What impact will Champs-Elysées terror shooting have on the French election?

France has long feared a terror attack in the run-up to the presidential election. What impact will the Champs-Elysées shooting of a policeman that was claimed by terror group Isis have on Sunday's crucial first round vote?

What impact will Champs-Elysées terror shooting have on the French election?
Photo: AFP

The news that a policeman had been shot dead on the famous Champs-Elysées avenue broke as the 11 presidential candidates were appearing live on TV in a show dubbed “15 minutes to convince” France.

The far-right Marine Le Pen had not long finished her 15-minute slot when it became clear that France had been hit by another jihadist attack against its forces of law and order. An attack quickly claimed by terror group Isis.

Authorities had long feared an Isis-inspired or organised attack in the run-up to the election, as it would represent not just a symbolic attack on democracy, but also a chance to perhaps influence the result to their liking, with a victory for Le Pen fitting in with their desire to divide France's communities.

Hence the reason the government extended the state of emergency to cover the campaign.

The immediate impact of Thursday night's attack saw Marine Le Pen, François Fillon and Emmanuel Macron announce they were suspending their campaigns. They all cancelled meetings on Friday, the last official day of campaigning.

Although events have been cancelled the candidates haven’t quite gone quiet.

Marine Le Pen, who has seen her campaign tail off in recent weeks launched an attack on previous governments.

“This war is being waged without mercy and without respite,” she said in a statement at her headquarters.

“Everyone will understand that we can not lose it, but for the last ten years, under the governments of the Right and the Left, everything was done for us to lose it,” she said.

Far-left Jean-Luc Mélenchon refused to cancel his last day of campaigning, not wanting to give the terrorists the last word or allow them to “disturb our democratic process”. Macron and Hamon are due to give speeches later.

Most candidates pledged their immediate support to the country’s police force, who have once again lost a colleague to a coldblooded terrorist assault.

Both Macron and Hamon urged the French public not to “give in to fear”, a familiar call in recent years.

And what about the voters?

With no major attack in France since Nice in July last year the issue of terrorism and security had been relegated down the order of top priorities for voters.

Finding a way to boost the country’s sluggish economy and cut unemployment had become the number one concern for voters, but experts and candidates alike feared that would change if there was further bloodshed.

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Even before Thursday's attack Marine Le Pen has sought to push the issue of terrorism back to the forefront this week arguing that the attacks in Nice and at the Bataclan would not have happened under her watch.

Those statements were ridiculed by many.

In all the analysis of whether Le Pen could pull off another shock populist election victory experts had said it was unlikely, but had all warned that an “outside event” such as a terror attack could boost her support, given she is seen as being the most uncompromising on how to deal with the terror threat against France. Even without campaigning she has made her positions clear: close the borders, expel suspects, and strip them of French nationality (if they are dual nationals).

US president Donald Trump, whose own populist victory was celebrated by Marine Le Pen reckoned that attack will have a “big impact” on the poll.

“Another terrorist attack in Paris. The people of France will not take much more of this. Will have a big impact on presidential election,” Trump tweeted. Was he suggesting a boost for fellow populist Le Pen?

Some suggest former PM François Fillon, a man with experience during a crisis could also benefit, while neither newcomer Macron nor Melenchon are seen as being strong on the subjects of terrorism and security.

But French political expert Bruno Cautres from the Cevipof think tank says the impact on voters will be minimal.

“I don’t think it will change much at this late stage,” Cautres told The Local. “The campaign has been running for months now and most voters know the candidates they will vote for.”

Cautres accepted however it could reinforce those undecided voters who were tempted to vote for either Marine Le Pen or François Fillon.

The danger for Marine Le Pen is that she could face a backlash if, as she has done in the past, she tries to make political gain so soon after the distressing killing of a French policeman.

“She cannot give the impression she is trying to profit from this,” Cautres said. “Candidates would have to show they are the ones who can unite French people and bring them together.”

But as already shown, Le Pen, who is no longer guaranteed a place in the second round run off, will not hold back.

Jean Yves Camus a specialist on the French far right told The Local that an attack on a policeman that was over almost as soon as the news broke does not have the same kind of traumatic impact on the public as the mass killings in Nice or Paris in November 2015.

“Psychologically it’s not the same. We knew the number of victims on the Champs Elysées very quickly but at the Bataclan we had to wait hours without knowing,” Camus said.

Two weeks after those Paris terror attacks in 2015 Marine Le Pen achieved her highest ever vote count when some 6.8 million French voters backed her in the regional elections.

But as Camus pointed out, it was still not enough votes for her to win any of the regions outright.

If Le Pen makes it to the second round against inexperienced Macron, she probably won’t be able to resist trying to steer the debate away from the economy and towards terrorism, even if it looked like she was profiting from another terror attack.

But even if she did opinion polls still suggest she would still be well beaten by whichever rival she faces on May 7th.

The attack will now mean France will go to the polls on Sunday nervous about further attacks but many hope it will have a positive impact on the election by pushing more people to vote to send the message that the country's democracy is strong.


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.”