Posts Tagged ‘French’

Macron Aims to Consolidate Power as France Elects Parliament

June 11, 2017

PARIS — French voters cast their ballots on Sunday in the first round of a parliamentary election expected to give centrist President Emmanuel Macron the strong majority needed to carry out the far-reaching economic and social reforms he promises.

The vote to elect the lower house’s 577 members comes a month after Macron, a 39-year-old former banker with little political experience, defied the odds to win the presidency of the euro zone’s second-largest economy.

Image result for france, parliament, election, photos

Electoral posters of a candidate in the parliamentary elections, in Marseille, France. AP Photo/Claude Paris

If, as polls project, Macron and his fledgling party win a commanding majority in next week’s second round, it will be another blow for the mainstream parties on the right and left which failed to get a candidate into the presidential run-off.

“We want a big majority to be able to act and transform France over the next five years,” Mounir Mahjoubi, a tech entrepreneur running under Macron’s Republic On The Move (LREM) banner told Reuters as he canvassed support in his northern Paris constituency ahead of the vote.

Opinion polls forecast LREM and its center-right Modem allies will win at least 30 percent of votes on Sunday.

The conservative The Republicans party and its allies trail with about 20 percent, ahead of the far-right National Front on about 17 percent.

Such an outcome would transform into a landslide majority in the second round, the opinion polls show.

While predicting the outcome can be tricky with 7,882 candidates vying for parliament’s seats, even LREM’s rivals have been saying they expect Macron to secure a majority.

Their strategy has been to urge voters to make sure the opposition will be big enough to have some clout in parliament. “We shouldn’t have a monopolistic party,” former prime minister Bernard Cazeneuve, a Socialist, told Reuters.

MACRON OVERHAUL

The survival of the Socialist Party, which ruled France for the past five years but is forecast to get just 15 to 30 seats, is at stake, as is the unity of The Republicans. Some key figures from both parties have rallied behind Macron.

The National Front, reeling from a worse than expected score for chief Marine Le Pen in the presidential election, could miss its target to get enough lawmakers to form a parliamentary group. It is expected though to improve on the two deputies it had in the previous legislature.

In a country with unemployment hovering near 10 percent and at risk of breaking its public deficit commitments, Macron was elected president in May on pledges to overhaul labor rules to make hiring and firing easier, cut corporate tax and invest billions in areas including job training and renewable energy.

“If we really want him to change things he needs a majority,” 67-year-old voter Irena Plewa, a pensioner, said at a bustling Paris food market.

Polling stations close at 1800 (1600 GMT) in smaller cities and two hours later in Paris and other big cities. Results will come in slowly, alongside pollsters’ estimates of the results.

Very few lawmakers are expected to be elected directly in the first round. To win, a candidate needs more than half of the votes cast and they must account for at least a quarter of the registered voters.

With many fresh faces among the candidates, a political landscape divided among many forces from the far-left to the far-right, and abstention predicted to be at over 40 percent, that is unlikely to happen in many constituencies.

(Additional reporting by Antony Paone and Michaela Cabrera; writing by Ingrid Melander; editing by Richard Lough and David Clarke)

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French voters head to the polls to elect new parliament

June 11, 2017

AFP

© Fred Payet, AFP | People go to polls in Noumea, New Caledonia island on June 11, 2017 to choose members of the French National Assembly, the country’s lower house of parliament, in the first round of country’s legislative elections.

Video by Josh VARDEY , Richelle HARRISON PLESSE

Text by NEWS WIRES

Latest update : 2017-06-11

French voters go to the polls on Sunday in the first round of parliamentary elections with President Emmanuel Macron’s party appearing well-placed to gain a commanding majority.

Macron has enjoyed a smooth start in the five weeks since he beat far-right candidate Marine Le Pen to become France’s youngest-ever president, naming a cabinet that crosses left-right lines and making a big impression at international summits.

His centrist Republique en Marche (Republic on the Move, REM) party, which he only founded in April 2016 as a platform for his presidential bid, now needs a clear majority in the National Assembly for him to push through the reforms he has promised.

WHIRLWIND FRANCE ELECTION HEADS FOR ‘THIRD ROUND’

A host of opinion polls show Macron’s party could take around 30 percent of the vote on Sunday, putting it in pole position to secure an absolute majority in the second round a week later.

That could translate to as many as 400 seats in the 577-seat chamber. REM has already had a boost after its candidates came first in 10 of the 11 French overseas constituencies that voted before the mainland.

