Macron appealed to voters in Marseille

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Marseille, France – Eight days before the decisive final round of the French presidential election, President Emmanuel Macron on Saturday appealed to voters to block the far-right victory of Marine Le Pen, who is overthrowing Europe. “Choose your enemies!” He told supporters at a rally in Marseille, France’s second largest city.

His presidency is closely tied to Marseille in many ways, with Saturday describing it as his “heart city” compared to the “laboratory for the Republic.” He paid close attention to its social and economic woes, pledging billions in investment, with the ambition of making it the “capital of the Mediterranean”.

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But as a sign of how controversial his presidency has been, Macron sees the pulse of support here. When Marseille called on voters to give him a second term on Saturday, protesters blew whistles from a distance, with posters showing him being compared to a vampire or shaking hands with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Macron supporters gathered around him in a park, but most of it was empty, and at times they seemed less energetic than supporters of the far-right leader Le Pen. In the first round of the election last weekend, Marcில்n Macron came in second behind the far-left candidate. He took little place in his 2017 first-round performance, while the far right entered as significantly as he did across France.

Supporters of French President Emmanuel Macron rallied around him on April 16 during a campaign stop in a large, vacant park. (Video: James Cornsilk / The Washington Post)

Macron, 44, is the leading candidate to win the second round of the French referendum next Sunday, marking the first re-election of the incumbent French president since 2002. But Le Pen is now closer to the presidency than ever before. In many ways, Macron’s struggle to win more voters in Marseille reflects the broader issues that have hampered his campaign and provided opportunities for his challenge.

“If you look at the results he promised in 2017, he would have achieved more,” said Joseph de Veck, author of Macron’s presidential book, citing the EU’s firm defense and low unemployment in France. Five years ago there were primary concerns. “But the way he introduced these changes and the implementation of these policies was completely different from what he had promised,” De Weck said.

When Macron, a former investment banker and finance minister, launched his own political movement in 2016, he promised to bring a new style of politics to Elysee Palace, without any obligation to the established parties. He portrayed himself as a progressive anti-establishment and pro-EU candidate, and promised to make French politics more representative of the electorate and more open to the public.

His victory over Le Pen in 2017 came shortly after the United States elected Donald Trump and Britain voted to leave the EU. In France and elsewhere, many voters believed that Macron’s election would mark the end of a nationalist trend.

In the following years, Macron became a strong defender of the European Union, making the French economy more competitive, and eager to see France play a major role in the international arena, including the war in Ukraine. “In the current context, I think we need to have a tough president with experience,” said Denise Morando, 48, a supporter of the rally.

But domestically, his political style is often described as opaque and deaf to growing criticism. “The price of success was a process that was incredibly up-and-down,” De Weck said.

Over the past five years Macron has repeatedly emphasized national unity, equality and prosperity in his speeches, and he returned to his Saturday event without seeing the old port in Marseille.

On April 16, French President Emmanuel Macron called on Marseille’s voters to give him a second term. (Video: James Cornsilk / The Washington Post)

But five years later, those notes sounded empty to many left-leaning voters in the bustling market streets of Marseille. Five years ago those voters on Le Pen broadly supported him. Now their choice between Macron, Le Pen or abstaining is considered crucial to the outcome of the upcoming referendum. Many expressed concern that economic growth had come at the expense of social interests and that Macron had embraced the conservative framework of immigration and security.

Despite being partially elected by the center-left group, Macron overcame foreign influence in French Muslim communities, enacted controversial national security laws, and backed the interior minister, who mocked Le Pen as “too soft.”

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Last month, Macron surprised viewers when he began his re-election campaign with the infamous pitch of raising the retirement age to 65. A few days later, amid mounting criticism, he suggested he was not so sure about it.

“The middle class is disappearing. It’s a disaster, “said Morgan Calmetz, 27, who will not run in the by-elections next weekend. “He gave a little money to the schools, but a lot to the police.”

