The far-right leader of the National Rally has never been so close to the top job in French politics but recent polls have seen President Macron slightly gaining ground. A poll conducted by Ipsos-Sopra Steria for France Info and Le Parisien released shows Mr Macron would beat the nationalist leader 50 percent to 44 percent.
Another poll by Ifop-Fiducial for LCI, Paris Match and Sud Radio also placed Mr Macron ahead of Ms Le Pen with 54.4 percent against 45.5 percent of voting intentions.
The recent poll results came on Monday, April 18, as the far-right core of Ms Le Pen’s programme has come under closer scrutiny with campaigning entering its final days.
Both candidates face the challenge of reaching out to left-leaning voters after the elimination of their candidates, while holding on to their political trademarks, a task particularly difficult for Ms Le Pen when it comes to Islam and immigration.
Ms Le Pen has in recent years moved to soften her image, shifting her focus from identity issues towards purchasing power, the number one priority for French voters, but she has not shed far-right policies.
“People who are present on our territory, who respect our laws, who respect our values, who have sometimes worked in France, have nothing to fear from the policy I want to pursue,” she told France Bleue radio.
Issues linked to France’s Muslim population, one of Europe’s largest, have become a hot-button topic in a country that has seen a series of deadly extremist attacks.
Lawyers in France have said banning the hijab would violate the French constitution.
Ms Le Pen looked sheepish when she was approached by a woman wearing a hijab before cameras, who told her to “leave the Muslims alone” on Friday, April 15, adding: “We are French, we love this country”.
The following day the National Rally leader said she acknowledged that the issue was complex, adding that parliament would have its say on the decision and that any unwanted law could be revoked.
Emmanuel Macron, who last weekend pledged to step up his efforts against climate change as he spoke at an event in the hard left’s bastion Marseille, on Monday reiterated his warnings towards progressive voters.
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Investigative website Mediapart wrote on Saturday, April 16, that the OLAF report claimed Le Pen had misappropriated 140,000 euros of public money with party members in total diverting 617,000 euros. None are accused of profiting directly, but of claiming EU funds for staff and event expenses.
“The French will not be fooled by attempts of the European Union and the European institutions (…) to interfere in the presidential campaign and harm Marine Le Pen,” National Rally president Jordan Bardella told Europe 1 radio.
He said his party had filed two legal complaints against OLAF, and that it would be filing a third in response to the report.
Speaking to BFM TV, Ms Le Pen’s lawyer Rodolphe Bosselut said his client denied the charges. He said she had yet to be questioned and neither he nor Le Pen had seen the OLAF report.
Ms Le Pen has been under investigation since 2017 as part of a probe into the alleged misuse of European Union funds to pay parliamentary assistants.