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Polls Now Open in Historic Presidential Vote in France; Crowds Join Global March For Science. Aired 2-2:30a ET

Aired April 23, 2017 - 02:00   ET


[02:00:00] CYRIL VANIER, CNN ANCHOR: In France, the first round of voting in the presidential election begins now. We'll have a live report from Paris.

Plus, US President Donald Trump defends his actions on the environment. This, as thousands take to the streets across the globe in support of science and the environment.

Thank you for joining us, everyone. I'm Cyril Vanier in the CNN newsroom in Atlanta.

So, polls are opening right now across France for what could be a historic presidential election. The outcome could impact all of Europe and beyond. French citizens living overseas already voted on Saturday and, of course, the threat of terrorism is casting a shadow over this election.

The country is still under a state of emergency and has been on edge over recent attacks, including this one, the fatal shooting of a Paris police officer on Thursday. Security has been increased for Sunday's voting.

CNN Paris correspondent Melissa Bell is at a polling station in Paris city center, the 18th arrondissement. Melissa, in the run-up to the vote, many French people were still undecided, a lot more than is usual at this stage in the cycle. Why is it so hard for voters to make up their minds this year?

MELISSA BELL, CNN PARIS CORRESPONDENT: It's almost as though, Cyril, the political programs on offer are so vastly different and ones you think that they would speak to people pretty clearly one way or another.

But then on the other hand, there is also the sense that there is so much at stake. The path that France could choose - one road is, heads down, sort of path of a referendum and a possible Frexit and huge changes on that front economically apart from anything else.

And then another road which would be one of continuity and a continued sort of openness. And it's almost as though the vastness of the differences is making it difficult for people to decide. And you're right, the undecideds represent a huge proportion of those who are going to be voting here today.

You can see behind me, people are queuing up already, waiting for that door to open, so that they can go and cast their vote. Presumably, these are the ones who've already made up their mind and perhaps determined to go out there and cast their vote.

But, look, this is an election which the candidates are as close to one another in the opinion polls as they are far from one another in terms of what they are offering the French. And there is something, I think, slightly baffling about that.

And many voters have said we are waiting until the very last minute to be convinced by one candidate or another.

VANIER: All right. Melissa, big picture now, and I think this is very important for our international viewers to understand. France is a country that's been mourning the loss - a sense of lost grandeur for years, focusing on the negative, on backsliding in the international order, losing its place in the world.

How do you think that plays into the vote?

BELL: I think that is a massive part of it. And I think that's something that increasingly has been playing on the minds of the French, especially as over the course of the last few years, the sort of economic decline has set in perhaps much more palpably after the crisis of 2008 than it had before.

And so, you have, just as you had in the United Kingdom, just as you had in the American election, a large proportion of the population that is simply not happy with the way that the country has been governed.

One official here made the point to me the other day, we've been talking about this anger that's brought populist causes - one populist pause in the United Kingdom, brought a populist president to power in the United States. Here in France, the voters have been crossed for about 40 years because they voted for successive governments that have simply failed to reform the country.

So, there is that question of France's position on the international stage and then there is the question of how France's governed, by elites that many here in France believe have simply failed to deliver on their pledges.

So, as France goes to the polls, there is a sense that this time it does have to make a difference. Hence those votes for the extreme candidates. On one hand, the far-right Marine Le Pen who does offer a sort of nostalgic vision of a return to what France might have been. Jean-Luc Melenchon also on the far left.

They really kind of meet on a number of different issues. So radical are there proposals, not least on the idea of bringing into question the European Union.

And then in the center, Emmanuel Macron, who perhaps surprisingly has really come to the top of the opinion polls and also offers a difference since he wants to kind of get rid of the old political elite. So, lots of radical change on offer. The question is, how these voters will express themselves in the first round, which will determine also how tense the second round is, how tight it is, and probably how important it is, given the different programs on offer.

VANIER: Alright. Melissa, thank you very much. You've got a long day ahead of you. Results expected in about 12 hours. Of course, you'll be there to break those down when they come in on CNN. Thanks a lot. We'll speak to you a little later.

For now, let's turn to Stefan de Vries. He's a journalist based in Paris. Stefan, European leaders are watching this election with a great deal of concern. They're particularly concerned that Marine Le Pen, the far right candidate, might win because she is anti-EU in so many ways.

[02:05:14] What is it that she doesn't like about the European Union and what would she do?

STEFAN DE VRIES, JOURNALIST: Well, I think her major problem is that it's not necessarily what she doesn't like about the European Union, but the fact that she really, really likes France. She thinks that the European Union is an occupational power of France.

She has said that she's going to give freedom back, independence back to France. She thinks that the European Parliament and Brussels and the other institutions are meddling in national politics. And because of these rules that she says - these European rules, France is unable to have a good economy, unable to guard its borders and unable to guard its immigration.

So, she is basically against all the European rules and she sees European Union as the devil basically, which is quite ironic because she is also a member of the European Parliament. So, she earns her money thanks to European institutions and she uses this money basically to fight the same European institutions.