Charlene Wensall, 40, who works with people in financially precarious situations, said she has not seen “any improvement” in her work as a result of her decisions. But he said the far-right would vote for him anyway to prevent victory.

Criticism that Macron was largely blind to the concerns of the middle class and people living in poverty stuck with him throughout the campaign, despite substantial government support for French businesses during the epidemics, which helped save jobs and allowed the country to recover further. Faster than some of its neighbors.

One reason why voters do not appreciate Macron much for such moves may be past comments that he appeared to be arrogant and dishonest in helping ordinary people, despite some of his recent spending decisions. For example, in 2017, he said he would not submit to anyone, including the “lazy”.

“He represented this motto, and if you really like it and try hard, you can achieve everything,” De Weck said. “It may have worked in his case. But for large sections of French society, it’s just a lie, it’s an illusion, it’s not true.

In his speech in Marseille, Macron seemed to be paying attention. He attacked Le Pen, who focused on inflation and the rising cost of living. He stressed his efforts to address the causes of social discontent in Marseille and elsewhere. Moreover, he expressed a desire to do more to combat climate change, which was a major concern among left-wing voters who think Macron has done too little to address the problem.

The French electorate is known for showing little apology to current presidents. But in recent weeks the Macron campaign team has been looking for it, urging it to have some understanding of the difficult circumstances that shaped his presidency.

Before he took the stage on Saturday, his campaign showed a video on big screens with theatrical music recalling the crises he had faced over the years. His supporters watched in silence as violent yellow-cut protests, corona virus field hospitals and the withdrawal of French troops from Mali.

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Some of those crises were beyond his control, but the yellow coat movement, triggered by the proposed fuel tax hike, showed frustration with his presidency in 2018 itself. Macron was able to quell the protests that shook the country to some extent. But through a listening tour across the country.

Nicholas Duncan, a senior colleague at Atlantic Council, said: “Macron correctly identified Gillette Johns as a community, not a political party, but a movement that may have been a wake-up call. , “Said Duncan.

Marseille has some of the poorest districts in Europe, and government aid felt more strongly than most places in France. The problem was exacerbated three years after Macron proposed eliminating “medical deserts” in 2017, when epidemics hit France in early 2020, with no access to hospitals or general practitioners.

Macron’s announcement of an additional investment last year, including a significant share for hospitals, is still not enough by medical experts who have seen several corona virus waves devastate fewer districts in Marseille over the past two years.

“The preference is clear and efforts have been made,” said Jean-Luc Joe, chairman of the Marseille Hospital Authority. “But what is needed is a clear change in paradigm” like the “Marshall Plan for Health”.

One of those who filled that gap was Slim Hadiji, a doctor living in poverty in the north of Marseille who, over his normal job, spent months trying to resolve vaccine imbalances by providing vaccines to vulnerable individuals at home.

Hadiji says the situation is getting worse. “Doctors are starting to drop out. Many are retiring, and there’s no alternative to them,” he said. “We end up in the neighborhood without a doctor.”

When Macron tried to talk about the desolation of many schools in the city last year, that too was met with criticism. In a district where education was highly standardized, he proposed a small revolution that would empower 50 school principals to elect their own teachers.

His plan, presented as an attempt to combat inequality, was attacked by the opposition as one group exacerbated schools and another group aggravating the situation by confronting decay. The unions petitioned for a halt to the project.

Criticism in Marseille shows how deeply Macron’s concept of a “president for the rich” is deeply rooted, even when he thinks of common solutions in other countries. Le Pen has been rising in the polls for the past few weeks, which is rooted in reinforcing that feeling of his. He presents himself as more moderate than he was five years ago and the only alternative to change.

Speaking to supporters on Saturday, Macron sought to dispel that notion. “I don’t want to do that for another five years,” he said. “I want them to be fully renewed in five years.”

Scott Clement and Lenny Bronner contributed to this report.

French President Emmanuel Macron is set to win a decisive second round of the French referendum next Sunday. (Video: James Cornsilk / The Washington Post)

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