Trump struts onto the world stage only to become a laughingstock

When the word from his own staff inside the White House is that Donald Trump is increasingly being viewed as “a complete moron,” it should come as no surprise that outside the U.S. he now commands just as little respect.

Having been duly flattered by the Saudis with a reception fit for a king, Trump not only showered them with weapons, but also added his own unexpected diplomatic touch by offering his host an impromptu curtsy:

 

Having proffered the deference that Trump obviously thought royalty expects, he then adjusted the gold bauble for comfort as though then wondering: did I get to keep this? I want to show it to Don King.

Had Trump followed Barack Obama’s example eight years ago, he would have realized that gold ornaments do not sit well on the shoulders of a dignified American president.

 

Susan Glasser writes: Many [of the European officials] I spoke with said they had made a fundamental mistake of viewing Trump primarily as an ideologue with whom they disagreed rather than what he increasingly appears to be: an ill-prepared newcomer to the world stage, with uninformed views and a largely untested team that will now be sorely tried by a 9-day, 5-stop world tour that would be wildly ambitious even for a seasoned global leader.

“People are less worried than they were six weeks ago, less afraid,” a senior German government official with extensive experience in the United States told me. “Now they see the clownish nature.” Or, as another German said on the sidelines of a meeting here devoted to taking stock of 70 years of U.S.-German relations, “People here think Trump is a laughingstock.”

“The dominant reaction to Trump right now is mockery,” Jacob Heilbrunn, the editor of the conservative journal the National Interest, told the meeting at the German Foreign Office here while moderating a panel on Trump’s foreign policy that dealt heavily on the difficulty of divining an actual policy amid the spectacle. Heilbrunn, whose publication hosted Trump’s inaugural foreign policy speech in Washington during last year’s campaign, used the ‘L’ word too. “The Trump administration is becoming an international laughingstock.” Michael Werz, a German expert from the liberal U.S. think tank Center for American Progress, agreed, adding he was struck by “how rapidly the American brand is depreciating over the last 20 weeks.” [Continue reading…]

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A new Yalta and the revival of Europe

Roger Cohen writes: In the end the French election turned on the most unlikely of subjects: Europe. Yes, the ugly European duckling of 2016 politics — rejected by Britain, mocked by President Trump — ushered Emmanuel Macron into the Élysée Palace as France’s youngest president.

Macron, throughout his campaign, was strong in his support of the European Union and its shared currency, the euro. That was risky; identification with the European Union hardly seemed a winning ticket. But it was precisely on the euro and the union that Marine Le Pen, the rightist candidate of the National Front, committed public political suicide.

In the final TV debate, days before this month’s vote, she babbled and blundered for minutes on end about Europe and its currency. It was, as Macron put it, “du n’importe quoi” — roughly meaningless garbage. And it was garbage that touched the French in a very sensitive area: their pocketbooks.

The French, unlike Americans, don’t talk about money but they think about it as much as anyone else.

Le Pen confused the euro and the ECU (a basket of European currencies once used as a unit of account); she seemed to think Britain had been in the euro and made the wild claim that Brexit had sent the British economy skyrocketing; she blabbered about the coexistence of a restored franc for French people and a euro for big companies; she appeared to decree that other nations would leave the euro at the same time as her France. She accused Macron of “submission to European federalism.”

The retort was swift. It was also devastating because the French, it turns out, are attached to the euro. Macron said the value of people’s savings would plunge 20 to 30 percent the day after a return to the franc. He asked how anyone from the producer of Cantal cheese to Airbus — small or large enterprises fully integrated in the European economy — would function once compelled to do their foreign transactions in euros and pay their employees’ salaries in francs. He predicted the return of capital controls as people rushed to get money out of the country.

Le Pen gaped at him, laughed inappropriately, fired increasingly wild and unrelated salvos, and generally seemed on the verge of total meltdown. It was the end. Europe had killed her. For any Europhile, and I proudly wear that badge, it was the sweetest of moments after a rough passage. [Continue reading…]

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Over 100,000 community events to mark first anniversary of Jo Cox’s death

The Guardian reports: A scarecrow festival, a “deep fat friar” medieval lunch and a Ramadan meal in a church hosted by Syrian refugees are among the community events due to take place to mark the first anniversary of the murder of Jo Cox.

