France's Macron launches door-to-door campaign as presidency battle looms

PARIS (Reuters) - French Economy Minister Emmanuel Macron launched what he called a “Great March” on Saturday, a door-to-door campaign across France to collect voters’ grievances ahead of 2017 presidential elections, in a new sign of his political ambitions.

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The 38-year-old former investment banker has kept the country guessing about the true nature of his “En Marche” (Forward) party and refuses to confirm or deny whether he will run for president a year from now.

But the initiative by one of the Socialist government’s most popular ministers will fuel speculation that he is eying the Elysee as the ratings of his president, Francois Hollande, fall.

Some 60 teams of 10-40 volunteers will knock on voters’ doors in about 50 cities across France, asking questions such as “What do you think doesn’t work in France?”, a spokeswoman for “En Marche” party told Reuters.

Macron unveiled his movement in April, saying he wants it to be neither of the left nor the right. He said it had so far been joined by 50,000 people.

The former Rothschild partner aims to garner about 100,000 complaints and proposals by the end of the summer to establish what he calls a “diagnosis” for the country - something that would look very much like a manifesto.

“Our goal is to give a voice to the voiceless, to draw up the portrait of an invisible France, the one you don’t see in political parties,” Macron said in a video message posted on Facebook.

Macron has won fans among France’s EU partners through his enthusiasm for pro-business reforms in which he has sought to “unblock” heavily regulated sectors of the economy and to tackle the rigidity of the French labor market.

“The problem in France is not that politics is only for the rich,” “En Marche” told supporters this month in an email seen by Reuters. “The problem is that politics is only for those already in place.”

Macron is far more popular in France than Hollande who will decide by the end of this year whether to be the main candidate for the left and who looks unlikely to make the decisive second-round run-off.

But Macron is not an elected lawmaker and does not have an established political machine behind him, meaning he cannot count on public funding like parties with elected officials.

“But let’s not be naive, changing politics to transform society requires organization. And that costs money,” the email said, urging members to make donations. Almost 400,000 euros had been raised so far, it said.

Macron told Les Echos this week some 2,000 donors had already made contributions to “En Marche”, which are capped at 7,500 euros ($8,300) per person per year under French law.

Writing by Maya Nikolaeva; Editing by Richard Balmforth