If no candidate wins over 50 percent in the first round, the two top-placed go into the second round — as well as any candidate who won the votes of over 12.5 percent of the electorate.

Polling stations open at 8:00 am (0600 GMT) and close in the largest cities at 8:00 pm (1800 GMT).

More than 50,000 police will be on patrol in a country still under a state of emergency following a wave of attacks that have killed more than 230 people since 2015.

In the latest incident, which took place on Tuesday, a 40-year-old self-radicalised Algerian was shot and wounded after attacking a policeman with a hammer outside Paris’ Notre Dame cathedral.

Breaking the mould

French voters have traditionally rallied behind their new leader in the legislative elections that follow the presidential ballot.

Macron’s predecessors Francois Hollande in 2012, Nicolas Sarkozy in 2007 and Jacques Chirac in 2002 all won outright majorities. Unlike Macron, however, they all came from long-established parties.

REM reflects the president’s desire for a new brand of politics. Initially dismissed by Macron’s opponents as a movement of young activists without any real roots, it will field 530 candidates on Sunday.

In a bid to renew the political scene, many have never stood for office before, such as Marie Sara, a rare female bullfighter, who is taking on a senior member of Le Pen’s National Front in southern France, Gilbert Collard.

Cleaning up politics

Macron has banned all REM candidates from employing family members if elected and they must not perform consultancy work while lawmakers.

The edicts follow the scandal that sunk the presidential chances of Francois Fillon, candidate for the rightwing Republicans party, who is facing criminal charges for paying his wife Penelope more than 900,000 euros ($1.0 million) as his parliamentary assistant.

Fillon denies the charges.

Given Macron’s attempts to clean up French politics, he faced embarrassment on Friday when his small centrist ally, the MoDem party, was placed under preliminary investigation on suspicion of employing fake parliamentary assistants at the European Parliament.

One of Macron’s ministers, Richard Ferrand, is also being probed over a property deal involving his wife.

With the political tide turning against the main parties of left and right, they have warned that a landslide could be bad for democracy.

“I don’t think it would be healthy for the democratic debate over the next five years,” said Francois Baroin, who is leading the Republicans as they try to bounce back from Fillon’s failure in the presidential election.

The Socialists of former president Hollande fear heavy losses after a disastrous performance in the presidential election.

Le Pen defiant

Le Pen’s party meanwhile looks set to struggle to win 15 seats nationally, a score that would represent another deep disappointment after she was soundly beaten by Macron.

But Le Pen remains defiant, telling AFP this week that with other parties likely to agree to work with Macron, “we will be the only opposition force.”

Macron has appealed to voters to give him a strong mandate to overhaul the labour market whose rigid rules on hiring and firing are blamed by many economists for preventing growth.

The president was economy minister in the previous Socialist government that began introducing the reforms, sparking mass demonstrations in 2016 that lasted for months.

(AFP)

French Investigators raid company linked to Macron minister inquiry: report

June 6, 2017

Reuters

Investigators have raided the headquarters of a medical insurance group in western France, local media reported, part of a probe into the financial dealings of one of President Emmanuel Macron’s closest allies days before a parliamentary election.

The investigation is embarrassing for Macron who has put political probity front and center of his first weeks in power, ahead of legislative elections where Macron hopes his new party will win control of parliament and cement his grip on power.

The search was carried out on Thursday after the public prosecutor in Brest launched a preliminary investigation into allegations against Richard Ferrand, focused on his management of Mutuelles de Bretagne, regional daily Telegramme reported on Tuesday.

The allegations include renting office space from his partner and hiring his son as an assistant paid from parliamentary funds.

Ferrand, who was Macron’s campaign chief and is now a cabinet minister, has denied wrongdoing. He has the backing of Prime Minister Edouard Philippe, who has said Ferrand’s actions might raise moral questions but not judicial ones and that he sees no reason to ask him to resign.

Hiring family members as parliamentary assistants is not illegal in France but is increasingly scorned upon by the public.

Last week Justice Minister Francois Bayrou presented to cabinet a draft ethics law aimed at cleaning up politics in France.

“With this law in place, such a thing would not happen,” Bayrou told BFM TV on Tuesday. “The idea to change the way people behave in public life was a pillar of Macron’s campaign.”

Opinion polls show LREM is on course to win a majority in the National Assembly and that the Ferrand affair has not impacted voter intentions.

In France, the opening of a preliminary inquiry does not imply guilt. Prosecutors decide after such preliminary checks whether there are grounds for a full-scale probe or not.

