Outgoing President Emmanuel Macron vowed Saturday to fight divisive forces of the far-right and defend secularism -- the defining principle of the French Republic -- in his only campaign rally one week before elections.
Addressing supporters at the La Defense Arena stadium in Nanterre, on the outskirts of Paris, Macron criticized "the forces of division” who pitted the “French against each other, those born in France and others, the most modest to the richest, the urban and rural.”
Macron, who has been busy trying to negotiate a solution to the Russia-Ukraine war, has stayed away from campaigning. This is his only rally before voting scheduled for April 10 and April 24.
Stressing that “hate and alternative truths have become commonplace in public debate," Macron appealed to voters to take up the challenge to fight them, as “the extremist danger today is even greater.
“We have become accustomed to seeing anti-Semitic authors, other racists, parading on certain television sets, magnifying all day long, do not whistle them, fight them with ideas, with respect," he said in a thinly veiled attack against rival far-right popular candidates Marine le Pen and Erick Zemmour.
Macron referred to the white supremacist conspiracy known as the “great replacement theory,” propagated by French author Renaud Camus which claims the majority of the white Christian European population is being replaced by the immigration of colored non-Europeans, during his speech using the terms "great stunting” or “great degradation.”
He warned far-right politicians not to “dilute our forces in divisions" as the strength of "a united France” lies in its “fraternity” and “plurality."
Attacking Euro-skeptic politics of the extreme right-wing in times when Europe is facing security threats from Russian aggression, he asserted the French are proud to be Europeans and proud to brandish the star-spangled blue flag alongside the national flag.
He promised to uphold the values of “liberty, equality, fraternity and secularism," which he said were the best responses to the challenges of the times.
Macron defended his record during the “rough five years” which marked the first term of his government, with the slogan: “We did it.”
In the nearly two-hour speech, Macron made several commitments if he is re-elected to a second term.
That includes raising the minimum retirement pension to €1,100 ($1,212) and the retirement age to 65, increasing government aid to single mothers by 50%, recruiting 50,000 nurses and nursing assistants for the health care of the elderly, boosting employment figures, increasing purchasing power, higher bonus for workers and self-employed and carrying out essential institutional reforms.
The opposition has accused Macron of pandering to extreme right-wing politics in France.
Working-class far-left politician Philipe Poutou, who is contesting the elections for a third time, held Macron’s politics responsible for the rise of the far-right.
In an interview Saturday with BFMTV news, he said the president has attacked working classes, worsened poverty and unemployment, and targeted foreigners, which is the terrain of the far-right.