Closed French presidential debate – as it happened


Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen went head to head on Wednesday evening in an unrelentingly aggressive TV debate ahead of France’s second round vote on Sunday. Here are the FT’s highlights of the showdown:

  • The two contenders clashed on the euro, radical Islam, immigration and jobs
  • Macron came out on top with 63% of viewer approval, while a combative Le Pen trailed with 34%, according to a poll by Elabe
  • Take a look at the FT’s poll tracker
  • For further coverage of the French presidential elections click here

Welcome to the FT’s Live Blog on the TV debate between Marine Le Pen and Emmanuel Macron. This is the one and only face-to-face encounter between the two contenders before Sunday’s French presidential election. It is arguably the highlight of the campaign.

Macron told BFM TV: “I am not going to employ invective… I’ll use hand-to-hand fighting to demonstrate that her ideas represent false solutions.”

Le Pen told Reuters: “His programme seems to be very vague, but in reality it is a simple continuation of (Socialist President) Francois Hollande’s government.”

The FT’s poll of polls shows that Macron maintains a strong leader over his rival, although the gap has narrowed since the first round. The current split of the vote is 59% to Macron, with Le Pen on 41%.

The second round debate is a fixture of the electoral calendar. Millions of French viewers will tune in. It can help tip a candidate’s chances. Given its importance, the two campaigns go to great lengths to ensure the format and even interviewers suit them best.

Macron’s campaign objected to the original two male interviewers lined up for the debate, insisting on a man and a woman. Le Pen’s team then vetoed the woman presenter chosen suggesting she was sympathetic to Macron.

The big innovation this time is that the television coverage will not be limited to head-on shots of the candidates, which was deemed to be stilted and a turn-off for viewers.

Turnout could be key to Sunday’s vote, with abstentions likely to benefit Le Pen. According to analysts at UBS “participation is projected to be 75%, lower than in round one (78%) or in the 2012 round two (80.5%).”
Read more here about how Le Pen could steer a narrow path to victory.

Still, Macron is widely expected to come out on top. UBS says:

Investor anxiety has decreased after polls proved rather accurate in forecasting the round-one outcome.

For Twitter users, here are the hashtags the French media are using tonight

What will be the hottest topics tonight around the debating table?
Employment is the most important issue to voters, according to recent survey data, closely followed by purchasing power and social security.
Terrorism and immigration come in fourth and fifth.

And we’re off.

The candidates will be given equal airtime as required under French broadcasting rules.

Le Pen goes for it from the outset

The far right candidate calls her opponent the candidate of “savage globalisation” who wants the “uberisation” of society.

She accuses him of showing “the froideur of the investment banker that you perhaps have not ceased to be”.

Macron fires back
The centrist independent accuses Le Pen of embodying the “spirit of defeat” in the face of globalisation and terrorism. By contrast, he wants to promote “the spirit of triumph” in France.

After the opening skirmish, the debate has moved on to the economy.

Macron says the number one problem is that 3m French people are unemployed because it is too difficult for SMEs to create jobs.

Le Pen reminds viewers he served as economy minister and economic adviser to President Francois Hollande. “Your results have been extremely bad. That is the only real question for you,” she says.

Macron retorts that a government lasts only five years and is now at an end. It is an effort to distance himself from Hollande’s economic record.

Jobs, jobs, jobs
Already unemployment has been dominating the debate. The French jobless rate has crept up to around 10 per cent where other EU countries have brought their level down since the financial crisis.

Le Pen is still on the attack, accusing Macron of being a creature of the bosses and a prisoner of Europe.

Macron is trying to focus on substance and accuses his opponent of having no answers to France’s problems.

Le Pen has all the slogans but her grip on the detail looks a little shaky

The candidates plunge into the Whirpool

In a gripping exchange, Macron takes Le Pen to task for turning up at a Whirlpool factory in northern France threatened with closure “for selfies with the workers”.

“You have nothing to propose,” he says.

“They know what is killing them, your policies,” she hits back.

