PARIS (Reuters) – Centrist candidate Emmanuel Macron cemented his status as favourite to win the French presidency on Friday as his conservative rival, Francois Fillon, came under renewed pressure to pull out because of a deepening financial scandal.
For the first time since the line-up of candidates became clear, a poll showed Macron finishing ahead of far-right leader Marine Le Pen in the opening round. It came a day after he promised a blend of fiscal discipline and stimulus to strengthen a feeble economic recovery.
As the former investment banker’s campaign gained momentum, Fillon’s camp was mired in a crisis of confidence after a string of resignations among his close advisers and backers.
The same poll showed that if Fillon were to step down and be replaced by another former prime minister, Alain Juppe, it would be Juppe winning the first round, with Le Pen eliminated.
A source in Juppe’s entourage said the 71-year-old – who lost to Fillon in the November primaries – was “ready to take part in the search for a solution”.
Juppe, himself convicted in 2004 for misuse of public funds, has until now ruled out a comeback. “No is no,” he tweeted last month.
Veteran centrist Francois Bayrou, who initially backed Juppe before deciding last month to endorse Macron, told France 3 television he would stick with Macron if Juppe replaced Fillon, according to extracts of an interview to be shown on Sunday.
The euro climbed to a two-week high and the spread between French and German 10-year government bond yields fell to its lowest in a month after the Odoxa poll showed Macron pulling ahead of Le Pen, suggesting investors now saw a far-right victory as less likely. Continued…