A mere two months are left until France's presidential election. According to most polls, Marine Le Pen should win the first round with 26% of the votes, while Emmanuel Macron seems to be leading in the run-off election. Surprisingly, François Fillon is not that far behind them. To improve Macron's chances, by the way he's François Hollande's candidate, a new story has been cooked up portraying him to be another victim of Russian hackers. More details on France's election from Alexey Petrov.
Gerard Faure hasn't been to his hometown in many years. And today he's not in Compiègne just to wander around the old streets. He came to support François Fillon. «I believe he's the only candidate capable of improving the situation in the country and starting the reforms which our current government failed to implement». But also rushing to Compiègne, a town 70 kilometers from Paris, are Fillion's opponents. It seems François Fillon will not be receiving a warm welcome here, in the north of France. These people were obviously not convinced by his reasoning and explanations. Labor union advocates are preventing cars from entering the territory. This is what is taking place right at the entrance to the venue where Fillon is supposed to meet his followers.
The signs «Fillon to Prison» speak for themselves. Fillon has failed to make the scandal around his wife's fake job go away. French financial prosecutors are continuing to investigate the case. Arriving forty minutes late, Fillon is greeted with a storm of applause. He's making his way through the throngs of volunteers.
— Mister Fillon, will you continue with your campaign? How do you feel about it?
— No answer. All needed statements are made from the stage.
"They simply dislike my project. Because a weak project would've received weak criticism. If I had no convictions, my opponents wouldn't be pressuring me to renounce them. Yes, they want us to get out of their way, but let me assure you, I will continue on my path because I'm proud to be French".
The meeting in Compiègne took place right after a luncheon with Fillon's recent primaries' opponent, Nicolas Sarkozy, who dropped out of the race after the first round. However, he still commands a lot of respect inside the party.
Nicolas Sarkozy's office, the fancy 8th Arrondissement of Paris. Journalists are keeping watch on the opposite side of the road. Nobody's allowed inside. The door is closed. Cars drive straight into the parking lot. No comment is offered. Shortly before this meeting about twenty Republican MPs made Fillone understand that his election campaign cannot continue like this. The reputation of the entire party is at stake. It seems Fillone has managed to dial down the criticism coming from inside the party. It seems Fillone has been following Nicolas Sarkozy's advice, as he has now promised to lower the age of criminal responsibility to 16 years old. He hopes this will get the riots in the Paris suburbs under control.
The riots broke out because of a recent scandal involving the police. A local guy by the name of Theo is said to have become a victim of police brutality and the police so far have not been held accountable. «Are you here because of the Theo case? Sure. It's absolutely unacceptable. I hope they will pay for what they did. If they won't pay, we will never stop. Yeah, I hope they'll be harshly punished».
After the latest riot in Paris, the police received reinforcements. Paris suburbs at night. Dozens of young men are still in the streets. We can see them right there, as well as some police. Every policeman has a shield and a helmet, which means that the police are prepared to deal with anything that may happen at any moment. And it looks like these young men don't plan on going anywhere. Leaving the side of the police is dangerous. The media is not exactly a welcome guest here. At one point, our colleagues give us a warning that at this rate, we may soon lose our camera and our wallets.
The district is blocked on all sides. The metro station is closed, as are all the ways leading to it. The police are trying to break up the crowd. They ended up having to use smoke bombs. The tension is growing, and the police are compelled to use force to neutralize the crowd. The atmosphere here is highly tense, almost explosive. Suburbs like this have become the norm for modern France. People who live here have low income, many of them with migrant backgrounds. Presidential candidates hold little to no events in these areas.
Migrants are one of the key elements of Marine Le Pen's campaign. Here she is in Nice, the city that suffered a terror attack last year. And this is the Italian border, a common route taken by refugees trying to get into the country. Le Pen: «You can see it in the suburbs of Paris and some cities across France where robberies are happening every night Security officers are regularly attacked, public and private property are set on fire, and the perpetrators don’t get punished. This poses a question: What's the government doing about it?»
In the Jura region, Le Pen has promised to help farmers by purchasing food from them for schools. She's traditionally surrounded both by National Front supporters and the hard-core opponents of the movement. Opinion polls suggest that Marine Le Pen could easily win the first round. At the moment she has 26% of the votes. Second place should be decided between François Fillon and the former Minister of the Economy Emmanuel Macron. And while Fillon's ratings have slowed down their fall, Macron has started to lose some support which puts both candidates at about 20% of the votes. So meeting his supporters in Toulon is especially important to the former Minister of the Economy. Empty seats are few if any. Dozens of volunteers are in the auditorium. Every surface is covered with pictures of Macron and his campaign slogans. The main emphasis is on his economic program. The movement provides an alternative to both the right and left. The voters just need to start believing in that.
Macron believes that the Schengen area should remain intact, while the EU itself needs to be reformed. Contrary to Marine Le Pen, he's not calling for pulling out of NATO, but advocates for increasing the military budget. While supporters were waiting for their candidate, a scuffle broke out between Macron's supporters and the National Front.
Once inside, Macron greets his supporters and his team. And then he takes the floor coming down hard on Marine Le Pen and the National Front. He is apparently prepared to have a one-on-one with her in the second round. Macron: «The National Front — yes, we should call it what it is — plays to the people's hate, fears, and emotions, because the National Front doesn't want democracy to grow. It doesn't want our country to face the current challenges head-on. It wants our country to become isolated out of fear».
Never before has France seen such a fierce election campaign. «Why is this campaign so tough? Because people in power are afraid of losing that power. Everything is only aimed at discrediting the candidates who are inconvenient and unnecessary. Same as what happened in the U. S. when they attacked the candidates who don't belong to the establishment, like Fillone and Marine Le Pen. Macron, well, he doesn't have it so bad». The election in France will take place in about two months, so voters are likely to see more scandals and exposés.