Former President Obama weighed in on France’s heated presidential runoff Thursday, saying he supports Emmanuel Macron over his far-right rival because the centrist candidate “appeals to people’s hopes and not their fears.”
In a video message posted on Macron’s Twitter account, Obama said he wasn’t planning to get involved in many elections now that he doesn’t have to run for office.
But, he said, “The French election is very important to the future of France and the values that we care so much about. Because the success of France matters to the entire world.”
Obama has spoken before of his concern about the rise of nationalist, populist movements like the National Front, to which Macron’s challenger, Marine Le Pen, belongs. During his last trip to the region as president in November, he said, “We are going to have to guard against a rise in a crude sort of nationalism or ethnic identity or tribalism that is built around an ‘us’ and a ‘them.’”
In the video, Obama praised Macron for standing up for liberal values.
“He put forward the vision for the important role that France plays in Europe and around the world,” he said. “And he has committed to a better future for French people. He appeals to people’s hopes, and not their fears.”
Obama closed with a few words in French.
“En Marche,” he said, or “Onwards,” the name of Macron’s political movement, and “Vive la France,” or “Long live France.”
The response from the National Front was dismissive.
“The oligarchy wants you to vote for Macron,” a close advisor to Le Pen, Florian Philippot, said in a tweet. “Let’s block them.”
Le Pen has vowed to defend France against what she describes as “savage” immigration and globalization.
“People may say I’m old-fashioned, but I like France as it is, with its culture, heritage, language and borders,” she said in a blistering televised debate Wednesday night. “Without these borders we aren’t free and independent.”
Macron has a commanding lead in opinion polls heading into Sunday’s vote. But the candidates have been competing fiercely for the 18% of French voters who were still undecided or said they would not bother to vote, according to an Elabe poll.
On Thursday, Macron filed a complaint with the Paris prosecutor’s office over allegations circulating online that he has a secret bank account in the Bahamas, claims he contends are “fake news” designed to influence the election. Le Pen referred to the rumors during Wednesday’s debate.
“That is defamation,” Macron replied.
2:10 p.m.: This article was updated with more details from the Obama video.
11:25 a.m.: This article was updated with staff reporting, including reaction from the National Front.
This article was originally published at 7:20 a.m.