By Tassilo Hummel and Ingrid Melander
PARIS -French far-right candidate Marine Le Pen shrugged off market jitters triggered by her good ratings ahead of Sunday’s first round of the presidential election, saying her “serious” programme was meant to work for voters, rather than markets.
Long unfazed by what looked like an easy path to re-election for President Emmanuel Macron, markets woke up this week as Le Pen narrowed the gap enough in opinion polls for victory to be within the margin of error.
Le Pen scoffed at what she called “doom-mongering”, telling RTL radio on Thursday that her programme was solid and would aim to support business and “give money back to the French” by lowering VAT as well as France’s contribution to the EU budget.
“The policies I want to implement are not meant for the stock markets, which will be a change from Emmanuel Macron,” she said. “It’s not the markets that create jobs, it’s not international finance.”
Macron is still ahead in all opinion polls. But his late start with a lacklustre campaign has pushed even some in his camp to say a win for Le Pen could be possible.
A probable high level of abstention adds uncertainty.
“There is a dynamic in favour of Marine Le Pen,” said Ifop pollsters’ Frederic Dabi, adding that there was a possibility that she could overtake Macron to lead the first round, though he was still ahead for now.
“The second round will be very tight,” he said, adding that Macron was still the most likely winner but all would depend on which camp is better at getting the vote out.
This, in turn, has pushed France’s borrowing costs up as investors grow jittery over a closer-than-expected race. The premium investors demand to own French bonds instead of euro zone benchmark Germany surged in recent days to the highest level since early 2020.
France saw firm investor demand at a monthly long-term bond auction on Thursday, but the public debt management agency had to more than double the interest rate on its 10-year benchmark bond to 1.17% from only 0.52% the previous month.
Macron’s campaign fought back on Thursday on the economic front.
“I want people to realise what France would be like under Marine Le Pen,” Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire told broadcaster Franceinfo. “There would be more inflation,” he said, and more taxes to fund her plan to nationalise toll roads.
“And there would be less sovereignty, because we would be allies of Russia, of Vladimir Putin,” he added, attacking Le Pen over her longstanding admiration of the leader – which she has toned down and nuanced since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
The pro-business Institut Montaigne https://www.institutmontaigne.org/presidentielle-2022 think-tank has said Le Pen’s programme, which aims to lower the retirement age to 60 and cut taxes on energy, could come in at a cost 75% higher than she estimates.
Macron himself, long focused on Ukraine, is now concentrating his campaign on purchasing power, which Le Pen has successfully focused on for months. He promised on Wednesday to increase pensions.