Macron Makes Ukraine Central in European Election Campaign

(Bloomberg) -- French President Emmanuel Macron is driving Ukraine to the forefront of the European Parliament election campaign, forcing far-right lawmakers – including those in the National Rally party of his nemesis Marine Le Pen — to clarify their support for Kyiv.

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Macron called a non-binding vote in the National Assembly on Tuesday on a bilateral security agreement he signed with Ukraine last month. It passed with support from his centrist allies, though the National Rally abstained as Le Pen criticized Macron for exploiting the issue for political gain.

The Senate will also vote on the measures later on Wednesday, and the president plans to discuss France’s support for Ukraine on French television on Thursday evening.

Macron’s maneuver made lawmakers choose between backing him or appearing to throw their weight behind Russia — an awkward position for Le Pen, who has close historical ties with Moscow.

“We owe it to all our French fellow citizens, who need to know, without any possible ambiguity, everyone’s position on support for Ukraine and condemnation of Russia,” Prime Minister Gabriel Attal told lawmakers. “To vote against it is to give Vladimir Putin all the arguments and a signal that he hopes and expects.”

The French president — who two years ago was calling on allies not to humiliate Russia — has presented the European elections in June as an existential fight for the continent and pivotal for Ukraine’s battle against Putin. Faced with polls that predict Le Pen will trounce his party by at least 10 percentage points, Macron has depicted her as an ally of the Russian president.

What Bloomberg Economics Says...

“The EU elections have been cast by some politicians as a vote of confidence in Macron’s government. If our augmented misery index is anything to go by, he may be in trouble”

—Eleonora Mavroeidi, economist. Click here for full INSIGHT

Le Pen has rejected these accusations. She struck back by presenting herself as a defender of peace, criticizing Macron’s comments on sending troops as a cynical move to dramatize what’s at stake in the elections in the European Union.

Her party’s financial ties to Russia have been under scrutiny after it took out a loan from a Russian bank, which the National Rally said it has since repaid. Last year, Le Pen’s party abstained on a resolution in the European Parliament that condemned the imprisonment of Russian opponent Alexey Navalny, who died in an arctic jail last month.

She previously said Crimea was never Ukrainian and opposed sanctions against Russia over the peninsula, and she has expressed admiration for Putin.

In her speech at the National Assembly on Tuesday, Le Pen said the National Rally, the biggest opposition party in the lower house, supported Ukraine.

She called the vote “an unworthy choice that you intend to impose: Either one is pro-Macron or one is a friend of Putin.” Le Pen said it was “despicable,” before accusing Macron of calling the vote for political reasons and “trying to capitalize on Ukraine’s suffering.”

(Updates to say president will appear on TV in third paragraph, adds Bloomberg Economics comment after sixth paragraph.)

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