As France's right-wing nationalist candidate Marine Le Pen closes the gap with French President Emmanuel Macron ahead of the second round of the country's presidential election, Macron has has started ramping up a smear campaign focusing on Le Pen's links to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The narrative was delivered by Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire, who framed the election as a choice between an "ally of Vladimir Putin" and a president who has France's best interests at heart.
"Another battle is commencing with two visions of France," he said in a Monday interview with RTL radio, suggesting that a Le Pen victory would mean France turning its back on the country's EU partners, leaving working people (who have been protesting Macron by the millions) poorer.
The nationalist leader finished 4.7 percentage points behind Macron in the first round of the French election on Sunday and the two will face each other in a runoff vote on April 24. While polls give 44-year-old president an advantage heading into the final phase of the campaign, Le Pen has been gaining momentum and she’s already added more than 10 points to her showing in the 2017 election. -Bloomberg
While Le Pen has dropped a push for France to ditch the Euro, she opposes Macron's globalization plans for further EU integration.
That said, markets are clearly favoring a Macron win - with French 10-year yields jumping to a seven-year high last week after polls showed Macron's lead over Le Pen narrowing.
"A Macron victory would be welcomed by the markets as markets would price in diminishing political uncertainty and continued business-friendly administration," said Lale Akoner, a senior market strategist at BNY Mellon Investment Management to Bloomberg via email. "
Le Pen's ties to Russia consist of securing a loan from a Russian company in 2014, and visiting Putin in 2017. However, she distanced herself from the Russian leader following his invasion of Ukraine - while Macron has been in regular communication with the Kremlin to try and end the crisis.
Macron suffered a huge blow this week after a poll by Ipsos-Sopra Steria found that the French President is losing ground with every age group below 60, while Le Pen took around twice as much of the blue collar vote.
Turnout, meanwhile, is expected to be at a record low according to an OpinionWay-Kea Partners poll published by Les Echos and Radio Classique - which also showed Le Pen narrowing the gap by one point.
Now the battle may be for France's liberals - after veteran leftist Jean-Luc Mélenchon, who fell short of making it into the final phase of France's presidential election - told his supporters that they shouldn't give a "single vote" to Le Pen.
Mélenchon’s strong showing in Sunday’s first round, when he won 22 per cent of the vote, has put him and his voters in the position of kingmakers as incumbent president Emmanuel Macron battles Le Pen during the final days of campaigning. Macron, in particular, needs as many Mélenchon supporters as possible to back him to win on April 24.
Mélenchon’s message of rejection for Le Pen would seem to favour the president. But Mélenchon stopped short of prompting supporters to vote for Macron, and his party is due to consult members on whether to do so. The president faces a fight to win over far-left supporters who are far less inclined to help him than in 2017, when he coasted to victory against Le Pen, and stop them from abstaining. -FT
Either way, as FT notes, Mélenchon's strong showing alongside Le Pen's shows that French Politics is undergoing an upheaval that may end in a Trump-like upset.
The second round of French elections will be held on Sunday, April 24.