Posts Tagged ‘French’

Can Le Pen beat Macron in the French election, despite losing in the first round? “The odds are very long.”

April 26, 2017

Macron should beat Le Pen in the second round of voting

The first round is now over, and as the top two candidates with the highest vote share in the first round, Le Pen and Macron will now face off in a second-round run-off on May 7. 
Macron is still widely expected to be able to build a broader voting base than anti-establishment Marine Le Pen. This is due to the fact that many of the first-round supporters of conservative François Fillon and far-left Jean-Luc Mélenchon, who collectively attracted 39.5 per cent of the vote, are expected to now switch to Macron.
Le Pen’s Slim Shot at French Presidency Rests on Low Turnout
April 25, 2017, 6:00 PM EDT  — April 26, 2017, 5:08 AM EDT
  • Almost 11 million people abstained on April 23; biggest group
  • Macron leads Le Pen by 20 points ahead of May 7 runoff vote
Marine Le Pen.

Photographer: Marlene Awaad/Bloomberg

Marine Le Pen’s narrow chances of becoming president of France hinge on swathes of the electorate not showing up at the polls on May 7.

That’s the conclusion of analysts sifting through the numbers after she won 21 percent of the vote in the first round on April 23, trailing front-runner Emmanuel Macron by about 3 percentage points.

“The equation is rather simple: A voter who abstains, or casts a blank ballot, is a lost voter for Macron,” said Dominique Reynie, a professor at Sciences Po in Paris. “Le Pen has a strong, mobilized base, so what it takes for her to boost her chances is for those who say they’ll stay home to, well, stay home.”

A Le Pen win would at this point be a far greater shock than Donald Trump’s victory in the U.S. election in November. Polls have consistently shown her losing by around 20 percentage points.

But there are still millions of votes up for grabs. Of the 37 million people who voted in the first round, just under half backed Le Pen or Macron. Some 21 million voted for other candidates or cast defaced ballots, and another 10.6 million abstained. It’s already proved to be the most unpredictable French election in recent memory, marred by scandal and the shadow of terrorism.

“What I fear is a situation of widespread abstention if people think he’s won,” Socialist Party chief Jean-Christophe Cambadelis said on France2 television Wednesday morning. The party has endorsed Macron. “That would open the door to Le Pen.”

Energy Minister Segolene Royal warned of the risk of not mobilizing against Le Pen in an interview on Europe 1 radio.

Unpredictable Voters

In theory, the stars could align for Le Pen if she can pick up enough of the votes that were cast for Republican Francois Fillon, Socialist Benoit Hamon and Communist-backed Jean-Luc Melenchon, or if enough of them decided not to vote this time.

But it will be a tall order. Fillon and Hamon have already endorsed Macron. Only Melenchon has so far refused to tell his 7 million supporters what to do, though an online consultation only gave them the choice of abstaining or choosing Macron. A Harris Interactive survey conducted after the initial vote shows that more than a third of them plan to abstain. That said, 51 percent will support Macron and only 12 percent will back Le Pen.

Still, voters are in an unpredictable mood in the face of deep-seated unemployment, immigration and terrorism fears.

And so Le Pen must hope that voters who opted for the mainstream parties will take a bet on the unknown in round two.

“People will no longer be guilt-tripped or threatened by politicians into voting against Le Pen,” said Jeremie Mani, chief executive of Netino By Webhelp, a company that specializes in moderating online user comments. “There’s a new line of activists who are refusing to vote, to protest the way the government is run and the politicians on offer.”

‘Only 10 Little Points’

Le Pen is hopeful that she can erase her 20-point gap, saying she only needs a 10-percentage-point swing. Bloomberg’s composite index of second-round polls shows Macron would win by 61 percent to 39 percent.

“We can win, and I’ll tell you more, we will win,” she said on France 2 television on Monday. “Only 10 little points, trust me, it’s totally feasible.”

Another factor that could help her is the broad sense of dissatisfaction with all politicians. Some are already calling for a boycott of the entire political process via a social media campaign called #SansMoiLe7Mai, which means “Without Me on May 7.’

While Macron’s lead isn’t insurmountable, it should still be enough to see him through. Data compiled by Bloomberg show that even if the turnout drops to the 1969 low of 64 percent, Le Pen would need to more than double her party’s best showing. The average turnout since the first direct vote in 1965 is 78 percent.

“The tipping point where there will be enough absentee voters for her to win is almost off limits,” said Jean-Daniel Levy, head of Paris-based pollster Harris Interactive. “We don’t believe that she can win.”


From CNN

(CNN) — French presidential candidate Marine Le Pen on Tuesday sought to broaden her appeal outside her party’s traditional base, declaring that she is “not the candidate” of the far-right National Front.


