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JOHN LICHFIELD

OPINION: Macron is on the right side of history and will win the French election

As his opponents scramble to distance themselves from their past Putin-worship, Emmanuel Macron has emerged as the man on the sight side of history and is now virtually guaranteed a victory in the French election, argues John Lichfield.

OPINION: Macron is on the right side of history and will win the French election
French president Emmanuel Macron. Photo by Ludovic MARIN / AFP

No-one cares much about the French election any more. Not even me. The brutal Russian attack on Ukraine has sucked the oxygen out of the lungs of the campaign in the way that Vladimir Putin’s thermobaric bombs suck the air from the bodies of men, women and children.

No doubt some form of campaign will resume but I believe the result is already a foregone conclusion. President Emmanuel Macron will win.

He has, in effect, won before he has formally entered the race (something he must do by 6pm on Friday). He has won because the campaign is now frozen in his favour. He has won because many voters will rally to the flag and the sitting President in time of mortal crisis.

Most of all he has won because three of his most important challengers have a long and ignoble record of glorifying or apologising for Vladimir Putin.

“The Three Moscowteers”, as I call them, Eric Zemmour, Marine Le Pen (on the far-right) , and Jean-Luc Mélenchon (on the hard, nationalist Left), have been exposed as fake patriots and defective thinkers.

Like the British politicians who defended Hitler until September 1939, they find themselves trapped on the wrong side of history. All three mock and detest the European Union (which is now going through its finest hour). All three oppose French membership of Nato (whose purpose has never been more clear).

All three have aligned themselves in the past with Vladimir Putin against Washington, against Brussels and even against their own country. Zemmour has even said that he dreams of a “French Putin” and that France should break its other alliances and throw in its lot with the “more reliable” Moscow.

In the last four days, Zemmour has lost two and a half points in the daily IFOP tracking poll and has fallen to 14 percent first round support. Macron has climbed by two points to 28 percent, his highest score for a year. Marine Le Pen seems for now to have avoided punishment for her Putin connections and is emerging (on 17 percent) as the favourite to reach the second round with Macron.

The President will make his first, long statement to the French people on the Ukraine war in a TV address at 8pm on Wednesday. The Elysée says that he will NOT take the opportunity to say formally that he is a candidate in an election that he now looks certain to win.

If he does not do so on Wednesday then, I expect, he will on Thursday.

My bold – actually not so bold – prediction of a nailed-on Macron victory may come as a surprise to some in the British media. Some British pundits took heart from the failure of Emmanuel Macron’s peace mission to Putin last month. They believed that Macron had been “humiliated” and would therefore lose next month’s presidential election.

That’s not the way it is seen in France. A majority of French people, according to opinion polls, gave Macron credit for attempting to avoid a war until the last moment.

Yes, Macron was naïve. Yes, his public statements were sometimes misleadingly optimistic. He has believed for years that he could persuade Putin that Russia is great European country and that its destiny and future prosperity lie in a closer relationship with the European Union.

Many people, inside and outside France, warned Macron that he was gravely mistaken. Vladimir Putin, they said, detests the liberal economic and political values on which the EU was founded. He believes only in the resurrection of Russia as a global power and the recreation of an allegedly Christian Russian Empire in which such western evils as women’s equality or gay rights are suppressed (hence Eric Zemmour’s attraction to him).

Nonetheless, Macron probably did more good than harm in his failed peace mission to Moscow. No one can rationally claim that the West did not give Putin every opportunity – several “off-ramps” as the diplomatic jargon now has it – to avoid invading the 21st century with a 20th century war.

There has also been some criticism of Macron’s two telephone conversations with Putin, one of them brief, the other 90 minutes long, since the war began a week ago. On both occasions, Macron was asked to make the calls by the Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelensky

Macron speaks to Zelensky several times a day. So do other western leaders. The Ukrainian president seems to regard Macron as the only one who can still make calls to Putin.

On the last occasion, on Monday, Zelensky asked Macron to ask Putin to spare civilian targets. The Russian leader agreed and his army carried on regardless, targeting (accidentally or otherwise) hospitals and schools in recent days. A pointless call then? Maybe.

The Elysée view is that the conversation helped, once again, to illustrate the difference between what Putin says and what he does. At some point, officials say Putin will have to talk seriously to the West. Better to keep the channel open.

In another respect, the last week has shown Macron to be a forward-thinker. For years he has been banging on about the need for the European Union to develop a political and strategic brain to go with its economic muscle. The EU, he said, should start to think and act like a political power – une puissance – not just the world’s biggest open-borders trading market.

