Posts Tagged ‘French election’

EU Parliament says lost 5 mn euros to alleged Le Pen jobs fraud

April 27, 2017


© AFP/File | French presidential candidate Marine Le Pen’s far right National Front is accused of using European money to pay assistants for work outside the European Parliament


The European Parliament accuses French presidential candidate Marine Le Pen’s party of defrauding it of nearly five million euros ($5.5 million) in expenses, more than twice an initial estimate, a French legal source said Thursday.

The parliament accuses Le Pen’s anti-EU National Front (FN) of using funds meant for parliamentary assistants to pay staff for party work in France between 2012 and 2017.

The allegations, which Le Pen denies, have triggered an investigation in France.

The parliament had initially estimated the amount of the contested salaries at 1.9 million euros but now believes the FN wrongfully expensed 4,978,122 euros, the source said, quoting a note to French investigators from the parliament’s legal team.

Patrick Maisonneuve, a lawyer for the parliament, confirmed the amount to AFP.

The parliament believes 17 FN lawmakers in the European Parliament, including Le Pen, used European money to pay assistants for work outside the assembly, the source said.

French investigators have not said how many of the jobs are in question.

Le Pen, who came second in the first round of the presidential election behind centrist Emmanuel Macron, has portrayed the allegations as part of a plot to stymie her political ambitions.

She will go up against Macron in a run-off vote on May 7.

In March, Le Pen invoked her MEP’s immunity in refusing to submit to questioning by investigating magistrates.

Her chief of staff Catherine Griset and another party official have been charged with concealment.

Does Macron really represent the future of France? Or is he the last man of the old French elite?

April 25, 2017

By Pat Buchanan

For the French establishment, Sunday’s presidential election came close to a near-death experience. As the Duke of Wellington said of Waterloo, it was a “damn near-run thing.”

Neither candidate of the two major parties that have ruled France since Charles De Gaulle even made it into the runoff, an astonishing repudiation of France’s national elite.

Marine Le Pen of the National Front ran second with 21.5 percent of the vote. Emmanuel Macron of the new party En Marche! won 23.8 percent.

Macron is a heavy favorite on May 7. The Republicans’ Francois Fillon, who got 20 percent, and the Socialists’ Benoit Hamon, who got less than 7 percent, both have urged their supporters to save France by backing Macron.

Ominously for U.S. ties, 61 percent of French voters chose Le Pen, Fillon or radical Socialist Jean-Luc Melenchon. All favor looser ties to America and repairing relations with Vladimir Putin’s Russia.

Le Pen has a mountain to climb to win, but she is clearly the favorite of the president of Russia, and perhaps of the president of the United States. Last week, Donald Trump volunteered:

“She’s the strongest on borders, and she’s the strongest on what’s been going on in France. … Whoever is the toughest on radical Islamic terrorism, and whoever is the toughest at the borders, will do well in the election.”

As an indicator of historic trends in France, Le Pen seems likely to win twice the 18 percent her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, won in 2002, when he lost in the runoff to Jacques Chirac.

The campaign between now and May 7, however, could make the Trump-Clinton race look like an altarpiece of democratic decorum.

Not only are the differences between the candidates stark, Le Pen has every incentive to attack to solidify her base and lay down a predicate for the future failure of a Macron government.

And Macron is vulnerable. He won because he is fresh, young, 39, and appealed to French youth as the anti-Le Pen. A personification of Robert Redford in “The Candidate.”

But he has no established party behind him to take over the government, and he is an ex-Rothschild banker in a populist environment where bankers are as welcome as hedge-fund managers at a Bernie Sanders rally.

He is a pro-EU, open-borders transnationalist who welcomes new immigrants and suggests that acts of Islamist terrorism may be the price France must pay for a multi-ethnic and multicultural society.

Macron was for a year economic minister to President Francois Hollande who has presided over a 10 percent unemployment rate and a growth rate that is among the most anemic in the entire European Union.

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He is offering corporate tax cuts and a reduction in the size of a government that consumes 56 percent of GDP, and presents himself as the “president of patriots to face the threat of nationalists.”

His campaign is as much “us vs. them” as Le Pen’s.

And elite enthusiasm for Macron seems less rooted in any anticipation of future greatness than in the desperate hope he can save the French establishment from the dreaded prospect of Marine.

But if Macron is the present, who owns the future?

Across Europe, as in France, center-left and center-right parties that have been on the scene since World War II appear to be emptying out like dying churches. The enthusiasm and energy seem to be in the new parties of left and right, of secessionism and nationalism.

The problem for those who believe the populist movements of Europe have passed their apogee, with losses in Holland, Austria and, soon, France, that the fever has broken, is that the causes of the discontent that spawned these parties are growing stronger.

What are those causes?

A growing desire by peoples everywhere to reclaim their national sovereignty and identity, and remain who they are. And the threats to ethnic and national identity are not receding, but growing.

The tide of refugees from the Middle East and Africa has not abated. Weekly, we read of hundreds drowning in sunken boats that tried to reach Europe. Thousands make it. But the assimilation of Third World peoples in Europe is not proceeding. It seems to have halted.

Second-generation Muslims who have lived all their lives in Europe are turning up among the suicide bombers and terrorists.

Fifteen years ago, al-Qaida seemed confined to Afghanistan. Now it is all over the Middle East, as is ISIS, and calls for Islamists in Europe to murder Europeans inundate social media.

The “refugee” crisis explained: Order WND’s Leo Hohmann’s book “Stealth Invasion: Muslim Conquest through Immigration and Resettlement Jihad”

As the numbers of native-born Europeans begin to fall, with their anemic fertility rates, will the aging Europeans become more magnanimous toward destitute newcomers who do not speak the national language or assimilate into the national culture, but consume its benefits?

If a referendum were held across Europe today, asking whether the mass migrations from the former colonies of Africa and the Middle East have on balance made Europe a happier and better place to live in in recent decades, what would that secret ballot reveal?

Does Macron really represent the future of France, or is he perhaps one of the last men of yesterday?


French election 2017: Marine Le Pen leading the race as polls open but victory far from assured

April 23, 2017

Fox News

As voting starts in the French Presidential Election,  Marine Le Pen — who has built her campaign on the populist anger that helped President Trump get elected — is seeing a similar boost in support.

Marine Le Pen goes into today's first round of the French election in the lead

Marine Le Pen goes into today’s first round of the French election in the lead

An opinion poll released Friday by Odoxa shows her nearly neck-and-neck with centrist candidate Emmanuel Macron, a jump in the past week. Analysts point out that the latest attack in Paris, which killed a police officer and left three other people wounded Thursday, may have contributed to her surge in support.


Still, the race is far from decided. As many as one-third of voters had not settled on a candidate this week, Newsweek reported. President Trump said he believed the Champs-Elysees attack would help Le Pen, while former President Barack Obama offered Macron his best wishes in a phone call Thursday. Both Trump and Obama stopped short of full endorsements.

Election stations opened Saturday in French overseas territories voting first — one day earlier than on the mainland.

Newsweek found many voters across France saying they were leaning toward Le Pen — which would parallel the surge for Trump last year among undecided voters and supporters who chose to lay low.


