Will the debate between the two rounds be decisive when the French go to the polls for the second round of the presidential election? President-candidate Emmanuel Macron and National Rally candidate Marine Le Pen clashed for nearly three hours on Wednesday 20 April in France 2 and TF1, four days before the deadline.
Five years ago, the poster was the same : the debate had been very heated and Marine Le Pen’s performance highly criticized – she herself speaks of it as a failure. The confrontation was more polished on the form, but the two candidates exposed clear differences, in sometimes sharp terms. Here are the main takeaways.
A calmer debate than in 2017, but Emmanuel Macron sometimes called to order
We knew she wanted to display serenity, he was warned about the risk of appearing arrogant. The lesson of the heated debate of 2017 was clearly learned by the two candidates, and the exchanges between Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen were more peaceful. On certain subjects, however, the opposition was frontal, and prone to interruptions, in particular on the part of the incumbent president. “Don’t Teach Me A Lesson”even replied Marine Le Pen when he had just interrupted her by asking her “to stop confusing everything” during a debt debate.
As announced, Marine Le Pen had more restraint in her attacks than during her previous debate. However, she was hesitant in her answers at the start of the evening, in the wake of her false start: the RN candidate had started an introductory remark without waiting for the question from the two presenters. The “uh” that punctuated his first answers disappeared over the course of the evening.
A first confrontation on the price freeze
A first clash quickly opposed Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen when discussing purchasing power. The RN candidate defended her proposal to exempt companies from employers’ contributions to encourage them to increase wages below three times the minimum wage by 10%. “But you don’t increase income, because you don’t administer salaries”then interrupted Emmanuel Macron. “But you don’t administer the bonuses either”replied her rival, in reference to a promise by the outgoing president to allow companies to distribute bonuses of up to 6,000 euros per year without paying contributions.
The exchange remained heated over the government’s fuel price freeze in response to inflation. “You voted against this energy shield”, reproached Emmanuel Macron to Marine Le Pen on several occasions. Facing him, the candidate continued to plead for tax cuts, while being in favor of maintaining the measure currently in force.
“You depend on Russian power”, accuses Emmanuel Macron
From his first speech on the invasion of Ukraine, Emmanuel Macron frontally attacked his opponent, who had just saluted his “efforts (…) to find in the name of France the way to peace”. “You depend on Russian power, and you depend on Mr Putin”declared the Head of State, before mentioning the loan taken out by the National Rally in 2014, with a reputable Russian bank close to the Kremlin. “You don’t talk to other leaders, you talk to your banker when you talk about Russia. That’s why, as soon as there are difficult and courageous positions to take, neither you nor your representatives are there.”
“No French bank wanted to grant me a loan”recalled Marine Le Pen, who defended herself on the fact of not having yet repaid this loan. “It’s a long time to repay, we repay ruby on the nail every month”assured the candidate of the RN. “We are a poor party (…) but I never considered it dishonorable.”
Two very different visions of the Covid-19 crisis
The pandemic and its consequences were not on the program of the debate, but they returned to the table. “You are the president who has created 600 billion euros in additional debt in five years, two thirds of which have nothing to do with the Covid”launched Marine Le Pen. “Totally wrong”replied Emmanuel Macron, who clarified that 400 of these billions depend on local authorities or Social Security.
“Whatever the cost, you voted against. What would you have done? (…) That the restaurateurs, the craftsmen, come and tell you who helped them during the Covid crisis? It was the government that Do it !” he insisted. What the candidate of the RN replied by reproaching him “administrative closures” which she believes should have stopped after the first confinement.
“Climatoskeptic” versus “climato-hypocrite”
The opposition was also frontal on the subject of ecology, a subject little discussed before the first round, but put forward since by Emmanuel Macron. “We are on a clear controversy. You are climatosceptic”he launched to Marine Le Pen, after having criticized his “inconsistency” : “Your program has neither head nor tail.”
“I am not climatosceptic, in any case, but you, you are a bit climato-hypocrite”, replied the candidate of the National Rally. Beyond its formula, it especially judged that the candidate LREM represented “the worst of punitive ecology”.
Addressing wind turbines, Marine Le Pen also accused Emmanuel Macron of wanting “put it everywhere, on all the coasts, except in front of Le Touquet”the seaside resort of Pas-de-Calais where the Head of State has his habits. “That’s conspiracy”reacted the person concerned. “No, it’s coincidence…” quipped his opponent. A wind project at sea off Le Touquet was suspended in 2017, shortly after Emmanuel Macron came to power, after an unfavorable opinion from the prefects concerned, then explained an article from France 3, including Marine Le Pen’s Twitter account posted a screenshot in full debate.
Banning the veil would create “civil war”, judge Emmanuel Macron
The ban on wearing the veil in public space proposed by Marine Le Pen (sometimes with nuances) was one of the most discussed topics in the days preceding the debate. She reiterated this project, calling this garment “of uniform imposed by the Islamists”.
Criticizing a project that he considers contrary to secularism and the Constitution, the candidate president also considered that such a law would divide society: “You will create civil war if you do that.” “It is serious, because what you are saying is that people would refuse to apply the law”replied the RN candidate.
A single mention of the McKinsey case
One of the fiercest controversies of this electoral campaign was barely mentioned during this debate: no exchange mentioned the use of the State to consulting firms and the case of McKinsey, accused of not paying taxes in France. With the exception of a formula from Marine Le Pen, after two hours, during an exchange on education: “The reform you are proposing is a reform that consists of paying teachers according to the results of their students. I don’t know if it was McKinsey who proposed that.” “You took a long time, Madame Le Pen”, quipped Emmanuel Macron. The exchange went no further.