Here is our story on last week’s Whirlpool drama.

Tax reform
The conversation has turned to how the candidates plan to tackle France’s clunky tax system and raise purchasing power. Macron goes first with his plan to lower taxes for business.

Macron raises the Brexit bill

For those wanting to know how a President Macron would approach Brexit, here is a first clue.

The British “will have to pay between €60bn to $80bn from the outset”.

Like old, like new

Early in the debate, Macron reminds the audience of his opponent’s longstanding links with French politics.

“You are the heir of a name, of a political party.”

Le Pen has attempted to shake off the scandal that has plagued the National Front party, co-founded by her father Jean-Marine Le Pen. Marine expelled her father from the party in 2015 after he repeated anti-Semitic remarks.

Who is benefiting from the aggressive interruptions?

Not Macron, reckons Bruno Jeudy of Paris Match magazine

Translation: By wanting to jump on all the balloons, interrupt without end his adversary, Macron is getting into trouble all by himself

The battle moves onto pensions

Le Pen wants to lower the pension age from 62 to 60 for those people with 40 years of contributions. She would introduce the change by 2022, she says (during the campaign she said by the summer).

Macron points out that would cost €30bn. “It is unfundable.”

Security: safe ground for Le Pen?

Text: Now it’s national security time & Le Pen will be on home ground. So far she’s mentioned borders, evil, Salafists, Islamists.

Le Pen accuses Macron of being “complacent about radical Islam”. She’s on the attack again.

The two are still sparring over security and terror. France is still in a state of emergency following attacks by Islamist extremists over the past two and a half years that have left hundreds dead.

Mr Macron is reassuring watchers that security is a “priority”. He emphasises the importance of intelligence – he will introduce a network of field agents to combat Islamist terror, he says. Le Pen’s plans are not “concrete”, he adds.

The debate so far, in short

You say stupid things.

Le Pen:

Don’t play games with me. We do not have a teacher – student relationship here.

Le Pen defends minorities shock (when listing offensive comments by Islamist extremists)

Is this a debate or a boxing match?

Translation: Jacques Chirac used to say you don’t debate with the far-right. That is perhaps the only conclusion from #2017leDebat

A Royal affair

Prominent Socialist Ségolène Royal has weighed in on the debate with her support for Macron. Ms Royal herself lost a second-round run-off against Nicolas Sarkozy in 2007.

Translation: Macron dominates a candidate whose strategy is to make the debate incomprehensible in order to mask her own lack of detail

Stand-offs of old

Top left: right-wing candidate Valery Giscard d’Estaing vs socialist Francois Mitterrand in 1974
Top right: president Francois Hollande vs Nicolas Sarkozy in 2012
Bottom left: socialist Lionel Jospin vs Jacques Chirac in 1995
Bottom right: Ségolène Royal vs right-wing candidate Nicolas Sarkozy in 2007

On to Europe

Le Pen argues for a return to sovereign states able to decide for themselves, with their own currencies and identifiable political leaders. It would allow for intelligent protectionism, she says.

To go, or not euro?
Ms Le Pen quotes an old interview with Macron, in which he is alleged to have said that the euro would not survive 10 years without a more centralised setup.

Euro exit

Macron is pressing Le Pen on her policy on pulling France out of the euro. She is repeating her proposal for a “common currency” like the Ecu, a forerunner of the euro, to exist alongside the single currency.

Will businesses pay in euros or Ecus, asks Macron. “You are making it up.”

Project Fear
Grinning with her arms folded, Le Pen accuses Macron of propagating a “project fear” over her plans for the euro and a potential Frexit.
“It is exactly the opposite that happened” after Brexit, she adds.

Le Pen a bit all over the place on the euro

Her euro policy has been an Achilles heel during the campaign, a radical policy that puts off more moderate conservative voters she needs to win the presidency

Macron of the bankers, Le Pen of the people
Le Pen tells Macron that the euro is the currency of bankers, not of the people.