André Robert, 56, said her tough stance on terror convinced him. “I’m voting for the candidate who’ll keep us safe.”

“Marine gets me shaking,” 65-year-old Monique Zaouchkevitch said, adding that she’d stayed out of politics until she heard Le Pen speak. “Marine, she’s close to the people.”

In another parallel to the U.S., some voters seemed to suffer from election fatigue and weren’t blown away by any of the candidates. Gabriel Roberoir, a 61-year-old former public servant, called the election a “circus,” adding, “I don’t even know why any of them are running.”

Sunday’s vote is the first round in the French elections, with the top two candidates advancing to a winner-take-all runoff on May 7. The high-stakes contest is viewed as something of a vote on the future of the European Union, with Le Pen calling for a referendum on France’s membership in the bloc.

In a sign of how tense the country has become, a man holding a knife caused widespread panic Saturday at Paris’ Gare du Nord train station. He was arrested and no one was hurt.

Conservative former Prime Minister Francois Fillon, whose campaign was initially derailed by corruption allegations that his wife was paid as his parliamentary aide, also appeared to be closing the gap, as was far-leftist, Jean-Luc Melenchon. Campaigning by the 11 presidential candidates got off to a slow start, bogged down by corruption charges around once-top candidate Fillon before belatedly switching focus to France’s biggest fear: a new attack.

Le Pen has also echoed some of Trump’s hard-line rhetoric on immigration, calling for hardening French borders to stanch what she describes as an out-of-control flow of immigrants.

She has spoken of radical Muslims trying to supplant France’s Judeo-Christian heritage and, among other measures, has called for foreigners suspected of extremism to be expelled from the country.

Le Pen, a 48-year-old mother of three, has distanced herself from her father, National Front party founder Jean-Marie Le Pen, who has been convicted of crimes related to anti-Semitism and mocked the Holocaust as a “detail” of history.

Nevertheless, earlier this month she denied the French state was responsible for the roundup of Jews during World War II, drawing condemnation from other presidential candidates and Israel’s Foreign Ministry.

A victory for Macron would be a vote of confidence in France staying in the EU. Obama, when he was in office, encouraged Britain not to leave, though it ultimately voted to do so anyway.

Trump backed Britain’s decision to exit from the EU and has also predicted that other countries would make similar decisions. Yet during a White House news conference Thursday, the president said he believed in a strong Europe.

“A strong Europe is very, very important to me as president of the United States,” he said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

See also from The Telegraph:

French election 2017: Marine Le Pen leading the race as polls open


France: Polls open in Presidential Election that could have a dramatic effect on the shape of the European Union

April 23, 2017

Amid heightened security fears following a terror attack in Paris, the French will elect a new president in two rounds of voting on April 23 and May 7—the result could reshape the European Union. WSJ’s Niki Blasina explains who the top candidates are, how they could win, and what might happen next. Photo: Getty Images.

PARIS—French voters headed to the polls Sunday for the first round of a closely contested presidential election that has turned into a referendum on the future of France’s generous entitlement system and on the nation’s place in the European Union, amid heightened security days after a terror attack in the capital.

Uncertainty is running high as polls show the four candidates leading the race are within striking distance of one another. The quartet comprises two mainstream contenders and two antiestablishment candidates seeking to pull apart the political and economic order that has governed France and Europe for the past 60 years.

The top two finishers from a field of 11 will proceed to a runoff on May 7, unless any one candidate garners more than 50% of the vote Sunday.

Adding further tension, voters are casting their ballots amid heightened security following a spate of terror attacks. An additional 50,000 police and gendarmes will be deployed to secure polling stations around the country, where some 10,000 soldiers are already patrolling the streets as part of an antiterror mission.

Photos: Voting Begins in France

French voters cast their ballots in the first round of that country’s election Sunday

Expatriate French voters line up at a polling station in Hong Kong.
Expatriate French voters line up at a polling station in Hong Kong. ALEX HOFFORD/EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY
A voter casts his ballot at a Paris polling station in the first round of the French presidential election on Sunday.
A voter casts his ballot at a Paris polling station in the first round of the French presidential election on Sunday. CHRISTIAN HARTMANN/REUTERS

French people were reminded of the threat Thursday when a police officer was gunned down on Paris’s Champs-Élysées. Two days earlier, police detained two men in the southern city of Marseille suspected of planning an imminent terror attack.

Polling firms say many voters planning to cast a ballot still hadn’t picked a first-round candidate at the end of the week. According to a poll by BVA Thursday and Friday, 23% of people intending to vote say they could still change their mind.

Leading among the anti-EU candidates is Marine Le Pen, the National Front leader who has pledged to halt immigration, and wants France to pull out of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and ditch the euro. Left-wing firebrand Jean-Luc Mélenchon is also threatening to pull out of NATO and the EU, unless the bloc bends to his demands to scrap treaties that rein in excessive spending.

Coming to the defense of Europe are Emmanuel Macron, a 39-year-old former investment banker who has never run for office, and François Fillon, a social and fiscal conservative who has publicly apologized after news reports showed he had put his family on the public payroll.

Also at stake in Sunday’s vote is the fate of France’s big-hearted state. Ms. Le Pen and Mr. Mélenchon are promising to reinforce pension and holiday entitlements. Messrs. Fillon and Macron say the time has come to bring benefits in line with France’s debt-laden public finances.

Second-Round Matchups

The six most realistic scenarios for the May 7 presidential runoff and their predicted outcomes.

Emmanuel Macron | François Fillon

A contest between two pro-Europeans that shifts the debate to taxation, spending and how to fix the French economy.

Emmanuel Macron | Marine Le Pen

A staunch EU defender takes on one of the economic bloc’s most committed adversaries.

Emmanuel Macron | Jean-Luc Mélenchon

A referendum on the role of France in the EU and NATO, laying bare divisions on the French left.

Jean-Luc Mélenchon | François Fillon

A soak-the-rich crusader of the far-left squares off with a conservative proponent of austerity.

Jean-Luc Mélenchon | Marine Le Pen

The second round investors fear most, because it guarantees France will have a deeply euroskeptic president.

François Fillon | Marine Le Pen

This matchup with the scandal-plagued Mr. Fillon, polls say, is Ms. Le Pen’s best shot at the presidency.

Sources: Staff reports; CEVIPOF poll conducted between Apr. 16–17 by Ipsos-Sopra Steria of 11,601 people registered on the electoral rolls (polling)

The BVA poll showed Ms. Le Pen and Mr. Macron each on track to garner 23% of the vote, with Mr. Mélenchon on 19.5% and Mr. Fillon half a point behind the left-wing candidate. The projections, the poll says, have a 2.5-percentage-point margin of error.

Those razor-thin margins are testing the longstanding practice in France of casting ballots for those candidates voters consider to be lesser evils—what is known locally as a “vote utile,” or “useful vote.”

“It was already complicated before,” said Florence Pilon, 43 years old, who is now leaning toward voting for Mr. Macron. “We haven’t had a very reassuring campaign.”

At the start of the year, Mr. Fillon and Ms. Le Pen held a comfortable lead in polls, which projected him beating her in the second round as voters rallied against the National Front leader.

