European leaders back Macron as French election campaign nears end

Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen before a televised debate in La Plaine-Saint-Denis, outside Paris, on Wednesday

Just days before France’s crucial presidential run-off vote, the centre-left leaders of Germany, Spain and Portugal have urged French voters to choose centrist President Emmanuel Macron over far-right nationalist rival Marine Le Pen.

And in another sign of the wide international influence the result of Sunday’s French presidential vote will have, imprisoned Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny also spoke up a day earlier, urging French voters to back Mr Macron and alleging that Ms Le Pen is too closely linked to Russian authorities.

Ms Le Pen has faced scrutiny before over a nine million euro (£7.5 million) loan that her party received in 2014 from the First Czech-Russian Bank and her 2017 visit to Moscow to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin before the French presidential run-off that year.

In a column published on Thursday in several European newspapers, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez and Portuguese Prime Minister Antonio Costa wrote that Sunday’s vote is “critical for France and all and every one of us in Europe”.

“It’s the election between a democratic candidate who believes that France’s strength broadens in a powerful and autonomous European Union and an extreme-right candidate who openly sides with those who attack our freedom and democracy, values based on the French ideas of Enlightenment,” the joint comment said without mentioning Mr Macron or Ms Le Pen by name.

Social Democrat Mr Scholz and Socialists Mr Sanchez and Mr Costa wrote that Europe “is facing a change of era” due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and that “populists and the extreme right” are viewing Mr Putin “as an ideological and political model, replicating his chauvinist ideas”.

“They have echoed his attacks on minorities and diversity and his goal of nationalist uniformity,” they said, according to the article in Spain’s leading newspaper El Pais.

“We must not forget that, no matter how much those politicians are now trying to distance themselves from the Russian aggressor.”

The column ended by appealing to unity to “maintain prosperity and well-being” in Europe.

“That’s why we need France to be on our side,” the leaders wrote.

Mr Macron is not taking any chances by being complacent, even with polling data for his camp in recent days that show a stabilised lead against his rival.

On Thursday, he was visiting voters in the multicultural suburb of Paris of Saint Denis.

Marine Le Pen campaigning in Saint-Pierre-en-Auge, Normandy

Ms Le Pen is speaking with voters in Arras ahead of her final rally there.

The two rivals clashed bitterly in Wednesday’s televised debate.

Mr Macron argued that the loan Ms Le Pen’s party received in 2014 from a Czech-Russian bank made her unsuitable to deal with Moscow amid its invasion of Ukraine.

He also said her plans to ban Muslim women in France from wearing headscarves in public would trigger “civil war” in the country that has the largest Muslim population in western Europe.

Ms Le Pen, in turn, sought to appeal to voters struggling with surging prices amid the fallout of Russia’s war in Ukraine, which she criticised.

She said bringing down the cost of living would be her priority if elected as France’s first woman president.

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