Could the “lunatic” outsider, Emmanuel Macron, steal a march on Le Pen?

Emmanuel Macron is the “Unidentified Flying Candidate” in the “most unpredictable French presidential election for a very long time”, says Sonia Delesalle-Stolper in The Observer. When he left the socialist government last November to found his own liberal movement, En Marche!, he was dismissed as a “lunatic”.

Three months later, he stands at 22.5% in the polls in the first round, second only to the formerly “untouchable” Marine Le Pen of the Front National. If the choice in the second round on 7 May is between Le Pen and Macron, the “latter will be an easy choice for both liberal conservatives and social democrats”. If Republican candidate François Fillon faced off against Le Pen instead, he would probably be seen as “too conservative for a lot of socialists”. Recent scandals over paying his wife and children for reportedly fake parliamentary jobs make him “even less attractive”.

Le Pen is also beset by scandals, including the alleged misuse of more than €300,000 of European parliament funds. However, unlike Fillon, she appears “unshaken” by them, says Angelique Chrisafis in The Guardian. Le Pen plans to crack down on immigration and wants the state to play a stronger role in business. She also promises a referendum on eurozone membership, which could “trigger a full-blown banking crisis”, and occasionally floats a referendum on EU membership that could scupper the entire project, says The Times.

Macron, by contrast, has “some good ideas, but not enough of them”. He wants to cut 120,000 civil service jobs and promises €60bn of spending cuts by 2022 in order to reduce tax for businesses and households. However, he has not said where the axe will land, and avoids any talk of changes to the retirement age or the 35-hour working week, which would upset his left-wing allies.

Given the absence of any “Honest Abes” in recent French presidential history, voters’ cynicism about candidates’ pledges is understandable, says John Vinocur in The Wall Street Journal. In a recent poll, only 16% agreed with the phrase that “most politicians try to keep their election-campaign promises”. Their common sense is accompanied by a “miserable truth. There’s not a single politician in the country who can credibly reassure voters: ‘Trust me, everything [will] turn out fine.’”