(Reporting by Simon Carraud, Writing by Richard Lough; editing by John Irish)

Tomb of French National Hero General De Gaulle Vandalized

May 27, 2017

PARIS — Vandals on Saturday damaged the tomb of General Charles de Gaulle, leader of France’s resistance to Nazi occupation during World War Two and founder of the Fifth Republic.

The municipal authority of Colombey, in the east of France where the tomb is situated, said on its Twitter account that the act of vandalism had taken place on Saturday evening and that an inquiry was underway. No arrests have been made.

Image result for charles de gaulle, photos

French media said the vandals had stepped onto the tomb and damaged the tomb’s cross.

France Info radio quoted local mayor Pascal Babouot as saying he did not think there was a political motive behind the act, but it drew swift condemnation from politicians.

“Shame on those who vandalized General de Gaulle’s tomb. It has dealt a blow to my patriotic heart,” said French budget minister Gerald Darmanin on his Twitter account.

De Gaulle was a towering figure of 20th century French history, leading the nation’s resistance to Nazi occupation in World War Two, putting an end to its colonial war in Algeria in 1962 and serving as France’s president for a decade until 1969.

He founded France’s Fifth Republic, which granted the president sweeping powers, and set a distinctive foreign policy that rejected the concept of U.S. and Soviet world domination, giving the French an independent voice on the world stage.

De Gaulle died in 1970.

(Reporting by Cyril Camu and Sudip Kar-Gupta; Editing by Gareth Jones)

Investors pulling money out of the U.S. stock market at one of the highest rates in years, moving billions of dollars to Europe and other markets

May 9, 2017

Money going into U.S. stocks are at nine-year lows, while inflows into European funds hit five-year highs

The headquarters of the European Central Bank. Much of the money leaving the U.S. stock market is winding up in Europe.

The headquarters of the European Central Bank. Much of the money leaving the U.S. stock market is winding up in Europe. PHOTO: KAI PFAFFENBACH/REUTERS
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May 9, 2017 5:30 a.m. ET

Investors are pulling money out of the U.S. stock market at one of the highest rates in years, moving billions of dollars to other markets and scaling back a long-held bet that U.S. growth would bring superior returns.

Global money managers’ allocations to U.S. stocks slumped to a nine-year low in April, according to a survey from Bank of America Merrill Lynch. And U.S. equity funds saw an outflow of $22.2 billion during the six weeks that ended May 3, the largest six-week redemption in more than a year, according to EPFR Global.

Much of the money is going to Europe. Net inflows into European funds in the first three months of the year hit a five-year high for the first quarter, according to Thomson Reuters Lipper.

Emerging markets are also benefiting. Strong manufacturing, industrial production and trade data in the developing world helped attract the strongest three-month stretch of net inflows to emerging-market funds since 2014, according to the Institute for International Finance.

“The tables are beginning to turn,” said Brian Singer, head of the dynamic strategies allocation team at William Blair & Co., who has added to equity positions in places like Spain, Italy, India and Russia. “The interest of investors, the conventional wisdom and now the capital flows are starting to shift.”

Strong employment numbers on Friday offered hope that U.S. economic growth might be accelerating after a soft patch. Some global investors view the jobs numbers as a bullish sign for U.S. stocks, especially if European growth shows any indication of faltering after tentative signs of recovery. Even many investors lightening up on U.S. stocks still have them as a core holding and don’t expect a mass exodus.

But if this shift in sentiment continues, it would represent a significant change in course for global investors. During most of the post-financial-crisis period, money managers have tended to favor the U.S. as one of the few spots in the developed world offering economic growth.

That status has helped propel U.S. stock indexes to record highs, roundly beating most foreign markets in recent years. From the start of 2009, the S&P 500 index has returned 166% as the economy pulled out of the financial crisis. European stocks were up 99% over that period, while volatile emerging markets returned 74%, according to FactSet.

Pulling BackFlows into U.S. stock funds have been retreating recently despite stock market gains.THE WALL STREET JOURNALSource: EPFR Global
0.billionFeb. ’16AprilJuneAug.Oct.Dec.Feb. ’17April-20-15-10-5051015202530$35

Now, some analysts say U.S. stocks now look overvalued compared with the rest of the world. The cyclically adjusted price-to-earnings ratio, known as CAPE, is 22 times in the U.S., compared with 16.7 in Europe and 13.7 in emerging markets, according to Makena Capital Management.