“I am the candidate who has been supported by the National Front,” she said in an interview with the French TF1 network.
Le Pen, 48, fresh off the highest-ever voting tally for the National Front, said she stepped aside from the party leadership this week to run on behalf of all French citizens.
“I am a presidential candidate as of today,” she said.
Observers see the move as a tactical one designed to earn her votes from people who might be disposed to vote for her but who find the fascist reputation of the National Front a step too far.
Le Pen said the final voting round on May 7 could bring a “very big surprise” — the result of “a revolt of the people against the elite,” as seen in Britain’s Brexit vote and in Trump’s election victory.
Voters snubbed the political establishment Sunday, sending Le Pen and political novice Emmanuel Macron, 39, through to the second round of the presidential election.

Le Pen: The people want to take back power

Responding to a question from CNN’s Melissa Bell, Le Pen acknowledged parallels between her nationalist policy stances on immigration and globalization and those that propelled President Donald Trump to the White House.
“The people are saying we want to take back power,” she said. “We want to be sovereign again.”
Like Trump, Le Pen has risen on populist politics rooted in anger over immigration policies, globalization and middle class economic disenfranchisement.
Many view her as a threat to the strength and unity of the political institutions that have underpinned Western countries for the past half century, notably in her opposition to the EU and pledge to leave NATO.
Echoing Trump’s “America first” mantra, Le Pen said Tuesday that she would not be influenced by the policies of other countries.
“The only question I would be worried about is, Is it good for France and the French people?” she said.
Le Pen has vowed to intensify the nationalist, anti-Islamist rhetoric that propelled her into the second round.
Sunday’s first round contest was held under tight security after a terror attack in Paris on Thursday night disrupted the final day of campaigning Friday. The Paris attacks in November 2015, in which 130 people were killed, saw French President François Hollande’s popularity plunge.
Le Pen on Tuesday reiterated her pledge to impose a temporary ban on legal immigration to France — calling the nation’s immigration policies “the best kept secret of our republic.”

Who is Marine Le Pen?

Who is Marine Le Pen?01:47
She wants to slash legal immigration from 200,000 to 10,000 “entries” per year in France, and wants to see immigrants’ access to public services limited.
“How can we take care of them?” she asked. “How are we going to house them?”
On Sunday, the pro-European centrist Macron took first place with 24.01% of the first-round voting, while Le Pen came second on 21.30%, according to final results.

What to know about Emmanuel Macron

What to know about Emmanuel Macron 01:26
Opponents have argued that Le Pen’s economic and social programs would bankrupt the country, particularly if France dropped the euro as its currency, as she has threatened.
Le Pen’s advancement to the second round is not without precedent — her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, made it to a runoff against then-incumbent Jacques Chirac in 2002, only to suffer a devastating loss when anti-extremist voters rallied against the National Front leader.
For many voters, the election was about a desire for change and disenchantment with a political class.
Read more:

French intelligence says Assad forces behind April 4 sarin attack

April 26, 2017


FILE PHOTO: A man breathes through an oxygen mask as another one receives treatments, after what rescue workers described as a suspected gas attack in the town of Khan Sheikhoun in rebel-held Idlib, Syria April 4, 2017. REUTERS/Ammar Abdullah/File Photo

French intelligence services have concluded that forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad carried out a sarin nerve gas attack on April 4 in northern Syria and that Assad or his closest entourage ordered the strike, a declassified report showed.

The attack in the town of Khan Sheikhoun killed scores of people and prompted the United States to launch a cruise missile strike on a Syrian air base in response, its first direct assault on the Assad government in the conflict.

The six-page document – drawn up by France’s military and foreign intelligence services and seen by said it was able to reach its conclusion based on samples they had obtained from the impact strike on the ground, and a blood sample from a victim.

Among the elements found in the samples were hexamine, a hallmark of sarin produced by the Syrian government.

“The French intelligence services consider that only Bashar al-Assad and some of his most influential entourage can give the order to use chemical weapons,” the report said.

It added that jihadist groups in the area did not have the capacity to develop and launch such an attack and that Islamic State was not in the region.

Assad’s claim to AFP news agency on April 13 that the attack was fabricated, was “not credible” given the mass flows of casualties in a short space of time arriving in Syrian and Turkish hospitals as well as the sheer quantity of online activity showing people with neurotoxic symptoms, said the report.

(Reporting by John Irish; Editing by Andrew Callus)

French Election Run Off: Macron vs Le Pen — ‘Survival of France at stake’ on May 7 — Will the European Union Survive?

