François Fillon bids to restart faltering French presidential campaign as Emmanuel Macron gains support

Emmanuel Macron gains the backing of a prominent socialist, as François Fillon faces fresh allegations over a loan

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Emmanuel Macron has found an important ally in his bid to become the next French president. 

The centrist independent candidate got the backing of former Paris Mayor Bertrand Delanoë, a prominent socialist figure who will not support his party’s official nominee, Benoît Hamon.

Speaking on France Inter radio on Wednesday, Mr Delanoë said supporting Mr Macron is the best way to ensure the far right will not win the election. 

Opinion polls suggest that far-right leader Marine Le Pen and Mr Macron will come out on top in the first-round vote on 23 April. The top two go on to compete in the 7 May presidential runoff. 

“Maybe in two months the ideology and methods of the far right will rule France. It’s haunting me,” Mr Delanoë said. “I think we must all ask ourselves the question of our vote in the first round to avoid a disaster in the second round.”

Mr Delanoë praised measures in favour of “social justice” in Mr Macron’s platform, and said Mr Hamon is struggling to unite the left with his radical proposals. If elected, Mr Hamon has pledged to introduce a universal income to all citizens, a measure that has been criticised by many as too expensive for taxpayers and unrealistic. 

“I think that his platform is dangerous because it does not bring the left together,” Mr Delanoë said, insisting that he remains on good terms with Mr Hamon. “Also because, from a philosophical standpoint, in its approach to work, it is unable to produce real social progress.”

Several other socialist politicians, including legislators and mayors, have publicly announced that they will back Mr Macron. 

It comes as conservative candidate François Fillon appealed to centrist allies who deserted him over corruption allegations to return to help him win the spring presidential election

Speaking in Orléans, south of Paris on Tuesday night, the former prime minister “solemnly” asked centrists of the UDI party, which suspended its backing of him last week, to close ranks behind him.

“We have the same values, the same goals and it is together that we can build a government majority to rebuild France,” Mr Fillon said as he tried to jump start a campaign that had all but ground to a halt. “We’re all patriots. So let us serve the homeland.” 

Opinion polls forecast that Mr Fillon will fail to make the second round of the election and that Ms Le Pen – leader of the Front National – will top the first round, but be easily beaten by Mr Macron in the second round.

Some 46 days before the first round, however, analysts warned victory was not a certainty for Mr Macron, given the possibility that Mr Fillon, who on Monday received his party’s backing despite the financial scandal he is embroiled in, could see a ratings boost. If he does make it to the second round, polls suggest Mr Fillon will also beat Ms Le Pen.

Less than two months before the first round of voting, Mr Fillon must now play catch-up while trying to bring back the centrists critical to his victory. 

Mr Fillon’s political fortunes soured after reports that he had paid his wife and two of his five children more than €1 million (£867,000) over many years for work as his parliamentary aides that judicial officials suspect they may not have done. 

He insists the jobs were not fake, but has been summoned for questioning by judicial investigators on 15 March, and risks preliminary charges. 

Meanwhile, Le Canard Enchainé newspaper, which divulged the initial claims, reported that Mr Fillon failed to declare a €50,000 interest-free loan to the authorities that ensure transparency regarding politicians’ pocketbooks. 

The loan was made in 2013 by businessman Marc Ladreit de Lacharrière, who reportedly employed Mr Fillon’s wife, Penelope, during some of the years being checked by investigators, the newspaper reported. 

Mr Fillon and his wife have denied any wrongdoing over all the allegations against him, while Mr Fillon’s lawyer has told Le Canard the loan was fully reimbursed. In 2010, Ladreit de Lacharrière received France’s prestigious Légion d’Honneur award, after a recommendation from Mr Fillon.

AP

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