More than 100,000 events are expected to be held across the UK as part of The Great Get Together, organised by the Jo Cox Foundation. Organisers hope it will be the biggest number of community events since the Queen’s diamond jubilee.

Cox was stabbed and shot outside her constituency surgery in Batley and Spen, West Yorkshire, on 16 June last year by Thomas Mair. The weekend of events will take place between 16 and 18 June, with picnics, street parties and iftar, the meal eaten by Muslims to break their fast during Ramadan.

They have been organised in conjunction with The Big Lunch, an annual event that aims to combat loneliness with communal meals and activities.

In Leeds, a group of Syrian refugees will host an iftar at a local church and provide free meals to homeless people. Other events include a teddy bears’ picnic in Hartlepool, a scarecrow festival in Ilkley and a medieval lunch in Coventry.

A street party will also take place in Cox’s former constituency. It is hoped that a party in London’s Olympic Park will attract up to 10,000 participants.

Brendan Cox, the widower of the murdered MP, said he was “amazed and humbled” by the numbers who had responded to calls to mark the anniversary. “I think the huge response is because we’re tapping into the national mood,” he said. [Continue reading…]

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Steve Bannon and Brexit

The Observer reports: On 18 November 2015, the British press gathered in a hall in Westminster to witness the official launch of Leave.EU. Nigel Farage, the campaign’s figurehead, was banished to the back of the room and instead an American political strategist, Gerry Gunster, took centre stage and explained its strategy. “The one thing that I know is data,” he said. “Numbers do not lie. I’m going to follow the data.”

Eighteen months on, it’s this same insight – to follow the data – that is the key to unlocking what really happened behind the scenes of the Leave campaign. On the surface, the two main campaigns, Leave.EU and Vote Leave, hated one other. Their leading lights, Farage and Boris Johnson, were sworn enemies for the duration of the referendum. The two campaigns bitterly refused even to share a platform.

But the Observer has seen a confidential document that provides clear evidence of a link between the two campaigns. More precisely, evidence of a close working relationship between the two data analytics firms employed by the campaigns – AggregateIQ, which Vote Leave hired, and Cambridge Analytica, retained by Leave.EU.

British electoral law is founded on the principle of a level playing field and controlling campaign spending is the key plank of that. The law states that different campaigns must not work together unless they declare their expenditure jointly. This controls spending limits so that no side can effectively “buy” an election.

But this signed legal document – a document that was never meant to be made public and was leaked by a concerned source – connects both Vote Leave and Leave.EU’s data firms directly to Robert Mercer, the American billionaire who bankrolled Donald Trump.

This is a deeply complex story. It has taken three months of investigation to unravel the web of connections – both human and contractual. But these connections and threads linking two separate foreign data analytics companies – one based in Canada and one based in London – raise profound and troubling questions about our democratic process. Because these intricate links lead, in not many steps, to Robert Mercer.

This ordinary-looking document is at the heart of a web of relationships that link Mercer with the referendum to take Britain out of the EU. What impact did Mercer have on Brexit? Did the campaigns know of the link? Did they deliberately conceal it? Or could they, too, have been in the dark?

Because, legally, these two companies – AggregateIQ in Canada and Cambridge Analytica, an American company based in London, have nothing to connect them publicly. But this intellectual property licence shown to the Observer tells a different story. This created a binding “exclusive” “worldwide” agreement “in perpetuity” for all of AggregateIQ’s intellectual property to be used by SCL Elections (a British firm that created Cambridge Analytica with Mercer).

The companies may have had different owners but they were legally bound together. And, the Observer has learned, they were working together on a daily basis at the time of the referendum – both companies were being paid by Mercer-funded organisations to work on Ted Cruz’s presidential campaign in America. What is more, several anonymous sources reveal the two companies, working on two separate British Leave campaigns, actually shared the same database at the time.

