Macron-Le Pen debate: key moments in the French election head-to-head | France

The two finalists in France’s presidential elections faced off in a live TV debate that could be crucial in persuading wavering voters – particularly on the left – four days before the decisive second round vote. Here are some of the highlights of what was, on the whole, a far more civilized exchange than their encounter five years ago:

Asked to open the debate by stating what kind of president she would be, Marine Le Pen says she would be “a president of daily life, of the value of work … A president of national fraternity, uniting the national around a collective project. Another choice is possible,” she says. Macron says he has traversed a “difficult time” with the country, a time when “fears, concerns are there”. He aims to continue to do so because “I believe that we can make our country more independent, and stronger”.

Cost of living crisis: Le Pen says seven out of 10 people feel their purchasing power has fallen over the past five years. She says she will cut taxes, reward hard work, and help those who are vulnerable. I will “give the French their money back”, she says, to the tune of €150-200 a month per household. Macron says purchasing power has risen under his presidency but admits “life is becoming more expensive”. He says it is more effective to cap prices than to cut taxes, and notes that Le Pen voted against price caps in parliament. He also notes that Le Pen’s promise to raise salaries by 10% is not in her gift: “It is employers who decide that.” Macron adds that his government’s measures have kept inflation significantly lower in France than in its EU neighbours.

Foreign policy: Le Pen congratulates Macron on the steps he has taken to help the people of Ukraine “in the name of France” but questions EU sanctions on Russia, which she says “will do enormous harm to the French people”. Macron counterattacks, raising Le Pen’s support for Russia’s annexation of Crimea and the fact that his party has taken out Russian bank loans. “You are dependent on Russian power, and Mr Putin”, Macron says. Le Pen insists, vehemently, that the loans do not mean she is influenced by Moscow: “I am a perfectly free woman,” and reminds Macron that he received the Russian leader in Versailles. On Europe, Macron says: “You still want to leave the EU, you just don’t say it any more.” Le Pen denies this: “I want the European Commission to respect sovereign nations – I want to change the EU, not leave it.” Macron accuses her of disguising her true intentions: much of her programme, he says, would be in breach of EU laws and principles: “You cannot change the rules of a club of 27 members all by yourself, just because you are Marine Le Pen . Your project is a project that would shrink France.”

Social policy: On the controversial subject of pensions, Macron suggests progressively extending the retirement age to at 65 by 2031, with exceptions for particularly hard physical jobs. Le Pen calls this “an insufferable injustice”; she says she will place the retirement age at between 60 and 62, with 42 years of contributions required for a full state pension. Macron says his plan is not feasible. Le Pen attacks the president’s “appalling economic record”, dubbing Macron “the Mozart of finance”. She is skeptical about Macron’s claim to have cut unemployment from 9.6% to 7.4%; he defends it with international data. Macron also says he is “pretty proud” of his government’s emergency economic measures to support jobs and businesses during the pandemic and demands to know what Le Pen would have done instead.

Environment: Le Pen says a prime cause of the climate crisis is the global free market; she says her “entire project” is built around “localism”. Macron says she is not logical: fossil fuels are a major contributor to global heating, but she is proposing to cut the VAT on petrol and diesel. He accuses Le Pen of being a climate sceptic, observing: “There is not a single ecological proposal in your project.” He criticizes her proposal to dismantle windfarms that have already been built and ban future ones.

Digital: Le Pen says a European Google “should have been launched years ago”. Macron says France is the country that “produces the most start-ups” in Europe, but adds that Google, Apple and Amazon were born in the US “because of the size of the American market. France’s market has to be all of Europe; anyone who does not like Europe cannot develop digital champions.”

Crime: Le Pen says crime and security is “an absolutely essential issue. The situation in the country is really very bad … We are confronted with real barbarism.” She says this is one reason why she will hold a referendum on immigration because “uncontrolled immigration is one of the main contributory causes of crime in this country”. She demands firmness from judges and 25,000 more cells in the country’s prisons. Macron says his government had “kept its promises”, creating 10,000 jobs in the police and increasing the justice budget by 30% in the past two years.

Marine Le Pen says she would ban the hijab during French presidential debate – video

Secularism: Asked about her promise to ban the wearing of the hijab in public, Le Pen insists she is not anti-Islam but “opposed to the Islamist ideology”. She says Macron’s policies against Islamism “has not been effective”. The hijab is “a uniform imposed by Islamists” and should be banned in public. Macron says he would never ban signs of religious belief in public because doing so would be contrary to France’s constitution: “You will incite a civil war if you ban the veil,” he said. “It makes no sense. It is confusing all the problems; confusing Islam with Islamism.” He says France, “the home of the Enlightenment”, would be the first country in the world to ban religious signs in public space.

Immigration: Le Pen says she will revise the French constitution through a referendum that would introduce a national priority for jobs and benefits, as well as canceling automatic citizenship rights for children of non-nationals born in France, changing the asylum process and the naturalization rules. Macron says none of this could be accomplished without the cooperation of third countries.

Governance: Macron says referendums can be a good idea but insists that the referendum on citizenship and immigration “is not constitutional”. Le Pen insists her plan is constitutional: “Only the people are sovereign,” she says. “You are proposing to change the constitution without going through parliament,” Macron says.

Findings: Macron says the debate was “sincere” and the two candidates had “respectful disagreements”. He says the elections on 24 April was “a referendum for or against the EU, for or against the environment, for what we are.” Le Pen addresses “the French people”, praising her project as “viable, and, I believe, vital”.

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