Exit poll data from the first-round vote suggests that bankers may well be fond of Macron, however.

Macron says Le Pen’s policy would amount to a currency war that would destroy people’s savings. She would have to impose capital controls otherwise there would be a bank run.

Fight! Fight!

In a scrappy and at times uncontrollable debate so far, social media extends its deepest sympathies to the moderators…

Germany enters the debate

Le Pen says the big danger facing France is “submission to Europe”. Or rather submission to Germany.

“You went to see Mme Merkel for her blessing.”

“Any way, France will be headed by a woman: either me or Mme Merkel”

Trump time
The candidates are asked to address foreign policy.

Macron goes first. France needs to work together with the US and president Donald Trump to combat terror, he says.

We need to have this strong co-operation

On Putin, he takes a firmer stance, whilst acknowledging that France needs to work with the Russian president on resolving the Syrian conflict.

I will not submit to the diktat of Mr Putin

This is what differentiates him in terms of foreign policy from Le Pen, he says.

Le Pen on Trump and Putin

France has lost its independent voice in the world. France needs to be a country that respects all nations.

I am the best to speak to Putin’s Russia, Trump’s America and May’s UK

Macron’s response

It’s gibberish. The image you give of France is not pretty.

Debating a populist

From our confrère at The Economist

As if by magic…
This just in on the official Le Pen twitter feed:

Translation: In any case, France will be governed by a woman: Ms Merkel or me

Political scandal

It’s taken more than two hours, but we are on to scandal. Macron goes on the attack.

Yours is the party of scandal. The party that refuses to go before the investigating magistrates, that is yours.

The big difference between you and me is that you are the subject of a judicial investigation.

He is referring to a probe into various investigations into misuse of public money involving her party.

Macron keeps his cool

The political novice seemed drawn in by Pen’s incessant harrying earlier in the debate. But in the final stages he seemed to regain his poise.

Translation: EM has had the real merit of keeping his calm in the worst debate of the 5th Republic

Some final overtures

Le Pen to Macron:

Yours is absolutely not my vision of France…France is a nation with a culture and a people

Macron to Le Pen:

You’ve profited from lies since the beginning of this debate.

You, your father and the party…feed off lies and fear…I don’t want a divided France

Testy times

As the debate winds down, Le Pen goes against orders from the moderators not to interrupt Macron during his penultimate remarks. “Very classy” she snaps as he rails against her for lying during the debate.

Playing up his image as the fresh face of French politics, he says all he wants to do is bring “real renewal” and “transform France”.

The closing remarks, after an exhausting two and half hour debate:

Le Pen

You are the candidate for closing factories, maternity wards, police stations, hospitals. The only thing you don’t want to close: the borders. You want to leave France open to massive immigration, that’s what the big bosses want. That’s why you went to Algeria to request a migrant motorway between France and Algeria, you are in the hands of the Islamist radicals.


I do not want those who profit from failure or exploit anger. France deserves better than that. France is in a deep crisis and it is a moral crisis linked to 20 years of political failure, the failure to create unity because some people are playing on dispair. I have heard the anger, the doubts, and I want to address shortcomings above all through the courage of truth. I have never lied to you and promised gifts that are implausible.

It’s over…what happens next?

The second-round vote is on Sunday evening, with the last polling stations closing at 7pm BST (8pm CET). Legislative elections will then take place in June. This timetable by UBS has it all:

The verdict?

Le Pen went on the attack from the very first minute and did so in a highly personal way, accusing her opponent of showing “the froideur of the investment banker you perhaps have not ceased to be”.

Macron was constantly on the defensive, but showed Le Pen’s shaky grip on policy, particularly on pulling out of the euro.

She harried him all the way through, even at the end of his concluding remarks. He remained calm and focused if a little patronising.

This tweet from Christophe Barbier, former editor of L’Express magazine, sums it up. This was perhaps less a decisive battle for votes than a taste of what is to come after Sunday.

Translation: In style, him president, her leader of the opposition

And the snap verdict from French viewers