In fact AggregateIQ had a non-compete clause. Leave.EU announced in November 2015 it was working with Cambridge Analytica which means that AggregateIQ must have had explicit permission to work with Vote Leave.

And yet none of this was visible. Dominic Cummings, a former Tory special adviser who was Vote Leave’s chief strategist, was a vocal critic of Ukip, Farage, Leave.EU and its millionaire backer, Arron Banks. And the two campaigns followed different strategies – Leave.EU targeting Ukippers and disaffected working-class Labour voters with images of queues of refugees. Vote Leave targeted middle England with a message about returning £350m a week from Europe to the NHS.

Follow the data, however, and another story is revealed, which leads directly to Mercer and his close associate, Steve Bannon, now Donald Trump’s chief strategist in the White House. Mercer was the owner of Cambridge Analytica, a firm which, as the Observer detailed last week, was spun out of a British firm with 30 years experience in working for governments and militaries around the world, specialising in “psychological operations”. At the time of the referendum, the Observer has learned, Bannon was the head of it. [Continue reading…]

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Macron and the revival of Europe

Roger Cohen writes: It’s not just that Emmanuel Macron won and will become, at the age of 39, France’s youngest president. It’s not merely that he defeated, in Marine Le Pen, the forces of xenophobic nationalism exploited by President Donald Trump. It’s that he won with a bold stand for the much-maligned European Union, and so reaffirmed the European idea and Europe’s place in a world that needs its strength and values.

This, after Britain’s dismal decision last year to leave the European Union, and in the face of Trump’s woeful anti-European ignorance, was critical. Macron underlined his message by coming out to address his supporters in Paris accompanied by the European anthem, Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy,” rather than the Marseillaise — a powerful gesture of openness.

A Le Pen-led lurch into a Europe of nationalism and racism has been averted. President Vladimir Putin of Russian backed Le Pen for a reason: He wants to break down European unity and sever the European bond with the United States. Instead, the center held and, with it, civilization.

A federalizing Europe is the foundation of European postwar stability and prosperity. It offers the best chance for young Europeans to fulfill their promise. It is Europeans’ “common destiny,” as Macron put it in his acceptance speech, standing before the French and European Union flags. To think otherwise is to forget history. No wonder Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, through her spokesman, immediately proclaimed a victory “for a strong and united Europe.” [Continue reading…]

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On foreign policy, Macron knows Brussels, distrusts Moscow and must learn everything else

Politico reports: France’s President-elect Emmanuel Macron, a 39-year-old foreign policy novice, won the keys to the Élysée palace without giving a major address on international affairs.

His views, informed by a broad coterie of policy advisers and French grandees, are largely unformed — with one, new exception. To listen to his closest foreign policy advisers, this bitter campaign that saw Macron face off against pro-Moscow opponents including Marine Le Pen and hacked by suspected Kremlin operatives has been the making of a Russia hawk.

When it comes to Moscow, France will now respond with the Macron doctrine.

“We will have a doctrine of retaliation when it comes to Russian cyberattacks or any other kind of attacks,” Macron’s official foreign policy adviser Aurélien Lechevallier told me. “This means we are ready to retaliate against cyberattacks — not only in kind but also with any other conventional measure or security tool.” [Continue reading…]

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The French presidency goes to Macron. But it’s only a reprieve

Timothy Garton Ash writes: Like someone who has narrowly escaped a heart attack, Europe can raise a glass and give thanks for the victory of Emmanuel Macron. But the glass is less than half full, and if Europe doesn’t change its ways it will only have postponed the fateful day.

The next president of France will be a brilliant product of that country’s elite, with a clear understanding of France’s deep structural problems, some good ideas about how to tackle them, a strong policy team, and a deep commitment to the European Union. When a centrist pro-European government has been formed in Berlin after the German election this autumn, there is a chance for these two nations to lead a consolidatory reform of the EU.

Savour those drops of champagne while you can, because you’ve already drained the glass. Now for the sobering triple espresso of reality. First shot: more than a third of those who turned out in the second round voted for Marine Le Pen (at the time of writing we don’t have the final figures). What times are these when we celebrate such a result?

