.

Security has been a recurring topic in the election for right-leaning candidates, that have brought the topic to the forefront of the public debate.

Macron finally defended his European policy, saying it was patriotism and Europe against nationalism in a jab at the far-right in France.

Voters will take to the polls on 10 and 24 April to elect a president.

euronews