Macron calls for 'mobilisation' at election rally as French polls tighten
French President Emmanuel Macron called on tens of thousands of cheering but increasingly nervous supporters to help him win a second term as he held his first election campaign rally just a week from the start of voting.
According to polls, far-right rival Marine Le Pen is gathering momentum and threatening what once seemed an almost unassailable position of strength for Macron, a pro-business centrist elected in 2017.
"The mobilisation is now, the battle is now!" Macron concluded a two-and-a-half hour speech at a stadium west of the capital. "It's a battle between progress and turning back, a battle between patriotism and Europe, and nationalism."
The 44-year-old drew an estimated 30,000 people for a gathering styled on sports events that saw Macron enter the room to pumping music and fireworks before taking to a stage set up like a boxing ring in the middle of the floor.
The centrist only declared his intention to run again at the last possible moment last month and has been distracted by the war in Ukraine.
Le Pen meanwhile has been working on a low-key grassroots campaign focused on concerns about rising prices that have dented household incomes.
"Despite the crises, we never gave up. Despite the crises we honoured our promises," Macron said during the first part of a speech that defended his achievements.
He listed them as lowering unemployment to "its lowest level in 15 years", cutting taxes to boost incomes, along with investments in public services.
To shouts of "Macron, President!" he also detailed his programme for a second term that would include benefits reform and a rise in the retirement age to 65.
- Slow campaign -
Among those present, most expressed confidence that Macron would prevail despite the final-week dynamic that appears to be favouring Le Pen.
Two new polls published Saturday suggested Macron and Le Pen would finish top in the first round on April 10, with Macron triumphing in the run-off on April 24 by 53-47 percent.
"Of course Marine Le Pen can win," Macron's former prime minister Edouard Philippe warned in an interview with the Le Parisien daily posted online Thursday.
The increasingly thin margin of victory projected for Macron has led many supporters to call on him to throw himself more into campaigning, with aides promising stops around the country next week.
"His campaign has been a bit weak. It started a bit late," said Paul Reynaud, who was wearing a Macron t-shirt with his slogan "With You" written on it at Saturday's event.
"He's played the president a bit too much and not enough the candidate," added the 23-year-old, who is interning at a management consultancy.
He mentioned his employer with am embarrassed smile, acknowledging the problems caused by management consultants for the president over the last fortnight.
Macron's opponents have been attacking him relentlessly on the basis of record spending on consultants such as McKinsey during his five-year term, which was revealed in an investigation by the Senate last month.
"We need a lot more enthusiasm among grassroots supporters," Jean-David Levy, a 58-year-old teacher, told AFP before Macron took his position on stage. "We need to feel a sense of excitement."
- Le Pen optimism -
Le Pen, who lost to Macron in the 2017 polls run-off, has sought to moderate her image in the last half decade in a process helped by the emergence of Eric Zemmour as a fellow candidate in the far-right.
While Zemmour risks taking votes from Le Pen in the first round, his more radical stances in immigration and Islam have helped her project a more mainstream image.
"We feel it on the ground, there is a great dynamic, a hope that is emerging as the campaign nears it end," she said on a visit to eastern France Friday.
The first round risks being a disaster for The Republicans -- the traditional right-wing party that was the political home of ex-presidents such as Nicolas Sarkozy and Jacques Chirac.
Their candidate Valerie Pecresse is projected by most polls to be vying with Zemmour for fourth place after failing to find momentum in the campaign.
Her big chance to ignite her bid will be at a rally Sunday in southern Paris.
The Socialist candidate, Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo, is struggling to reach beyond low single figures while the Greens hopeful Yannick Jadot has failed to put the environment at the centre stage of the campaign.
The left's main hope is the far-left candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon who most polls project coming in third place but believes he has a chance of making a run-off.