Challenger's Surge in France Worries US, Probably Ukraine

Marine Le Pen has closed in on Emmanuel Macron as she's toned down her rhetoric
By Bob Cronin,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 8, 2022 4:35 PM CDT
Challenger's Surge in France Worries US, Probably Ukraine
Presidential candidate Marine Le Pen greets a seller Friday as she tours a food market in Narbonne, southern France.   (AP Photo/Joan Mateu Parra)

Prime Minister Viktor Orban declared "a huge victory" this week that will keep him in office as Hungary's prime minister. Now White House officials are beginning to worry that another friend of Putin's could take over a US ally. Polls show that French President Emmanuel Macron and challenger Marine Le Pen are running close, Politico reports. That could be a problem for Ukraine, especially. The far-right Le Pen could pull France, which has been sending Ukraine weapons, out of the alliance bucking Russia over its invasion. That could lead other European nations lukewarm about assisting Ukraine to withdraw, as well. The first round of voting will be Sunday, with Macron and Le Pen likely to face off on April 24.

"Her election would be a disaster for Europe and the trans-Atlantic front to support Ukraine," said Benjamin Haddad of the Europe Center at the Atlantic Council. "She's against sanctions and arms delivery, has always aligned on Kremlin talking points on Ukraine or NATO." Le Pen calls for quitting the NATO military command, he said, and taking steps against the EU that could lead to a de facto "Frexit." She's toned down the Frexit talk in her third presidential campaign, Haddad said, "so as not to spook voters." Le Pen has climbed in the polls recently as she has relied less on divisive rhetoric and more on economic issues; gas prices, for example, have shot up 35% in the past year.

In just over a month, the race has gone from the incumbent being well ahead to a toss-up, per the Washington Post. French officials are worried, too. The finance minister Bruno Le Maire said Thursday that Le Pen's election would mean "less sovereignty because we would be allies of Russia, of Vladimir Putin." She's been supportive of Putin's explanation of his invasion of Ukraine, though she's saying less as the vote nears, while Macron has tried to broker a peace. Her backers have distributed a leaflet with a photo of Le Pen shaking hands with the Russian president. She's also benefited from the candidacy of Eric Zemmour, whose ultranationalist, anti-immigrant rhetoric has made Le Pen's seem mild. (Read more Marine Le Pen stories.)

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