Another reason for the shift: Investors are betting that growth may be finally returning to Europe after nearly a decade of fits and starts. The 19 countries in the European Monetary Union grew by 0.5% in the first quarter, which equated to an annualized growth rate of 1.8%. By comparison, U.S. output grew at an annual rate of 0.7% in the first quarter.

Over the past five years, the U.S. economy outgrew the euro area by 1.4 percentage points a year on average, according to the International Monetary Fund. The IMF expects that gap to narrow to 0.6 percentage point in the next three years.

The IMF has also been more upbeat about growth in emerging markets. Many of these economies benefit from higher commodity prices and a healthier global economy. Government stimulus appears to have steadied growth in China, while the economies of Brazil and Russia are expanding after two years of contractions.

The U.S. economic picture has been mixed. Nonfarm payrolls rose by a seasonally adjusted 211,000 in April, and unemployment fell. But closely watched indicators like auto sales and consumer spending have fallen short of market expectations.  Many investors worry whether the U.S. economy is strong enough to justify lofty stock valuations.

“There are a lot of mixed signals” in the U.S., said Lance Humphrey, a global multiasset portfolio manager at USAA. He recently reduced positions in U.S. stocks and added to his holdings of Asian and Middle Eastern companies.

The political risk that has hounded European markets for years may also be subsiding. The Greek debt crisis, which started in late 2009, raised fears that the country could leave the European Monetary Union. More recently, Britain voted to leave the EU, and investors had been worried about a far-right candidate in France until centrist Emmanuel Macron won on Sunday.

Yet even before the second round of the French elections, business and consumer sentiment in Europe had been rising. IHS Markit ’s purchasing managers index reached a six-year high in the first quarter, and the European Commission’s consumer-sentiment survey is near its highest since 2007.

“Now, the things that were keeping you from leaving the U.S. are less worrisome than they were before,” said Michel Del Buono, chief strategist at Makena Capital Management, which manages $18 billion in assets. For about a year, Makena has been gradually deploying new assets into stocks in Europe and emerging markets.

While European corporate margins are still hovering around recession lows at 5%, margins in the U.S. are already near records at 8.8%, according to Makena. That suggests “much less potential” for earnings to further grow in the U.S., Mr. Del Buono said.

Still, some investors think European stocks are cheaper for systemic reasons that will likely persist despite the more encouraging recent data.

While growth is strong in economic powerhouses like Germany, other countries continue to struggle. A glut of bad loans has crimped bank lending in Italy, for instance, while Greece faces fresh austerity measures. Europe’s unemployment rate, though declining, stood at 9.5% in April, compared with 4.4% in the U.S.

Europe’s rapidly aging population tends to hold a greater part of its wealth in savings, hampering government efforts to boost consumer prices and spending. Stricter labor laws make it harder for companies to let employees go during bad times, so companies are more reluctant to add jobs during good times.

“Risks surrounding the euro-area growth outlook, while moving toward a more balanced configuration, are still tilted to the downside,” European Central Bank President Mario Draghi said at an April meeting.

Some investors said that their move out of the U.S. was in part due to a softening dollar. “In our view, we’re about to see a secular peak in the dollar, unless there’s a big rise in protectionism,” said Luca Paolini, chief strategist at Switzerland’s Pictet Asset Management, with $477 billion of assets under management.

A weakening dollar would help emerging markets, where yields are also more attractive. Starting from the beginning of this year, Pictet has been reducing its exposure to U.S. high-yield bonds, while increasing allocations to emerging markets, he said.

Write to Ira Iosebashvili at ira.iosebashvili@wsj.com and Carolyn Cui at carolyn.cui@wsj.com

 

It’s Time to Buy European Stocks—Sorta, Kinda, Maybe

May 8, 2017

Emmanuel Macron’s victory is good news for investors, Europe is recovering perfectly well and investors ought to have some exposure to the region

Supporters of Emmanuel Macron wave French flags as they celebrate in front of the Pyramid at the Louvre Museum in Paris on Sunday. Mr. Macron was elected French president.

Supporters of Emmanuel Macron wave French flags as they celebrate in front of the Pyramid at the Louvre Museum in Paris on Sunday. Mr. Macron was elected French president. PHOTO: ERIC FEFERBERG/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IMAGES
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May 8, 2017 10:30 a.m. ET

There is a tendency for British and American investors to look down their noses at France. The bureaucracy, 35-hour workweek, aggressive trade unions, pushy farmers and protection of national champions—even in yogurt—attract derision, and the country is often held up as among Europe’s most resistant to change.

France has problems, part of the reason for one third of votes for president going to far-right nationalist Marine Le Pen at the weekend.

