It surely wasn’t the kind of homecoming he hoped for.
There were chaotic scenes on Wednesday when French presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron visited a factory set to shut down next year and relocate to Poland.
In his northern hometown of Amiens, many felt Macron’s visit came too late. The former economy minister was meeting earlier in the day with union representatives in town, when his rival Marine Le Pen unexpectedly showed up at the plant itself.
There, she declared herself the candidate of workers, and accused Macron of showing “contempt” towards them by not coming to see them directly.
Macron hit back, accusing Le Pen of making empty, populist promises.
“Madame Le Pen is using the situation for political ends, stirring up crowds on a parking lot,” he said, speaking from the Chamber of Commerce a few kilometres away – while, back at the plant, a beaming Le Pen posed for selfies with workers.
“If she’s elected, this company will close,” he said, adding that he had first been to talk with union representatives to be able to discuss the issue in depth. “Madame Le Pen does not understand how this country works,” he added.
Macron then headed to the plant and spent over an hour trying to talk to workers and making himself heard above the shouts and whistles. Things gradually calmed during the encounter, which was broadcast live on French TV. He shook hands cordially with several of them when he left.
The region is a National Front heartland, and was the perfect platform for Le Pen to hammer home her message that free trade is to blame for France’s de-industrialisation.
“You’ve become the symbol of this hideous globalisation,” she told workers. “We’ll do everything we can so this plant doesn’t close, we’ll find a buyer. When the state wants, it can. We have to stop saying the state is powerless. It’s not true.”
Le Pen has been portraying Macron as a candidate who cares more about business than the working class – as she seeks to woo leftist voters tempted by abstention in the May 7 runoff.
Macron led the pack in the first round of voting on April 23 and the latest opinion polls show him easily beating Le Pen in the second round, with around 60 percent of the vote.
But the the 39-year-old, who has never held any elected office, has lately been accused by both his enemies and his potential allies of complacency, and of acting as if victory was certain.
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