French President Emmanuel Macron says he will run for a second term as war in Ukraine upends campaign

Macron’s polls have held steady at 24 or 25 percent since last April, while his suitors’ fortunes have risen or fallen, with far-right candidate Marine Le Pen currently in second place, at 17 percent, behind the centrist Macron. The two candidates who will win the most votes on April 10 will face each other in a second round two weeks later.

A week ago, it was unclear whether Le Pen and his far-right rival Eric Zemmour would even be at the polls in April as they trailed in the crucial race to secure the 500 signatories elected officials required to stand for election. A few days before the deadline on Friday, Zemmour and Le Pen succeeded this week in crossing the threshold, which Macron had crossed weeks ago.

Macron’s team has repeatedly said the French leader wants to avoid being dragged into the tumultuous election campaign until the very last moment, initially to respond to the wave of the omicron coronavirus, and in recent weeks to focus on the escalation of the crisis in Ukraine. The coronavirus crisis now appears to be largely over, with French Prime Minister Jean Castex announcing the end of the country’s vaccine passport on Thursday, but the crisis in Ukraine is expected to draw much of Macron’s attention in the coming weeks.

“Rarely has France been confronted with such an accumulation of crises”, Macron wrote in his letter to French voters, published Thursday by several regional newspapers. “I am a candidate to defend our values ​​which are threatened by the upheavals of the world.”

In a speech last Thursday, Macron called the Russian attack on Ukraine a “turning point in the history of Europe”.

It will also likely be a turning point in the campaign, which has so far focused on topics that in many ways seemed to echo the run-up to the 2017 French elections, when the influx of migrants from the Middle East and a series of terrorist attacks the attacks bring identity politics to the forefront of public debate.

While almost all the main candidates came out in favor of restricting migration just over a week ago – thinking they had voters on their side – polls are suddenly showing broad support for the reception of refugees in France, even if it is a feeling that seems to be limited to refugees from Ukraine.

Le Pen, who has long been one of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s biggest supporters, had to walk a tightrope last week as she distanced herself from the Russian leader amid near unanimity among French on the fact that Putin is the main responsible for the war in Ukraine.

Campaign leaflets which showed Le Pen shaking hands with Putin, and of which more than a million copies had already been printed, were taken down by his campaign team, the left Liberation Newspaper reported. Le Pen’s team denied ordering the leaflets to be removed.

It was unclear this week whether the influx of support for Ukrainian war refugees across Europe would make it harder for Le Pen and Zemmour to keep French audiences focused on identity politics, their favorite subject.

Zemmour, who told a rally last year that the United States had “done everything it could to separate us from Russia”, seemed keen to divert public discussion away from Eastern Europe. ‘Is Monday, five days after the invasion. “It is not Russia that threatens France” but rather “the great replacement and the Islamization of the country”, he said, according to Paris Match magazine.

That speech appears to have failed to rally voters in the same way this week as it once did. Meanwhile, Macron appears to be enjoying his starting role, which has put him front and center.

Before the Russian invasion, the French president had sought a key role in negotiations between Russia and Ukraine, the jet set between Paris, Moscow and European capitals to prevent a war. The failure of these diplomatic efforts so far does not appear to have harmed Macron domestically – some surveys have even shown an increase in Macron’s polls over the past week.

But as Europe has entered its most volatile period in decades, the crowded field of candidates running against Macron may still be able to capitalize on issues that could prove damaging for the incumbent.

EU sanctions against Russia have already had an economic cost, in addition to those borne by the unrest of the war. By some estimates, many of the effects, including higher gas, electricity and food prices, have already been felt or could be felt within the next six weeks.

In a written address to parliament last Friday, Macron prepared voters for the volatile weeks and months ahead. “This major crisis will have consequences on our lives, our economy”, he said.

In previous elections, worries about rising inequality and soaring inflation would likely have boosted the chances of France’s Socialist Party, whose presidents have ruled France for about two of the past four decades.

But with less than six weeks before the first round of the election, the candidate of this party, the mayor of Paris Anne Hidalgo, is at around 2%. His failure to gain traction in the campaign reflects a broader malaise that has gripped France’s political left, which has lost substantial numbers of voters to Macron or abstentionism.

The woman who just weeks ago was seen by some as a possible unifier of the left – former justice minister Christiane Taubira – won’t even be at the polls in April. After failing to clear the 500 referrals needed to run, she dropped out of the race on Wednesday.

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