Macron’s new leading role in Europe laid bare after Ukraine invasion: Ahead of the game

French election: Macron faces 12 contenders as race begins

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Mr Macron has played a central role in diplomatic efforts to end Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, with the French President having reportedly spoken to Vladimir Putin at least 17 times in the past four months. The French President has insisted the objective of such dialogue with Putin is to “break his logic” while keeping a line of communication open to discuss issues including humanitarian corridors and a possible way out of the conflict. In the same time period, the French leader has also spoken 25 times to Volodymyr Zelensky, Ukraine’s president, and met with him in Kyiv and Brussels.

Mr Macron’s diplomatic efforts have also seen him consult closely with US President Joe Biden, and play a central role when NATO met for emergency talks last week.

On the one hand, Mr Macron, who holds the rotating presidency of the EU, is naturally assuming those responsibilities.

However, given the UK’s exit from the bloc and Germany’s leadership transition, France has become the leading figure in Europe, demonstrated in its response to Putin’s aggression, according to Dr Lees.

Speaking to Express.co.uk, Dr Lees said: “It’s certainly the case that the response of Germany was quite slow to the sense of potential hostility from Russia.

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“Clearly that’s now changed with an increase in defence spending and a sense of really trying to play a leading role in NATO, certainly in arms and other support to Ukraine.

“I think that Macron initially was clearly ahead of the game in terms of his leadership role there ‒ leading Germany.

“He has been consistently one of the strongest voices in Europe in that regard.

“Macron has always wanted to have that leadership role. This has given him the opportunity to do so.”

He added: “Macron is leading Europe really.

“What used to be the case was where Germany went, France would follow. Now it’s where France goes, Germany follows.”

Mr Macron has been favourite to win France’s two-round general election next month, and become the first President to win a second term in 20 years.

Meanwhile, his diplomatic attempts at finding a resolution to the Ukraine war have given the leader a boost in the polls that has been likened to Margaret Thatcher’s surge in popularity after the Falklands War.

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With less than two weeks to go before France goes to the polls, the incumbent has finally begun campaigning, and has scheduled a huge rally in Paris on Saturday.

On Mr Macron’s surge in popularity, Dr Lees explained: “For Macron, it’s a combination of the long-standing French tradition of enjoying their President being a world leader and international statesman in the image of Charles de Gaulle when he was President.

“That’s the long-standing tradition and Macron’s clearly benefited from that.

“The timing for Macron couldn’t be better as he already looked like he was likely to win this forthcoming presidential election.

“There weren’t really any rivals to challenge him suitably to take the keys to the Élysée Palace.”

“But this is a great opportunity for him to project that international presence, that world statesman figure.”

However, despite far-right rival Marine Le Pen’s campaign having been tarred by her past links to Putin, and a falling out with her niece Marion Marechal Le Pen, the National Rally leader has gained ground on Mr Macron in recent days.

Two polls published this week suggest Mr Macron’s estimated margin of victory is sharply narrowing over Ms Le Pen, who has re-focused her campaign on France’s cost of living crisis.

A poll by the Ifop-Fiducial group, published in Paris Match on Monday, indicated that if the pair faced each other in the run-off Mr Macron would win by just 53 percent.

The poll projected Ms Le Pen to gain 47 percent of the vote, a three-point rise from polls by Ifop-Fiducial just the week before.

Then on Tuesday, a different poll conducted by Ipsos Sopra-Steria projected Mr Macron to win by 56 percent to Le Pen’s 44 percent, seeing the National Rally leader also up by three points in a week according to this pollster.

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