President Emmanuel Macron of France is to place the environment at the heart of his European election manifesto as his party seeks to overtake the far-Right and drum up interest in a faltering campaign just three weeks before the crunch vote.
The outspoken Europhile is banking on coming first in the May 26 election for the European Parliament to prove that the “yellow vest” political crisis of the past six months is now behind him and that his plans for an EU “renaissance” are not dead in the water.
Polls suggest he is running neck and neck with Marine Le Pen’s National Rally, both on around 22 per cent, with some placing her up to two points in the lead.
His Republic on the Move party, which has named its European election campaign "Renaissance", was due to is due to unveil its manifesto on Thursday but the 79-point plan was leaked to French media ahead of time.
Among these is a pledge to rule out trade deals with countries which are not signed up to the Paris climate accord, chief among them America after Donald Trump pulled out calling it “bad” for the country. France issued the same objection last month but failed to stop the EU agreeing to start trade talks on industrial goods.
Other green measures include investing “at least a thousand billion euros” in developing “clean energy and transport, to renovate housing and support workers in sectors under transition” by 2024, as well a creating a “European climate bank” to channel EU savings towards the green economy and slapping a carbon tax on EU imports.
Environment issues featured low in Mr Macron’s presidential campaign. He scored plaudits after the election for promising to “make our planet great again” only to suffer a major blow when his environment minister resigned last autumn accusing the government of green washing. He was then accused of punishing poor motorists by slapping a new green tax on diesel and petrol, a move that helped ignite the yellow vest revolt.
In a sign of his green swing, Mr Macron placed the former head of WWF France, Pascal Canfin number two on his EU election list.
Analysts at Teneo Intelligence said: “Macron relies heavily on new, urban, pro-EU middle-class voters…These voters also care for the environment while strongly opposing U.S. President Donald Trump on ideational (sic) grounds.”
Other manifesto measures include taxing digital giants, “advancing towards a European army” and launching a major conference to decide which EU countries wish to forge ahead with deeper integration.
While the official EU election campaign only starts on May 13, candidates have already been touring France and appearing on television.
The Macron camp is suffering from the lacklustre performance of the head of its EU list, Nathalie Loiseau, the former Europe minister, who has made a series of gaffes and underwhelmed during a TV debate.
The prime minister, Edouard Philippe, was drafted in to breathe new life into her campaign at a rally on Monday.
On the other hand, the Le Pen list is being run by a punchy, if inexperienced, 23-year old, Jordan Bardella.
Mr Macron is also taking a hit from the the renascent Right-wing Republicans, whose list leader is a socially conservative, photogenic, Catholic philosopher called François-Xavier Bellamy. A string of “Macron-compatible” centre-Right mayors who the president had hoped to woo, including Nice’s Christian Estrosi, have come out in support of Mr Bellamy who has gained ground in the polls. He is now on around 14 per cent.
Mr Macron is reportedly champing at the bit to get involved himself. On Tuesday night, he made a surprise appearance at a dinner among EU candidates and he may reportedly take part in a campaign rally.
The French president, who appeared on electoral victory night to the strains of Beethoven’s Ode to Joy, the EU anthem, had ambitious plans for greater EU integration with Germany but most of these have failed to progress.
His initial plan to shake up the status quo in the EU parliament by poaching from the main Right and Left groups as he did in France’s National Assembly also looks increasingly shaky.
His vow to fight Euroscepticism and nationalism has placed him on collision course with the likes of Hungary’s Viktor Orban and Italy’s Matteo Salvini while at home his rivals hope to turn the election into a vote against his presidency.