Watching presidential debates and getting rid of incumbents are both popular activities in France, so the stakes were very high for French President Emmanuel Macron in his televised debate against far-right challenger Marine Le Pen on Wednesday night. The second-round face-off is "seen as the time when presidential destinies are sealed or dashed," Politico notes. Polls show that a majority of viewers found Macron the most convincing, though Le Pen was deemed to have improved her performance from her bad-tempered debate with Macron ahead of the 2017 election. Some highlights:
- Russia. Reuters reports that Macron's "most piercing" line of attack involved a loan to Le Pen's campaign from a Russian bank in 2017. "You talk about your banker when you talk about Russia, that's the problem," said Macron, who noted that Le Pen was among the first political leaders to recognize Russia's 2014 annexation of Crimea.
- Cost of living. Le Pen accused Macron of not doing enough to help people affected by the recent surge in inflation. She promised to cut taxes, saying, "I want to give the French their money back," the BBC reports. Macron argued that his plan to cap prices would be "twice as effective" as cutting taxes.
- Climate change. The candidates sharply differed on climate change, with Macron calling Le Pen a "climate skeptic." She called Macron a "climate hypocrite," argued against wind turbines and said France could help the environment by cutting imports. In a bid to attract voters who chose leftist candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon in the first round, Macron has promised to make France the first big country to end the use of fossil fuels, the Economist notes.
- Immigration and minorities. Macron told Le Pen that her plan to ban Muslim women from wearing headscarves would create "civil war," the AP reports. Le Pen promised to hold a referendum on ending what she called "anarchic and massive immigration."
After the debate, polls showed that Macron remains the favorite to win the run-off election on Sunday, which would make him the first French president to be re-elected since 2002, France24
reports. Polls also showed, however, that many voters remain undecided, and 50% found him "arrogant" in the debate, compared to 16% who said the same about Le Pen. (Read more France