But Mr. Fillon’s campaign suffered a blow after a newspaper reported he had hired his wife and two children as parliamentary assistants, paying them hundreds of thousands of euros in state funds. In March, an investigative magistrate notified Mr. Fillon he was suspected of embezzlement for providing his family with fake jobs. Mr. Fillon has apologized for hiring relatives but denied allegations the jobs were fake.

Mr. Fillon’s ensuing collapse in opinion polls thrust Mr. Macron, a pro-business former economy minister, into pole position.

In recent weeks, however, Mr. Macron’s left flank has come under attack from Mr. Mélenchon, a fiery, Mao jacket-wearing leftist who has cast himself as the champion of the working class.

Mr. Mélenchon’s surge scrambled the voting math once again, as polls showed many on the left were tempted to abandon Mr. Macron.

The Interior Ministry will publish the first turnout figures at noon local time and again at 5 p.m.

The first estimations based on a partial count the vote will be calculated by polling companies for the main TV channels and broadcast at 8 p.m.

Polling companies expect to have firmer projections by 10 p.m., though there is an outside chance the race could still be too close to call. If that is the case, the first round may not be called until the government completes the vote count on Monday morning.

Write to William Horobin at and Joshua Robinson at


France votes amid political turmoil — “This is a deep institutional crisis.”

April 23, 2017

Today’s first round of voting in France’s presidential elections is the culmination of the country’s very surprising campaign. Lisa Louis reports from Paris.

Frankreich Wahlen (Reuters/P.Rossignol)

France has seen its most extraordinary presidential election campaign in recent history. Beyond politics as usual, it points to a deep institutional crisis.

The French are going to the polls today to vote in the first round of the presidential elections. About a third of them still don’t know who to vote for according to polls. And can you really blame them?

French presidential election campaigns normally produce two clear front runners – often from the main center-right and center-left parties. In 2012, the center-right candidate Nicolas Sarkozy was facing current Socialist President Francois Hollande. Admittedly, far-right National Front leader Jean-Marie Le Pen reached the second round of voting in 2002. But that had been undetected by the polls.

This time around though, four candidates could potentially reach the decisive run-off vote on May 7. The gaps between their projected tallies are so small that they lie within the margin of error. That’s unheard of and hasn’t occurred since the beginning of France’s Fifth Republic in 1958.

“This is the first time that the media’s projections published at [1800 UTC] on the first day of voting will probably not give us the names of the two candidates that’ll get into the second round – the vote will just be too close,” said Nicolas Lebourg, political historian at Montpellier University.

“It’s extraordinary – never has a presidential election been so chaotic,” he added.

Full of surprises

Thursday night’s terror attack just added to the confusion focusing the campaign on terrorism in its last stretch. Unemployment had been the main talking point up until then. During the attack, one policeman was killed and three other people wounded after a 39-year old French man opened fire on a police van on Paris’ iconic Champs-Elysées boulevard. However, it doesn’t seem to have given any of the candidates a huge edge according to the latest polls.

But the whole campaign has been full of surprises. To start off with, none of the winners of the Republican and Socialist parties’ primaries were expected to come first.

Frankreich Francois Fillon (Getty Images/AFP/P. Kovarik)Francois Fillon, once the frontrunner, has seen his candidacy hurt amid allegations he gave family members fake jobs

Then came scandal for the conservatives. The Republican candidate, former Prime Minister Francois Fillon, had for months been the favorite to become France’s next President. He’s a social conservative and intends to get the country back on track with Thatcher-like radical economic reforms. He is also planning on repositioning the country internationally – by seeking closer ties with Russia and Syria.

But in January, scandals around alleged fake jobs for his family saw his poll numbers drop from 28 to about 18 percent. He is now competing with far-left candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon for third position.

Melenchon recently – and surprisingly so – zoomed upwards from ten percent, with Socialist candidate Benoit Hamon plummeting to single-figure numbers.

The left-extremist Melenchon still thinks in terms of class warfare. A gifted orator, he wants to strengthen the French welfare state by increasing the minimum wage and bringing down weekly working hours – currently at 35. He also intends to renegotiate EU treaties or, if that fails, push for France to leave the EU all together.

Another extremist is among the two front runners – again a first in French history. Marine Le Pen from the far-right National Front has a very good chance of getting through to the decisive run-off vote – and this is reflected in the polls. She’s proven popular with a recipe of anti-immigrant, economic protectionism and nationalistic rhetoric. But she has managed to smoothen out the party’s image by no longer making controversial statements like her father Jean-Marie. He was tarnished by charges of xenophobia and anti-semitism.

Kombobild Melenchon Le PenLeftist Jean-Luc Melenchon has risen in the polls ahead of the vote, while far-right candidate Marine Le Pen is hoping her anti-EU, anti-migration rhetoric will galvanize her populist base

Traditional parties in crisis

Le Pen’s closest rival is independent centrist Emmanuel Macron. The former Economics Minister is pro-European and pro-business but also intends to maintain and strengthen France’s welfare state. His movement “En Marche!” (On The Move!), founded only a year ago, skyrocketed in the polls. He’s now in first place.

“The fact that a lightning party like ‘En Marche!’ can attract members from the Communists and the Republicans just shows to what extent the traditional parties are in a crisis,” said Florence Faucher, Professor for Political Science at Paris University Sciences Po.

But historian Lebourg says it’s not just the Socialist and the Republican Parties that are in a dire state – but the whole Fifth Republic: “This is a deep institutional crisis.”

“Our Republican Monarchy was made for the agrarian France of 1958, when less then ten percent of the people under 50 had a degree – now that figure is at 38 percent.”

“People want to be included in political decisions – and no longer be dictated to. Our institutions and very authoritarian and centralized political system are just not suitable any more.”

Perhaps for this reason, many in this election campaign were trying to depict themselves as anti-system candidates – including Melenchon, Le Pen, and Macron.

No clear favorite

Lebourg says the current political system, based on two rounds of voting, only works with two frontrunners and two strong political poles. But with four strong candidates, none of them is likely to get enough votes to appear legitimate. “The two run-off candidates will not have been able to gather much more than 20 percent in the first round,” he stated.

And more problems could lie ahead. Parliamentary elections will take place in June and the resulting majority will form the new government.

But only a President Francois Fillon would have a chance of getting such a majority. He could fall back on a large base of traditional voters of his party.

The other candidates, if elected, would not have that base and would hardly be able to get the necessary number of MPs. Those who are voting for the winner in the Presidential elections would not necessarily support his or her candidates in parliamentary elections, Lebourg explained.

The result would then be a coalition – a so-called “cohabitation.”

But coalitions have never worked very well in French history. “It would be total chaos – the French are just not good at making compromises,” Lebourg said adding that it wasn’t for nothing that the French had come up with the term “Franco-French war”.

“In any case, the system is at breaking point – it’s almost impossible not to reform it as things stand.”

Lebourg thinks the electoral rules need to be changed towards a proportional system and that more space needs to be given to citizen initiatives.

Political scientist Faucher says it’s no wonder people are confused given all the ups and downs of the election campaign. “The French are just not happy with the status quo. This campaign is the expression of a resentment against the established system, just like the Brexit vote and the outcome of the US presidential elections.”

