© Eric FEFERBERG, AFP | French presidential election candidate for the En Marche ! movement, Emmanuel Macron (C) waves upon his arrival on stage during a campaign rally on May 1, 2017 at the Paris Event Center in Paris.
French presidential frontrunner Emmanuel Macron held a May Day rally in northeastern Paris Monday, presenting himself as a candidate of unity and progress against far-right rival Marine Le Pen.
The rally brought together 12,000 followers of the centrist Macron in a convention centre near La Villette science park, six days before the final round of the French presidential election.
Macron is currently favoured to become France’s youngest president ever, leading Le Pen in the most recent Ifop poll 59 to 41 percent.
Inside the sunny convention centre, EU flags waved alongside the French tricolor, emphasizing Macron’s pro-EU stance. The diverse crowd, featuring many parents with young children, warmed up to songs like Rihanna’s “We Found Love (In a Hopeless Place”).
Macron took the stage shortly after 5pm, greeted by cheers of "Macron, président!"
Throughout his more than hour-long speech, Macron emphasised unity against the far-right Le Pen, whom he called the “candidate of hate”.
“What is at stake isn’t only politics,” Macron said. “It is not only the state, it is not only the future of a group [or] a party … it is the future of our society, of the French people, of our lives together.”
Furthering the theme of unity, Macron called for support for Muslims in France: “I will never allow people to be insulted because they believe in Islam,” Macron said.
Macron also claimed that Le Pen’s divisiveness only encouraged those who want to commit terrorist acts in France. “Marine Le Pen and our assaillants nourish one another” because both want ‘civil war’”, Macron said, while also promising to fight terrorism abroad and at home.
Refuses to bow on labour reform
The speech was heavy on policy, too. Macron said he would not change his proposed labour reforms despite the demands of Jean-Luc Melenchon, the far-left candidate who picked up one in five votes in the first round of voting last weekend.
"I heard the calls to change my manifesto," Macron said "Some did it in the past, but I won’t do it."
The reforms include capping severance payments to make firing and hiring easier, which he said were necessary to address unemployment, which has hovered around 10 percent in France for several years.
"These changes are essential to prevent the National Front from becoming stronger in five years’ time," Macron added.
Macron needs leftwing votes if he is to beat Le Pen. A poll last week showed that only about 40 percent of those who voted for Melenchon would support Macron on Sunday.
>>Read more on FRANCE24.com: "Mayday, mayday, France’s anti-Le Pen front is splintering"
He also repeated he would seek fairer EU rules to prevent what he calls ‘social dumping’ – under which companies can move jobs to member countries where labour is cheaper and employ imported workers at lower rates.
“Do not boo her, fight her”
Macron frequently tried to deflect the boos that Le Pen’s name inspired. “Do not boo her,” he urged the crowd. “Let’s beat her. It’s different." He did, however, mock Le Pen’s vow to replace the euro as France’s currency, saying that Le Pen promised "the franc in the morning and the euro in the afternoon".
Seeking to tie Marine Le Pen to the controversial legacy of her father, National Front founder Jean-Marie Le Pen, Macron criticized Le Pen’s "rude manners" and called her "the heir" to her father’s politics.
Marine expelled Jean-Marie Le Pen from the party in 2015 after he reiterated anti-Semitic comments.
Support from multiple parties
For the first time in the history of the nearly 60-year-old Fifth Republic, neither candidate in the final presidential round is from the traditional leftwing or rightwing party.
Macron has been able to rally the support from leaders of several parties, including a long list of political heavyweights from France’s left and center, such as current Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, current Environmental Minister Ségolène Royal, President of the Democratic Movement (MoDem) party François Bayrou, and Socialist mayor of Lyon Gérard Collomb.
After the rally, Guilhem Darfeuille, 39, wearing a blue Macron t-shirt, said he voted for conservative former President Nicolas Sarkozy twice. However, he didn’t find it odd to be attending a rally with Sarkozy’s 2007 rival, the socialist Royal, sitting in the front row.
“I was thrilled because it shows that the openness can really be very broad," Darfeuille told FRANCE 24’s Tracy McNicoll. "What I find interesting is the end of this dogmatic bipolarisation … If the ideas are good, they can be right-wing, left-wing, it’s not a problem."
By contrast, Olivier Burnichon, 46, is a Socialist who said he has backed Macron since November. Macron got the message across that Le Pen was "not a normal opponent, a dangerous opponent", Burnichon told FRANCE 24’s McNicoll.
“I personally will never forget”
Earlier Monday Macron paid tribute to Brahim Bouarram, a Moroccan man killed on the sidelines of a 1995 National Front May Day rally.
“Many have gotten used to the National Front; I haven’t”, Macron said, in a bid to remind voters of the far-right party’s dark past.
Macron also brought up Le Pen’s denial of French responsibility of the 1942 Vel d’Hiv roundup, in which French police assisted Nazis in sending 13,000 Jews to death camps.
“I personally will never forget, and I will fight until the very last second against Marine Le Pen’s project.”
(FRANCE 24 with AFP, REUTERS)
Date created : 2017-05-01