PARIS: With just six days until a French presidential vote that could define Europe’s future, far-right leader Marine Le Pen and centrist Emmanuel Macron are holding high-stakes rallies Monday that overlap with nationwide May Day labor marches reminding both candidates that jobs are voters’ No. 1 concern.
The tense campaign interrupted the usual calm of the May Day holiday, as supporters of both candidates are taking to the streets, airwaves and social networks to weigh on an election closely watched by global financial markets and France’s neighbors as a test of the global populist wave.
Le Pen’s efforts to clean up the racism and anti-Semitism that has stained her anti-immigration National Front party’s past may be undermined by a parallel Paris event by her father, Jean-Marie, expelled from the party over his extreme views.
Seeking to remind voters of the National Front’s dark past, Macron paid homage to a Moroccan man thrown to his death in the Seine River on the sidelines of a far-right march more than two decades ago. Macron joined the man’s father and anti-National Front protesters at an annual commemoration near the Louvre Museum.
The National Front traditionally holds a march in central Paris on May 1 to honor Joan of Arc, and at the 1995 event, a group of skinheads broke away and pushed 29-year-old Brahim Bourram off a bridge into the Seine, where he drowned. Then-party leader Jean-Marie Le Pen sought to distance himself from the attackers, but the death drew national outrage.
Jean-Marie Le Pen is holding the Joan of Arc event again Monday, a march his daughter wants nothing to do with. Instead she is holding a rally in an exhibition center north of Paris.
Marine Le Pen said on France-2 television Sunday night that the political rupture with her father “is definitive.” She called it a “violent” decision for herself, but said she did it “because the higher interest of the country was at stake.”
Her event will be opened by Nicolas Dupont-Aignan, a conservative candidate from the first-round election who shocked many French by agreeing to be Le Pen’s prime minister if she wins the presidency.
Le Pen, speaking Monday on Europe-1 radio, reached out to “all those who are patriots” and who want to restore French borders and currency and “rediscover the voice of labor, defend our identity, fight against Islamic fundamentalism.”
Meanwhile, the traditional May 1 union marches across France will be politically charged this year. Some groups want a united front to keep Le Pen from the presidency, but unions also fear that Macron — a former investment banker — will dismantle worker protections.
Macron, who says his plans to restructure France’s complex labor laws would boost job creation, said Sunday night that May 1 “is the face of a globalization that protects workers … an accomplishment of the great labor fights to defend worker rights. … Globalization is not only the face of those who oppress.”