Emmanuel Macron, the political prodigy who rolled the French establishment parties to gain power as a centrist insurgent in 2017, will he survive a re-election battle overshadowed by Covid-19 next year?
Or could the youngest French ruler since Napoleon become a mere footnote to a term in history, stumbled by his attempts to straddle France’s left-right divide?
Ready to face far-right leader Marine Le Pen in a rematch of the 2017 election final according to polls, Macron, 43, already appears to be in campaign mode before officially announcing his candidacy for re-election .
His party said last weekend that it would back the conservative Republican candidate in south-eastern France in next month’s regional elections, raising fears on the right of an attempt to poach their voters.
– ‘Play with fire’ –
Gael Sliman, chairman of polling firm Odoxa, said the move was part of Macron’s winning strategy in 2017 of claiming only the center.
With the left still in tatters, “he knows the main threat is from the right and is therefore doing everything to divide it,” said Sliman.
The ploy was rewarded this week when the mayors of the right-wing strongholds of Nice and Toulon said they would leave the Republicans to team up with the Macron’s Republic on the Move party against Le Pen.
The future center-right presidential candidate Xavier Bertrand, the head of the northern Hauts-de-France region, accused Macron of “playing with fire”.
“By making Marine Le Pen his only adversary, he is creating the conditions for a far-right victory,” Bertrand accused.
– Change of values -
A poll by liberal think tank Fondapol this week showed France in the lead as the opinions of European voters crept to the right.
The self-proclaimed French right has gone from 33% in 2017 to 38%.
The French interviewed were also more in favor of the brakes on immigration than the British, the Germans or the Italians, while a majority saw Islam as a threat to the French republic.
Although he garnered left-wing support against Le Pen in 2017, Macron has since been accused of turning right on immigration after a series of attacks blamed on young radicalized Muslim immigrants.
Most shocking was the murder in October 2020 of a schoolteacher who was showing his students cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad.
Over the past month, Macron has also taken a tougher line on violent crime, with polls highlighting the issue’s growing importance to voters and suggesting the president is seen as weak.
After a police officer was killed in a drug attack in the southern city of Avignon on Wednesday, Macron announced plans to increase police numbers and crack down on drug use in an interview with the daily curator Figaro.
“I am fighting for the right to live in peace,” he said.
– Are you losing the left? –
Leftists already disappointed with Macron’s measures to cut wealth taxes and reform France’s famous and generous pension plan could abandon the president in 2022, pollsters warn.
“The more Macron tries to break the right, the more left voters have the impression that he is a right-wing president, the more difficult it is to ask them to vote for him if he faces Marine Le Pen,” said Gael . Said Sliman.
Mocked to the left as “president of the rich,” Macron could become a figure of hatred enough to give anti-immigration and anti-EU Le Pen a real chance at the Elysee Palace, the think tank warned. left Jean Jaurès.
The Covid-19 pandemic, which derailed Macron’s reform campaign, has added to the uncertainty.
An Odoxa poll this week showed 64% of French people are critical of its handling of the biggest crisis since World War II – a figure unchanged in the past six months.
While criticizing the initial sluggishness of the state’s vaccination campaign, voters approve of the billions of euros spent to support the wages of workers on leave and keep crisis-hit businesses afloat.
A senior official in Macron’s party told AFP that “the crisis has made the good of the group the priority.
“If he wants to win next year, Emmanuel Macron will have to move from the status of candidate for personal emancipation to that of protective president.”
© 2021 AFP