Macron faces a determined Marine Le Pen in French presidential TV debate
Five of the French presidential candidates faced off in a televised debate Monday night.
Published: March 22, 2017, 8:07 am
Marine Le Pen clashed head-on with her probable presidential opponent, Emmanuel Macron, over immigration, integration and France’s international stature.
The prelude to the election battle lasted for three and a half hours, with Le Pen and Macron standing out as the two main opponents in terms of policy. Socialist Benoît Hamon, the Republicans’ François Fillon, and the far-left candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon faded into the background.
Macron, a former economy minister with no party adherents and who has never held an elected office, appeared nervous and flustered at times faced with a determined and self-assured Le Pen. She concentrated her fire on her inexperienced opponent.
She skillfully forced Macron during the debate to define himself in opposition to her positions on immigration, jobs and the EU. Le Pen pointed out for example that Macron supported the burkini, the full-body swimsuit last summer: “We’ve got Islamists in our country,” Le Pen noted. “The demands are incessant,” she said, including in such matters as food and clothing.
An unsettled Macron responded sheepishly: “I’m not putting words in your mouth. I don’t need a ventriloquist.”
Macron tried his utmost to appear innocent and virtuous, but Le Pen demolished his attempt by highlighting his reputation for empty, longwinded speeches.
Macron had ranted on about protecting France’s “independence” at length when Le Pen fired back: “You’ve spoken for seven minutes, and I have no idea what you said,” she said. “You haven’t said anything. Every time you talk, you take a little of this, and a little of that, and you never settle on anything.”
Nicilas Dhuicq, a member of The Republicans party, told Sputnik News: “The media in France is pro-Macron, because he is a fresh face and he is pro-left. He is trying to present himself as something new and modern but, in fact, his speech was totally void of any real or clear ideas.”
In turn, Macron accused Le Pen of making “enemies out of more than four million French men and women whose religion happens to be Islam”.
Macron also rejected improved relations with Russia: “We have a long story with the United States. Together we have been building peace on the planet … Today I would like to offer more independence. Not to move closer to [Russian President Vladimir] Putin,” Macron declared.
The first round in the presidential election will take place on April 23, and the top two candidates will advance to the second round on May 7. Opinion polls show that Le Pen and Macron are the most likely rivals to make it to the second round.
According to a CSA poll published to coincide with the Treaty of Rome’s 60th anniversary, 66 percent of French voters want to remain in the European Union.
That’s an increase of six percentage points compared to the end of June 2016, shortly after Brexit, matching trends in Austria and the Netherlands, where Euroskeptic candidates were defeated at the polls in elections last December and in March.
In both the latter countries, nationalist candidates had softened their proposals on EU membership in the final weeks of campaigning.
But Le Pen repeated her misgivings once more: “Europe is hampering us, Europe is controlling us,” she said in her closing statement Monday night. “Independence means the right to act for yourselves.”
During the debate she repeatedly stressed her opposition to the European Union, saying she did not want “to become the vice-chancellor of Angela Merkel”.
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