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Macron’s path to re-election runs through France’s outer suburbs

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ON THE FRINGES of better Paris, the place city concrete meets farmed fields, lies the suburb of Saint-Brice-sous-Forêt. Gently curved streets of two-storey homes, every with a parking area and storage, cowl what have been as soon as apple and pear orchards. The slim excessive avenue has only one café, and a “Tacky Pizza” takeaway joint; however there’s a drive-in Burger King on the outskirts. That is what the mayor, Nicolas Leleux, calls “the border of two universes”: metropolis and countryside. It captures the troubles and hopes of center France, and exemplifies an important electoral battleground for April’s presidential ballot.

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Shy of extremes, the suburb tilts to the centre-right. In 2017 Saint-Brice-sous-Forêt most well-liked the centre-right presidential candidate, François Fillon, within the first spherical, however backed the centrist Emmanuel Macron in opposition to the nationalist Marine Le Pen within the second. In 2020 it changed a centre-right mayor with Mr Leleux, a former navy submariner who belongs to Mr Macron’s occasion. Locals, in different phrases, could also be torn on the presidential ballot this time between a vote for Mr Macron, assuming he runs for re-election, and his centre-right rival, Valérie Pécresse. A widely known determine domestically, she is the president of the Ile-de-France area, which encompasses town of Paris itself and Saint-Brice-sous-Forêt, 17 kilometres (11 miles) away.

Lower than three months earlier than polling day, nevertheless, speak is all about covid-19. No one spontaneously raises nationwide politics. Day by day new infections are nonetheless excessive throughout France, and shifting nationwide guidelines about testing have brought on chaos in faculties. The mayor has opened a municipal testing centre to strive to ease the stress. Residents additionally fear about heating payments and petty crime. The brutalist tower blocks of Sarcelles, a tough banlieue north of Paris, will not be distant, and there are nagging considerations about “imported crime”. But worry of immigration, which the 2 nationalist candidates—Ms Le Pen and Eric Zemmour—insist tops French considerations, appears largely absent.

Not that everyone is proud of Mr Macron. On a roundabout on the sting of city, ringed by automobile parks serving an enormous hypermarket, Agnès, Josée Laure and Evelyne are standing defiantly within the chilly, their hoods up in opposition to the wintry drizzle. Subsequent to them lies a yellow-painted concrete block, which reads “ Gilets jaunes St Brice: we received’t hand over”. It’s a vestige of the “yellow jackets” rebellion, which emerged throughout the nation in 2018 in opposition to an increase within the carbon tax on motor gas. The protests have subsided elsewhere. However this group continues to be lively. “We put up our banners each Saturday,” says Agnès, a 48-year-old health-care employee, “however we pack them up after, and don’t depart any mess behind.”

Their present gripe is a brand new nationwide rule, launched on January 24th, which makes vaccination obligatory for entry to eating places, cafés, long-distance trains and different public locations. Solely one of many trio says she is vaccinated; the others take into account it an “infringement of our liberties”, if not an try “to poison the inhabitants”. Above all, they’re indignant on the method Mr Macron has favoured the wealthy and displayed “contempt” in the direction of odd folks. As a spur to getting folks jabbed, he just lately stated he needed to emmerder (piss off) the unvaccinated. As for Mrs Pécresse, “she’s simply the carbon copy” of him.

April’s election appears set to be decided on the appropriate, as Mrs Pécresse, Ms Le Pen and Mr Zemmour battle for a spot within the run-off in opposition to the president. Mr Macron constantly tops first-round voting intentions; the varied candidates of the left are trailing far behind. If that’s the case, disillusioned left-leaning voters resembling these on the Saint-Brice roundabout could effectively find yourself abstaining. Josée Laure is contemplating this. Evelyne says she is going to vote for Jean-Luc Mélenchon, a perennial hard-left candidate with a knack for the late surge.

What comes into sharpest aid in Saint-Brice is the collision between the wants of each day life, notably the automobile, and the need for a greener future. A spot of quiet middle-of-the-road aspiration, it evokes what Mr Leleux calls the “French dream”. “Individuals have left town to come right here, not to dwell in a tower block, however in a home with somewhat backyard, with neighbours, and a spot to barbecue.” Almost 88% of households personal at the least one automobile. His activity, he explains, is to reconcile that dream with the necessity to scale back automobile utilization. Few can afford an electrical car. Mr Leleux is planning cycle lanes and constructing a motorcycle shelter on the railway station, on a direct line to Paris. But on a chilly day in January there are not any cycles to be seen on the streets.

The Ile-de-France area, says Othman Nasrou, one in all Mrs Pécresse’s vice-presidents and in her marketing campaign staff, is “like a small France”: it consists of many car-dependent suburbs, so she is conversant in these complexities. Mrs Pécresse has proposed subsidies for households to purchase electrical automobiles, and mocked those that deride automobile use from the consolation of their close by Parisian metro station. Anne Hidalgo, mayor of Paris and the Socialists’ presidential candidate, is on simply 3% in nationwide polls.

Trendy Parisian speak of the perfect “15-minute metropolis” is all very effectively, says Mr Leleux. The fact is that to purchase a baguette in underneath 15 minutes with no automobile isn’t doable in a lot of suburbia. If anyone has realized this, it ought to be Mr Macron, who received an enormous majority of the vote in huge cities in 2017, however later confronted months of gilets jaunes protests. For now, insists the mayor, locals credit score the president nonetheless with having been a “good captain” in tough occasions. In April, it’s on the streets of center France, not the parquet-floored salons of Paris or its tenements, that such a declare shall be examined.

This text appeared within the Europe part of the print version underneath the headline “Highway-testing the French dream”

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