Pro-Macron march in Paris likely to flop under shadow of ‘gilets jaunes’

Minds of French politicians turning nervously to European parliamentary elections

French president Emmanuel Macron  sits prior to answering questions during a meeting with local residents as part of the “great national debate” in Bourg-de-Peage near Valence, France, on Thursday. Photograph: Emmanuel Foudrot/AFP/Getty Images

French president Emmanuel Macron sits prior to answering questions during a meeting with local residents as part of the “great national debate” in Bourg-de-Peage near Valence, France, on Thursday. Photograph: Emmanuel Foudrot/AFP/Getty Images

 

While weekly protests by gilets jaunes and President Emmanuel Macron’s “great national debate” continue, the minds of French politicians turn increasingly to European parliamentary elections, only four months away.

After 45 minutes of a dull exposé on the restructuring of Macron’s party, La République en Marche, its leader, Stanislas Guerini, finally got round to the European contest at his first press conference of 2019 on Thursday.

LREM’s main rival will be Marine Le Pen’s far right Rassemblement National (RN), which won the previous elections under its former name, Front National. In mid-January, LREM overtook RN in terms of voter intentions.

Guerini alluded to “outside pressures” exerted by Le Pen’s foreign allies, including Donald Trump’s former adviser, Steve Bannon, and Russian president Vladimir Putin. “People sometimes say we overdramatise what is at stake,” Guerini said. “But this is historic. The day after the election will either be the first day of the unravelling of the EU or the beginning of its reconstuction.”

RN “are the party of lies and imposture”, Guerini said. “We saw it regarding the Marrakesh Pact and the Treaty of Aachen. Their European campaign will be dominated by fake news.”

The French far left and far right falsely claimed that a UN pact on the rights of migrants would open France to unlimited immigration, and that the Franco-German treaty signed on Tuesday means France will give Alsace, Lorraine and its seat on the UN Security Council to Germany.

‘Slow poison’

Marine Le Pen has injected a slow poison into the veins of French democracy,” Guerini continued. “Day after day, she lies shamelessly. The texts are available, but she says they mean exactly the opposite of what they do.”

LREM will create a “riposte cell” to denounce disinformation, which is now called “infox” in France. It will hold weekly briefings.

Guerini accused MEPs from the RN of saying one thing about migration and taxation, then voting the other way in the EU parliament. “Marine Le Pen flaunts her friendship with [the Italian far right leader] Matteo Salvini. He wants France to take more migrants, which is the opposite of Marine Le Pen’s position.”

Guerini said repeatedly that LREM would be “on the offensive”. Yet he refused to call on the party’s 410,000 members to participate in a pro-Macron “republican march for liberties” that is being organised for the Place de la République in Paris at 2pm on Sunday, January 27th. As a result, the march is almost certain to flop. The government too has refused to endorse it.

“Stop the Violence” and Foulards Rouges, the groups organising the march, originally intended to call it “the republican march in support of Emmanuel Macron”. They dreamed of rallying a million people, like the May 30th, 1968 demonstration that ended the 1968 revolution.

“I have not called on les marcheurs [as members of LREM are called] to participate in the demonstration, even if I respect its intentions and its indignation over the violence at the Arc de Triomphe, against police and government buildings,” Guerini said, in reference to the gilets jaunes (yellow vests) protests. “But it seems to me it is not the role of LREM to demonstrate when we are in a phase of dialogue, when the national debate is taking hold. I did not want LREM to support one camp against another.”

The gilets jaunes have announced they will field a list in the May election, led by Ingrid Levavasseur, a 31-year-old care-giver who has appeared widely in French media during the crisis caused by the protests. Analysts say gilets jaunes participation will help Macron’s party, since the protesters are likely to siphon votes from the far right and far left.

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