Emmanuel Macron. Picture: REUTERS/JACKY NAEGELEN
Emmanuel Macron. Picture: REUTERS/JACKY NAEGELEN

Paris — The battle to become France’s president comes down to a clash of two visions — Emmanuel Macron is pro-globalisation and pro-EU, while Marine Le Pen rages against both.

As the rival camps celebrated reaching the decisive second round of the election, Le Pen said on Sunday that voters would have "a very simple choice" on May 7.

"Either we continue on the path of … off-shoring jobs, unfair foreign competition, mass immigration and free movement of terrorists … or you choose France and borders that protect," she told her supporters.

Macron had a starkly different message: "I will be … the voice of hope for our country and for Europe," he told thousands of his followers.

The former investment banker, who had never before stood for election, started his centrist movement only 12 months ago.

Yet polls currently show he will easily become France’s youngest ever president, beating Le Pen by more than 20 percentage points.

His meteoric rise began when President Francois Hollande chose him as an economic adviser and then parachuted him into his socialist cabinet as economy minister.

But shrewdly sensing his chance, Macron turned his back on Hollande when he quit the cabinet in August to concentrate on building up his own centrist political movement "En Marche" (on the move).

Since then, he has amassed 250,000 members and confounded critics who said his appeal would not reach beyond young, urban professionals.

In politics as well as his personal life, Macron has also broken traditions.

The theatre and poetry lover from a middle-class family in Amiens, northeast France, fell for his secondary school drama teacher.

Brigitte Trogneux, a mother of three and 25 years older than Macron, left her husband and married the young prodigy in 2007.

"At the age of 17, Emmanuel said to me: ‘Whatever you do, I will marry you’," Trogneux told Paris Match magazine last April, summing up a story that has captivated the French media.

Unlike Macron, Le Pen is steeped in hard-edged politics.

Her pugnacious father Jean-Marie Le Pen reached the run-off of the 2002 presidential election, but was roundly beaten by the centre-right Jacques Chirac.

Fifteen years later, his daughter believes she can become France’s first woman president, and the first from the National Front (FN) party that her father founded.

She faces an uphill task as her younger rival appears to attract a broader spectrum of voters.

She also goes into the run-off with several investigations hanging over the FN and her entourage for alleged funding scandals, while she is also being probed after tweeting pictures of Islamic State atrocities.

In the last presidential election in 2012, Le Pen finished third with just under 18%. She has worked assiduously to try to rid the party of its more extreme antiSemitic edge — and kicked her father out of the party after he repeatedly described the Holocaust as a "detail of history".

Over the past six years, Le Pen’s rebranded "party of patriots" has been propelled by the antiglobalisation, anti-establishment fury that drove Britain’s vote to leave the EU and Donald Trump’s election in the US.

Now a twice-divorced mother of three, she guards her private life zealously, in contrast to Macron.

She appears rarely as a couple with her partner, who is the FN’s vice-president Louis Aliot.

Le Pen developed her flair for sharp putdowns as a lawyer defending illegal immigrants facing deportation as a state-appointed attorney.

Despite that experience she blames migration — and the EU — for France’s economic woes.


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