Thanks to France’s superior electoral system and strong republican tradition, the political outcome is better than the victories of Donald Trump and Brexit, but the underlying electoral reality is in some ways worse. Trump came from the world of buccaneer capitalism, not from a long-established party of the far right; and most of the 52% who voted for Brexit were not voting for Nigel Farage. After Le Pen’s disgusting, mendacious, jeering performance in last Wednesday’s television debate, no one could have any doubt who they were voting for. She makes Farage look almost reasonable. [Continue reading…]

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Macron vanquishes Le Pen — ‘the high priestess of fear’ — in presidential debate

Christopher Dickey writes: Barring an act of God or ISIS, or a massive vote for the mysterious Monsieur Blanc, 39-year-old centrist candidate Emmanuel Macron now looks certain to be the next president of France. He emerged from the one and only one-on-one debate against far-right nationalist-socialistic candidate Marine Le Pen on Wednesday night largely unscathed and indeed, according to instant polls, a clear winner.

If he is elected Sunday, the effect on European and global politics could be enormous: a definitive end to what had seemed a wave of nativism and populism sweeping across the West; a huge setback for Russian President Vladimir Putin’s designs to divide and weaken European (and American) democracies; and a much tougher, more united European Union position as London tries to negotiate Brexit.

Macron, a wunderkind banker and political neophyte who briefly served as economy minister in the current discredited government of President François Hollande, did not, as some of his supporters feared, fall on his face in the debate, even though Le Pen called him “the prostrate candidate” who grovels before international financial interests.

The heiress to the legacy of the National Front party founded by her irascible race-baiting father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, is anti-immigrant, anti-Islam, anti-euro, anti-European Union, anti-American, pro-Trump, and pro-Putin and would like to close France’s borders. A victory for her would turn the post-World War II order upside down—a proposition many frustrated and angry French, especially young ones, have flirted with on the left as well as the right. [Continue reading…]

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The left must vote for Macron

Yanis Varoufakis writes: In 2002, Jacques Chirac, the French right’s leader, faced Jean-Marie Le Pen, the leader of the racist National Front, in the second round of France’s presidential election. The French left rallied behind the Gaullist, conservative Chirac to oppose the xenophobic heir of Vichy collaborationism. Fifteen years later, however, large sections of the French left are refusing to back Emmanuel Macron against Marine Le Pen, Jean-Marie Le Pen’s daughter.

Progressives have good reason to be angry with a liberal establishment that feels comfortable with Macron, a former banker with no previous experience in democratic politics prior to his brief appointment as Minister of Economy, Industry, and Digital Affairs by President François Hollande. They see him, correctly, as the minister who stripped full-time French workers of hard-won labor rights and who today is the establishment’s last resort against Le Pen.

Moreover, it is not hard to identify with the French left’s feeling that the liberal establishment is getting its comeuppance with Le Pen’s rise. In 2015, the same establishment that now supports Macron and rails against the “alternative facts,” loony economics, and authoritarianism of Le Pen, Donald Trump, the UK Independence Party (UKIP), and others, launched a ferociously effective campaign of falsehood and character assassination to undermine the democratically elected Greek government in which I served.

The French left cannot, and should not, forget that sorry episode. But the decision of many leftists to maintain an equal distance between Macron and Le Pen is inexcusable. There are two reasons for this. [Continue reading…]

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Why Obama just endorsed Emmanuel Macron for president of France

Zack Beauchamp writes: Former President Barack Obama has endorsed his first candidate for office since leaving office — and it’s not a fellow Democrat. In fact, it’s not even an American.

“I am supporting Emmanuel Macron to lead you forward,” Obama said in English in a video addressed to the French people just days before Macron faces far-right candidate Marine Le Pen Sunday in an election that will determine the country’s next president.

Obama closes the minute-long video in French. “En Marche! Vive la France!”

