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World: Who might upset Macron's bid for a second term in office

Italy, France deepen economic, defense cooperation

  Italy, France deepen economic, defense cooperation ROME (AP) — Italian Premier Mario Draghi said that a bilateral treaty signed on Friday with French President Emmanuel Macron to strengthen bilateral cooperation would also help create a “true European defense." The treaty deepens cooperation “in crucial sectors, from security to justice, from research to industry,’’ Draghi told a press conference. That includes spending to create “a true European defense" that Draghi said “obviously is complementary to NATO" and doesn't substitute the alliance.“To be sovereign, Europe needs to know how to defend its borders. We need to create a real defense,'' he said.

PARIS (Reuters) - France's 2022 presidential election is Emmanuel Macron's to lose. All opinion polls show the incumbent president reaching the second round and winning re-election.

French far-right leader Le Pen and Hungarian PM Orban deliver statement in Budapest © Reuters/BERNADETT SZABO French far-right leader Le Pen and Hungarian PM Orban deliver statement in Budapest

However, after a first term mired in social unrest - during which he took steps to liberalise France's labour laws, cut taxes on the wealthy and businesses and tried to reconfigure trans-Atlantic relations - the margins are tighter than the drubbing he delivered to the far right's Marine Le pen in 2017.

French right-wing commentator Eric Zemmour arrives before making a speech at an event at the ILEC conference centre, London © Reuters/TOM NICHOLSON French right-wing commentator Eric Zemmour arrives before making a speech at an event at the ILEC conference centre, London

Here's a look at the leading second-round scenarios:

Opinion: Boris Johnson and Emmanuel Macron are locked in a post-Brexit duel

  Opinion: Boris Johnson and Emmanuel Macron are locked in a post-Brexit duel Michael Bociurkiw writes, "Once again, vulnerable people yearning for a better life find themselves caught in a distasteful game of political ping pong between wealthy western nations."On Wednesday, a pregnant woman and three children were among the 27 who died trying to cross the English Channel in an inflatable dinghy that capsized. Adding to the horror of the incident, a Kurdish man living in the United Kingdom told the Telegraph he was monitoring his fiancee's movements on the boat in real time when the GPS signal disappeared.

MACRON - LE PEN

Until the autumn, conventional wisdom was that next year's vote would be a repeat showdown between Macron and Marine Le Pen, matriarch of France's far right. It was a contest Macron sought: voters have consistently kept her far-right party out.

Le Pen has campaigned hard in recent years to soften her Rassemblement National party's euro-sceptic, anti-immigration image to broaden its popularity.

She found herself outflanked by Eric Zemmour and her support fell as she lost voters to the far-right pundit. She remains the most likely candidate to face Macron in April's second-round runoff, but her place is not as assured as it once seemed.

Surveys show her picking up 19-22% in the first round.

In the second round, Macron would best Le Pen 54%-46%, an IFOP poll showed - a far narrower margin than the resounding defeat she suffered in 2017.

Explainer-What's at stake in France's presidential election campaign

  Explainer-What's at stake in France's presidential election campaign Explainer-What's at stake in France's presidential election campaignPARIS (Reuters) - The campaign for next April's presidential election is already heating up in France, with the emergence of a far-right TV commentator who is fighting with Marine Le Pen over who will be President Emmanuel Macron's opponent in a second-round runoff.

MACRON - ZEMMOUR

The rise in recent months of Eric Zemmour, the talkshow star who channels former U.S. president Donald Trump's anti-establishment style as he paints himself as the would-be saviour of a nation under threat from Islam, upended the early campaign race.

Some surveys showed Zemmour reaching the second round, but his support has fallen back as he struggles to formulate ideas beyond immigration and security while COVID-19 dominates headlines.

A Harris Interactive poll published on Nov. 30 showed him winning 13% of votes in the first round.

Zemmour, an eloquent orator and best-selling author, says non-Christian names like Mohammad and the wearing of religious symbols such as Islamic headscarves should be banned because they erode France's identity as a Christian civilisation.

Macron would comfortably defeat Zemmour in the second round, polls have shown.

Macron thanks Qatar for Afghan evacuations

  Macron thanks Qatar for Afghan evacuations French President Emmanuel Macron, on a visit to the Gulf, expressed appreciation to Qatar on Saturday for helping to organise the latest evacuation to France of more than 250 threatened Afghans. The ministry said that since September 10, 110 French nationals and their dependents as well as 396 Afghans have been evacuated on 10 flights organised by Qatar. "We are going to continue," Macron said.Around half of the 124,000 Westerners and Western-allied Afghans flown out of Afghanistan in the waning days of the US-led military involvement in Afghanistan transited through Qatar.

MACRON VS. CENTRE-RIGHT CANDIDATE

The battle for far-right and staunchly conservative voters may yet open the door to the moderate right - the scenario which most unnerves the Macron administration.

The centre-right Les Republicains party has yet to nominate its challenger.

Nationwide polls show Xavier Bertrand, a one-time insurance salesman from the provinces who served as labour minister under Nicolas Sarkozy, to be the front-runner for the ticket. The Harris Interactive poll showed Bertrand ahead of Zemmour for the first time since September.

But many party members -- who will pick the candidate -- have not forgiven Bertrand for quitting the party after Macron's 2017 victory.

The dark horse in the race to be the centre-right nominee may emerge as Michel Barnier, the European Union's former chief Brexit negotiator.

Polls show, however, that Barnier would fare worse against Macron than either Bertrand or another centre-right challenger, Valerie Pecresse, who heads the greater Paris region.

(Reporting by Richard Lough; Editing by Peter Graff)

Presidency of the EU during the campaign: asset or disadvantage for Macron? .
© Ludovic Marin / Pool / AFP As of January 1, 2022, France will preside over the European Union for a period of six months. A presidency that intervenes in the middle of the presidential campaign and perhaps could well serve the head of state. The guests of "Punchline" debated it.

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