Macron and Le Pen both claim debate success
The two French presidential candidates have each claimed success in “exposing” their rival in the final TV debate ahead of Sunday’s second-round run-off.
Centrist Emmanuel Macron and the far-right’s Marine Le Pen traded insults for more than two hours, arguing over terrorism, the economy and Europe.
Mr Macron appeared to cement his position as the front-runner.
French pundits, newspapers and a highly regarded viewers’ poll all declared him the most convincing.
In an interview after Wednesday evening’s debate, Ms Le Pen said she had wanted to show French voters that Mr Macron was part of the old system.
“Above all I decided to lift the veil, with a certain amount of success I believe, on: Who is Mr Macron? Where does he come from? What are the interests he is defending? What is his vision for France?” she told BFMTV after the debate.
“Because the least one can say is that the fact that he is the darling of the system.”
Speaking to French radio on Thursday morning, Mr Macron said the debate had exposed the true nature of Ms Le Pen and her National Front party:
“Mrs Le Pen has shown something: it is that she does not love liberty. She’s shown it in how she relates with journalists, she’s shown it constantly in the positions that she has taken on same-sex couples, on women… and on the freedom of the press.
“And so one can be sure that with me, sure I’m totally committed to my project, but with me goes the total protection of the democratic framework within which we can disagree.”
The issues – and the insults
Mr Macron enjoys a healthy lead in the opinion polls. But during the key debate, Ms Le Pen lambasted him on his record as economy minister in the Socialist government – a post he quit to form his En Marche! movement.
The National Front candidate accused him of being “the candidate of savage globalisation” and said his version of France “is a trading room, where it will be everyone fighting for themselves”.
In turn, Mr Macron said Ms Le Pen had openly lied, proposed nothing and exaggerated the concerns of the public.
“The high priestess of fear is sitting before me,” he said.
Ms Le Pen accused him of complacency about the threat of radical Islamist terrorism. “Security and terrorism are major issues that are completely missing from your programme,” she said.
But in response, Mr Macron said the measures she proposed – “eradicating” Islamic fundamentalism by shutting down extremist mosques, and expelling preachers of hate – were “snake oil” that played into terrorists’ hands and the desire they had for a “civil war”.
They also clashed on the future of the European Union – another issue where they are clearly opposed.
Ms Le Pen has said she would call for an in-out referendum on EU membership, and in recent days declared the euro currency finished.
Macron the clear favourite: Hugh Schofield, BBC Paris correspondent
This turned into a tense, at times incendiary exchange, between two leaders with starkly opposing ideas about the road France needs to take.
Marine Le Pen, who lags badly in the opinion polls, had clearly decided that the best tactic was to launch a full-frontal attack on Emmanuel Macron.
Constantly throughout the debate she threw insults and allegations at him, accusing him of being part of the discredited existing order.
But there was little substance to her attacks, and over and again Mr Macron was able to expose the weaknesses in her arguments – especially over the economy and the euro.
The debate will have done nothing to alter his position as clear favourite in Sunday’s vote.
- Read more from Hugh: ‘Unworthy’ debate was still great viewing
Both candidates were hoping to make an impression on the estimated 18% of undecided voters in the first election the country has ever held without a candidate from the two traditional mainstream parties.
BFMTV found viewers who had watched the debate had a more favourable view of Mr Macron than Ms Le Pen in most categories.
He was the “most convincing” of the pair in the opinion of 63% of those interviewed.
Mr Macron was also deemed the “most convincing” for two-thirds of those who voted for both left-wing candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon in the first round, and for 58% of those who voted for Republican François Fillon.
Mr Macron also led among voters when they were asked about which candidate was most honest, was most aligned with the voters’ values and had the best plans.
The BFMTV poll was carried out among 1,314 people over the age of 18 who watched the television debate.
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Wednesday night’s debate marked the last time the two candidates faced each other before Sunday’s vote.
Just two days of campaigning remain before reporting restrictions come into force late on Friday evening – and remain in place until polls close on Sunday.
‘Unprecedented brutality’ – French press review
French newspapers were taken aback by the open hostility on display during Tuesday night’s debate.
Le Figaro saw Ms Le Pen adopt a “strategy of total war that consisted of bombarding her opponent without respite”. Mr Macron, it says, “dominated his opponent on economic issues” during a debate of “unprecedented brutality”.
Liberation accuses Ms Le Pen of “drowning the debate in an avalanche of disinformation” and publishes a list of what it says are false or exaggerated statements made by her.
Le Monde also firmly comes down on the side of Mr Macron, who it says “repeatedly denounced the ‘nonsense’ by the candidate of the National Front – often rightly”.
Les Echos takes issue with the aggressive tone of the debate, saying the candidates “spent more time attacking each other” than explaining future reforms.