Macron warns of Brexit-like shock in French election rally

French president Emmanuel Macron dangled the possibility of a Brexit-like debacle in his campaign rally on Saturday, ahead of the first round of presidential election voting.

Macron warns of Brexit-like shock in French election rally
French President and liberal party La Republique en Marche (LREM) candidate for re-election Emmanuel Macron greets his supporters during his first campaign meeting at the Paris La Defense Arena, in Nanterre, on the outskirts of Paris, on April 2, 2022. (Photo by Thomas COEX / AFP)

With just a week to go until the first round of elections on April 10th, Macron and his team pulled out all the stops to rouse voters and boost his bid to remain as France’s president in what’s been described as a ‘rockstar’ campaign rally by international media.

Arriving to fireworks and fist-bumps, Macron addressed a crowd of around 30,000 in Paris’s La Défense Arena – a vast venue that usually hosts top-level rugby and rock concerts.

“Look at what happened with Brexit, and so many other elections: what looked improbable actually happened,” Macron told supporters. “Nothing is impossible.”

“The danger of extremism has reached new heights because, in recent months and years, hatred, alternative truths have been normalised. We have got used to see on TV shows antisemitic and racist authors,” he added.

Macron worked to pull back a share of voters in what was his first rally on Saturday, late in the campaign due to being distracted by the war in Ukraine.

In the meantime, far-right Marine LePen has been gaining ground and making a comeback in the polls, tightening the race and threatening to take what was believed to be Macron’s unassailable lead.

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

The latest Elabe poll published Saturday showed Le Pen garnering 47 percent of the vote in a second-round run-off against Macron, who was projected to win 53 percent.

Allowing for a margin of error in the poll, this could put Le Pen in the zone to snatch victory.

Although Macron is still just about in the lead, he’s lost some ground in the polls due to his late campaign efforts and his policies on increasing the state pension age to 65.

In his two-hour rally speech on Saturday, Macron touched on topics such as job creation in the healthcare system in a bid to attract centre-left voters, who the polls have suggested may abstain from voting.

And he confirmed his plans to raise the retirement age: “I am not hiding the fact that we will have to work more,” according to a Reuters report.

Referring to opponents such as LePen and far-left candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon, he said, “Don’t believe those who say they will cut the retirement age to 60 or 62 and that everything will be alright. That’s not true.”

However, he did promise to raise the minimum pension to around €1,100 per month if you worked full time, up from around €700 now.

Other campaign promises included a tax-free bonus worth €6,000 for employees to mitigate against the surging cost of food and energy bills due to war in Ukraine.

Macron supporters chanted for the current President’s re-election, waiving the French tricolour flag while shouting, “Macron, president! One, two, five more years!”

But will it be enough to maintain his narrow lead in the polls?

“Of course Marine Le Pen can win,” Macron’s former prime minister Edouard Philippe warned in an interview with the Le Parisien daily posted online Thursday.

READ ALSO: VIDEO: The 12 French presidential candidates’ campaign films

Philippe, who is backing Macron, added that “if she wins, believe me, things will be seriously different for the country… Her programme is dangerous.”

Le Pen, who lost to Macron in the 2017 polls run-off, has sought to moderate her image in the last half decade in a process helped by the emergence of Eric Zemmour as a fellow candidate in the far-right.

Meanwhile, the left’s main hope is the far-left candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon who most polls project coming in third place but believes he has a chance of making a run-off.

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Prosecutors: No new rape inquiry for France’s disabilities minister

France's disabilities minister will not face a new inquiry "as things stand" over a rape allegation that surfaced just after his nomination by President Emmanuel Macron last week, prosecutors have said, citing the anonymity of the alleged victim.

Prosecutors: No new rape inquiry for France's disabilities minister

Damien Abad has faced growing pressure to resign after the news website Mediapart reported the assault claims by two women dating from over a decade ago, which he has denied.

One of the women, identified only by her first name, Margaux, filed a rape complaint in 2017 that was later dismissed by prosecutors.

The other woman, known only as Chloe, told Mediapart that in 2010 she had blacked out after accepting a glass of champagne from Abad at a bar in Paris, and woke up in her underwear in pain with him in a hotel room. She believes she may have been drugged.

She did not file an official complaint, but the Paris prosecutors’ office said it was looking into the case after being informed by the Observatory of Sexist and Sexual Violence in Politics, a group formed by members of France’s MeToo movement.

“As things stand, the Paris prosecutors’ office is not following up on the letter” from the observatory, it said, citing “the inability to identify the victim of the alleged acts and therefore the impossibility of proceeding to a hearing.”

In cases of sexual assault against adults, Paris prosecutors can open an inquiry only if an official complaint is made, meaning the victim must give their identity.

Abad has rejected the calls to resign in order to ensure the new government’s “exemplarity,” saying that he is innocent and that his own condition of arthrogryposis, which limits the movement of his joints, means sexual relations can occur only with the help of a partner.

The appointment of Abad as minister for solidarities and people with disabilities in a reshuffle last Friday was seen as a major coup for Macron, as the 42-year-old had defected from the right-wing opposition.

The new prime minister, Elisabeth Borne, said she was unaware of the allegations before Abad’s nomination, but insisted that “If there is new information, if a new complaint is filed, we will draw all the consequences.”

The claims could loom large over parliamentary elections next month, when Macron is hoping to secure a solid majority for his reformist agenda. Abad will be standing for re-election in the Ain department north of Lyon.