“Many just don’t know who to vote for now – especially as they are more worried than ever to get things right.”


France ready for Sunday’s presidential vote — “This could be ‘the end’ of the EU.”

April 22, 2017

After 238 deaths at the hands of jihadi terrorists in just two years, France was coming to terms with yet another one yesterday. But might Thursday night’s Paris slaughter of a French policeman by a previously convicted Islamist gunman also go down as an historic turning point?

Coming just hours before the official cessation of all campaigning ahead of tomorrow’s presidential vote, it is certainly possible. Because a polarised nation increasingly drawn towards two political extremes now stands on the cusp of the most uncertain and unhappy election in modern French history.

It is one which not only has all the EU grandees in Brussels in a blind panic but could even dictate what happens in Britain. For France could be about to deliver a result even more seismic than last year’s British referendum vote for Brexit. The country which has given the world the phrase déjà vu has never seen anything remotely like this.

National Front candidate Marine Le Pen. A polarised nation increasingly drawn towards two political extremes now stands on the cusp of the most uncertain and unhappy election in modern French history

National Front candidate Marine Le Pen. A polarised nation increasingly drawn towards two political extremes now stands on the cusp of the most uncertain and unhappy election in modern French history

Marine Le Pen calls for border controls after French attack
 Image may contain: 1 person, standing and night

A headline in the normally highbrow French daily, L’Opinion, the other day summed up the national mood ahead of the vote: ‘The Crazydential Election.’

The field is now wide open between an old school fascist, a conservative mired in criminal investigations, a shiny Blairite banker who has never been elected to anything and a charismatic Maoist who wants a ‘citizens’ revolution’.

To the horror of the EU establishment, it is no longer impossible — or even improbable — that the fascist and the Maoist could triumph on Sunday and go through to next month’s best-of-two final.

This week’s jihadi attack certainly adds fresh momentum to the campaign of Marine Le Pen from the overtly xenophobic Far Right Front National (FN). The more she pushes ahead in one direction, the more the Far Left gains ground in the other.

If both of them triumph tomorrow, that would cause pandemonium. Both have pledged a French referendum on leaving the EU and both want ‘Frexit’. Regardless of who won a fortnight later, it would spell the end of the EU as we know it.

Because, in the event of a ‘Frexit’, the whole European project — of which France is a founder member and integral pillar — would collapse.

Even France’s own EU commissioner — former finance minister Pierre Moscovici — admitted the election of Le Pen in France would be ‘the end’ of the EU.

And in the pan-European mayhem and crashing markets that would follow on Monday morning, Theresa May would be the last rock of sanity in a continental sea of madness.

Jean-Luc MÈlenchon leader of 'les insoumis' political movement

Jean-Luc MÈlenchon leader of ‘les insoumis’ political movement

Game over.

The truth is that, frankly, anything could happen in tomorrow’s first round vote. After all, this is a presidential campaign which includes a candidate (there are 11 in total) who claims that the Queen is a drug smuggler and that homosexuality was invented by the KGB.

Having criss-crossed France in pursuit of the main players, I am not surprised the old European order is terrified.

After blaming last year’s unexpected wins for Brexit and Donald Trump on ‘populism’, the liberal commentariat had been fixating on Marine Le Pen as the next ‘populist’ threat.

In doing so, they had completely overlooked another candidate who is now enjoying unexpected success. And Jean-Luc Melenchon doesn’t fit their Right-wing ‘populist’ narrative at all.

Here is an ultra-Leftie who makes Jeremy Corbyn look like a Tory wet. He wants a wealth tax of 100 per cent, closer ties with Vladimir Putin, the abolition of nuclear power and, above all, a French departure from Nato and the EU. And he is on a late surge for second place in the opinion polls.

Since World War II, most French presidential races have boiled down to a U.S.-style binary choice between Left and Right.

But that model has fallen apart. The dismal record of outgoing president Francois Hollande has seen his Socialist Party collapse and the French Left fragment in two directions.

His successor as official Socialist candidate, Benoit Hamon, trails far behind the fiery Melenchon’s ‘France Unbowed’ movement.

But Hamon has also been eclipsed by the new hero of the moderate Left. Emmanuel Macron, a youthful ex-banker, claims to be a fresh, pro-European voice for those fed up with ‘old politics’.

Over on the French Right, the landscape should be dominated by Francois Fillon, a former prime minister and managerial smoothie often described as a ‘French Thatcher’. After beating several powerful candidates including former President Nicolas Sarkozy to win the nomination of the Republican opposition party, he seemed destined to go all the way.

Suddenly, in January, the French Press unearthed details of public money being paid to his family for nebulous jobs.

It was alleged that Fillon’s Welsh-born wife, Penelope, had pocketed hundreds of thousands of pounds as his ‘parliamentary assistant’, without lifting a finger. And the accusations kept piling up. It means he now lags some way behind the one name familiar to the British public — Marine Le Pen.

She hopes that the FN’s blend of immigrant-bashing and old-style protectionism will pull in angry voters from both Left and Right.

She has trotted out fresh pie-in-the-sky policies ranging from a ban on new supermarkets (to help small retailers) to a new retirement age — of 60. But her big election theme is that multiculturalism is endangering French society.

That is the message she keeps hammering home, as I witness ahead of Thursday’s killing.

Here is an ultra-Leftie who makes Jeremy Corbyn look like a Tory wet. He wants a wealth tax of 100 per cent, closer ties with Vladimir Putin, the abolition of nuclear power, says Robert Hardman

Here is an ultra-Leftie who makes Jeremy Corbyn look like a Tory wet. He wants a wealth tax of 100 per cent, closer ties with Vladimir Putin, the abolition of nuclear power, says Robert Hardman

My first stop is an invitation-only rally for Le Pen loyalists in Paris. Her campaign team clearly want to present a statesmanlike image, hiring a former ballroom near the Arc de Triomphe.

Heavies with wires in their ears try to look the part, but everyone is on edge. There is no warm-up act, and there will be no questions afterwards.

The party leader rattles through her speech as if she just wants to get it out of the way. There is precious little joie de vivre, though some British observers are struck by the way that, at a certain angle, the FN leader is — with exquisite irony — a dead ringer for the Guardian’s Polly Toynbee.

‘A multicultural society is a multiconflict society,’ Mme Le Pen declares. ‘Multiculturalism is the weapon of Islamic fundamentalists, permitted by useful idiots in the name of tolerance.’

She then tells the crowd a whopper about Britain being in the grip of Sharia law and says that, if elected, she will compel Muslim imams to deliver their sermons in French.

At the end, her loyalists are on their feet. Interestingly, they are not all white.

Maurice Puisard, 46, a nurse and FN council candidate whose parents are from French Guyana, says all the family vote FN: ‘This country has a big problem with security and authority. Marine Le Pen is the only one strong enough to deal with it.’

Mme Le Pen leaves, and the cameras engulf her again as journalists seek clarity on her latest toxic claim that France should feel no shame about deporting thousands of French Jews to Nazi death camps in 1942 — on the grounds that the officials involved were not working for ‘France’ but for the puppet Vichy regime.

‘This argument has been manipulated to discredit me,’ she says above the melee. ‘Of course I condemn the Vichy government, but Vichy was not France.’

