France 2017
Macron Takes the Lead in French Race

The stars are aligning for Emmanuel Macron in the French presidential race, according to Reuters:

Independent centrist candidate Emmanuel Macron consolidated his status as favorite for the French presidency on Friday as pressure mounted on scandal-hit conservative rival Francois Fillon to pull out.

An opinion poll published by Odoxa showed Macron coming first in the first round, pushing far-right leader Marine le Pen into second place for the first time since the line-up of candidates became clear.

Macron has greatly benefitted from the nepotism scandal plaguing Francois Fillon’s campaign, which deepened this week when investigators put him under formal investigation. Fillon has pledged to fight to the bitter end, bucking calls from fellow Republicans to drop out amid plummeting poll numbers and mass defections. Most recently, the centrist Union of Democrats and Independents (UDI) withdrew their support, lending renewed urgency to talks among party insiders about grooming a replacement candidate. If Fillon does drop out—a big if—early signs suggest that former prime minister Alain Juppe would be chosen to replace him, posing a more formidable challenge for Macron.

For now, though, with the right in disarray, Macron is seizing the initiative to unroll a detailed policy platform. So far, the Macron agenda has plenty to offer both Right and Left, with belt-tightening fiscal reforms, corporate tax cuts, and deregulation co-existing with proposals to raise disability allowances, hire more teachers, and boost training programs for at-risk youth. On the foreign policy front, Macron remains an outspoken proponent of the EU, although his insistence on reforms and a common Eurozone budget is likely to rankle Germany. Meanwhile, Macron is  seeking to shore up votes on the Right by playing to their security concerns, with proposals to hire 10,000 more cops and bolster a network of French field agents to combat Islamic radicalization.

It remains to be seen whether this policy mix will prove a winning formula, but the latest polls indicate something is resonating with voters. And in an era of anti-establishment anger, Macron’s main asset may be his carefully cultivated image as an outsider; he has lately been pushing an anti-nepotism agenda in a clear effort to distinguish himself from elite politicos like Fillon. The race is far from over, and a Fillon dropout could shake things up once again. But for the moment Macron’s star is on the rise.

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