A scandal involving the French leader’s top candidate for the EU vote – former European Affairs Minister Nathalie Loiseau – has reduced the ruling party’s chances of a landslide win. A Harris Interactive poll published on Sunday showed Mr Macron’s centrist movement with 23.5 per cent of voting intentions compared to 22.5 per cent in the last poll in mid-April, while Mrs Le Pen’s RN gained 0.5 points in two weeks to 21 per cent. The two rival parties maintain a commanding lead in polls, the survey for LCI television, RTL radio and daily Le Figaro showed.
The conservative Les Républicains party is expected to garner some 13.5 per cent of the French vote, while the far-left La France Insoumise (France Unbowed) party is expected to garner 9 per cent. The pro-Frexit Les Patriotes movement is seen winning just 0.5 per cent of the vote.
The vote, which takes place in each EU nation between May 23-26 and in France on May 26, is shaping up to be a bitter contest between populist, far-right formations that openly dislike the EU and europhile, liberal groups fighting to save the crumbling Brussels bloc and deepen integration.
But Mr Macron’s LREM party, which has put up candidates for the election under a list called “Renaissance,” has landed in hot water following revelations its top candidate was once affiliated with members of the far-right.
Nathalie Loiseau, who is spearheading LREM’s EU campaign, came under fire after the French investigative website Mediapart reported that she featured on a list alongside far-right candidates at a student’s election 35 years ago.
Mediapart revealed on Monday that the ex-European Affairs minister appeared on the candidate list of the UED – a students’ union linked to the far-right group GUD – during elections held at Paris’ Institute of Political Studies, also known as Sciences Po, in 1984.
Mrs Loiseau, whose EU campaign has focused on discrediting the far-right and warning voters of the dangerous promise of populism, told Mediapart that she was unaware at the time that the other candidates on the list belonged to the far-right.
“If I had identified people from the GUD on the list, obviously I would have refused to appear on it. I regret to have been associated with these people,” she said.
In an interview with France Info radio on Tuesday, Mrs Loiseau admitted that joining the list was a “major screw-up” which she attributed to “youthful indiscretion”.
But Mrs Loiseau’s political opponents have jumped at the opportunity to discredit the Macron ally. Manon Aubry, who is leading the EU election list for France Unbowed, said that she was not surprised that Mrs Loiseau had once refused to debate with a far-right candidate “because it should remind her of her youth”.
Mrs Loiseau hit back, saying on Twitter that suggestions that she was close to the far-right in her student days were “revolting”.
But with just over one month to go before the vote, Mr Macron’s key candidate now faces the tricky task of making sure LREM remains ahead of the RN in polls.
The survey by Harris Interactive, however, showed that some 42 per cent of French voters have a “bad opinion” of Mrs Loiseau, compared to 25 per cent who have a “good opinion” of her.
The Harris Interactive poll of 1,056 people aged 18 and over was carried out online between April 19-20.