Less than a month before France’s first round of presidential elections, incumbent Emmanuel Macron finally laid out his campaign platform for reelection at a lengthy news conference Thursday outside Paris. The war in Ukraine has lifted Macron’s popularity, and his rivals are scrambling to make an impact. If he wins, Macron would be the first French president reelected in two decades.
Macron was on a war footing Thursday, saying France must face multiple crises ahead — not with nostalgia for the past, but by confronting them and planning for the future. He spoke from the working-class Paris suburb of Aubervilliers — a striking choice for a candidate who has been derided as the president of the rich. Some of his key campaign proposals include raising the retirement age from 62 to 65, boosting spending on security, improving educational opportunities and abolishing certain taxes.
Macron waited until the last minute to announce his candidacy. He has barely campaigned — holding just a citizens’ debate outside Paris — and he has refused any direct first-round debates with the 11 other presidential hopefuls. But France’s 44-year-old president is scoring strongly in the polls, with about 30% of intended votes — more than 10 points ahead of his leading rival, far-right politician Marine Le Pen. For now, polls also forecast he will win the April 24 runoff by a large margin.
The war in Ukraine has especially burnished Macron’s image as a European statesman. The French leader did participate in an indirect debate with his rivals this week, hosted by TF1 TV, that focused on the conflict and its fallout. Analysts say he appeared to stand above the squabbling fray.
Besides Le Pen, Macron’s other main rivals include 70-year-old Jean-Luc Melenchon from the far left, with about 14% of intended votes, and Valerie Pecresse of the center-right, with about 11%. Ratings for another hopeful, far-right pundit Eric Zemmour, have slipped since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, apparently because of his previous pro-Russia positions.
But Macron has not been a popular president, and his five-year term has been marked by crises. First, the yellow vest protest movement in 2018 sent tens of thousands of people to the streets protesting high fuel prices and economic inequalities. Then, the COVID-19 pandemic that started in 2020. Now, Ukraine.
And as the conflict and sanctions against Russia grind on, analysts warn Macron — or whomever succeeds him — may be faced with rising discontent once again, as France confronts higher energy prices and possibly a massive influx of refugees.