But France has a lot going for it economically. It is rich, educated and highly productive. Output per person is the same as in the U.K. (adjusted for purchasing power), despite having an unemployment rate more than twice as high. Workers in France are far more productive, allowing them both to work less and produce more than British workers.

Those who laugh at the 35-hour week tend to forget both that it is only the basis before paid overtime kicks in, and that the average worked in the U.S. is even lower, with last week’s nonfarm-payrolls report showing private workers put in 34.4 hours.

Even French growth hasn’t been that bad. Since 1980, Thatcherite reforms have given Britain the fastest growth in output per head of the Group of Seven leading industrialized nations, but from 1980 to 2006 France grew almost exactly in line with Germany, Italy and Canada. Since then, Italy has become poorer, Germany a lot richer, while France and Canada have both put in slow growth.

France needs reform. Her young people are frustrated, with pre-election polls showing far more support for Ms. Le Pen among youth than among older voters—a demographic reversal of the Brexit and Donald Trump votes with which her populist National Front is often grouped. The labor market needs shaking up so it can create more jobs for young workers. Corporate taxes are high, too, deterring both job creation and entrepreneurs. But France is hardly the only country with that problem.

Newly elected President Emmanuel Macron is acutely aware of the challenge, but still needs to win a mandate for reform in parliamentary elections next month. The presidential election was fought mainly as a battle between an inward-looking nationalist viewpoint and an outward-looking embrace of Europe.

For investors, Mr. Macron’s victory matters mostly because of who he isn’t. For the next five years, there is no risk of France quitting the euro, taking away much of the risk priced into French bonds in the buildup to the election.

Mr. Macron’s plans for mild reforms in France are hard to get excited about, even if they survive the traditional French test of violent street protests. More relevant now is that investors can stop worrying about “Frexit,” a French exit from the euro, and focus on the European economy.

The eurozone economy has grown a little faster than the U.S. since the end of 2014, and in the first quarter expanded twice as fast. Unemployment is still high, at 9.5%, but it is the lowest in eight years. Equally, core inflation is still only 1.2%, but is the closest it has been to the European Central Bank’s 2% target in four years. Even as the U.S. has lost momentum, European data continues to beat forecasts at close to the highest rate since the first Greek bailout in 2010, according to Citigroup’s economic surprise index.

The ECB remains dovish, but it is widely expected soon to signal a retreat from its controversial policies of buying bonds and holding interest rates below zero. Investors appear finally to have accepted that European growth has taken hold, so a move away from negative rates should help bank stocks, and do little harm to other equities.

However good the data, it is hard to get truly excited about Europe. Investors have been hit too many times by political ructions and surprise bank failures in the past seven years to be entirely calm. Italy’s populist 5 Star Movement is neck and neck with the ruling Democratic party, so the Italian election next year will test nerves.

Outside the banks, stocks aren’t particularly cheap, either. French stocks are up 10.7% this year even after a pullback on Monday, or 16% in dollar terms, compared with a 7.2% gain for the S&P 500.

Mr. Macron’s victory is good news for investors, Europe is recovering perfectly well and investors ought to have some exposure to the region. Like Mr. Macron’s voters, it is hard to be any more enthusiastic.

Write to James Mackintosh at James.Mackintosh@wsj.com

https://www.wsj.com/articles/its-time-to-buy-european-stockssorta-kinda-maybe-1494253825

French Election: Turnout and Enthusiasm Is Low, Poll Watchers Say

May 7, 2017

French officials report a midday dip in turnout for the presidential runoff from 2012. Voters are choosing five years under former Economy Minister Emmanuel Macron or the anti-EU and anti-immigrant Marine Le Pen.

Frankreich Präsidentschaftswahl in Vaulx-en-Velin (Reuters/E. Foudrot)

Some eligible voters in France appear to be staying home rather than turning out to choose between former Economy Minister Emmanuel Macron and the anti-immigrant Marine Le Pen. By midday, the Interior Ministry had reported a turnout rate of 28.2 percent, compared with a comparable figure of 30.7 percent at the same time during the last presidential runoff, in 2012, and 34.1 percent in 2007.

The pollster Odoxa expects just 75 percent of 47.6 million eligible voters to turn out – and 53 percent say they are more motivated to torpedo their less-preferred candidate than to elect the other. And Macron’s supporters are especially ambivalent about their candidate. Though Macron has a 25-point margin in many opinion polls, 57 percent of people who intend to vote for the banker-cum-politician will do so defensively, while a full 56 percent of likely Le Pen voters truly back the far-right political scion.

