Macron's party reclaims top spot from Le Pen in European vote poll

French President Emmanuel Macron speaks without his suit coat during a meeting with mayors from rural Normandy as part of the launching of the "Great National Debate" designed to find ways to calm social unrest in the country, in Grand Bourgtheroulde, France, January 15, 2019. REUTERS/Philippe Wojazer/Pool

PARIS (Reuters) - French President Emmanuel Macron’s party moved back ahead of Marine Le Pen’s far-right party in a poll of voting intentions for the May 2019 European parliament elections, the latest survey showing signs of a rebound in Macron’s popularity.

An Ifop poll published on Wednesday showed Macron’s centrist movement with 23 percent of voting intentions compared to 18 percent in the last poll in early December while Le Pen’s Rassemblement National (National Rally, or RN) -- formerly the National Front -- fell to 21 percent from 24 percent previously.

It is the first time Macron’s Republique en Marche (Republic On the Move) party has come ahead of the RN since late October, when Le Pen jumped ahead of Macron for the first time.

A number of other polls have shown a rebound in Macron’s popularity in the last few weeks, in a sign parts of the public approve of the harder stance he has taken against “yellow-vest” protesters after riots in Paris and other French cities.

Macron decried the violence of a “hateful mob” in his New Year address, while his government has branded the protesters agitators.

On Sunday, Le Pen launched her campaign for the May 26 election with an appeal to the “yellow vest” movement that has rattled the government.

The increase in voting intentions for Macron’s party coincides with a decline for the conservative Republicans party, which has lost 5 points since August, to 10 percent. It is followed by the far-left France Insoumise at 9.5 percent.

The hard-right Debout la France is on 7.5 percent, while the Greens are seen getting 6.5 percent of the vote and the Socialists, which held the French presidency less than two years ago, trail behind at 4 percent.

Reporting by Michel Rose; editing by Richard Lough