The endorsement is highly, highly unusual — I can’t think of a time when a former US president explicitly endorsed a candidate in a foreign election. But it makes a lot of sense. [Continue reading…]

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Macron vs. Le Pen: France’s bitter presidential run-off race

 

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In a unified Ireland, the north could automatically join the EU

The Guardian reports: European leaders may be preparing to recognise a united Ireland, in a declaration that would pave the way for the north to swiftly rejoin the European Union. At their first Brexit summit on Saturday, the EU’s 27 leaders are expected to discuss a text stating that if Ireland unified, the north would automatically become part of the EU.

The inclusion of the text is a victory for the Irish government, which had pressed for the inclusion of a “GDR clause”, a reference to the integration of the former east German state into the European Community after the fall of the Berlin wall. The declaration is bound to raise fears that Brexit could trigger the unravelling of the UK, although there is no majority in Northern Ireland for unification.

EU diplomats are braced for a fierce reaction from the UK, given the angry tabloid headlines that followed speculation about the status of Gibraltar. After lobbying from Madrid, the EU agreed that the Spanish government would be able to exclude the Rock from any EU-UK trade agreement if it was not satisfied with the status of the territory.

The Irish clause is informed by the Good Friday peace agreement, which states that north and south of Ireland have a right to unify if a majority agree north of the border. Enda Kenny, the taoiseach, has argued that it is important for the north of Ireland to have “ease of access” to rejoin the EU if reunification were to occur. [Continue reading…]

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EU Ankara negotiator calls for suspension of Turkey accession talks

Reuters reports: The European Union should formally suspend Turkey’s long-stalled talks on membership if it adopts constitutional changes backed at a referendum last week, a leading member of the EU parliament responsible for dealings with Ankara said on Wednesday.

Kati Piri said ahead of a plenary debate on the matter that if President Tayyip Erdogan implemented his new charter, giving him even more powers, Turkey would close the door on membership.

Erdogan said on Tuesday that Turkey would not wait forever to join the bloc, just a day after the EU executive’s top official for membership talks asked Europe’s foreign ministers to consider other types of ties with Turkey when they meet on Friday.

Ties between EU states and their NATO ally Turkey soured in the aftermath of a failed coup last July as the bloc was taken aback by Erdogan’s sweeping security crackdown that followed. [Continue reading…]

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Macron campaign wards off hacking attempts linked to Russia

The Wall Street Journal reports: Hackers matching the profile of a pro-Kremlin group have tried in recent weeks to access campaign email accounts of French presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron, a cybersecurity firm said Monday, raising fears of election interference in the final two weeks of the France’s presidential campaign.

In a report set to be published Tuesday, security-research firm Trend Micro identified a pro-Kremlin hacking group it calls Pawn Storm as the likely source of a multipronged phishing attack that started in mid-March against Mr. Macron’s campaign.

As part of the attack, hackers set up multiple internet addresses that mimicked those of the campaign’s own servers in an attempt to lure Mr. Macron’s staffers into turning over their network passwords, said Feike Hacquebord, a senior threat researcher for Tokyo-based Trend Micro and the author of the report, a copy of which was reviewed by The Wall Street Journal.

Mounir Mahjoubi, digital director of Mr. Macron’s campaign, confirmed the attempted hacking, saying that several staffers had received emails leading to the fake websites. The phishing emails were quickly identified and blocked, and it was unlikely others went undetected, Mr. Mahjoubi said.

“We can’t be 100% sure,” he said, “but as soon as we saw the intrusion attempts, we took measures to block access.”

The hacking group Pawn Storm, which is known to other cybersecurity firms as Fancy Bear or APT28, was identified by U.S. officials and cybersecurity experts last year as a Russian state-backed organization. They said the group had carried out hacks to obtain and subsequently leak emails from the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman during last year’s U.S. presidential election, allegations that Russia denied. [Continue reading…]

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The French elections showed the strength of the European far-right — and its limits

Zack Beauchamp writes: To understand what France’s election means, and what it tells us about the rise of far-right movements around Europe, you need to understand two fundamental truths about the results.

The first is that it’s a historic victory for the far-right Marine Le Pen and her Front National party. Le Pen was one of two candidates who qualified for the second round, soundly beating the standard-bearers both of France’s traditional establishment parties — the center-right Republicans and center-left Socialists. The once-reviled Front has clearly entered the mainstream of French politics.

