French lawmakers vote on Ukraine support in ‘risky’ Macron bet

By Thomson Reuters Mar 12, 2024 | 6:32 AM

By John Irish

PARIS (Reuters) – French lawmakers will say on Tuesday whether they support a security accord with Ukraine, in a vote that is non-binding but closely watched in France and beyond.

Ukrainian officials have told Reuters they are worried that a vote that was not overwhelmingly in favour of Kyiv would be negative symbolically and could hurt President Emmanuel Macron’s efforts to ramp up his country’s support in the coming months.

The 10-year security pact with Ukraine includes commitments by Paris to deliver more arms, train soldiers and send up to 3 billion euros ($3.2 billion) in military aid to Ukraine in 2024.

Macron has also adopted a tougher stance towards Russia, urging Ukraine’s allies to urgently do more and creating a backlash among some by not ruling out the presence of Western troops in Ukraine.

The far-right National Rally (RN) have said they would abstain in Tuesday’s vote and the hard left France Unbowed (LFI) is also opposed to the security pact.

“I do not want Emmanuel Macron to have free rein,” RN chief Jordan Bardella said, accusing Macron of leading France onto an “irresponsible, dangerous path.”

Macron has pushed for the vote in a bid to try and alienate the far-right and far-left ahead of European parliamentary elections in June over their perceived less supportive positioning towards Ukraine.

But the new positioning for a leader who just 18 months ago warned against humiliating Russia has raised eyebrows.

Polls forecast the RN would largely win the EU election in France.

“They (Macron’s Renaissance party) seem to have decided to run a (EU election) campaign based on fear rather than on ideas,” EuroIntelligence analysts said in a note, pointing to the lack of any discussion on themes core to voters, ranging from cost of living to immigration.

“For Macron turning his party into the be-prepared-for-war party is a risky bet.”

A survey from pollster Elabe on Sunday showed a drop off in French public opinion support for financial and military aid for Ukraine. Some 52% said they favoured a role for non-combat French troops in Ukraine but 79% opposed sending combat troops.

Macron’s backers say it is vital to clarify everybody’s positions as the war enters its third year.

“In the face of Russia we cannot have a posture that is weak,” Defence Minister Sebastien Lecornu told Le Parisien newspaper on Tuesday. “RN and LFI must stop being double- dealing.”

Renaissance, which in some polls is 12 points behind the RN, has focused solely on portraying Marine Le Pen’s party as Russia’s pawn in France since the start of the election campaign.

President Volodymyr Zelenskiy on Monday gave an interview to 24-hour French news channel BFM TV and daily newspaper Le Monde in which he said Russia’s recent gains had been stopped and promised that France’s children would not die in Ukraine.

(Reporting by John Irish; Editing by Ingrid Melander)