Mme Le Pen has worked hard in recent years to distance both herself and her party from the racist rantings of her father, FN founder Jean-Marie Le Pen. Last year, he was fined £25,000 by a French court for dismissing the Nazi gas chambers as a ‘detail’ of history. On other occasions, he has attacked France’s football team for having ‘too many black players’.

Now at a stroke, on the eve of the election, Mme Le Pen turns out to be her father’s daughter after all.

Her genocidal buck-passing has caused outrage far beyond France’s Jewish community, as has a new biography alleging disturbing neo-Nazi sympathies among some of her closest friends (many of whom apparently refer to Adolf Hitler as ‘Uncle’).

Yet opinion polls were already suggesting she could expect 24 per cent of the vote tomorrow. The latest Islamist attack is only going to bolster her support. A recent poll suggested that most French police officers are going to vote for her.

Mme Le Pen has worked hard in recent years to distance both herself and her party from the racist rantings of her father, FN founder Jean-Marie Le Pen

Mme Le Pen has worked hard in recent years to distance both herself and her party from the racist rantings of her father, FN founder Jean-Marie Le Pen

The other front-runner, Emmanuel Macron, is also scoring around 24 per cent with his pitch for disillusioned moderates from either side.

At a packed rally, I ask dozens of people the same question: why Macron? All answer: ‘Jeunesse’ (Youth). Here in Britain, the allure of the cool young politician is over. We prefer grey-haired wisdom these days. But in France, politics has long been dominated by old men running old party machines.

All of which makes Macron, 39, a dizzyingly fresh proposition.

A slightly nasal financier, married to his former school-teacher, 24 years his senior, he is not pin-up material (and has had to bat off slurs about his sexuality). But compared to some dinosaurs in French politics, he is Peter Pan.

The crowd at this concert hall in the Pyrenean town of Pau is too big for the venue. Some 5,000 have squeezed in with another 1,500 locked out. Pumped up by dance anthems, mixed with audio clips of Martin Luther King, the audience is almost hysterical when he finally arrives, an hour late.

The local mayor does the warm-up, joking that while Macron may be young, Napoleon had already been emperor for six years by the time he was his age.

And then it goes a bit flat. Macron is no Napoleon. He seems twitchy, even nervous, as he begins with a prolonged homage to this corner of France, home to his late grandmother. At one point, I fear he may be about to blub.

A high-flying graduate of France’s ultra-elitist ‘rulers’ academy’, Ecole Nationale d’Administration, he went on to be a Rothschild’s banker. In 2014, he was parachuted into the Socialist government for a couple of years as Finance Minister before leaving to work on his own presidential bid.

Macron talks so softly that his audience have to keep completely quiet to hear his soliloquies about uniting Left and Right.

‘Our democracy is ill. I want to restore confidence in it,’ he says. ‘For me, this job is about presiding, not governing,’ he continues slowly as if unveiling a big new idea (isn’t that why the job title is ‘President’?) The crowd clap.

It is the only French rally I see all week with EU flags everywhere. Macron is the only overtly pro-EU candidate. Jean-Claude Juncker and the Brussels establishment will be praying for a Macron win.

But it is only in his very last sentence that Macron raises his voice as he declares: ‘Vive La France! Vive La Republique.’

His is one of two campaigns with a sense of gathering momentum. The other is in action at the other end of the country where 25,000 people have gathered in Lille to hear Jean–Luc Melenchon. Like Macron, the ex-teacher and ex-journalist has also founded his own movement. As well as demanding Frexit and punitive taxation of the rich, ‘France Unbowed’ sees Russia as a better ally than the USA.

Melenchon wants to raise the minimum wage by 15 per cent and splurge cash like sweeties. It may be the economics of the madhouse but it’s going down a storm, especially with France’s youth.

The similarities with Italy’s anarchic but phenomenally successful populist Five Star Movement — led by the anti-establishment comedian-turned-politician Beppe Grillo — grow more obvious by the day. Hence the alarm bells in Brussels.

A woman looks at a poster with the Disney character Uncle Scrooge fixed over the official poster of French presidential election candidate for the far-left coalition "La France insoumise" Jean-Luc Melenchon

A woman looks at a poster with the Disney character Uncle Scrooge fixed over the official poster of French presidential election candidate for the far-left coalition “La France insoumise” Jean-Luc Melenchon

Melenchon, 65, is widely regarded to have the slickest social media presence. He encourages his supporters to play a video game called ‘fiscal kombat’ in which a mini-Melenchon beats up his main rivals to score points.

‘We are the only force uniting the country today,’ Melenchon tells his listeners.

National unity is also the battle-cry of Francois Fillon, the mainstream conservative who currently jostles with Melenchon for third place at around 18 to 20 per cent.

Fillon’s supporters insist that the financial scandal over payments to his family — or ‘les affaires’ as they call it — is just ‘media conspiracy’.

But the ambiance at the Fillon rally I attend in a Marseilles exhibition hall says it all. In terms of age, dress sense and manners, it is much like a Tory party conference. Supportive and enthusiastic they may be. Triumphal, they are not. His latest electoral slogan — ‘You don’t have to like me, just let me get on with the job’ — has an air of desperation.

‘Fillon! President!’ they chant with modest fervour. He looks proud but forlorn; not quite broken, not exactly defiant. He is a forceful orator, making a speech on everything from France’s nuclear independence to kicking drug-dealers out of social housing. He refers constantly to ‘le projet’.

Saluting France’s Nobel prize-winners, he insists that France must give the economy ‘the fuel of freedom’ by cutting regulation.

Afterwards, his supporters are super-loyal if not bursting with optimism. ‘He is the only man who understands our history, our character, our culture — and who can turn this country around,’ says Marie, 35, an architect who would rather not give me her full name as she doesn’t want work colleagues to know she supports Fillon.

Until this week, conventional thinking decreed that Mme Le Pen and Macron would go through to the second round and that the latter would romp home on a tide of centrist national unity — followed by inevitable celebrations of the death of ‘populism’.

And history shows us that France, in its elections, has an unerring habit of reverting to the status quo, leaving its bloated state behemoth untouched.

This, after all, is the country which invented the word for bossy state control of everything — dirigiste.

Yet, Thursday’s outrage may, finally, be about to change all that.

Bruno Cautres, political analyst at the widely-respected Cevipof/Sciences Po think-tank, points to a startling gap in the polls: ‘Remember that up to 40 per cent of people are undecided. So anything is still possible.’

That includes a Le Pen v Melenchon run-off — which would send the EU and the euro into free-fall.

For now, in this fearful, unhappy country, it’s all about as clear as my bowl of steaming bouillabaisse.

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France’s Choice: Le Divorce?

April 22, 2017

French voters will begin to pick a new president this weekend, and their decision may well determine whether the European Union lives or die


April 21, 2017 1:55 p.m. ET

France didn’t schedule a referendum on its membership in the European Union or globalization writ large, but it is about to get one. The first round of the country’s presidential elections, which will be held this Sunday, has become impossible to handicap. France’s party system is in its death throes, according to Patrick Buisson, a onetime top adviser to former President Nicolas Sarkozy. “Like all death throes,” Mr. Buisson said recently over a brasserie lunch in Paris, “it is convulsive.”