April 24, 2017
By John Leiceser, Lori Hinnant
Associated Press

Centrist Emmanuel Macron and far-right populist Marine Le Pen advanced Sunday to a runoff in France’s presidential election, remaking the country’s political landscape and setting up a showdown over its participation in the European Union.

French politicians on the left and right immediately urged voters to block Le Pen’s path to power in the May 7 runoff, saying her virulently nationalist anti-EU and anti-immigration politics would spell disaster for France.

“What is at stake here is the survival of France,”populist Marine Le Pen told a wildly cheering crowd after the results were announced of round one of the most unpredictable and the most high-stakes election in decades. 

She was speaking in a sports hall on the edge of the town of Henin-Beaumont, a couple of hours drive north of Paris in the French “rustbelt”, where the coal mines closed long ago and the factories have moved to Eastern Europe or Asia.

“Extremism can only bring unhappiness and division to France,” defeated conservative candidate Francois Fillon said. “As such, there is no other choice than to vote against the extreme right.”

The selection of Le Pen and Macron presents voters with the starkest possible choice between two diametrically opposed visions of the EU’s future and France’s place in it. It sets up a battle between Macron’s optimistic vision of a tolerant France and a united Europe with open borders against Le Pen’s darker, inward-looking “French-first” platform that calls for closed borders, tougher security, less immigration and dropping the shared euro currency to return to the French franc.

With Le Pen wanting France to leave the EU and Macron wanting even closer cooperation among the bloc’s 28 nations, Sunday’s outcome means the May 7 runoff will have undertones of a referendum on France’s EU membership.

The absence in the runoff of candidates from either the mainstream left Socialists or the right-wing Republicans party — the two main political groups that have governed post-war France — also marked a seismic shift in French politics. Macron, a 39-year-old investment banker, made the runoff on the back of a grassroots campaign without the support of a major political party.

With 90 percent of votes counted, the Interior Ministry said Macron had nearly 24 percent, giving him a slight cushion over Le Pen’s 22 percent. Fillon, with just under 20 percent, was slightly ahead of the far-left’s Jean-Luc Melenchon, who had 19 percent.

The euro jumped 2 percent to more than $1.09 after the initial results were announced because Macron has vowed to reinforce France’s commitments to the EU and euro — and opinion polls give him a big lead heading into the second round.

While Le Pen faces the runoff as the underdog, it’s already stunning that she brought her once-taboo party so close to the Elysee Palace. She hopes to win over far-left and other voters angry at the global elite and distrustful of the untested Macron.

With a wink at his cheering, flag-waving supporters who yelled “We will win!” in his election day headquarters in Paris, Macron promised to be a president “who protects, who transforms and builds” if elected.

“You are the faces of French hope,” he said. His wife, Brigitte, joined him on stage before his speech — the only couple among the leading candidates to do so Sunday night.

Le Pen, in a chest-thumping speech to cheering supporters, declared that she embodies “the great alternative” for French voters. She portrayed her duel with Macron as a battle between “patriots” and “wild deregulation” — warning of job losses overseas, mass immigration straining resources at home and “the free circulation of terrorists.”

“The time has come to free the French people,” she said at her election day headquarters in the northern French town of Henin-Beaumont, adding that nothing short of “the survival of France” will be at stake in the presidential runoff.

Her supporters burst into a rendition of the French national anthem, chanted “We will win!” and waved French flags and blue flags with “Marine President” on them.

France is now steaming into unchartered territory, because whoever wins on May 7 cannot count on the backing of France’s political mainstream parties. Even under a constitution that concentrates power in the president’s hands, both Macron and Le Pen will need legislators in parliament to pass laws and implement much of their programs.

France’s legislative election in June now takes on a vital importance, with huge questions about whether Le Pen and even the more moderate Macron will be able to rally sufficient lawmakers to their causes.

In Paris, protesters angry at Le Pen’s advance — some from anarchist and anti-fascist groups — scuffled with police. Officers fired tear gas to disperse the rowdy crowd. Two people were injured and police detained three people as demonstrators burned cars, danced around bonfires and dodged riot police. At a peaceful protest by around 300 people at the Place de la Republique some sang “No Marine and no Macron!” and “Now burn your voting cards.”

Macron supporters at his election-day headquarters went wild as polling agency projections showed the ex-finance minister making the runoff, cheering, singing “La Marseillaise” anthem, waving French tricolor and European flags and shouting “Macron, president!”

Mathilde Jullien, 23, said she is convinced Macron will beat Le Pen.

“He represents France’s future, a future within Europe,” she said. “He will win because he is able to unite people from the right and the left against the threat of the National Front and he proposes real solutions for France’s economy.”

