PARIS (Reuters) – French President Emmanuel Macron and his far-right challenger Marine Le Pen locked horns in front of a live television audience on Wednesday for their only debate ahead of Sunday’s presidential election.
Televised debates have long featured in French elections and have yielded exchanges, one-liners and put-downs remembered by the public for years. Le Pen’s poor showing in a 2017 TV debate with Macron was seen as a factor in her poll defeat back then.
Here are some of the main takeaways from their encounter, which is scheduled to go on for two and a half hours.
JUMPING THE GUN
A slightly awkward start to the debate for Marine Le Pen, who was twitching her fingers and clearly anxious for it to begin. Staring directly at Macron, she launched into a speech even before the introductory theme music had come to an end. The moderator interrupted her and asked her to begin again – which she did, brushing the incident off with a laugh and launching into a direct attack on Macron’s record on the economy.
MACRON ON THE ATTACK
Macron was no less combative, repeatedly pointing to the fact that Le Pen was not present in parliament on a number of occasions when decisions on cost of living issues were made. Each repeatedly interrupted the other in a prickly first half an hour. Macron explicitly called into question some of Le Pen’s campaign promises, notably on how much salaries could rise under her presidency.
Turning to foreign policy, Le Pen immediately started her response on Ukraine by saying that she wanted to express her solidarity with Ukrainians, a clear sign that she wanted to sweep aside her past ties with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
She was conciliatory with Macron on the subject, hailing his efforts to support Ukraine and stop an escalation.
Macron, on the other hand, went for the jugular: referring to her party’s decision to take out a loan with a Russian bank, he told her “you depend on Mr Putin”. Le Pen countered by saying she had not been able to get a loan in France and insisted that the transaction in no way compromised her independence.
(Reporting by John Irish and Mark John in Paris; Editing by Alex Richardson)