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Nathalie Loiseau, cerebral and uncharismatic, does not hide the fact that she was an unexpected choice by Emmanuel Macron to lead the European election campaign that the French president sees as crucial for his La République en Marche (LREM) party.
“They said I was serious, so I’ll give a serious speech,” the former Europe minister wryly told supporters at a weekend rally in Strasbourg.
And so she did, reading a carefully worded address condemning nationalists such as Donald Trump and Hungary’s Viktor Orban and praising giants of European culture and history from Johannes Gutenberg to Pablo Picasso. “We will not be the somnambulists of Europe,” she said.
Yet for Mr Macron such highbrow speeches are not enough. Two years ago, fresh from victory in a presidential election that reshaped French politics, he launched a bold EU reform agenda. Now he finds his ambitious plans, including a common eurozone budget, are being rejected or relentlessly watered down by his European neighbours — while voters at home are unimpressed.
A Harris Interactive/Epoka poll for Le Figaro published this week put the far-right, Brussels-baiting Rassemblement National (RN) of Marine Le Pen on 22.5 per cent of the vote, fractionally ahead of LREM, with 22 per cent.