**French progressives dare to hope as maverick Macron surges in polls
From the stage in a packed concert hall, France’s youngest presidential candidate looked up at the thousands of people who had come to witness his trademark thunderous speaking style.
“Never accept those who promote exclusion, hatred or closing in on ourselves!” Emmanuel Macron urged the audience in Lille, a city surrounded by France’s leftwing northern heartlands that are increasingly turning to Marine Le Pen’s far-right Front National. “When the Front National promises to restore security points at the border, they are lying,” he said.
Then the maverick centrist, who is running an independent, outsider campaign, did something no others are doing. He hailed the European Union to a standing ovation. “Europe is us! Brussels is us! We need Europe!” he shouted. Cheering supporters, many in their 20s, stood up waving EU flags. “We need Europe because Europe makes us bigger, because Europe makes us stronger,” Macron told 5,000 supporters, according to his team, calling for a true joint security and defense policy at EU level.
Macron is becoming a growing phenomenon in the highly unpredictable French presidential election campaign. In recent weeks, the maverick former economy minister has begun to rise so steadily in polls that he is now seen as capable of causing a major surprise in the spring vote – perhaps able to reach the final round by knocking out one of the current top contenders: the rightwing, social conservative, free-market reformist François Fillon and the far-right, anti-immigration, anti-EU Marine Le Pen…
With huge numbers turning up to his rallies, rising ratings and one poll this week showing he was France’s most popular politician, the political novice who has promised to revolutionise the way France is governed is being eyed nervously by the other main candidates.**