VANIER: Tell us about another leading contender, Emmanuel Macron. He's something of an unidentified political object. He is running as an independent. That usually doesn't get you much success in French politics. What do our viewers need to know about him?

DE VRIES: Well, what is really interesting about Emmanuel Macron is that he's an independent candidate. Usually, the candidates in France are related to political parties, just like is the case in the United States.

He was an economy minister for two years under Francois Hollande. He quit because he did not agree with Hollande's politics.

And about a year ago, in April 2016, he started his own political movement, not really a movement, another party. Nobody thought that he would stand a chance. Even, like, until five, six months ago, nobody thought that he would be able to be a favorite in the presidential election. And he constructed a movement out of nothing. He's basically the only French politician with an optimistic program, with an optimistic sound, optimistic speech, which is very rare in the country. That's probably the most depressed in the world. He's very young, 39. In French politics, then you're really a baby. And so, he appeals also to younger part of the population or the start-up generation, as we're called here in France.

And he has also a particular thing that's not very French. He's looking for consensus. So, a lot of his opponents say that he doesn't have any ideas because he looks a little bit to left, a little bit to the right to make up his own ideas, which is pretty normal in other countries in Europe, like in Scandinavia, the Benelux and Germany. They all have governments with a consensus. But that's not very French.

So, you could say that he's the most European candidate. He's very outspoken pro-European. During his meetings, you see a lot of European flags, which is really, really rare nowadays in all of Europe.

So, he's young, European and pretty smart.

VANIER: All right. Well, we'll see how far that gets, if he gets in especially to the second round. Thank you very much, Stefan de Vries. We'll speak to you throughout the day. Thanks.

And do stay with CNN for full coverage of the French presidential election. Of course, join us on Sunday evening for a special program, starting just minutes before 8 PM French time. That's 2 PM Eastern time.

Hala Gorani in Paris will bring you the results as they come in with our correspondents. You just saw Melissa Bell there. Jim Bittermann will also be with us. We'll have full coverage on Monday as well.

Moving on now, throngs of people around the world sent a clear message on Earth Day. Scientists and their supporters on every continent organized on Saturday to counter, what they see as, a growing disregard for evidence-based knowledge.

This year's March for Science movement was sparked by US President Donald Trump's plan to scale back Obama era environmental regulations. Mr. Trump has not mentioned the protests directly, but he did tweet this.

"I'm committed to keeping our air and water clean, but always remember that economic growth enhances environmental protection. Jobs matter."

Bill Nye, known best as the Science Guy on TV, took part in the March for Science in Washington and he spoke to CNN's Ana Cabrera about Mr. Trump's views on science.


BILL NYE, SCIENCE EDUCATOR: He doesn't -- the people surrounding him don't fully grasp the opportunities. He's being strongly influenced by the fossil fuel industry and he's not seeing the big picture. Or at least, the people advising him are not seeing the big picture.

The big picture is, we could have 3 million new jobs in the United States if we went to renewable energy -- wind, solar, some tidal and geothermal energy. We could run the entire country renewably and have new jobs in new sectors that would be sustainable. And we would not need to have a military on the other side of the world protecting fossil fuel fields to keep our economy going the way it is and degrade the atmosphere.

[12:10:15] ANA CABRERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: What happens to people in the coal industry then?

NYE: Say it again.

CABRERA: So, what happens to people in the coal industry who say that all sounds good, but my livelihood is on the line then?

NYE: So, what happened to people who were in the horse industry in New York City, in big cities when the citizens decided that the manure was too big a problem to tolerate. They got other jobs. They did other things.


VANIER: Marches were held across the United States. And CNN covered it from coast to coast.

Miguel Marquez was in Washington where thousands gathered to demonstrate. And our Sara Sidner followed the protests in San Francisco, California.


MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, thousands and thousands of scientists and their supporters clogged the streets of Washington. You can see just the end of the March for Science here. It was raining. It was windy. And it was cold. But they stuck with it. They say this is the beginning of a new effort to emphasize science in their communities.

It ended here at the Capitol building. What they were protesting about was the Trump administration itself. The message from the Trump administration, the cuts in funding that the Trump administration is indicating it will take on and specifically federal employees here who undertake science are concerned that their scientific work will be sifted essentially through a political lens.

They say this is a non-partisan March, but it certainly had a hard political edge. Miguel Marquez, CNN, Washington.

SARA SIDNER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Thousands of people here marching and rallying in San Francisco on this Earth Day, here to stand up for science. Some here to talk about what science has done for the world and for humanity. Others here to send a very strong political message to the Trump administration in particular, concerned, for example, about the rollback of EPA regulations. And you hear the crowd go wild. Every now and then, they'll pass some tree or somebody will be singing and everyone starts clapping and yelling. Also, you are seeing a lot of folks in lab coats, you're also seeing a lot of people with very clever signs, but there is a very serious message that science matters.

Back to you, guys.


VANIER: And that's it from us. Thank you for watching CNN NEWSROOM. "Marketplace Africa" is next. Stay with us.