If Marine Le Pen has anyone to thank for her impressive showing in the French presidential election, says Louis Hausalter in Marianne, it’s her rival right-winger Eric Zemmour. He helped soften Le Pen’s image by outflanking her on the far right – while he was babbling on about conspiracy theories, she talked about the financial struggles of the working class. And when Vladimir Putin invaded Ukraine, it was Zemmour who became the lightning rod for scrutiny about his pro-Russia stance. Le Pen’s own historical closeness to Putin barely got a mention. All this helped her secure second place in the first round of voting on Sunday; in the run-off, later this month, she is polling within a few points of Emmanuel Macron.
It’s “time to think seriously” about what a Le Pen victory would mean, says Gideon Rachman in the FT. Since losing to Macron in the 2017 election she has detoxified her far-right party, changing its name from National Front to National Rally, and renouncing controversial policies like leaving the euro and reintroducing the death penalty. But her manifesto still contains plenty of “red meat for the far right” – the “starkly illiberal” pledge to ban Muslim headscarves in public, for example. Many analysts think a Le Pen victory would be greeted by riots on the streets and turmoil in the financial markets. Beyond France, it would trash Western unity in the middle of the Ukraine war: Le Pen “is intent on the EU’s deconstruction”, has labelled Nato a “warmongering organisation”, and opposes energy sanctions on Russia. “Putin has had a disastrous few weeks. But the voters of France could yet offer him some hope.”