Macron under fire for communication misstep as he eyes Élysee
Leader in French presidential race accused of behaving as if result is ‘already in the bag’
French presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron (right) shakes hands with Etienne Cardiles, the partner of policeman Xavier Jugelé, who was killed in a terrorist attack on the Champs Élysees, during a ceremony in Paris on Tuesday. Photograph: AFP/Getty Images
Mr Macron’s visit to a Left Bank brasserie on Sunday night after his first round triumph in particular handed ammunition to his opponents who described it as shallow, arrogant behaviour.
Mr Macron, a 39-year old former investment banker, pipped the Front National candidate to first place on Sunday and opinion polls see him comfortably beating Ms Le Pen on May 7th to win the keys to the Élysee Palace.
He took to the stage to thank his supporters in a 15-minute speech with his arms held aloft in a V for victory before going on with aides and a few celebrities to La Rotonde brasserie.
“They were patting themselves on the back with the whole celeb crew,” Ms Le Pen remarked while visiting a wholesale market near Paris on Tuesday. “It shows that this arrogant cast thinks it’s already won and can do what it wants with the country.”
A centrist who has never held elected office, Mr Macron would be France’s youngest ever president. He was silent the day after voting, leaving the field open to Ms Le Pen, who canvassed support in northern France where unemployment is high.
She attacked Mr Macron for being “weak” in the face of terrorism, days after an Islamist militant killed a policeman on the Champs Elysees boulevard.
Political leaders from France’s two shell-shocked mainstream parties on the right and left have endorsed Mr Macron, including the unpopular outgoing Socialist president Francois Hollande and defeated conservative candidate Francois Fillon.
Yet perceptions of complacency could pose a big risk to Mr Macron’s Élysee bid. Pollsters say a low turnout would favour Le Pen.
Political analysts have contrasted Mr Macron’s actions and those of ex-president Jacques Chirac in 2002 when Jean-Marie Le Pen, Marine’s father who founded her Front National party, shocked the establishment by reaching the second round.
On that occasion, Mr Chirac issued a grave five-minute statement. He went on to beat Mr Le Pen senior in a landslide run-off vote.
“He [Macron] was way off the mark, as Charles de Gaulle once put it,” said Jean-Christophe Cambadelis, head of the Socialist Party, referring to the post-war leader’s self-criticism for not seeing the significance of the 1968 student riots.
“I haven’t found the first 48 hours of the democratic candidate to be up to the job of fending off her attacks,” Mr Cambadelis said.
Others accused Mr Macron of hubris.
The left-leaning Libération newspaper said Mr Macron “already sees himself there”. The financial daily Les Echos said he had made a “false start”.
Many compared Mr Macron’s dinner at La Rotonde, an elegant brasserie favoured by artists such as Ernest Hemingway before the war, to former president Nicolas Sarkozy’s victory celebration at the upscale Fouquet’s restaurant in central Paris in 2007.
Those images gave ammunition to Mr Sarkozy’s opponents, who portrayed him as the “bling-bling” president, an image that stuck throughout his mandate.
“The Rotonde was a mistake,” Dominique Wolton, a political communication specialist at French research institute CNRS. “It’s extraordinary that they repeated the Fouquet’s mistake again.”
Mr Macron’s team went out on morning radio shows on Tuesday to try to put out the volleys of criticism.