Macron rallies campaign team as Le Pen gains in polls

President Emmanuel Macron made an unannounced visit to his campaign headquarters to warn supporters to take nothing for granted in France's presidential election after polls showed his lead over Marine Le Pen narrowing, a source said on Thursday.

Macron rallies campaign team as Le Pen gains in polls
Local residents take pictures of Emmanuel Macron as he walks in the street during a campaign visit in Fouras, western France. Photo by Ludovic MARIN / AFP

Macron, who is due to address a rally for the first time in his re-election campaign on Saturday, attended a meeting at the headquarters of his La République en marche (LREM) party late Wednesday.

“The president-candidate called for a collective mobilisation, based on the idea that nothing is won yet,” the source, who took part in the meeting, told AFP.

His attendance, which had not been announced by his team, came after a series of polls showed that far-right leader Marine Le Pen has been catching up on Macron, who has long been the overwhelming favourite to win.

The latest Elabe poll published on Wednesday showed Le Pen winning 47.5 percent of votes in a second round run-off against Macron, who was projected to garner 52.5 percent, a smaller margin than in the same poll last week.

With a margin of error of up to 3.1 points, those figures suggest Le Pen could theoretically emerge as the winner in the second round.

Steering clear of scandals and of debates about Ukraine, the far-right leader said she had “never been
so close to victory.”

Le Pen has been aided by a drop off in support for anti-immigration pundit Eric Zemmour.

Where Zemmour has hammered his conspiracy-theory theme of a supposed “great replacement” of white French people by newcomers from the Middle East and Africa, Le Pen “made the opposite choice, to normalise, to soften, to smooth her words,” said Stanford University professor Cecile Alduy.

“Her programme hasn’t changed at all on Front National fundamentals like immigration and national identity, but she’s used a different vocabulary” around cherished French values like secularism and even feminism, Alduy added.

Most polling for the first round still has Macron in a strong lead, but French elections take place in two rounds.

The two highest-scoring candidates from the first round go through to a head-to-head vote two weeks later, and polls suggested that Macron and Le Pen are the most likely candidates for the second round – a re-run of the 2017 vote.

But recent polls suggest that this time the result could be much closer, with many supporters of the left-wing firebrand Jean-Luc Mélenchon telling pollsters that they would vote for Le Pen over Macron in a second-round vote.

Macron’s team are also worried about the abstention rate, with some polls suggesting that just 67 percent of French people will vote.

OPINION Growing apathy in France could yet produce a shock election result

Macron’s re-election had been seen by many observers as almost a foregone conclusion, as polls suggested Le Pen would again be his rival in the run-off, a repeat of the vote five years ago.

But he formally entered the election campaign only at the last minute, citing his diplomatic efforts to halt Russia’s war in Ukraine, while Le Pen has been pounding the pavement across France for months with a promise to increase voters’ spending power as inflation bites.

Ministers and Macron himself proudly point to tallies of tens of billions of euros (dollars) of public money mobilised to ease rising costs at petrol pumps and on gas and electricity bills — but many voters still feel the pain in their pockets.

For her part, Le Pen has vowed to slash fuel taxes in response to the spike in prices around the Ukraine war and sanctions against Russia.

Her spokesman Julien Odoul told RFI radio Thursday that “we have a historic opportunity to get national ideas into power with Marine Le Pen.”

Those include removing social benefits from many foreigners living and working in France, which the RN claims would save 9.2 billion euros ($10.2 billion) per year.

And recent days have seen the government on the defensive over liberal use of public money on expensive management consultants such as US-based giant McKinsey.

EXPLAINED What is the Affaire McKinsey and will it derail Macron’s election bid?

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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.