Sunday’s top two vote-getters will advance to a second round on May 7. Polls now show four candidates locked in a dead heat. Put bluntly, the contenders are a capitalist, a Catholic, a nationalist and a leftist. The 39-year-old Emmanuel Macron, a former investment banker and economics minister, bolted the Socialist Party last year to run at the head of a new movement called En Marche (“on the march”). He wants to strengthen the 28-country European Union, which lays down rules for the continent. In an ordinary year, he might be preparing to run head-to-head against the conservative François Fillon, whose mostly Catholic political base has rallied against Islamist terrorism and gay marriage. But Mr. Fillon has spent the entire campaign mired in featherbedding scandals.

One or both of these mainstream candidates could be toppled by an insurgency. If that happens, much else will fall. Marine Le Pen, the daughter and political heiress of the demagogue Jean-Marie Le Pen, has sought to purge his National Front of its reputation for bigotry. She wants to pull France out of the EU entirely. The eloquent Jean-Luc Mélenchon is almost as skeptical about the EU, even if his own sympathies are more with South American radicals such as Evo Morales and the late Hugo Chávez.

In France and elsewhere, citizens complain that the EU has eroded their culture, sapped their defenses against mass migration and left them less free; meanwhile, business leaders and the politicians they back call it indispensable.

Far-right nationalist Marine Le Pen, leader of France’s National Front, delivers a speech during a campaign rally in Paris Monday.
Far-right nationalist Marine Le Pen, leader of France’s National Front, delivers a speech during a campaign rally in Paris Monday. PHOTO: CHRISTOPHE PETIT TESSON/EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

Globalization has left mixed results in France. Its major cities, starting with Paris, are as rich as ever, but they have been hit hard by terrorism. In just the past two years, the staff of the satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo were massacred for belittling Islam, dozens of music fans were executed at a concert hall in Paris, tourists were mowed down by a truck on the beachfront of Nice, and an 84-year-old priest had his throat slit after celebrating Mass near Rouen. On Thursday, a gunman killed one police officer and wounded two others on the Champs-Élysées, in an act claimed by Islamic State.

In the wake of deindustrialization, the centers of France’s smaller cities—including such charming ancient places as Albi and Béziers—now look as if they had been evacuated in wartime. The writer Daoud Boughezala recently went to Vierzon, a manufacturing center near the Loire Valley that is proud of its medieval belfry, and found two-thirds of the businesses shuttered. Writing in the monthly Causeur, he described a clothing store stoned by gangs after its owner complained about drug dealers in the tourist district. It is now closed.

That kind of decay doesn’t leave much of a record to run on. Socialist President François Hollande bowed out of the race. Polls give him the lowest approval ratings of any Western leader since the end of World War II. Like former President Barack Obama, he lost his party’s majorities in the Senate, the lower house and local government.

Unlike Mr. Obama, he gave his base nothing to show for it. In 2012, Mr. Hollande ran as the enemy of big money and promised a 75% tax rate for top earners. But he ended up serving big money by deregulating banks and the retail sector, making it easier to lay off workers, and cutting severance and overtime pay.

As Mr. Hollande’s protégé and economics minister, Mr. Macron spearheaded some of these reforms. By the time rank-and-file Socialists took their party back in January’s primary elections, Mr. Macron was gone, and so was the party’s historic program. (The official Socialist presidential candidate, lawmaker Benoît Hamon, is polling around 7%.) The Socialist Party can still pile up money and media coverage for legislative elections, but it no longer has a vision to inspire people for the presidency.

French presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron, a pro-business progressive from the centrist En Marche political party, on the stump at a rally in Paris Monday.
French presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron, a pro-business progressive from the centrist En Marche political party, on the stump at a rally in Paris Monday. PHOTO: YOAN VALAT/EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

Two-thirds of the French public disapprove of Mr. Hollande’s market reforms. Young people marched against them. Mr. Macron’s ability to advance after championing them is evidence of his political gifts. His first love was acting. He is intelligent, eloquent and seductive. He woos crowds. In an arena in Lyon recently, he quoted the poet René Char before concluding, “I love you madly, my friends.”

People hear what they want to hear. In recent days, the onetime Le Monde editor Luc Rosenzweig announced that he would vote for Mr. Macron because the candidate believes in nuclear power and thus in the future. Meanwhile, Daniel Cohn-Bendit, who represents the Green Party in the European Parliament, said that he is backing Mr. Macron in part because of his promise to cut nuclear power.

The most unusual thing about Mr. Macron is his marriage. He is not yet 40, while his wife is in her 60s. (He met her at age 15, when she was running the drama club at his high school.) In ordinary times, this might strike voters as weird; in today’s troubled climate, it seems to strike them as bracingly transgressive.

Strategists for the Socialist Party consciously patterned Mr. Hollande’s coalition on Mr. Obama’s. It is now Mr. Macron’s. It brings together the winners of the new economy and minority groups in a “coalition of the ascendant.” Mr. Macron is the candidate of money, of power, of the EU. The economist Jean-Luc Gréau goes so far as to call him the candidate of “a Third World France subordinated to Germany.”

But Mr. Macron is politically correct too. He has called France’s colonization of Algeria a “crime against humanity,” an expression usually reserved for genocides. He said on a trip to London that there is no such thing as “a” French culture. He uses bi-gendered pronouns (celles et ceux instead of the more usual ceux). And he neatly ties together cultural and economic issues, praising the Uber economy to the skies as a means of upward mobility for those (mostly North African) youths whom he calls victims of prejudice. Uber is unpopular in France. Mr. Macron has attacked it too.

If you like him, you would say that he transcends France’s past. If you don’t, you would say he’s indifferent to it. That has opened up opportunities for the Republicans, the traditional conservative party. Mr. Hollande’s introduction of gay marriage in 2013 provoked some of the largest demonstrations since World War II, creating the nucleus of a more or less Catholic conservative social movement called Common Sense.

In the wake of that mobilization, the explicitly Catholic free-marketer François Fillon seemed to be a dream candidate around whom to build a presidential bloc. He joined conservative businesspeople to Christian community activists in Reagan-esque fashion and struck at Ms. Le Pen’s base.

But last winter, Mr. Fillon was swallowed up in scandal. The satirical weekly Le Canard Enchaîné alleged that Mr. Fillon had used taxpayer funds meant for running his office to employ his Welsh wife Penelope and their children and that Mrs. Fillon had briefly received monthly payments from a literary magazine. Almost immediately, an anticorruption arm of the government newly established by Mr. Hollande opened an investigation.

Conservative presidential candidate François Fillon at a campaign rally Tuesday in Lille, France.
Conservative presidential candidate François Fillon at a campaign rally Tuesday in Lille, France. PHOTO: PHILIPPE HUGUEN/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IMAGES

Mr. Fillon’s actions may not have been illegal, but the scandal has handicapped his campaign. The press exulted. Mr. Fillon couldn’t attend campaign rallies without being greeted with calls of “Escroc!” (“Crook!”). His poll numbers plummeted. But Mr. Fillon claimed that he had been set up by a cabinet noir (what we might call the “deep state”) in Mr. Hollande’s government and refused to step aside.