“The expected victory … wouldn’t be a blank check for Emmanuel Macron,” according to Odoxa. “A huge majority will not be backing him wholeheartedly.”

A low turnout does not necessarily favor Le Pen. The last time fewer than 30 percent of voters had cast ballots by midday was in the 2002 presidential runoff, when just 26.2 percent had turned out by noon. Just under 80 percent of people eligible ultimately voted in that election, and they overwhelming sent Le Pen’s father, Jean-Marie, packing: The National Front received just 18 percent.

Gendarmerie: 26,000 gendarmes (military police), 3,000 reservists deployed to secure polling stations across the French countryside https://twitter.com/Gendarmerie/status/861166783239213056 

‘Heavy consequences’

For the first time, neither of France’s two traditional parties has a candidate in the final round of the presidential election. In the wake of the UK’s Brexit vote last summer and the US’s election of Donald Trump in November, some have portrayed France’s presidential runoff as a do-or-die day for centrist European democracy.

President Francois Hollande, who had decided not to run again in December, dutifully voted in central France on Sunday. Hollande, a Socialist who plucked Macron from virtual obscurity to name him economy minister in 2014, said voting “is always an important, significant act, heavy with heavy consequences.”

Voters rewarded Le Pen’s xenophobic campaign with 21 percent in the first round. Just before she voted Sunday in her stronghold of Henin-Beaumont, topless activists climbed scaffolding to unfurl a banner on a church: “Power for Marine, despair for Marianne” – referring to France’s national symbol, a feminization of liberty and reason.

Macron, who received 24 percent of the first-round vote, voted near his holiday home in the northern seaside resort of Le Touquet.

http://www.dw.com/en/turnout-down-as-french-hold-noses-for-macron-or-le-pen/a-38741424

With a week to go, Macron and Le Pen to hold duelling May Day events

May 1, 2017

AFP and Reuters

© Alain Jocard, Eric Feferberg, AFP | Combination of file photos. Emmanuel Macron (L) and Marine Le Pen (R).

France’s rivals for the presidency, centrist frontrunner Emmanuel Macron and far-right challenger Marine Le Pen, are set to hold duelling rallies in Paris on Monday, the May Day holiday that will also see major demonstrations against both candidates.

Le Pen, 48, seeking to close a 19-point gap in voter surveys as her Sunday showdown with 39-year-old Macron looms, will take her case as “the people’s candidate” to the working-class suburb of Villepinte.

The pro-business Macron’s venue will be a modern convention centre near the La Villette science complex in northeastern Paris as he seeks to highlight his appeal as a future-oriented innovator.

Meanwhile, major demonstrations are planned in the city centre, one to protest against Le Pen and her anti-immigration National Front (FN), while another will be staged by people who reject both candidates.

For the first time in the history of the nearly 60-year-old Fifth Republic, neither candidate is from the traditional leftwing or rightwing party.

Also Monday, trade unions will stage traditional May Day demos and marches across the country, most calling for a “republican vote” to block Le Pen.

And in Paris, Le Pen’s 88-year-old father Jean-Marie Le Pen—whom she kicked out of the FN in 2015 — will lead a march from a gilded statue of Joan of Arc, the FN’s nationalist icon, to Paris Opera house.

Le Pen senior has repeatedly called the Nazi gas chambers a “detail” of history.

Hundreds of thousands of people took part in May Day events during the last presidential election in 2012, when the conservative Nicolas Sarkozy lost his re-election bid to the Socialist Francois Hollande.

But the same day 15 years ago—when the anti-Semitic, xenophobic Jean-Marie Le Pen shocked France and the world by getting past the first round to face off with Jacques Chirac—some 1.3 million people took to the streets against the FN candidate, including 400,000 in Paris.

People of all political persuasions rallied behind the conservative Chirac, who scored a landslide victory with 82 percent of the vote.

Marine Le Pen, who has worked to rebrand the FN to shed its associations with her anti-Semitic father, on Sunday laid a wreath at a World War II monument in the port of Marseille as France marked a day of remembrance for the victims of the mass deportation of Jews to Nazi Germany during World War II.

Macron, who if elected would become France’s youngest president, paid his respects at Paris’s Holocaust memorial, where he was greeted by France’s grand rabbi, Haim Korsia.

The deportation of French Jews to Nazi Germany holds a highly sensitive place in the national psyche.

