Europe News

French presidential hopeful Macron sweeps into London as polls tighten


More than 2,500 French expats gathered in central London on Tuesday evening to listen to Emmanuel Macron, the centrist candidate for the presidential election, with the race for the leadership tightening as the weeks progress.

Some expats told CNBC that this was their first political rally and they were looking for clarification on Macron's views. The centrist candidate had a clear pro-European tone on Tuesday, defended a "special relationship" between the U.K. and Europe following Brexit and, said he wants to reform the rigid French labor markets.

"He's a breath of fresh air," a 39-year-old female at the rally told CNBC.

Macron, who spoke for more than an hour and without notes, is a relatively new face in French domestic politics. The former investment banker had served as economy minister in the current socialist government, but quit to start his "En Marche" movement and try his chances at becoming the next president.

Le Pen and Macron trying to grab voters disappointed with Fillon

Before his political rally, he met the U.K.'s Prime Minister Theresa May and its finance minister Philip Hammond. He told journalists in Downing Street that "Brexit cannot lead to a kind of optimization of Britain's relationship with the rest of Europe."

"In particular there cannot be access to the single market without budgetary contributions (to the EU) ... I am very determined that there will be no undue advantages," he added.

Recent polls have shown he is well placed for the second round of voting against the far-right National Front candidate Marine Le Pen and could become the country's next leader.

But a poll released Tuesday showed the conservative candidate François Fillon is back in the race, after seeing his numbers hit by an investigation into the misuse of public funds. The BFMTV poll gave Marine Le Pen between 27 and 28 percent of the votes in the first round, 20 to 21 percent to Fillon and 17 to 18.5 percent for Macron. However, in the second round, both Fillon and Macron would be able to win against Le Pen, the same poll showed.

Macron has emerged as a likely game-changer: TSL

On Wednesday, an Ifop Fiducial poll said that it was neck-and-neck between Fillon and Macron for the first round. However, it predicted that Macron would beat Le Pen by 61 percent to 39 percent in the second round, better odds that it gave Fillon.

However, Macron's chances appeared to improve Wednesday when veteran centrist politician Francois Bayrou announced that, rather than run against the former minister, he was offering an alliance in the presidential campaign. News of the planned tie-up, details of which will be unveiled later Wednesday, pushed the euro higher and French bond yields lower.

But with two months to go until the first round of votes, other scandals can arise to change the projections and anything is possible in European politics. On Wednesday, French authorities began questioning two members of Le Pen's party in relation to a probe into alleged misuse of funds from the European Union.

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