Just days before France's crucial presidential runoff vote, the center-left leaders of Germany, Spain and Portugal urged French voters Thursday to choose centrist President Emmanuel Macron over far-right nationalist rival Marine Le Pen.
And in another sign of the wide international influence the result of Sunday's French presidential vote will have, imprisoned Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny also spoke up a day earlier, urging French voters to back Macron and alleging that Le Pen is too closely linked to Russian authorities.
Le Pen has faced scrutiny before over a 9 million euro ($9.7 million) loan that her party received in 2014 from the First Czech-Russian Bank and her 2017 visit to Moscow to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin before the French presidential runoff that year.
In a column published Thursday in several European newspapers, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez and Portuguese Prime Minister António Costa wrote that Sunday’s vote is “critical for France and all and every one of us in Europe.”
“It’s the election between a democratic candidate who believes that France’s strength broadens in a powerful and autonomous European Union and an extreme-right candidate who openly sides with those who attack our freedom and democracy, values based on the French ideas of Enlightenment,” the joint comment said without mentioning Macron or Le Pen by name.
Social Democrat Scholz and Socialists Sánchez and Costa wrote that Europe “is facing a change of era” due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and that “populists and the extreme right” are viewing Putin “as an ideological and political model, replicating his chauvinist ideas.”
“They have echoed his attacks on minorities and diversity and his goal of nationalist uniformity,” they said, according to the article in Spain’s leading newspaper El País. “We must not forget that, no matter how much those politicians are now trying to distance themselves from the Russian aggressor."
The column ended by appealing to unity to “maintain prosperity and well-being” in Europe: “That’s why we need France to be on our side,” the leaders wrote.
Macron is not taking any chances by being complacent, even with polling data for his camp in recent days that show a stabilized lead against his rival.
On Thursday, he was visiting with voters in the multicultural suburb of Paris of Saint Denis. Le Pen is speaking with voters in Arras ahead of her final rally there.
The two rivals clashed bitterly in Wednesday’s televised debate.
Macron argued that the loan Le Pen’s party received in 2014 from a Czech-Russian bank made her unsuitable to deal with Moscow amid its invasion of Ukraine. He also said her plans to ban Muslim women in France from wearing headscarves in public would trigger “civil war” in the country that has the largest Muslim population in Western Europe.
Le Pen, in turn, sought to appeal to voters struggling with surging prices amid the fallout of Russia’s war in Ukraine, which she criticized. She said bringing down the cost of living would be her priority if elected as France’s first woman president.
Follow all AP stories on France's 2022 presidential election at https://apnews.com/hub/french-election-2022