Mr. Fillon has another problem: He is a conventional candidate. His conservative cultural values are tied to a business-friendly agenda not so different from Mr. Macron’s. He supports the EU. Against Marine Le Pen and her National Front, he will never appear as the candidate of real change.

My opponents claim they can control the border, revoke birthright citizenship, slow immigration, fight unfair trade…They are lying to you.

—Marine Le Pen

Ms. Le Pen promises a referendum within six months on taking back sovereignty from the EU. “Our battle for sovereignty is primary,” she said in Lyon in February. “Essential. Cardinal…Without sovereignty, all projects are broken promises. My opponents claim they can control the border, revoke birthright citizenship, slow immigration, fight unfair trade…They are lying to you. As long as they do not break the shackles of the European Union, which holds the authority on these matters, they are ruling out any change, even minor.”

She is right, which makes her the more robust alternative to Mr. Macron. Her resistance to Mr. Hollande’s competitiveness agenda has won her the allegiance, polls say, of 44% of those who call themselves working-class. Ms. Le Pen has made an effort to rid her party of official bigotry, going so far as to expel her now-estranged father.

But she is still the radical in the race. In Marseille on Wednesday, she promised a moratorium on immigration and a fight against the application of Islamic religious law in France. She urged a “national insurrection”—a democratic one—to recover the country’s lost “grandeur,” while crowds chanted, “France for the French.”

In this campaign, critics have accused Ms. Le Pen less often of bigotry than of hostility to the EU. Yet on that question, the French are largely in harmony with her. Even intellectuals who consider themselves her arch-foes often take her side. The demographer Emmanuel Todd, for instance, recently complained to Le Journal du Dimanche, “France is in the Eurozone, we don’t control our currency, we’ve lost control of our budget and our deficit, and…our president no longer has any power.”

Large parts of the French electorate are ready to follow her fundamental line. But some are scared, fearing riots by Muslim immigrants in the poor banlieues around Paris, and others are too embarrassed to back a party with fascistic antecedents.

By insisting that Ms. Le Pen is the second coming of Hitler, mainstream media outlets have made it seem “irresponsible” to vote for any small party, because it would only dilute the vote against her. They suggest that it is nothing less than a civic duty to vote for Mr. Macron, the candidate of the banks.

This causes no end of frustration among many of those who would never dream of voting for Ms. Le Pen. What if France had a plausible candidate who shared Ms. Le Pen’s popular skepticism of capitalism and the EU but wasn’t so liable to being cast as a brownshirt?

In the campaign’s last weeks, one has emerged. The 65-year-old EU deputy Jean-Luc Mélenchon offers a version of Ms. Le Pen’s position that is more eloquent, if less logical. He is backed by the best-selling economist Thomas Piketty, and he has a new-media adviser who worked for Bernie Sanders.

Far-left presidential candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon of the Parti de Gauche at a political rally Tuesday in Dijon, France.
Far-left presidential candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon of the Parti de Gauche at a political rally Tuesday in Dijon, France. PHOTO: ROBERT PRATTA/REUTERS

Mr. Mélenchon argues that France can drive a harder bargain with the EU since its departure would doom the project altogether. (This is true of a half-dozen other countries too.) Though he hasn’t called for a referendum on EU membership, he might break up the EU more indirectly: His plans for €270 billion in stimulus spending by the government and for a 100% income tax on those earning more than €400,000 a year would rupture the voluntary fiscal and legal synchrony on which the EU rests.

Mr. Fillon calls Mr. Mélenchon’s program “communist.” But should the two advance to the second round, Mr. Mélenchon would probably win handily. He would also easily beat Ms. Le Pen, polls suggest.

And that changes the whole dynamic of the election. Mr. Macron was presented to old-guard Socialists as a bulwark against Ms. Le Pen. If even Mr. Mélenchon would triumph over Ms. Le Pen, why does France need such a bulwark? This invocation of republican “values” appears self-interested: Vote for our banker, or we’ll call you a fascist.

Of course, the polls could be wrong. They were wrong in this campaign’s primaries. They have been spectacularly wrong in other elections throughout the West. Voters who cheerily prattled about their values when times were good have clammed up now that their material needs are no longer being met. They are hard to read, and the stakes are high.

A Frexit would be far more seismic than Brexit. Great Britain, which voted to leave the EU last summer, never adopted the euro as its currency and was always half-in, half-out. But France is a core EU member and has always provided much of the project’s brains and vision. Without France, the EU would likely collapse. We will find out this weekend whether that is France’s fear or its hope.

Mr. Caldwell, a senior editor at the Weekly Standard, is at work on a book about the rise and fall of the post-1960s political order.

Appeared in the Apr. 22, 2017, print edition as ‘Le Div orce?.’


French election: Economist who forecast Donald Trump victory predicts Marine Le Pen will win — Declared “war against Islamism”

April 21, 2017

Charles Gave claims Front National leader’s ‘momentum is a slow-moving reaction against the men of Davos – as we have seen with Brexit and Trump – but markets don’t want to believe it’

By Lucy Pasha-Robinson

Image may contain: 1 person, standing

Charles Gave believes only scandal-hit Francois Fillon could see off Ms Le Pen in the second round run-off on 7 May EPA

A French economist who correctly forecast Donald Trump’s US election win has predicted Marine Le Pen will sweep to victory in France’s presidential race.

Charles Gave said the number of voters yet to make up their minds – estimated at 40 per cent – was bad news for current frontrunner centrist candidate Emmanuel Macron, and could see the Front National leader emerge victorious.

Mr Gave believes only scandal-hit Francois Fillon, who is currently polling in third place, could see off Ms Le Pen in the second round run-off on 7 May.

“Le Pen’s momentum is a slow-moving reaction against the men of Davos – as we have seen with Brexit and Trump – but markets don’t want to believe it,” he told Bloomberg​ ahead of the first round of voting on 23 April.

Mr Gave, who heads asset-allocation consultancy GaveKal Research, is advising clients to prepare for a Le Pen presidency.

He believes at least half of both the far-left and centre-right would rather abstain than vote for Mr Macron in the second round.

He also thinks supporters of Mr Fillon, along with a number of Mr Macron’s followers, could rally for a Le Pen win if she is faced with Jean-Luc Melenchon in the second round.

The prediction is one of many theories in a race that has been repeatedly labelled too close to call.

There has been speculation that the Champs-Elysees terror attack, which left one police officer dead and two officers injured in Paris on Thursday, could boost the chances of either a Le Pen or a Fillon presidency.

Both candidates declared “war against Islamism”, sparking widespread condemnation that they were attempting to solicit political gain from the attack.

The two candidates, along with Mr Macron, cancelled planned events on Friday, which would have been the last day of campaigning.

France: Emmanuel Macron says not to “give in to fear” — Le Pen says reinstate border checks and expel foreigners who are on the watch lists

April 21, 2017

After Paris Attack


BYREUTERS APRIL 21, 2017 12:49

En Marche candidate Emmanuel Macron urged the country not to “give in to fear” in the wake of the attack.