“What happened is unforgettable and unforgivable,” Macron said at the Holocaust Memorial after pausing before a wall bearing the names of 76,000 Jews who were deported, of whom just 2,500 survived. “It should never happen again.”

“The homage that I wanted to make today is this duty that we owe to all these lives torn down by the extremes, by barbarism,” he said.

Earlier this month Le Pen was criticised for saying today’s France bore no responsibility for the 1942 roundup and deportation of more than 13,000 Jews from a Paris cycling track.

Last week the FN became embroiled in controversy over the choice of an interim leader who had been accused of praising a Holocaust denier.

Jean-Francois Jalkh, who was tapped to lead the FN after Le Pen stepped aside to campaign for the presidency, was quickly replaced while Jalkh himself denied making the remarks.

Endorsements for Macron

Macron racked up several endorsements on Sunday, beginning with prominent French environmentalist Nicolas Hulot, who however said his backing was “not a blank cheque”.

He also won praise from Airbus CEO Tom Enders, who wrote to him in a note carried by the daily L’Opinion: “The excitement you have created is fully merited. You embody change in a very concrete way.”

And he received long-awaited support from eurosceptic Jean-Luc Melenchon, who crashed out of the race in the first round. The hard-left firebrand urged his supporters not to vote for Le Pen.

“I say to anyone who is listening: do not make the terrible error of voting for the National Front because you would push the country towards a general conflagration and the ending to which no-one can predict,” he said on the TF1 television channel.

In a video message Friday, Le Pen had urged the nearly 20 percent of voters who backed Melenchon in the first round to “block” Macron, saying his pro-business programme was “diametrically opposed” to leftist ideals.

French voters sceptical Macron, Le Pen have answers on key issues — Can we mark “Neither”?

May 1, 2017

Reuters

 Reuters Video:

By Matthias Blamont | PARIS

A week before the decisive second round in France’s presidential election, many voters are sceptical that either of the two candidates can solve chronic unemployment or tackle security concerns, a poll published on Sunday found.

The Ifop survey for the Journal du Dimanche highlights two key battlegrounds as centrist presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron and far-right opponent Marine Le Pen enter a final week of campaigning – France’s economy and borders.

Polls predict that Macron, a former economy minister, will win the May 7 run-off with about 59-60 percent. But the momentum has recently been with Le Pen, who has clawed back about five percentage points over the past week.

According to the Ifop poll, 45 percent of voters believe the two finalists would not put an end to unemployment, which has for years stood close to 10 percent in France. And 36 percent say neither candidate is able to protect France from attacks.

France has been under a state of emergency since 2015 and has suffered a spate of Islamist militant attacks, mostly perpetrated by young men who grew up in France and Belgium. More than 230 people have been killed in the past two years.

Days before the first round of voting on April 23 a French policeman was shot dead and two others were wounded in central Paris in an attack claimed by the Islamic State group.

The result of the run-off vote will depend to a large extent on floating voters and the level of abstentions.

A woman walks past the new official posters for the candidates for the 2017 French presidential election, Emmanuel Macron, head of the political movement En Marche !, or Onwards !, (L) and Marine Le Pen, French National Front (FN) political party leader (R), in Paris, France, April 28, 2017. REUTERS/Gonzalo Fuentes

In the first round 22.2 percent of voters abstained, the highest percentage since 2002 when Marine Le Pen’s father, Jean-Marie, won through to the second round only to be soundly defeated by conservative Jacques Chirac.

This time if turnout is low in the second round analysts say Macron could struggle to reproduce the same broad movement against the National Front candidate, citing his mainly free-market policies at a time when anti-establishment feeling has been on the rise in Europe and the United States.

Left-wing candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon, with 19.6 percent of the votes in the first round, has urged his supporters to oppose Le Pen but has refused to back Macron for the second round.

Le Pen traveled to Marseille on Sunday to speak on the environment, a key issue for Melenchon supporters, while Macron visited the Holocaust memorial in Paris.

The Ifop poll found 42 percent of voters believe neither Macron nor Le Pen would be able to reunite the country after months of bitter campaigning, while 43 percent questioned whether either would be able to govern after capturing the Elysee palace.

France returns to the polls in June to select members of the National Assembly, the lower house of parliament, where a majority is needed to push through government policies.

Both Macron, who launched a new party a year ago, and Le Pen, whose National Front has only two seats in the National Assembly, have faced questions about their ability to build a parliamentary majority.

Le Pen said on Saturday defeated right-wing candidate Nicolas Dupont-Aignan would be her prime minister if she won.

