Emmanuel Macron, France’s independent presidential candidate, speaks to reporters (Photographer: Christophe Morin/Bloomberg)

Macron Attacked by French Rivals as Obama Flags His Support

(Bloomberg) -- As Emmanuel Macron’s rivals trained their fire on him with just three days to go before the first round of the French presidential election, the centrist candidate drew support from an unexpected quarter: former U.S. President Barack Obama.

Obama and the independent Macron discussed the future of Europe and “progressive values” in a telephone conversation Thursday, the French candidate’s campaign said in an emailed statement.

Macron, whose lead may be firming according to opinion polls, has increasingly become a target for his rivals. Nationalist Le Pen and Republican Francois Fillon both attacked the 39-year-old former economy minister saying his ideas are weak and vague.

Macron Attacked by French Rivals as Obama Flags His Support

Emmanuel Macron

Photographer: Marlene Awaad/Bloomberg

Support for Macron rose one point to 25 percent, while Le Pen was unchanged at 22 percent, according to a poll by Harris Interactive-France Televisions out on Thursday. Fillon slipped one point to 19 percent, level with Communist-backed Jean-Luc Melenchon. The Bloomberg Composite of first-round polls showed Macron 1.5 points ahead, on 23.9 percent.

The four leading candidates all head into the final hours of campaigning with a chance of qualifying for the run-off on May 7. Surveys show Le Pen would lose the final vote, whoever she faces.

The risks stemming from a possible victory for Le Pen were highlighted from across the Atlantic by Christine Lagarde, Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund. Lagarde told CNBC television that a win by the far-right, anti-European Union candidate “would certainly entail major disorder and a risk of dislocation.” She said the European project “has protected us from the horror of wars and we need to keep that in mind even for the young generations which have not known this.”

Macron Attacked by French Rivals as Obama Flags His Support

French voters are looking for a leader who can turn their country around after years of sub-par growth and a wave of attacks by Islamist terrorists fueled a backlash against the political establishment. Socialist President Francois Hollande opted not to seek a second term as his approval rating plumbed record lows, his party’s candidate Benoit Hamon has slipped to a distant fifth and Fillon, from the other traditional party, is running as a French-style Thatcherite who will shake up the economy.

After spiking earlier in the month as Melenchon’s prospects rose, French bond yields have stabilized this week. The spread on French 10-year debt over German bunds narrowed on Thursday to 67 basis points from about 75 points last week.

Macron Attacked by French Rivals as Obama Flags His Support

At a rally in the southern port-city of Marseille on Wednesday evening, the National Front’s Le Pen called for a national and democratic “insurrection” against the establishment and mocked Macron, saying he “feels faint” whenever he has to make a decision. Banking on her most popular issues, Le Pen has toughened her anti-immigration and security stance.

“On the fight against Islamism as on everything else, Macron is vague,” Fillon told Thursday’s edition of Le Figaro newspaper. “You can feel there is no determination in him to fight efficiently against this danger, which he hasn’t even diagnosed.”

Security Threat

As the first round campaign draws to a close, security details protecting the candidates have been bolstered after intelligence services detected an imminent threat. Authorities arrested two men in the southern city of Marseille for planning an attack during the presidential race, Interior Minister Matthias Fekl said on Tuesday.

“Emmanuel Macron gives the impression in what he says that he doesn’t defend national identity, the historic narrative, the cultural roots,” said Fillon, who has been dogged by a scandal over alleged embezzlement. “As if all this was old-fashioned.”

Fillon, who breakfasted with former President Nicolas Sarkozy in a would-be symbol of center-right unity, may be growing less optimistic. He canceled the election-night party he had planned for Sunday at a big congress hall venue in Paris, opting for his campaign headquarters instead, his team said.

Macron himself, who held a rally in Nantes with Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian at his side, will see several former center-right ministers endorse him in an open letter to be published in the press on Friday, newspaper Le Parisien reported. Macron’s supporters have grown more certain to vote in the final weeks of the campaign, polls show, after earlier including more waverers than any of his rivals.

‘Vile and Unworthy’

Running in his first ever campaign, Macron is trying to persuade voters he can keep the country safe after his rivals said he was too inexperienced. He made a point of getting his audience to applaud police officers of the anti-terrorism unit deployed at his rally on Wednesday night.

“I want to tell you how much I see the fight against terrorism as important,” Macron said. “The mission of a head of state is to guarantee your security, and I am ready for that key mission.”

He attacked Le Pen for her remark that if she had been in the presidential Elysee Palace, there would have been no terrorist attacks in recent years. “Vile and unworthy statements,” Macron countered. “Madame Le Pen isn’t worthy of leading our Republic.”