Le Pen, Macron clash in fiery final French debate

Le Pen, Macron clash in fiery final French debate, by Gary Jackson.

French centrist Emmanuel Macron and his far-right presidential rival Marine Le Pen clashed over terrorism, the economy and Europe Wednesday in a bad-tempered TV debate that laid bare their profoundly different visions for the country.

The duel ahead of this Sunday’s election was billed as a confrontation between Macron’s call for openness and pro-market reforms and Le Pen’s France-first nationalism.

The tone was set in the opening minutes, with Le Pen branding the former economy minister and investment banker “the candidate of the elite” and the “darling of the system”.

Macron replied that Le Pen, the 48-year-old scion of the National Front (FN) party, was “the heir of a system which has prospered from the fury of the French people for decades”, adding: “You play with fear.” …

On Europe, Le Pen accused Macron of being “submissive” towards German Chancellor Angela Merkel, saying: “France will be led by a woman, either me or Mrs Merkel.”

She also accused Macron of an “indulgent attitude” towards Islamic fundamentalism and constantly sought to remind viewers of his role as a minister in unpopular President Francois Hollande’s Socialist government.

But Macron was in combative form throughout, repeatedly portraying Le Pen’s proposals as simplistic, defeatist or dangerous and targeting her proposals to withdraw France from the euro in particular.

Sounds like simple name-calling (by establishment Macron) versus nationalist arguments (by outsider Le Pen).

The duel marked a new step into the mainstream for Le Pen, whose party was once considered by France’s political establishment to be an extremist fringe that should be boycotted.

When her father Jean-Marie Le Pen made it into the final round of the presidential election in 2002, his conservative opponent Jacques Chirac refused to debate with him out of fear of “normalising hate and intolerance”.