French presidential candidates Marine Le Pen and Emmanuel Macron released a barrage of attacks on each other is Wednesday’s televised debate. The debate, which turned ill-tempered from the get go, saw little of policy discussion and a sea of personal attacks.
Only head to head debate before Sunday’s polls presented two opposite visions of France's future and ways of handling terrorism.
Here are the highlights of Wednesday’s debate between far-right Le Pen and pro-EU Macron:
Far-right leader Marine Le Pen accused centrist rival Emmanuel Macron of being soft on Islamic extremism as the candidates discussed security in a bad-tempered presidential debate ahead of this weekend’s runoff.
Le Pen said Macron was “against all tough propositions” to improve security and fight extremism after a series of deadly attacks in France.“You have an indulgent attitude towards Islamic fundamentalism,” Le Pen added.
Saying France’s fight against terror would be his priority if elected, Macron countered that Le Pen’s anti-terror plans would play into the hands of the extremists and divide France. This is “what the terrorists expect. It’s civil war, it’s division, it’s heinous speech,” he said.
The Merkel factor
Le Pen accused Macron to be a front for German Chancellor Angela Merkel and said if elected he will be in Merkel’s pocket. “Either way France will be led by a woman; either me or Madame Merkel,” she said derisively.
‘High priestess of fear’
Macron portrayed Marine Le Pen as an empty shell, shaky on details, seeking to profit politically by stirring up hatred and the anger of French voters — a dominant theme of the campaign — without feasible proposals. He called her “the high priestess of fear.”
“Your project consists of telling the French people, ‘This person is horrible.’ It’s to cast dirt. It’s to lead a campaign of lies and falsifications. Your project lives off fear and lies. That’s what sustains you. That’s what sustained your father for decades. That’s what nourished the extreme right and that is what created you,” Macron said. “You are its parasite.”
Macron and Le Pen clashed over France’s finances, its future and their respective proposals for tackling its ills. Macron scoffed at her monetary plans, saying reintroducing a franc for purchases within France but allowing big firms to continue using the shared euro currency that Le Pen wants to abandon made no sense.
She dismissed his economic proposals with sweeping critiques and bristled at his suggestions that she didn’t understand how finance and business works.
US or Russia: Next French ally
Moderate Macron showed preference to working with US President Donald Trump over Russian president Vladimir Putin. He said he wants work with US on intelligence-sharing, at the United Nations and on climate change. He spoke less favourably of Putin, saying on many subjects “we don’t have the same values and priorities.”
Le Pen, on the other hand, saw “no reason to be in a cold war with Russia.”
Despite no major party backing, 39-year-old Macron is ahead in pre-polls by at least 20 points. Le Pen needed to land knockouts to secure lead in this debate but failed to do so.
Nevertheless the 2-hour, 30-minute debate was an intense prime-time slugfest. Both sought to destabilise each other; neither really succeeded. For the large cohort of voters who remain undecided, the debate at least had the merit of making abundantly clear the stark choice facing them at the ballot box on Sunday.