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What this Sunday's election means for the future of France

DANIEL ESTRIN, HOST:

France has a choice this weekend - Macron or Le Pen. Polls favor President Emmanuel Macron to win a second term on Sunday. But the gap is much closer than five years ago, when he defeated Marine Le Pen. This time around, the right-wing populist has rebranded, and she has won a lot of support. So what does that mean for France?

We're going to talk about that with Sylvie Kauffmann. She's editorial director at the French newspaper Le Monde. Welcome to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

SYLVIE KAUFFMANN: Thank you. Thank you for having me.

ESTRIN: So we know Marine Le Pen comes from a far-right-wing family. She has supposedly moderated her politics. What is her vision for France? What would she do if she became president?

KAUFFMANN: That's a very good question because she didn't put forward immediately this time, in this campaign, a very clear vision of how she sees the future of France. And so towards these last few days, since the first round, really, you know, people had a closer look at her program. And also, Emmanuel Macron, I think, did a good job of pointing out, you know, what were the misleading features of her campaign. And so when you look closely, you can see that, for instance, what she advocates is the equivalent of leaving the European Union because...

ESTRIN: Wow.

KAUFFMANN: ...She - yes. I mean, not - you know, we call it a Frexit (ph) in disguise, right?

ESTRIN: Wow. Is her position truly a surprise for her supporters? I mean, why has she won so many new supporters this time around?

KAUFFMANN: She did attract more votes this time. That's a fact. And I don't think it's because of her positions on Europe. I think it's more because of - her main focus this time was the cost of living because it is true that we also have an inflation problem. And so she has been very effective at telling people, if you elect me president, you will have subsidies. You will have - you know, I will cut the price of gas - you know, all these kind of promises.

ESTRIN: So even if she is not elected, her rise in popularity in this campaign says something, right? I mean, first of all, does it...

KAUFFMANN: Yes.

ESTRIN: ...Reflect trends elsewhere in Europe, in the rise of populism, nationalism in the U.S., too?

KAUFFMANN: Well, it's - yes. We've been having those trends in various countries, but that's not only Marine Le Pen in the populist trend in France. There is a third politician, Jean-Luc Melenchon, who we might compare to Bernie Sanders if you want, and he got almost as many votes as Marine Le Pen. She got 23% of the vote, and he got 22% of the vote. And he's a left-wing politician.

So we have two important parties and politicians now in our political landscape which are populist parties, one on the left and one on the far-right. And so between those, you have Emmanuel Macron. And he's now the only political force in the center because the mainstream traditional parties on the center have totally collapsed. So our political system is really - it's a field of ruins.

ESTRIN: Sylvie Kauffmann, editorial director at Le Monde, thank you so much.

KAUFFMANN: Pleasure to be with you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Daniel Estrin is NPR's international correspondent in Jerusalem.
Megan Lim