Emmanuel Macron | Photo: AFP
Paris: French President Emmanuel Macron formally announced Thursday that he will run for a second term in April's presidential election, ahead of which he is already leading in the polls.
In a “letter to the French” published on domestic media websites, Macron said: “I am seeking your trust again. I am a candidate to invent with you, faced with the century's challenges, a French and European singular response.”
Macron, 44, had long indicated that he wanted to run in the election, scheduled to be held in two rounds on April 10 and April 24, without formally announcing it until now.
But his initial campaign plans have changed since Russia's invasion of Ukraine.
In the past weeks, the centrist president has dedicated most of his time to diplomatic talks with world leaders and coordination with European and other Western allies.
Polls suggest Macron is the front-runner in the race. Conservative candidate Valérie Pécresse and two far-right figures, Marine le Pen and Eric Zemmour, are expected to be his main challengers.
Left-wing candidates run divided in the race, none of them appearing in a position to qualify for the run-off.
Christiane Taubira, a champion of minority groups, dropped out of the race this week because she had not managed to get enough support.
Henri Wallard, chairman of the French polling firm Ipsos, said that Macron's candidacy is boosted by his being in office.
Wallard noted the 21 million viewers who watched Macron's address to the nation this week centered on the war in Ukraine and its consequences.
“That's after he spoke nine times to the French during the COVID crisis. So he doesn't play on the same team as the other candidates, because he is already in charge and dealing with a crisis,” Wallard told the AP.
Macron's popularity in recent months has remained relatively stable, with an approval rating hovering around 40% depending on polling institutes — higher than his predecessors Francois Hollande and Nicolas Sarkozy had after nearly five years in office.
Even without a formal candidacy announcement, Macron was the first candidate to receive the legally required 500 endorsements from elected officials. The rule is intended to limit the number of people running for president.
Macron said in his letter Thursday that the war in Ukraine would prevent him from campaigning “as I would have liked.”
Campaign events will be limited to the minimum for now, several French presidency officials said.
Macron wants his duties as president at a key time for the European continent not to be disrupted by his candidacy, they stressed.
France currently holds the rotating presidency of the European Union Council, giving Macron a key role in organising the 27-nation bloc's response to Russia's actions.
When Macron was first elected in May 2017 on a pro-business, pro-European platform, he had little political experience.
A former investment banker, he had been economy minister from 2014 to 2016 under Socialist President Francois Hollande.
He seduced French voters by promising to bring fresh air into politics, managing to attract support from both the centre-left and the centre-right.
Almost five year later, Macron noted that “rarely has France faced such an accumulation of crises,” listing extremist attacks, the COVID-19 pandemic and the war in Ukraine.
Macron made changes to the economy to boost job creation and cut taxes on businesses. He notably eased rules to hire and fire workers and to make it harder to get unemployment benefits. Critics say his policies threaten the French welfare state.
He faced the first major crisis of his term when the anti-government yellow vest protest movement broke out at the end of 2018.
Named after the vests French drivers must keep in their cars for emergencies, it started with demonstrations against a planned fuel tax hike and quickly spread into a broader movement against economic injustice.
For months, weekly protests across the country often degenerated into scattered violence.
In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic led Macron to declare the country “at war” against the virus.
After a lockdown-fuelled historic recession, his government focused on supporting the economy with a 100 billion-euro recovery plan.
The pandemic forced Macron to delay some economic reforms, including a difficult overhauling of France's pension system that he had previously promised to push through.
“We did not succeed in everything,” Macron acknowledged in his letter Thursday.
“Thanks to reforms, our industry created jobs again for the first time and unemployment has reached its lowest level in fifteen years,” he said.
The unemployment rate recently reached 7,4%, down from over 10% when he came into power.
“I'm a candidate to continue preparing the future of our children and our grand-children,” he said.