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JOHN LICHFIELD

OPINION: ‘Moscowteers’ are rising in the French polls, but which one will face Macron?

With Emmanuel Macron the clear leader in French presidential election polls, it seems increasingly likely that his opponent in the second round will be a politician with a long history of support for Vladimir Putin - but, asks John Lichfield, which one?

OPINION: 'Moscowteers' are rising in the French polls, but which one will face Macron?
Who will face Emmanuel Macron in the second round of the French election? Photo by Christophe ARCHAMBAULT / AFP

Mea culpa. Last month I wrote off “the three Moscowteers”, the trio of Putin-fancying candidates in next month’s presidential election.

One of them, Eric Zemmour, has melted down in the polls. The others, Marine Le Pen and Jean-Luc Mélenchon, are going from strength to strength.

Why? How is it that Zemmour, of the new Far Right, is paying for his years of Putinidolatory while Le Pen (old Far Right) and Mélenchon (Hard Left) are escaping punishment for their years of Putin fellow-travelling?

With just over two weeks to the first round on April 10th, Le Pen is up to 19 percent in some polls and Mélenchon is in third place on 14-15 percent and rising. Macron remains far ahead on 27-29 percent, even though his post-Ukraine surge has peaked and fallen back a little.

There is no doubt, in my view, that Macron will be re-elected on April 24th but the identity of his second-round opponent is uncertain. I believe that it is most likely, once again, to be Le Pen but it could just be Mélenchon.

Does it matter? Yes, I think it does.

Macron v Le Pen would be a somewhat closer contest than Macron v Mélenchon. All the same, Macron would much rather face Le Pen than squash the eloquent old hard-left bruiser.

Macron versus any candidate of the Right places him where he wants to be – in the centre of the battlefield. Macron versus Mélenchon allows him to be painted by the Left as the candidate of the Right.

But why are two of the three “Moscowteers” rising in the polls?

Zemmour has fallen to 9 percent in one poll because his core message – “France is threatened by a migratory invasion from the South” – has been overwhelmed by reality. The real and immediate  threat to the French and European way of life comes from the East. And from a man whose ideology of aggressive, poisonous nostalgia is very close to that of Zemmour.

The electoral bases of Le Pen and Mélenchon are, it turns out, less concerned by the fate of Ukraine than Zemmour voters are.

I misread the extent of that difference last month, although I did say that Zemmour would suffer most.

Le Pen is rising in the polls partly because voters are returning to her from Zemmour; partly because her core electorate is poorer and preoccupied by its own problems. For understandable reasons, they are more concerned by the end-of-the-week than the end of the world.

To differentiate herself from Zemmour, Marine Le Pen has been campaigning on cost of living issues for weeks. This turns out to have been a smart bet. Putin’s invasion of Ukraine was an embarrassment to a candidate whose campaign was funded by a Russian loan in 2017. The spike in fuel and food prices is an electoral windfall.

Mélenchon also benefits from the domestic consequences of the Ukraine war and western sanctions. But that alone does not explain his rise. His electorate is heavily skewed towards the conspiratorial, anti-Nato left-wing and to second and third generation migrants , many of whom are resistant to the “western” narrative of Big Ugly Russia versus Gallant Little Ukraine.

Of all the leading candidates, Mélenchon remains de facto the most pro-Putin. He condemns the invasion but opposes western arms shipments to Ukraine, without which the Russian invasion would have triumphed.

He is also benefitting from Macron’s right-leaning programme for the next five years. Against the President’s plan for retirement at 65, Mélenchon is calling for a “social referendum” in favour of his irresponsible plan to reduce the standard retirement age from 62 to 60.   

There is another factor, As the first round nears, left-wing votes are migrating to the best-placed left-winger. Similar tactical voting by the Left brought Mélenchon to 19.58 percent of the vote and fourth place in 2017. The entry ticket for the second round could be as low as 18 percent this year.

On the other hand, the residual score of the other left wing candidates is now very low and largely composed of hard-core anti-Mélenchonistes. To increase his present poll number of 13-15 percent, he needs to mine a “hidden vote” of  disaffected left-wingers.

My gut instinct is that Le Pen will take the second place and we will have a “déjà vu” run-off on April 24th – with the same outcome but substantially closer than Macron’s 66-34 percent victory in 2017.

The polls suggest that Macron would squash Mélenchon by a similar score this year because some Le Pen and Zemmour supporters would vote for him to block a President of the Hard Left. Such a vote, however big, would be a poisoned chalice for Macron.

The President’s entire strategy is based on running as the “candidate for the future” against a backward-looking Right or Far Right. That would preserve his position in the centre of a troubled and unpredictable French political landscape.

In other words, Macron wants to win with the help of left-wing votes against the Right, not with the help of right-wing votes against the Left. 

If he is painted as the de facto candidate of the Right, it will be harder for him to govern for what already looks like being a very tough five years.

Member comments

  1. My view is that Macron has allowed French companies to continue working in Russia during Putin’s invasion and undeclared war. Renault, Airbus etc. are using other countries to supply Russian factories. Macron has lost the trust of the French people.

  2. Macron will win
    if people remember Macron won last time because the French were tired of the same old same old politician
    None of the parties have learned their lesson from this and most in effect have fielded the same candidates. some are standing for the 3rd or 4th time without success – and have not got the message that they are not wanted.

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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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