Mélenchon – the ‘French Fidel Castro’ – comes under attack as his stock continues to rise

France's Communist-backed presidential candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon, who has been dubbed the French Fidel Castro came under attack from his rivals on Wednesday as yet another poll showed voters warming to the firebrand leftist.

Mélenchon  - the 'French Fidel Castro' - comes under attack as his stock continues to rise
Photo: AFP

France's Communist-backed presidential candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon came under attack from his rivals on Wednesday as
yet another poll showed voters warming to the firebrand leftist, whose late surge has caused ripples in financial markets.

In the past few weeks the 65-year-old eurosceptic has moved behind to become a serious contender in an election shaping up as a four-way race along with far-right leader Marine Le Pen, centrist Emmanuel Macron and conservative
Francois Fillon.

While Le Pen and Macron are still seen as frontrunners for the April 23 first round, Melenchon is now only about five points behind them, after overtaking conservative Francois Fillon in two opinion polls.

An Ifop Fiducial survey Wednesday showed the leader of La France Insoumise (Unbowed France) movement becoming the country's favourite politician, with 68 percent of the French approving of him, up 22 points in a month.

While the man famous for his fiery speeches promises he has mellowed, his plans for a 100-percent tax rate on top earners and threat to exit EU treaties if Brussels does not agree to a fundamental overhaul of the bloc have caused
trepidation among investors.

On Tuesday, the gap between the yields on French 10-year bonds and German Bunds widened to 75 basis points, just shy of a four-year high of 77 points seen in late February when investors began factoring in the prospect — seen
as improbable but not unthinkable — of a Le Pen win.

“A recent surge in support for euroskeptic candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon is bringing “Frexit” fears back to the fore,” the popular MarketWatch site tweeted.

“Melenchon: the crazy programme of the French Chavez,” the front-page headline in the conservative Le Figaro daily read Wednesday, comparing Melenchon to late Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez.

Others have compared him to Cuban revolutionary Fidel Castro.

Reviewing the leftwinger's plans to tax all earnings of above 400,000 euros at 100 percent and increase public spending by 173 billion euros ($184 billion) over five years, the paper warned: “Ruined by Mr Melenchon, France could be quickly forced to import its wine and cheese.”


The rise of Melenchon has further shaken up a rollercoaster campaign and brought him closer to his dream of a duel with his nemesis Le Pen and rival for the anti-establishment mantle.

Like Le Pen, Melenchon wants to restore protections for French industry and develop closer ties with Russia but he is fiercely opposed to her anti-immigrant agenda.

On Wednesday, President Francois Hollande, who has watched his Socialist party's nominee Benoit Hamon be overtaken by Melenchon, warned voters against being taken in by the latter's rhetorical talents.

“There is a risk of simplification and falsification, whereby we watch the showman instead of his programme,” Hollande was quoted by French media as saying.

On Tuesday, Macron and Fillon also tore into the indefatigable Melenchon, who attracted tens of thousands of supporters at a rally in the Mediterranean port city of Marseille on Sunday.

The 39-year-old Macron sought to portray the former Socialist minister, who quit the ruling party in 2008, as a relic of a bygone era.

“The Communist revolutionary was a Socialist senator way back when I was in secondary school!” he told a rally.

Fillon painted Melenchon and Le Pen, who wants to bring back the French franc and put France's EU membership to a vote, as two sides of the same coin.

Neither would “get the French economy up and running again”, said the ex-premier who is campaigning as a safe pair of hands but has been dogged by an expenses scandal.

Fillon's remarks echoed dire warnings from the head of France's employers federation, Pierre Gattaz.

“We're at a historic moment in our country,” Gattaz told a press conference on Tuesday, declaring that a hypothetical run-off between Melenchon and Le Pen would force the French to choose between “economic disaster and economic chaos”.


Le Pen narrowly tops European election polls in France in blow for Macron

The far-right National Rally party led by Marine Le Pen finished top in European elections in France on Sunday, dealing a blow to pro-European President Emmanuel Macron.

Le Pen narrowly tops European election polls in France in blow for Macron
Marine Le Pen and Jordan Bardella. Photo: AFP

Results released on Monday morning by the Ministry of the Interior, which have yet to be formally verified and declared by the National Voting Commission, showed that the far right Rassemblement National (RN) party topped the polls with 23.3 percent of the vote, beating French president Emmanuel Macron's La Republique En Marche.

They were closely followed by Macron's party, which polled 22.4 percent.

Emmanuel and Brigitte Macron at a polling station in Le Touquet earlier on Sunday. Photo: AFP

The allocation of seats in the European Parliament has been complicated for France by the UK's delayed departure from the EU.

The Parliament had already decided that after Brexit, some of the seats that had been occupied by British MEPs would be reallocated to other countries, with France set to gain an extra five seats

However, last minute delays to Brexit meant that the UK had to take part in the elections, with the result that France will not gain its extra seats until Britain leaves the EU.

On last night's polling results, the RN will get 22 seats in the European parliament immediately, and an extra seat once Britain leaves.

Macron's LREM will get 21 seats now and 23 after the UK leaves.

The green party lead by Yannick Jadot was placed third with 13.4 percent of the vote, gaining 12 seats now and 13 after Brexit. 

The two parties that between them had dominated French politics for decades until the rise of Macron both polled in single figures. Nicolas Sarkozy's old party Les Republicains polled 8.4 percent, while the Socialist party of Francois Hollande was on 6.31 percent, winning them eight and six seats respectively.

Meanwhile the 'yellow vest' candidates scored just 0.54 percent of the vote, below the Animalist party which polled 2.17 percent.

Nathalie Loiseau with LREM party workers. Photo: AFP

Although a total of 34 parties fielded candidates in the European elections in France, the election had largely been framed as a contest between Macron and Le Pen.

Macron's La Republique En Marche party, its list headed by former Europe Minister Nathalie Loiseau, was contesting its first European elections.

Marine Le Pen, on the other hand, was hoping to replicate her 2014 European election victory with her Rassemblement National party, its list headed by a political novice, the 23-year-old Jordan Bardella. Bardella called the results a “failure” for the LREM ruling party and sought to portray Macron's defeat as a rejection by voters of his pro-business agenda in France and pro-EU vision.

Macron had made no secret of the significance he attached to the results, telling regional French newspapers last week that the EU elections were the most important for four decades as the union faced an “existential threat”.

Jordan Bardella, head of the RN list. Photo: AFP

He has jumped into the campaign himself in recent weeks, appearing alone on an election poster in a move that analysts saw as exposing him personally if LREM underperformed.

The score of the National Rally is slightly below the level of 2014 when it won 24.9 percent, again finishing top.

Le Pen had placed herself towards the bottom of the RN list, so she will be returning to the European Parliament, where she served as an MEP from 2004 to 2017.

Turnout at the polls in France was the highest in recent years, with 50.12 percent of people voting, significantly up from 35.07 percent in 2014.

Veteran France reporter John Lichfield said: “After six months of 'yellow vest' rebellion, that Macron list has 22 percent is respectable. Much better than President Hollande did in 2014 (14.5 percent).

“But he made the election all about himself and lost. His hopes of emerging as de facto EU leader or enacting more French reforms are damaged.”