Fillon said he would vote for Macron on May 7 because Le Pen’s program “would bankrupt France” and throw the EU into chaos. He also cited the history of “violence and intolerance” of Le Pen’s far-right National Front party, founded by her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, who was trounced in the presidential runoff in 2002.

In a defiant speech to supporters, Melenchon refused to concede defeat before the official count confirmed pollsters’ projections and did not say how he would vote in the next round.

In a brief televised message, Socialist Prime Minister Bernard Cazeneuve urged voters to back Macron to defeat the National Front’s “funereal project of regression for France and of division of the French.”

Socialist presidential candidate Benoit Hamon, who was far behind in Sunday’s results, quickly conceded defeat. Proclaiming that “the left is not dead,” he also urged supporters to back Macron.

Voting took place amid heightened security in the first election under France’s state of emergency, which has been in place since gun-and-bomb attacks in Paris in 2015. On Thursday, a gunman killed a police officer and wounded two others on Paris’ iconic Champs-Elysees boulevard before he was fatally shot.

Associated Press writers Elaine Ganley and Alex Turnbull in Henin-Beaumont; Chris den Hond in Le Touquet; Angela Charlton, Raphael Satter, Samuel Petrequin, Nicolas Vaux-Montagny, Sylvie Corbet, Nadine Achoui-Lesage and Philippe Sotto in Paris; and Brian Rohan in Cairo contributed to this report.



Polls show Macron should easily win this run off: (at the link below)

The 48-year-old lawyer had spent years trying to make the far-Right Front National party more mainstream, to move it away from the xenophobia and anti-semitism that had infected it since its creation in the 1970s by her firebrand father Jean-Marie Le Pen.

Anti-immigrant sentiment is still central to her rhetoric, but she has managed to make the party palatable to a growing number of voters who were turned off by her often objectionable ex-paratrooper father, and who bought into her anti-elite discourse and her promises to ditch the euro and possibly take France out of the European Union.

She even banned the words “Front National” and her family name from all election campaign literature and from the stage sets for her rallies, using only the slogans “Marine Présidente” and “Au Nom du Peuple”.

Far-right leader and candidate for the 2017 French presidential election, Marine Le Pen, blows a kiss while holding a bunch of flowers after exit poll results of the first round of the presidential election were announced at her election day headquarters in Henin-Beaumont
Far-right leader and candidate for the 2017 French presidential election, Marine Le Pen, blows a kiss while holding a bunch of flowers after exit poll results of the first round of the presidential election were announced at her election day headquarters in Henin-Beaumont CREDIT: AP

Now, as she rested during the sunny afternoon after casting her vote, she knew she was about to find out if that lengthy process of “dédiabolisation” (roughly translated as de-demonisation) had paid off or not.

The sports hall on the edge of town slowly filled up with supporters carrying French tricolours and with hundreds of journalists from across the globe who had come to see if the world’s fifth richest country was possibly about to elect a far-Right president.

Seventy-three-year-old Jules Leveque, who once worked in the metal industry, said she was the only one who could pull France out of the economic doldrums, stem mass unemployment, and boost welfare payments.

See also:

Who is Marine Le Pen and the Front National party?

Syria: indirect financing of armed groups in Syria tangles up European cement maker LafargeHolcim — chief executive Eric Olsen is stepping down

April 24, 2017


© AFP/File | French-Swiss cement maker LafargeHolcim has admitted that it had resorted to “unacceptable practices” to continue operations at one of its now-closed factories in Syria

PARIS (AFP) – French-Swiss cement maker LafargeHolcim said Monday its chief executive Eric Olsen is stepping down following an internal investigation into the company’s activities in Syria.

His resignation, which has been accepted by the group’s board, will be effective on July 15, LafargeHolcim said in a statement.

Olsen’s departure follows an inquiry into the indirect financing by Lafarge of armed groups in Syria, a country torn by civil war, to keep one of its cement plants operational.

“My decision is driven by my conviction that it will contribute to addressing strong tensions that have recently arisen around the Syria case,” said Olsen.

“While I was absolutely not involved in, nor even aware of, any wrongdoing I believe my departure will contribute to bringing back serenity to a company that has been exposed for months on this case,” he said.

In March, LafargeHolcim admitted that it had resorted to “unacceptable practices” to continue operations at one of its now-closed factories in Syria.

The admission comes after sources close to the case told AFP in January that the French government had filed a legal complaint against Lafarge for buying oil in Syria to power the Jalabiya factory, in violation of sanctions.

The factory closed down before French cement maker Lafarge merged with Switzerland’s Holcim in 2015.

