Emmanuel Macron lays path for re-election bid but stops short of declaring candidacy

Emmanuel Macron, France’s president, has vowed to pursue the economic reforms begun since he took power in 2017 but stopped short of confirming that he will stand for re-election next April, despite his lead in the opinion polls and widespread expectations that he will try for a second term.

In a two-hour primetime television interview on TF1 on Wednesday night, Macron defended his record as president for the past four-and-a-half years in dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic, launching reforms to liberalise the economy and tackling the anti-government gilets jaunes demonstrations, as well as responding to attacks by Islamist extremists.

He said that he had learnt to love the French more than ever but also admitted that he had often erred. “I make mistakes, yes, many,” said Macron, who has been accused in the past by his rivals of being an arrogant president of the rich. “I try not to repeat them.” 

Opposition politicians immediately criticised Macron and TF1 for what they painted as a soft interview allowing him to make a case for re-election without officially declaring his campaign.

“It’s a propaganda broadcast by a candidate,” said Eric Ciotti of the rightwing Les Républicains, whose nominee for the election is shown by the polls to have a chance of beating Macron. “The Elysée is seized by panic over the candidature of Valérie Pécresse,” Ciotti said in a debate on TF1 immediately after the interview.

Jordan Bardella of Marine Le Pen’s far-right Rassemblement National called Macron a “self-satisfied” president who was clearly a candidate. Boris Vallaud of the Socialist party said the interview, billed as being about where France was heading, meant instead that “we heard a lot about where Macron is with himself”. 

Macron defended the need to modernise France’s costly pension systems — a landmark reform suspended during the pandemic — by simplifying the 42 different regimes in place, but he accepted that his plan to replace them with a single system had provoked too much concern and would have to be modified.

He also said it was inevitable that the retirement age would rise from 62 to ensure that pensions were sustainable. “We must all be prepared for the idea that we work longer,” he said.

Macron’s opponents on the right and the far-right, including the anti-immigration polemicist Eric Zemmour, have made immigration and law and order the most prominent themes of the campaign so far, prompting Macron to reassert his determination to “control” immigration without stopping it completely, as some of his rivals have pledged.

“There has never been zero immigration,” Macron said. “Yes, we have a problem of managing it. [But] we need this immigration of workers, in a limited, selective and controlled way to power our economy.” 

An opinion poll published on Wednesday by Harris Interactive for Challenges magazine gave Macron the lead in voting intentions for the first round of the presidential election, with 24 per cent, followed by Pécresse with 17 per cent, Le Pen with 16 and Zemmour with 15.

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