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Macron promises ambitious green policies, courting the left in runoff

MARSEILLE, France — On a stage erected on verdant lawns overlooking the sun-drenched Mediterranean port of Marseille, President Emmanuel Macron told a crowd of supporters on Saturday: “The policy I will pursue in the next five years will be environmental, or it won’t be!

It was an ambitious promise for a president whose green policies have been criticized in repeated climate protests, condemned by the courts for “inaction” and marked by a failure to meet targets. But above all, Mr. Macron’s wish was a direct appeal to voters on his left, who hold the key to a final victory in the second round of the presidential election – and for whom the climate has become a key issue.

Mr Macron devoted around three-quarters of his one-and-a-half-hour speech to environmental issues. He promised to appoint ministers responsible for long-term environmental planning, to plant 140 million trees by 2030 and to rapidly reduce dependence on oil and gas by developing nuclear and renewable energy.

“Inaction – not for me!” he told a jubilant crowd of some 4,000 people gathered in the Pharo park, on the heights of Marseille, for what was perhaps Mr. Macron’s last rally before April 24 vote.

The event symbolized Mr Macron’s strategy for the second round between the incumbent centrist and his far-right opponent, Marine Le Pen: courting the left with progressive policies and campaigning in the working class towns where he is trying to get rid of of his image as a distant president. detached from everyday realities. If large numbers of left-leaning voters stay home for the run-off or migrate to Ms Le Pen’s camp, it could spell serious trouble for Mr Macron.

Stewart Chau, an analyst for polling firm Viavoice, said Mr Macron’s main objective was to “seek voters for Jean-Luc Mélenchon”, the far-left candidate who came third in the first round of voting – but first in Marseilles. , with 31% of the vote.

In September, the president unveiled a multibillion-euro plan to tackle crime and poverty in Marseille.

Promising a “complete renewal” if he is re-elected, Mr. Macron also took advantage of his speech to attack Mrs. Le Pen, accusing her of wanting to restrict press freedom, question gender equality and make take France out of the European Union. He is trying to rekindle the “dam” traditional voters have long formed by voting for anyone over a Le Pen – either his current opponent or his father, Jean-Marie, leaders of France’s far-right for years 1970.

Saturday’s rally capped an intense week of campaigning for Mr Macron, traveling the country since Monday to make up for a lackluster initial campaign. Only visiting the places where Ms. Le Pen or Mr. Mélenchon came out on top in the first round, he risks engaging with angry residents, in an attempt to show that he too can feel their pain.

By contrast, Ms Le Pen, who has long struggled to soften her public image, has been more risk averse, limiting her campaign travel this week. Instead, she tried to cement her credibility with two press conferences on her institutional overhaul proposals and foreign policy agenda.

But those events partly backfired after her party’s refusal to accredit some media outlets caused a stir, and as she detailed contentious plans to get closer to Russia and leave Russia’s integrated military command. NATO.

Ms. Le Pen has been more exposed to scrutiny since another far-right candidate, Éric Zemmour, failed to stand in the second round. His inflammatory comments opposing immigration and Islam diverted much of the attention from Ms Le Pen, who has long been known for similar positions.

“Form clashes with substance,” said Mr Chau, the analyst, adding that Ms Le Pen’s sanitized image now clashed with “the reality of her ideas, which are anything but appeased, anything but softened”. .

At a Thursday rally in the southern city of Avignon, Ms Le Pen only mentioned immigration three times, despite it being a cornerstone of her platform. She offered to deport the foreigners after they had been unemployed for a year, giving priority to native French people for social housing and allowances, and removing the right to nationality by birth in France.

His supporters have been more direct. “She still wants to expel immigrants,” said Aline Vincent, a French flag in her right hand, who attended Ms Le Pen’s rally with around 4,000 others. “But she doesn’t say it the same way.”

In Marseille, Daniel Beddou, said he was “very worried” about the rise of the far right. Holding a European flag in his left hand, he says he welcomed Mr Macron’s environmental plans. He said they embodied the president’s “at the same time” approach, referring to his habit of borrowing policies from both left and right.

As he appeals to the 7.7 million voters who supported Mr. Mélenchon in the first round and seem to hold the key to an eventual victory, Mr. Macron has toned down some of his proposals, such as a plan to raise the legal retirement age at 65. of 62, which he says could be softened.

On Saturday, he also insisted on long-term “environmental planning” – a concept that was a cornerstone of Mr Mélenchon’s platform – promising to appoint a minister “directly responsible” for it, assisted by two ministers responsible for energy and the environment. passage.

“There is a real desire to speak to a popular electorate, a left-wing electorate that we missed in the first round,” said Sacha Houlié, MP and spokesperson for Mr. Macron’s campaign.

It remains to be seen how well Mr Macron’s last-minute left tilt will deliver results at the polls.

Many voters remain disappointed with Mr. Macron’s rightward shift in recent years. François Dosse, a French historian and philosopher who was one of Mr Macron’s most enthusiastic supporters in the last election, said his tough stance on immigration and against Islamic extremism amounted to “recycling fears of the extreme right” and to indirectly give credit to Mrs. Le Pen’s speech.

“It’s about playing Russian roulette,” Mr. Dosse said of Mr. Macron’s strategy of triangulating the French electoral landscape. “And it’s a dangerous game in which you can lose – and lose democracy.”

Mr Macron won just 28% of the vote last week, compared to 23% for Ms Le Pen and 22% for Mr Mélenchon, with a host of others trailing behind. Already, some voters are considering not participating in Round 2, disappointed by the incumbent’s record.

“In 2017, he was a new face, he was young, he was ambitious, but in the end he did nothing,” said Nadia Mebrek, a 48-year-old Mélenchon supporter, adding that she would abstain. most likely. She stood in rue d’Aubagne, where two buildings collapsed in 2018, killing eight people – a testament to Marseille’s endemic housing crisis and poverty.

“Macron, he protects the rich more than the poor,” said Ms. Mebrek, who as a caregiver has always been paid only minimum wage.

Polls show that only a third of Mr Mélenchon’s supporters would back Mr Macron in the run-off to prevent Ms Le Pen from coming to power, with the rest split between voting for Ms Le Pen and abstaining.

But the first week of the second round appeared to favor Mr Macron. Voter polls show his lead in the second round has widened. The French president would get 56% of the vote, against 44 for Ms Le Pen – her biggest lead since the end of March.

In Marseille, many Mélenchon supporters like Nate Gasser, 26, said they would hold their noses and back Mr Macron to defeat Ms Le Pen. “It annoys me to do this, but we will vote for Macron,” he said, insisting that it was not “a membership vote”.

“And after that,” he said, “we will take to the streets to protest.”

nytimes Gt

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