French duel: Macron vs Le Pen fight for the presidency

PARIS (AP) — French President Emmanuel Macron may be in the lead in the presidential race so far, but he has warned his supporters that “nothing is being done” and that his runoff battle with far-right challenger Marine Le Pen will be tough. And she is ready for it.

The duel begins on Monday, after the two won in Sunday’s first-round voting. The centrist Macron is headed to an economically depressed area of ​​northern France where most voters chose Le Pen, near his electoral stronghold of Henin-Beaumont.

Meanwhile, Le Pen National Rally officials will meet on Monday to plan strategy for the second round, scheduled for April 24. Le Pen summed up the showdown by saying that voters face “a fundamental choice between two opposing visions of the future.”

Macron already faced Le Pen in the presidential second round five years ago. But all the opinion polls show that the National Rally leader is much closer to a possible victory this time.

Macron said he wants to convince those who voted “extreme” or stayed home that “our project responds much more seriously to their fears and the challenges of the times.”

In her third bid to become France’s first female president, Le Pen was rewarded on Sunday for her years-long effort to change her image as more pragmatic and less extreme. Macron accused Le Pen of promoting a dangerous manifesto of racist and ruinous policies. Le Pen wants to roll back some rights of Muslims, banning them from wearing a veil in public and drastically reducing immigration from outside Europe.

In his speech on Sunday night, Macron said his bill would protect all religions and the freedom “to believe or not.”

Rising food and energy prices are at the heart of Le Pen’s campaign, but Macron’s team argues that he would not have the financial means to keep his promises.

“Our focus now is on the project and the values,” said Senator Francois Patriat, a member of Macron’s party. The strategy is to be “proud” of what has been done in the last five years, showing “a little humility” and “above all, some fighting spirit,” he said.

Macron will use the next few days to “go to the field”, he said. Visits to various French regions are scheduled this week. Before Sunday’s first round, Macron was absent from most of the election campaign as he spent most of his time focused on diplomatic efforts over the war in Ukraine.

Meanwhile, Le Pen’s camp hopes to capitalize on anger at Macron over policies seen as favoring the rich.

“Now everything is possible,” Aurélien López Liguori, a councilor for Le Pen’s party in the southern city of Sete, told The AP. Compared to 2017, “now Macron has a record, a bad record.” He attributed Le Pen’s proximity to the French during the campaign to close the gap with Macron.

French European Affairs Minister Clément Beaune told the AP that “we must not think that it is done.”

The battle will go “project against project”, he said.

Pointing out Macron’s “pro-European” project, Beaune recalled that five years ago “Le Pen proposed, it must not be forgotten, leaving the euro (area), breaking up Europe when Brexit and Frexit were in fashion.”

Le Pen has dropped previous threats to take France out of the EU and leave the euro if she is elected, but some of her proposals, including the creation of a national border control, run counter to EU rules.

Macron and Le Pen will debate on national television next week.

With the majority of votes from the first round of 12 candidates counted on Monday morning, Macron had more than 27% and Le Pen had 23%. Far-left leader Jean-Luc Melenchon was third with about 22%.

Macron improved his performance in the first round in 2017, despite his presidency being rocked by the yellow vest movement protesting perceived economic injustice, the pandemic and Russia’s war in Ukraine.

The election result will have wide international influence as Europe struggles to contain the ravages caused by that war. Macron has strongly backed European Union sanctions on Russia, while Le Pen has worried about their impact on France’s standard of living. Macron is also a strong supporter of NATO and close collaboration between the 27 EU members.


John Leicester and Elaine Ganley in Paris contributed.


Follow all the AP stories on the French presidential election at


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