The plant, located in northern Syria some 150 kilometres (95 miles) northeast of Aleppo, was finally evacuated in 2014.

Lafarge is suspected of sourcing oil locally to operate the factory in defiance of a 2012 EU ban on purchases of Syrian oil as part of a sanctions package targeting the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

LafargeHolcim said Monday that the search for Olsen’s successor would begin “immediately.”

In the meantime, supervisory board chief Beat Hess would take over in the interim.

France’s Election: Macron-Le Pen though to run-off on May 7

April 23, 2017

BBC News

French presidential candidates Marine Le Pen and Emmanuel Macron

The two face a run-off next month. AFP/EPA

The centrist Emmanuel Macron and far-right leader Marine Le Pen have won the first round of voting in French presidential elections, projected results say.

Mr Macron won 23.7%, while Ms Le Pen won 21.7%, French TV says.

The two saw off a strong challenge from centre-right François Fillon the hard-left Jean-Luc Mélenchon, according to the projections.

The pair now face a run-off vote on 7 May.

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.”


Questions remain over Champs-Élysées attacker’s links to IS group

April 22, 2017


© PHILIPPE LOPEZ, AFP | People lay flowers at the site of a shooting on the Champs-Élysées in Paris on April 21, 2017, a day after a gunman opened fire on police on the avenue, killing a policeman.

Text by Ségolène ALLEMANDOU

Latest update : 2017-04-22

Two days after an attack on Paris’s Champs-Élysées that left one police officer dead, questions remain about the shooter, his ties to terrorism, and whether he had accomplices.

The Islamic State (IS) group claimed responsibility about two hours after the attack, which took place on Paris’s Champs-Élysées avenue. A statement published by the terrorist group’s progaganda agency identified the attacker as “Abu Yussef the Belgian”.

However, French authorities on Friday identified the attacker, who was killed in the assault, as Karim Cheurfi, a 39-year-old French citizen who lived in the suburbs of Paris and was known to French authorities.

The discrepancy in the reports led to speculation about who really carried out the attack. Was there a second attacker? If so, were they on the loose?

No second attacker is known

Rumours had spread on Twitter Thursday night that a Belgian man named Youssouf el Osri, who was wanted by Belgian authorities, had travelled on a Thalys train to Paris. Some Twitter users implied that he was linked to the Champs-Élysées attack. Was this the “Yussef the Belgian” that the IS group later referred to?

El Osri gave himself up at a police station in Antwerp, Belgium, Friday morning. The Belgian public prosecutor said that on Thursday evening el Osri had been in Belgium — not in Paris — and “ruled out” any link between him and the Champs-Élysées attack.

Terror suspect sought in wake of Champs Elysées attack has turned himself to police – AFP.

The Belgian prosecutor offered two theories. Either “there really is an ‘Abu Yussef the Belgian’ – and we are trying to identify who this is – or the IS group took advantage of the fact that the man from Antwerp was already in the news, especially in France, in order to name him when they claimed responsibility for the attack”.

Or did the IS group make a mistake? Their claim of responsibility was unusual for two reasons. Firstly, the Islamist group rarely names attackers, instead referring to them as “soldiers of IS”. Secondly, the speed with which they put out their statement was also unusual. The IS group more typically claims responsibility 12 to 48 hours after an attack.

Radicalised or not?

Did Karim Cheurfi have any other links to radical Islam? Cheurfi comes from Seine-Saint-Denis, to the northeast of Paris, and last lived in Chelles, a suburb 18 kilometres east of Paris.

He spent 14 years in prison on three counts of attempted murder, including of police officers, but “didn’t show any signs of radicalisation or proselytising”, according to Paris Prosecutor François Molins.

Reuters reported Thursday night that Cheurfi was on France’s official Fiche S watch list of those being monitored by security services, but this turned out to be false.

Cheurfi’s neighbours said that he nourished a “hatred” of the police, and that he was “suffering psychologically”. French anti-terrorism researchers knew as early as the beginning of 2016 that Cheurfi was trying to buy weapons, and that he wanted to kill police in revenge for children killed in Syria.

However, Cheurfi’s name did appear on a list of some 15,000 “radicalised” people, kept by France’s domestic intelligence agency (Direction générale de la sécurité intérieure or DGSI).

The note

The other link between Cheurfi and the IS group is a handwritten note praising the terrorist group found next to Cheurfi’s body after he was killed by the police. But the IS group has encouraged would-be attackers to leave such notes to enable the group to claim responsibility.

Three men close to Cheurfi who are currently being held by police for questioning may provide more answers. One of the men met Cheurfi in prison and has an extensive criminal record.

This article was translated from the original in French

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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