Sunday, May 22

Macron and Le Pen expose opposing views on the European Union in the French presidential debate


It was one of the most anticipated moments of the French presidential campaign. The two finalists, Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen faced their projects in a single televised debate, as happened five years ago. A memory marked by a disastrous performance by the far-right candidate, who had been wrong on several of the issues, had been lost in her notes and ended up trying to make up for it with theatrical gestures. The “greatest failure” of her political career, as Le Pen herself recently admitted. In this case there was not the same shipwreck as in 2017. The general tone was also less tense. However, the president once again demonstrated a greater mastery of numbers and issues than his rival.

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They began by addressing the issue of purchasing power, central to the entire campaign. Le Pen began the debate by criticizing Macron’s balance sheet. The candidate of the National Association (AN), who presented herself as the “spokesperson for the French”, cited the carbon tax that triggered the yellow vest protests. In addition, she quickly included Europe in the debate, even before the segment dedicated to international politics: in response to the increase in household spending on energy, Marine Le Pen proposes “exiting the European electricity market”.

The second block was that of international politics, especially sensitive for Marine Le Pen, who for years has maintained a favorable position towards Vladimir Putin. At that point the debate began to fray. Emmanuel Macron mentioned the credit that Le Pen’s party received from a Russian bank (First Czech Russian Bank). “You are not independent of Russia,” the president said. Her rival replied claiming to be a “free woman” and a “patriot” and denouncing “falsehoods”, despite the fact that she acknowledged the existence of the loan. Just a few hours before the Russian opponent Alexei Navalny had tweeted describing the links that this bank had with people close to Putin.



Emmanuel Macron also recalled that MEPs from the Lepenist party voted against financial support for Ukraine in the European Parliament. Although Le Pen again denied the claim, the truth is that in February this year, all the AN MEPs voted against a resolution approving the granting of a loan of 1.2 billion euros to Ukraine. Macron recalled that five years ago Le Pen defended leaving the euro and the European Union. “We need a stronger and more integrated Europe. And for Europe to move forward, we need a trusted Franco-German axis. What we did with Chancellor Merkel, we are doing today with Chancellor Scholz.”

Economic and social balance

Le Pen replied by denying the existence of “European sovereignty because there is no European people.” Although he stated that now he “wish to remain in the European Union” to promote the idea of ​​a “Europe of Nations”. He criticized the use of posted workers within the EU and explained that he intends to reform the community space “looking for new allies”, in a veiled reference to a rapprochement with Hungary and Poland and a distancing from Germany.

The part dedicated to the social model gave rise to a battle of figures on the reform of the retirement age outlined by Emmanuel Macron and with which he proposes raising the minimum age (subject to certain conditions) to 65 years. He measure that arouses a strong rejection among the French. Marine Le Pen attacked the economic and social balance of her rival, her response to the crisis and defended the need “for economic patriotism”. “In reality, during the five years in office, Emmanuel Macron has expected crises. Only crises manage to make him move”.

Climatohypocrisy” and “barbarism”

The candidate of the former National Front responded to the accusation of “climate-sceptic” by calling the president a “climate-hypocrite” and declaring that he practices “punitive ecology.” Marine Le Pen explained that it is “hypocrisy to refuse to see that it is the economic model based on free trade that is responsible for a large part of France’s greenhouse gas emissions.”

Le Pen criticized Macron’s delay in his pro-nuclear turn and repeatedly attacked renewable energy, particularly wind power, “which costs the French dearly” and promises to freeze any new project. He advocated “slowing down the ecological transition” so that the French can adapt. Emmanuel Macron repeated his commitment to appoint a prime minister in charge of ecological planning, assisted by two ministers in charge of energy and territorial planning.

Immigration

In recent weeks, Marine Le Pen had avoided expanding on the emblematic issues of her party: immigration and insecurity. The strategy of attracting potential leftist voters was incompatible. But in the debate she took up some of her usual arguments. “We are surrounded by insecurity,” she began. The far-right candidate spoke of “authentic barbarism” in an “increasingly savage” France. “Anarchic and massive immigration contributes to aggravating insecurity in our country.” She also again pointed out her willingness to fight “Islamist ideology”.

At that point Emmanuel Macron criticized that Le Pen makes an amalgamation on immigration, security and religion. “It goes from an issue about the veil to terrorism, to return to Islamism and from there talk about foreigners.” “He is creating a system of equivalences along the way that mixes all the problems”, accused the president.

Talks

Until the last moment, the two finalists in the presidential election had negotiated down to the smallest detail. In fact, no agreement was reached on the order of the topics and had to be drawn. The debate was opened on purchasing power, and not on international issues -especially the War in Ukraine- as the televisions had proposed and to which Marine Le Pen’s team had opposed. Another point of disagreement was the plans in which the candidate who does not have the floor is focused. Initially, Le Pen’s team had also opposed it, with the memory of the 2017 debate in which she was seen lost among her notes.

This time the AN candidate had taken a break from her campaign agenda to prepare for the appointment. After a slight false start – she spoke up during the headline music – Marine Le Pen spoke about her encounters with “the French people” over the last five years, whose anxiety and “suffering” she perceives. The president left with the will to show less aggressiveness than five years ago. Throughout the debate he conceded several “I agree with what he has said”, “as he has said well”, or “he is right about that” in a conciliatory tone. “I fight his ideas and those of his party but I respect him as a person”, he affirmed to close the debate.



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