Wednesday

20th Feb 2019

Macron and Le Pen compete for 'yellow vest' votes

  • Emmanuel Macron - depicted as EU 'globalist' with 'contempt' for average people by Marine Le Pen (Photo: Consilium)

French president Emmanuel Macron and far-right leader Marine Le Pen have both reached out to the 'yellow vest' movement ahead of EU elections.

Macron did it via a long (2,330 word) letter published in French newspapers on Monday (14 January), while Le Pen did it in a rabble-rousing speech on Saturday.

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  • Riots continued in Paris and other cities over the weekend, but on a smaller scale than earlier (Photo: Olivier Ortelpa)

Macron's letter called for a "national debate" on reform over the next two months, leading to a new "contract for the nation" that he would draft by mid-April.

"This is how I intend, with you, to transform anger into solutions," he said.

"If everyone is being aggressive to everyone else, society falls apart," he added.

The debate ought to focus on taxation, bureaucracy, environmentalism, and democratic participation, he noted.

"No questions are banned", he said.

But he would not go back on his government's economic reforms, he also said, and if people wanted lower taxes, then they would have to accept less welfare, he added.

Le Pen delivered her speech in Paris to thousands of her far-right National Rally party supporters, who chanted "Macron, resignation!" as she spoke.

She denounced Macron and the EU as agents of globalisation with contempt for ordinary people.

She also said the European Parliament elections in May ought to be a referendum on whether Macron stays in office.

Referendum on Macron

"If Macron does not have the wisdom to go back to the people by dissolving parliament, then let the political arbitrage come from European elections," she said.

"The European Union as it stands is a menace to our identity and to our security,'' she added, while praising the yellow vests as a "healthy popular revolt".

The yellow vest protests broke out in French regions in November against fuel taxes. They then spread to cities and became a wider protest against social inequality under Macron.

They also turned violent, with riots in central Paris in the past nine weeks, accidental fatalities, and over 5,600 arrests.

Le Pen narrowly lost to Macron in French presidential elections in 2017.

But her party now has 24 percent support compared to his 18 percent, according to an Ipsos poll in December.

Her appeal is likely to have more traction, given that yellow vest leaders have called on Macron to resign and for less EU integration, among other wishes.

Dexit manifesto

Meanwhile, debate on the future of the EU also heated up in Germany on Sunday, when the far-right AfD party published its manifesto for the May vote.

It said Germany should leave the eurozone and dissolve the EU parliament.

It also said Germany should leave the EU if this did not happen, but redacted a German EU exit deadline of 2024 which had been included in prior manifesto drafts.

The AfD is Germany's third most popular party, with 12 to 14 percent support, according to January polls.

The idea of Germany's EU exit was panned by one of the AfD's own leaders, Alexander Gauland, in a sign of party divisions.

"Whoever toys with the idea of a Dexit [Germany, or Deutschland's EU exit], also needs to ask themselves if this is not a utopia and should we be more realistic," he said on Sunday.

It was also panned by the left-wing SPD party in the German coalition with chancellor Angela Merkel's conservative CDU party.

"The Dexit-perspective of the AfD is a whole lot of nonsense," Thomas Opperman, a senior SPD MP, said.

Nonsense

"The AfD wants to dissolve the EU parliament and - if that doesn't work out - leave the EU. It would be an unmitigated disaster," he added.

But for her part, the CDU party leader, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, promised a tougher line on immigration in what looked like a bid to poach anti-migrant voters from the AfD.

"We will look at the entire immigration question from the protection of outer borders through the asylum procedures to integration, in particular its efficacy," Kramp-Karrenbauer, who took over from Merkel as party head last year, said.

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