PARIS — It’s time to practice the talking points and prepare the insults as the two candidates for French President prepare for the big flagship event before Election Day.
Wednesday’s televised debate between Marine Le Pen and Emmanuel Macron will be a key moment in the French presidential election as Sunday’s campaign race heads towards the finish line.
The second-round televised face-off is a mainstay of the French presidential tradition, pitting the two top-performing candidates of the first round in a journalist-moderated debate. It is considered the time when presidential fates are sealed or nullified.
There is much to lose for both incumbent Macron and his far-right challenger Le Pen: while polls suggest the president has a strong lead ahead of Sunday’s crucial vote, his supporters know there is little room for complacency given the risk left-wing voters stay away.
Meanwhile, Le Pen has to turn the page after her disastrous performance in the 2017 debate.
This episode left its mark: it was widely seen as a moment in which the far-right candidate revealed deep personal flaws and some inconsistencies in her election campaign.
This is Le Pen’s third and likely final presidential bid, and while victory seems unlikely, she has never been closer to power: In POLITICO’s poll, Macron wins 54 to 46 percent, a far narrower margin than 66 percent to 34 percent gain in the year 2017.
In an interview on Monday, Macron tried to warn voters by recalling the shocking 2016 vote that resulted in Britain leaving the EU and Donald Trump winning the White House.
“If you want to avoid the unthinkable… make a choice,” Macron said.
In the first ballot on April 10, Macron won 27.8 percent versus Le Pen’s 23.1 percent.
During the 2017 debate, Le Pen failed to clearly explain how France could exit the single euro currency without harming French companies trading across the EU and avoiding what Macron called a “currency war “ referred to.
She also failed to impress viewers by mistaking Macron’s role in the sale of two French companies, SFR and Alstom. Le Pen later scrapped her plans to leave the EU and the euro, acknowledging that these policies put off voters.
This time around, Le Pen’s economic policies are under renewed scrutiny for having promised generous measures to boost the purchasing power of ordinary French people, rather than championing the usual far-right issues of immigration and law and order.
Their measures include reducing income tax for those under 30, eliminating VAT on basic groceries and reducing it on fuel, electricity and gas. Critics have questioned how she will pay for these proposals, as they depend on hypothetical savings from lower immigration or on an EU rebate that has not yet been negotiated with Brussels.
While Macron’s campaign program, including an ambitious investment plan for France, has also come under fire for lack of detail, his unpopular pension and benefit reforms offer sources of revenue. However, his decision to raise the statutory retirement age has been a thorn in his campaign’s side, particularly when it comes to wooing voters beyond his core support base.
The president will be under pressure to convince left-wing voters, particularly those who voted for far-left leader Jean-Luc Mélenchon, that they should come out and vote for him on Sunday. Mélenchon secured 22 percent of the vote in the first round, and just a third of his supporters say they will vote for Macron on Sunday, according to a poll by Mélenchon’s party.
Macron is likely to use the televised debate to address Le Pen’s proposals to ban the Muslim headscarf and suspend welfare benefits for new immigrants to encourage left-wing voters to join him.
But he faces other weaknesses.
Le Pen is expected to attack his attitude to power and track record at the Elysée.
“I think one of his character traits is a deep contempt for the French,” she said in one Interview with TF1 On Sunday. “I don’t even have to point it out [during the debate]. In the last five years, the French have understood it well. He Is hard.”
In recent weeks, Macron has tried to shrug off allegations that he was being self-important in the election, delaying his official candidacy because he was trying to end the war in Ukraine and refusing to debate France’s future with competing candidates .
Beyond sparring across pensions and campaign platforms, observers will be watching the chemistry between the two candidates in their first head-to-head meeting in five years.
Le Pen’s dismal showing in the 2017 debate sparked speculation that she was about to quit politics. Publicly, Le Pen says the confrontation was a “disappointment” and that she never saw a recording of it.
But in the current campaign, Le Pen has tried to soften her image and achieve a more personal touch by opening up about her private life and admitting her vulnerability.
“Life is full of trials, there are things you succeed at and others you fail at,” she said Journalists before the debate.
“[The 2017 debate was a] Test of character, I got back up and changed a lot of things in my party… and I found the energy to restart myself in politics,” she said.
Many among Macron’s supporters fear that Le Pen will push her new image, portraying Macron as a cold, calculating leader, building on criticism that he is distant and arrogant and that he lacked empathy for ordinary French people during his tenure.
“Sleeve [play] the card ‘little mother of the people’ and he will stand like the arrogant leader against the people,” feared a government adviser before the debate.
“We have to make this a non-event. [Macron] must continue to act as president, as candidate… He must not show that he is afraid of her.”
Pauline de Saint Remy and Juliette Droz contributed reporting.
https://www.politico.eu/article/marine-le-pen-rematch-of-debate-emmanuel-macron-france-election-tv-debate/?utm_source=RSS_Feed&utm_medium=RSS&utm_campaign=RSS_Syndication "Unthinkable" vs. "Arrogant". Le Pen and Macron gear up for thrilling TV fight – POLITICO