Macron woos Marseille voters, climate activists in Paris

Paris: French President Emmanuel Macron held a major campaign rally on Saturday in Marseille, touting his environmental and climate achievements and future plans in a bid to attract young voters who backed more politically extreme candidates in the first round of the election French presidential election.

Citizens and especially millennials in Marseille, a multicultural city in southern France on the Mediterranean, preferred far-left presidential candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon to centrist Macron in the first round of voting on April 10.

Young Marseille voters, who leaned mostly far right and far left last Sunday, are particularly committed to climate issues – a point Macron hoped to capitalize on in a rousing speech by the glittering sea.

“I hear the anxiety that exists in many of our young people. I see young people, teenagers, who are afraid of the future of our planet,” he said.

Macron faces far-right challenger Marine Le Pen in the presidential run-off in France on April 24 after 10 other candidates, including Mélenchon, were eliminated in the first round of voting.

For many who voted for left-wing candidates in the first round, the presidential run-off is an unpleasant choice between a candidate who is anathema to them, Le Pen, and a president who, according to some, has veered to the right of the center during its first term. The result of the second round could depend on the decision of voters on the left: between supporting Macron or letting him fend for himself against Le Pen.

Macron has mixed green credentials, which he hopes to improve. Despite being associated with the slogan “Make The Planet Great Again”, during his first five-year term he capitulated to angry Yellow Vest protesters by scrapping a fuel price tax hike.

To applause on Saturday, Macron said his next prime minister would be in charge of environmental planning as France seeks to become carbon neutral by 2050. He also promised more public transport across the country to wean off the people from automobile addiction.

Even though Macron came out on top in the first round of voting, the 44-year-old incumbent president acknowledged that “nothing is decided” in the increasingly tight race to become France’s next leader. In Marseille, he attacked his rival Le Pen, who has been increasingly supported in recent weeks.

“The extreme right represents a danger for our country. Don’t just whistle on it, knock it out,” he said, warning of the political dangers posed by overconfident supporters abstaining in the deciding vote.

Le Pen spent Saturday reaching out to voters in Saint-Rémy-sur-Avre, a village in northwestern France where she visited an antiques market.

During Friday’s campaign, the two candidates were asked about their differing positions on Muslim religious dress in public spaces. Le Pen wants to ban the headscarf in France, a country with the largest Muslim population in Europe. Both Le Pen and Macron have been confronted by women in headscarves who questioned why their clothing choices should be caught up in politics.

Across France, protesters are rising up against a host of issues ahead of the second round of presidential elections.

On Saturday in central Paris, environmental group Extinction Rebellion launched a three-day protest against what they call France’s inaction on climate issues. Activists say their goal is to “put climate issues back at the center of presidential debate”.

Hundreds of activists from the environmental group XR are also calling on both presidential candidates to pledge to protect the environment.

At a Paris anti-racism march on Saturday, many left-leaning voters described the second-round picks as agonizing. Some said they would hold their noses and vote for Macron, just to block Le Pen. But many said they would not vote at all or vote without a name. A walker said he had barely slept and cried several times since Mélenchon came third on the first lap after Le Pen.

Faridi Djoumoi said he voted for Macron in the first round, but he still protested with a sign that read “Better a vote that stinks than a vote that kills”, hoping to convince people to stand rally around the president against Le Pen.

“The vote that stinks is Emmanuel Macron, because there were a lot of problems under his leadership,” he said. “The vote that kills is the National Rally, Marine Le Pen,… a party based on hatred.”

Mary I. Bruner