Image may contain: one or more people, people on stage and people standing
Marine Le Pen delivers a speech during a political rally near Toulon. (photo credit REUTERS)

Far-right presidential candidate Marine Le Pen said on Friday that France should immediately reinstate border checks and expel foreigners who are on the watch lists of intelligence services, adding that these were steps she would take, if elected.

Seizing on Thursday night’s killing of a police officer in an attack claimed by Islamic State, Le Pen, who has been campaigning on a hardline anti-EU, anti-immigration platform, urged the Socialist government to carry out immediately measures that are included in her campaign manifesto.


“We cannot afford to lose this war. But for the past ten years, left-wing and right-wing governments have done everything they can for us to lose it. We need a presidency which acts and protects us,” Le Pen told reporters at her campaign headquarters.

French voters elect a president in a two-round vote on April 23 and May 7. Opinion polls have for months forecast that Le Pen would make it through to the run-off, but then lose in the final vote.

Until now, Le Pen had struggled to get the campaign to focus on her party’s trademark tough security and immigration stance. By contrast, she has been thrown on the defensive over her position to pull out of the euro zone, a proposal that lacks wide support.

Referring disparagingly to outgoing Socialist President Francois Hollande as “notoriously feeble,” Le Pen said: “I only ask one last-ditch effort from him before leaving power: I solemnly ask him to effectively reinstate our borders.”

She added: “Elected president of the Republic, I would immediately, and with no hesitation, carry out the battle plan against Islamist terrorism and against judicial laxity.”

Several other presidential candidates made public statements in response to the Champs Elysees shooting.

French centrist presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron urged the country not to “give in to fear” in the wake of the attack.

“We clearly see that the challenge we have in front of us over the coming years will continue to be fighting against terrorism. Because we will not erase it overnight, and for the final stretch of this campaign our challenge is, on the one hand, to bring about the response, to shed light on the democratic choice in this context. But to never give in to fear,” the En Marche candidate said on Friday.

Conservative presidential candidate Francois Fillon also spoke on Friday, saying that the fight against “Islamist totalitarianism” should be the priority of France’s next president.

Fillon, who has been campaigning on a hardline security platform, told reporters: “We are at war, there is no alternative, it’s us or them.”

“Radical Islam is challenging our values and our strength of character.”

It is unclear what impact the attack will have on the first round of already very unpredictable presidential elections on Sunday.

With their hardline view on security and immigration, Le Pen and Francois Fillon may resonate with some voters.

But other attacks that took place shortly before elections – the November 2015 attacks in Paris ahead of regional elections and the shooting in a Jewish school before the 2012 presidential elections – did not have any effect on those ballots.


Hello Congress? Hello President Trump? — Markets Send a Worrying Message About the Economy — Investors are reverting to wagers on anemic growth

April 21, 2017

With hopes dashed that business-friendly reforms will get quick implementation in the U.S., investors are reverting to wagers on anemic growth

Some investors have given up on the promise of an accelerating economy and are reverting to bets on slow growth. Above, traders on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange.

Some investors have given up on the promise of an accelerating economy and are reverting to bets on slow growth. Above, traders on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange. PHOTO: MICHAEL NAGLE/BLOOMBERG NEWS

Markets are flashing red on growth as investors begin to return to pre-election bets on the “new normal”—a persistently weak economic expansion.

The shift back is far from complete. And the assessment is muddied by geopolitics and the uncertain French election.

But there are signs that the sugar rush of Donald Trump’s victory and global-growth hopes has faded, raising doubts among some investors about whether stocks can stay high.

The sharp drop in government-bond yields is the most obvious signal that something is amiss. It is backed up by ominous signs from raw-materials markets, where copper and iron-ore prices have tumbled, and a swing in leadership of the stock market away from go-go bank shares and cheap “value” stocks to safety-first utilities, real estate and companies with high-quality balance sheets and reliable earnings. All this has come as inflation expectations priced into bonds have fallen and as some weak data has led to downgrades of economic forecasts.

Technology stocks’ return to favor also suggests investors are looking for companies able to deliver growth even if the economy is weak.

“The new normal’s still with us,” says Scott Minerd, chief investment officer of Guggenheim Partners. Investors, at least for a time, thought the promise of change that came with Mr. Trump’s election could help break the U.S. economy out of slow-growth mode, Mr. Minerd said. “So far, we’re long on promise and short on delivery. The market’s waking up to that.”

There are two big question marks around the market portents: Are they right? If so, do they spell doom for shares?

One way the omens could be wrong is if they are caused by something other than a slowdown. The most obvious candidate is geopolitics, with money seeking safe havens ahead of Sunday’s French election and amid the concern about North Korea’s nuclear threats. It is impossible to know how much this has depressed bond yields, but buying of bondlike utility and real-estate stocks might be a result of falling bond yields, rather than supporting evidence of a slowdown. Commodity prices need a separate explanation, but their fall might just be coincidence.

The market message could also be wrong if the economy is just fine. Evidence is gathering that the hoped-for rebound didn’t come through in the first quarter, with the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta’s “nowcast” of first-quarter growth down to just 0.5%, from above 3% in early February. Economic surprises—the degree to which reported data beat forecasts—are now barely positive, too, having dropped back from a three-year high in March, according to Citigroup.

But there is a long history of first-quarter data being wrong due to seasonal adjustment errors, and the “soft” survey data is still strong, if less so than it was.

The White House and Congress have failed so far to make progress on tax cuts or infrastructure spending, either of which could give the economy a boost. But Mr. Trump is nothing if not flexible, and a deal later this year is plausible.

Nick Gartside, international chief investment officer for fixed income at J.P. Morgan Asset Management, says there is contradiction between still-high stock prices and tumbling bond yields. But he expects it to be resolved by yields rising and the market again pricing in a faster pace of rate rises by the Federal Reserve, as it did earlier this year.

“It’s ludicrous that the Fed’s priced for only one more rate hike this year,” he said.

Sliding Treasury bond yields over the past month have pushed down mortgage rates, a boon for refinancing homeowners. The average rate for a 30-year fixed mortgage fell to 3.97% from 4.08% last week, Freddie Mac said Thursday, the first reading below 4% since mid-November.

The second question is trickier. The past five years have shown that high and rising share prices are compatible with weak economic growth, so long as yields stay low. Economically sensitive cyclical stocks might underperform— Ford , General Motors and Fiat Chrysler are all down close to 10% since bond yields began to fall in mid-March. But in an era of low bond yields, equities as a whole have been held up by the argument that there isn’t a better alternative for investors.

Vincent Mortier, deputy chief investment officer at Amundi, Europe’s biggest asset manager, says lower bond yields “are saying to us we had better be more cautious on equities.” Investors have been buying the dips because U.S. profits haven’t been questioned, but he worries that any correction will be brutal. “It can be a big adjustment when people wake up,” Mr. Mortier said.

So long as low growth means low interest rates and doesn’t threaten profits, it’s fine for shareholders. But with the economy near full capacity, even tepid growth could be enough to push up wages and inflation, hurting profits and keeping the Fed on alert to raise rates.

Rising rates and weak growth are a terrible combination, so investors should take the warnings seriously, and hope that the signs are wrong.

Write to James Mackintosh at