Macron Vows Ambitious Green Policies, Wooing the Left in Runoff

MARSEILLE, France – On a podium built on lush green lawns overlooking the sun-drenched Mediterranean port of Marseille, President Emmanuel Macron told a crowd of supporters on Saturday: “The politics I will conduct over the next five years will be environmentally friendly. , or will not be!”

It was an ambitious pledge for a president whose green policies have been criticized in repeated climate protests, convicted by courts of “inactivity” and marked by failure to meet targets. But above all, Mr Macron’s vow was a direct appeal to voters on his left, who hold the key to an eventual victory in the second round of the presidential election – and for whom climate has become a key issue.

Mr Macron devoted about three quarters of his hour and a half speech to environmental issues. He pledged to appoint ministers responsible for long-term environmental planning, plant 140 million trees by 2030, and rapidly reduce dependence on oil and gas by developing nuclear and renewable energy.

“Inactivity – not for me!” he told a cheering crowd of some 4,000 gathered in the Parc du Pharo, on the heights of Marseille, for what may have been Mr Macron’s last meeting before the April 24 vote.

The event symbolized Macron’s strategy for the dichotomy between the centrist incumbent and his far-right opponent, Marine Le Pen: pursuing the left with progressive policies and campaigning in working-class towns where he tries to shed his image as a standoffish president from everyday reality . If large numbers of left-wing voters stay home for the second round of voting, or migrate to Ms Le Pen’s camp, it could pose serious problems for Mr Macron.

Stewart Chau, an analyst with the polling agency Viavoice, said Macron’s main goal was to “seek voters for Jean-Luc Mélenchon”, the far-left candidate who came third in the first round of voting — but first in Marseille, with 31 percent of the vote. the votes.

In September, the president unveiled a multi-billion dollar plan to tackle crime and poverty in Marseille.

Mr Macron promised a “complete renewal” if reelected, and also used his speech to attack Ms Le Pen, accusing her of seeking to curtail press freedom, challenge gender equality and lead France out of the European Union. He’s trying to revive the ‘dam’ that mainstream voters have long formed by voting for anyone above a Le Pen – either his current opponent or her father, Jean-Marie, leaders of the far-right French since the 1970s. .

Saturday’s rally concluded an intense week of campaigning for Macron, who has toured the country since Monday to make up for a lackluster first campaign. By only visiting places where Mrs. Le Pen or Mr. Mélenchon came out on top in the first round, he risks contact with angry residents, trying to show that he too can feel their pain.

By contrast, Ms. Le Pen, who has long striven to soften her public image, has been more risk averse and limited her campaign travel this week. Instead, it has tried to bolster its credibility with two press conferences on its institutional reform proposals and its foreign policy agenda.

But those events partially backfired after her party’s refusal to accredit some media outlets caused a stir, and when she outlined controversial plans to overtake Russia and leave NATO’s integrated military command.

Ms Le Pen has been subjected to more criticism since another far-right candidate, Éric Zemmour, failed to make the second round. His inflammatory remarks against immigration and Islam drew much of the attention from Ms Le Pen, who has long been known for similar views.

“The form confronts the content,” said Mr Chau, the analyst, adding that Ms Le Pen’s purified image now clashed with “the reality of her ideas, which are anything but reassured, anything but softened.”

At a meeting on Thursday in the southern city of Avignon, Ms Le Pen mentioned immigration only three times, despite being the cornerstone of her platform. She has suggested evicting foreigners after being unemployed for a while years, giving priority to native French people for social housing and benefits, and abolishing the right to citizenship by birth in France.

Her supporters were more blunt. “She still wants to kick out the immigrants,” said Aline Vincent, holding a French flag in her right hand, who attended Ms Le Pen’s rally with some 4,000 others. “But she doesn’t say it the same way.”

In Marseille, Daniel Beddou said he was “very concerned” about the rise of the far right. He held a European flag in his left hand and said: welcomed Mr Macron’s environmental plans. He said they embodied the president’s “simultaneously” approach, referring to his habit of borrowing policies from both the left and the right.

While appealing to the 7.7 million voters who backed Mr Mélenchon in the first round and appear to hold the key to an eventual victory, Mr Macron has toned down some of his proposals, such as a plan to raise the statutory retirement age. increase to age 65. of 62, which he now says can be mitigated.

On Saturday, he also pushed for long-term “environmental planning” – a concept that was a cornerstone of Mr Mélenchon’s platform – and promised to appoint a minister “directly responsible” for it, assisted by two ministers who responsible for energy and the environment. transition.

“There is a real willingness to speak with a working class electorate, a left-wing electorate that we didn’t have in the first round,” said Sacha Houlié, a lawmaker and spokesperson for Macron’s campaign.

To what extent Macron’s last-minute tilt to the left will yield results at the ballot box remains to be seen.

Many voters remain disillusioned with Macron’s shift to the right in recent years. François Dosse, a French historian and philosopher who was one of Macron’s most enthusiastic supporters in the last election, said his tough stance on immigration and against Islamic extremism amounted to “recycling the fears of the far right” and indirectly lending credence to Ms Dosse. Le Pen’s treatise.

“It’s about playing Russian roulette,” said Mr. Dosse about the strategy of mr. Macron to triangulate the French electoral landscape. “And it’s a dangerous game where one can lose — and lose democracy.”

Mr Macron won just 28 percent of the vote last week, against Ms Le Pen’s 23 percent and Mr Mélenchon’s 22 percent, with a host of others trailing behind. Some voters are already considering sitting out Round 2, disappointed by the incumbent’s record.

“In 2017 he was a fresh face, he was young, he was ambitious – but in the end he did nothing,” said Nadia Mebrek, a 48-year-old Mélenchon supporter, adding that she would likely abstain. She stood in Rue d’Aubagne, where in 2018 two buildings collapsed, killing eight people – a testament to the endemic housing and poverty crisis in Marseille.

“Macron, he protects the rich more than the poor,” said Ms Mebrek, who as a personal care assistant has always been paid only the minimum wage.

polls showing that only a third of Mélenchon’s supporters would support Macron in the second round to keep Ms Le Pen from power, while the rest were split between voting for Ms Le Pen and abstaining.

But the first week of the second campaign seemed in Macron’s favour. Voter Surveys show that his lead has increased in the second round. The French president would receive 56 percent of the vote, compared to 44 for Ms Le Pen – his biggest lead since the end of March.

In Marseille, many of Mélenchon’s supporters, such as Nate Gasser, 26, said they would shut up and support Macron to defeat Ms Le Pen. “It annoys me to do that, but we will vote for Macron,” he said, insisting it was not a “voice of obedience”.

“And after that,” he said, “we’ll take to the streets to protest.”

SOURCE – www.nytimes.com

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