Face-to-face between President Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen

The second – and final – round of voting sees incumbent centrist Emmanuel Macron take on nationalist and far-right candidate Marine Le Pen.

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French citizens go to the polls on Sunday for a presidential election against the backdrop of war in Ukraine and a cost of living crisis.

The second – and final – round of voting sees incumbent centrist Emmanuel Macron take on nationalist and far-right candidate Marine Le Pen. The same pair were also in the run-off in the 2017 election, but political commentators believe Le Pen has improved his chances this time around.

“While Macron is expected to be re-elected on Sunday, around 13-15% of voters remain undecided. Therefore, there is still room for surprises,” said Antonio Barroso, deputy director of research at consultancy Teneo, in a research note. Thusday.

Barroso said a potential route to a Le Pen victory would be if a huge number of voters who had opted for far-left candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon in the first round suddenly swung to the radical right instead of staying at home or to cast a blank ballot.

A poll published on Thursday predicted that Macron would win the second round with 55% of the vote, with Le Pen at 45%. However, this is a smaller margin compared to the final result of the 2017 French elections. At the time, Macron crushed Le Pen’s party (National Front, since renamed Rassemblement national) with 66.1% of the vote, at 33.9%.

“Opinion polls now give Macron a 55% to 45% advantage over Le Pen. Over the past five years, polls have not underestimated support for Le Pen. But, with up to With 25% voters still undecided at the start of the week, we can’t rule an upset victory for Le Pen,” Berenberg analysts said in a research note on Friday, adding that “there’s a lot at stake for France and the EU”.

Le Pen has softened her rhetoric towards the European Union since 2017. She is no longer campaigning for France to leave the EU and the euro, saying she wants to turn the bloc into an alliance of nations – fundamentally changing how it works . She also wants French troops to leave NATO’s military command.

“Le Pen’s narrow ‘France First’ approach and desire to put its own French rules above EU rules would cause constant conflict with the EU, damage the business climate and scare off foreign investors. France would back down,” Berenberg analysts said.

They added: “She wants to preserve economic structures overtaken by subsidies and regulations. She plays with the idea of ​​lowering the retirement age from 62 to 60 after 40 or 42 years of work, while Macron wants to raise the retirement age to 65.”

Televised debate

The final days of the election campaign have seen Le Pen’s old ties to Russia and President Vladimir Putin resurface. In a key televised debate Wednesday against Macron, Le Pen was accused of being “dependent” on Russia.

Macron told Le Pen during the two-hour talks: “When you talk to Russia, you talk to your banker,” according to one translation. In 2014, Le Pen’s party reportedly sought loans from Russian banks, including the First Czech Russian Bank – a lender believed to have ties to the Kremlin. Le Pen refuted the charges on Wednesday, saying, “I am a completely free woman.”

Jim Shields, a professor of French politics at the University of Warwick, told CNBC on Wednesday that Macron had had the difficult task of defending his five years in power, but also presenting a new vision for the future.

“Le Pen, this time around, can play the change card much more than Macron,” he said. “What he needs to do is show some empathy, get off his high horse, try to show that he cares about people’s day-to-day concerns, that he’s not the president of the wealthy that many accuse him of being,” he added, referring to soaring inflation in France that has become a mainstay of Le Pen’s election campaign.

“Each of the two candidates must try to correct their perceived weakness. For Le Pen, lack of credibility, for Macron, lack of connection, lack of empathy, in order to attract new voters,” Shields said.

If Macron is re-elected, he will become the first incumbent in two decades to return for a second term. The yield on 10-year French government bonds rose ahead of the election, crossing the 1% threshold in early April amid broader concerns over inflation and the war in Ukraine.

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