At the same time, the election seemed to demonstrate the very clear limits of Le Pen’s popularity — and, potentially, European far-right politics more broadly.

Le Pen came in second in Sunday’s election, with 21.7 percent of the vote. The plurality winner, upstart centrist Emmanuel Macron, won with 23.9 percent. He’s her polar opposite in virtually every respect. She wants to restrict immigration to France and pull France out of the EU; he supports keeping the borders open and proudly waved the EU flag at his final campaign rally. And when these two face each other one-on-one in a runoff in two weeks, he’s very likely to win — every poll that’s been taken so far has him up by massive margins:


The tolerant center, in France, appears likely to hold.

What we’re seeing in France mirrors what’s happening in much of Europe. After the twin shocks of Brexit and Trump, the far-right has seen a series of setbacks. From elections in Austria and the Netherlands to polls in all-important Germany, the far-right is performing far less well than many have expected.

What these numbers suggest is that the far-right has a political ceiling: That while its supporters may be hard-core, the majority of Europeans still recoil from its vision — at least for now. [Continue reading…]

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Marine Le Pen to face off against ‘France’s Justin Trudeau,’ Emmanuel Macron

Christopher Dickey writes: Two days after Donald Trump declared that anti-immigrant, anti-European Union, anti-NATO, pro-Russian, anti-American, pro-Steve-Bannon Marine Le Pen was the “strongest on borders, and she’s the strongest on what’s been going on in France,” she has made it through the first round of the country’s presidential elections and into the sudden-death runoff that will take place on May 7.

If she manages to win, her election will have stunning consequences domestically and internationally, multiplying the shocks that have followed on the Brexit vote and Trump’s ascent in the United States.

A Le Pen victory would also be welcomed by Russia’s Vladimir Putin, who recently received her at the Kremlin as if she already were a head of state.

Right now, however, it looks like Le Pen doesn’t have much of a prayer, and France may well position itself as a new bulwark against Trump-style xenophobia and populism.

Her second-round rival is 39-year-old former banker and economy minister Emmanuel Macron, who is pretty much in favor of everything that Le Pen opposes. He was the only one of the four leading candidates who did not speak warmly of Putin. He embraces globalism; he has even waved the European Union flag at his election rallies. And while Trump rooted for Le Pen, former President Barack Obama called Macron to give him encouragement. [Continue reading…]

An editorial in The Guardian says: The contest on 7 May is a contest between openness and bigotry, internationalism and nationalism, optimism and hatred, reaction and reform, hope and fear. The fact that Ms Le Pen has reached the second round should not be underplayed simply because it was predicted for so long, or because, if the exit polling is confirmed, she finished second behind Mr Macron, not first. She took almost a quarter of French votes. Her projected 21.9% is significantly larger than her father’s 16.9% in 2002. Even if she loses in round two, the FN may still stand on the verge of a historic advance in June’s parliamentary elections.

It is tempting to see Ms Le Pen’s result as a defeat alongside that of Geert Wilders in the Netherlands, and to conclude that European liberal values have successfully rallied to stop another lurch to the racist right. Some of that is true, and it is a cause for immense relief. France stood up and was counted on Sunday. But the threat from the French extreme right is not over. Nor is the threat from kindred extreme-right parties in Europe. Both the AfD in Germany and Ukip in Britain have moved further to the right in the past week. The Front National remains a party of bigotry, hatred and nationalism of the worst kind.

Now France must stand up again in two weeks’ time and complete the job by electing Mr Macron. [Continue reading…]

Sonia Delesalle-Stolper writes: France had a choice. To be more or less open; more or less democratic; more or less European. With Emmanuel Macron, it has chosen openess, democracy and Europe.

The real work, the real battle begins in June, with the parliamentary elections. Macron will need to gather a big enough majority to be able to govern – and this with a political movement that did not even exist one year ago. He has promised to field candidates in all 577 constituencies, with at least half of them new recruits to politics. It will be difficult, but on the evening of the first round, nothing looks impossible for this extraordinary candidate. [Continue reading…]

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