In a statement outlining the alliance struck with Dupont-Aignan’s small nationalist party, Le Pen said there was no rush to dump the euro and that other policy changes might take precedence, in what appeared to be a softening of her stance towards the single currency.

She appeared to reverse this position on Sunday, making clear in a video published on newspaper Le Parisien’s website that she was still intent on leaving the euro eventually.

A policy coordinator with Le Pen confirmed she would call a referendum within six months on France’s future in the European Union, and therefore on the euro, if she were to be elected.

Analysts said the confusion was largely due to the fact that Le Pen’s plans to quit the EU and the euro are among the least popular policies in her protectionist, anti-immigration electoral platform.

Macron received support on Sunday from Jean-Louis Borloo, a previous leader of the UDI, a small centrist party, but has yet to say who he would ask to lead a government.

(Additional reporting by Myriam Rivet, Simon Carraud; Editing by Adrian Croft, Greg Mahlich)

Macron bans Russian-state media from campaign trail

April 29, 2017

AFP

© THOMAS SAMSON / POOL / AFP | French presidential election candidate for the En Marche ! movement Emmanuel Macron talks to the press on April 18, 2017.

French presidential frontrunner Emmanuel Macron’s campaign Thursday denied press access and passes to two Russian state-backed media, RT (formerly Russia Today) and Sputnik, accusing them of spreading “propaganda” and “misleading information”.

The decision was described as “scandalous” by Kremlin foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova, after Macron confirmed to AFP that the access applications had been refused.

“It (RT) is not just a news outlet like the others,” a source in the Macron campaign told the Daily Beast on Monday, “it is a propaganda organ. Therefore we have decided not to give it accreditation.”

RT promptly hit back, telling the Daily Beast, “RT has not received an official reason for its exclusion from the Macron presidential campaign. We hope that his team will see fit to afford the courtesy of accreditation to RT shortly, and not attempt to curtail journalism, and manipulate the media, by selecting who can and can’t report on his campaign.”

Macron’s campaign accuses RT of spreading ‘fake news,’ dodges requests for clarification https://on.rt.com/8a96 

The Kremlin’s Zakharova said that the necessary requests had been made by Russia media and as “other foreign media have not faced any obstacles, we consider these prohibitory measures to be targeted and openly discriminatory”.

Sputnik and RT (Russia Today) were created by the Kremlin for foreigners, and are available in several languages including French. According to Le Monde, the French-language versions of both RT and Sputnik are “very present on [French] social media,” and both sites doubled their traffic in 2016.

A “smear campaign”

The Macron campaign did not offer specific examples of what it considered “propaganda” from RT or Sputnik. However, in February, Macron’s spokesman Benjamin Griveaux accused the Kremlin of mounting a “smear campaign” via state media against the pre-EU centrist former economy minister.

Sputnik published an extensive interview with right-wing Les Républicains lawmaker Nicolas Dhuicq on February 4, in which Dhuicq accused Macron of being an “agent of the big American banking system” and of having “a very wealthy gay lobby behind him”.

The article may have prompted Macron on February 7 to publicly deny having an extramarital homosexual affair.

Anti-Macron or just pro-Le Pen?

Russia is viewed as a keen backer of Macron’s rival Marine Le Pen in the presidential race. Le Pen even met Russian President Vladimir Putin in a surprise visit to Moscow ahead of France’s April 23 first round vote.

RUSSIA ‘ACTIVELY INVOLVED’ IN FRENCH ELECTION, WARNS US SENATE INTELLIGENCE CHIEF

Russian attempts to influence the French campaign via hacking are easier to prove: cybersecurity experts have said they are “99 percent sure” that Russian hackers are targeting the Macron campaign.

The Russian cyber-spying group Pawn Storm used “phishing” techniques to try to steal personal data from Macron and members of his ‘En Marche!’ (Forward!) campaign, the Japanese cyber-security firm Trend Micro said Tuesday.

“This group set up a specific infrastructure to target Emmanuel Macron’s movement in March and April 2017,” Loïc Guézo, Trend Micro’s strategy director for southern Europe, told FRANCE 24.

Pawn Storm – also known as Fancy Bear, Sednit, APT28, Sofacy or Strontium – is also believed to be behind the attacks last summer on the US Democratic National Committee, thought to be aimed at undermining Hillary Clinton’s presidential bid.

The group is widely suspected of having links to Russia’s security services.

Moscow has denied any involvement in seeking to influence France’s election, which will be decided in a second round run-off between Macron and Le Pen on May 7.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)