In the last seven days, the EU has done just that.

It has imposed much tougher sanctions on Russia than many thought possible. It has offered €450 million to Kyiv to buy weapons (breaking an EU taboo). It has agreed EU-wide bans on Russian civil aircraft and on propaganda arms like Russia Today.

The EU, which always leaps forward in times of crisis, has caught up with Macron’s ambitions for it. In that respect at least, it looks as though the French president has been on the right side of history.

Member comments

  1. A good article John and I agree with just about everything you say. It will be interesting to see how Macron’s second term proceeds given that he is likely to enter it with a much enhanced reputation. But you commit two common errors among political commentators when talking about polling data: firstly, to assume that changes in the data are ‘real’ changes in the population as a whole when they are in fact within the margin of error for a sample and, secondly, commit the ‘post hoc propter hoc’ fallacy by assuming that these changes are the result of recent events.

  2. No arguments there, John. Potin has made Macron is a shoo-in at this point. But too bad we never had a real debate on the real issues confronting France this time.

  3. John, overall I agree with just about everything you say here. Macron may well go into his second term with a smaller majority in the second round than last time but he will have rather more momentum and greater standing than last time. Quite simply he dwarfs the other candidates in terms of electability, although the French will continue to complain about him and the established political pundits, whether from the Right, Left or, apparently in some cases, Mars, will still not forgive him for taking their cosy little games away from them back in 2017. The Guardian in the UK will continue to commission comment on French politics from people who appear to have no idea at all what’s going on outside the peripherique. Or indeed within it. It will be interesting to see just how he goes about his second term.

    As a someone who spent nearly 40 years working on surveys and polls however, I have a complaint: you commit two of the most common errors of political pundits, firstly, in assuming that small changes in poll standings, usually within the margin or error (which can be around +/- 4%), mean that there have been similar changes in the electorate, they do not. Secondly, you then commit the ‘post hoc, propter hoc’ fallacy in assuming that these have been caused by events occuring recently before them, when they might be entirely unrelated or just sampling error.

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POLICE

France proposes getting rid of penalties for ‘minor’ speeding offences

The French government is considering changing speeding laws so that drivers will not lose points on their licence if they are caught going just a few kilometres over the speed limit.

France proposes getting rid of penalties for 'minor' speeding offences

France’s Interior Ministry is considering changing its current rules for minor speeding violations – proposing getting rid of the penalty for drivers who only violate the rule by going just a few kilometres over the speed limit.

The Ministry has not laid out a timeline for when this could come into effect, but they said they are currently in the preliminary stages of studying how the change could be carried out.

“The fine of course remains,” said the Interior Ministry to French daily Le Parisien.

That is to say you can still be fined for going five kilometres over the speed limit, but there might not be any more lost points for driving a couple kilometres over the posted limit. 

READ ALSO These are the offences that can cost you points on your driving licence

Of the 13 million speeding tickets issued each year in France, 58 percent are for speeding violations of less than 5 km per hour over the limit, with many coming from automated radar machines.

How does the current rule work?

The rule itself is already a bit flexible, depending on where the speeding violation occurs.

If the violation happens in an urban area or low-speed zone (under 50 km per hour limit), then it is considered a 4th class offence, which involves a fixed fine of €135. Drivers can also lose a point on their licences as a penalty for this offence. 

Whereas, on highways and high-speed roads, the consequences of speeding by 5 km per hour are less severe. The offence is only considered 3rd class, which means the fixed fine is €68. There is still the possibility of losing a point on your licence, however. 

How do people feel about this?

Pierre Chasseray, a representative from the organisation “40 Millions d’Automobilistes,” thinks the government should do away with all penalties for minor speeding offences, including fines. He told French daily Le Parisien that this is only a “first step.”

Meanwhile, others are concerned that the move to get rid of points-deductions could end up encouraging people to speed, as they’ll think there is no longer any consequence.

To avoid being accused of carelessness, France’s Interior Ministry is also promising to become “firmer” with regards to people who use other people’s licences in order to get out of losing points – say by sending their spouse’s or grandmother’s instead of their own after being caught speeding. The Interior Ministry plans to digitalise license and registration in an effort to combat this. 

Ultimately, if you are worried about running out of points on your licence, there are still ways to recover them.

You can recover your points after six months of driving without committing any other offences, and there are also awareness training courses that allow you to gain your points back. It should be noted, however, that these trainings typically cost between €150 and €250, and they do not allow you to regain more than four points.

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