French election debate: Le Pen called 'the high priestess of fear' as Macron wins acrimonious final clash

Candidates exchange insults and barbs in virulent two hour head-to-head

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The Independent Online

French presidential candidates Marine Le Pen and Emmanuel Macron traded accusations and insults as they clashed over their vision of France's future, the euro and ways of fighting terrorism in an ill-tempered television debate. 

Millions of viewers tuned in to watch the head-to-head between centrist candidate Mr Macron and the far-right leader. 

While Mr Macron claimed his opponent was “unworthy” of holding the French presidency, Ms Le Pen accused her rival of “groveling” in front of big banks, the EU and sectarianism. 

For Ms Le Pen, the two-and-a-half hour debate was a last major chance to persuade voters of the merits of her programme, which includes cracking down on illegal immigration, ditching the euro and holding a referendum on EU membership.

However, 63 per cent of viewers found Mr Macron more convincing than Ms Le Pen in the debate, according to a snap opinion poll by Elabe for BFMTV, reinforcing his status as favourite to win. 

With just a small, two-and-a-half metre long table separating them, the pair sparred over globalisation, the economy, security and the European Union.

As he aimed to show his knowledge on a number of issues on the economy and the labour market, Mr Macron repeatedly told Ms Le Pen to stop saying “idiocies” and “lies” and he accused her of not having a “serious” programme and making “no propositions whatsoever” - calling her "the high priestess of fear".

His opponent meanwhile, played up his links with current president Francois Hollande, and she highlighted his former role as minister of the economy, as she sought to portray him as more of the same. 

Accusing Mr Macron of being “a darling of the system” in her opening statement, she said he wanted to turn France “into a trading floor”. 

"I'm the candidate of purchasing power," she told the former investment banker: "You are the candidate of buying up France." 

She went on to accuse Mr Macron of being “complacent” on Islamic extremism, as she sought to portray herself as strong on security –  one of the issues which has dominated the campaign. 

She suggested Mr Macron was "waiting for an attack" rather than taking proactive measures.

Mr Macron replied that Ms Le Pen would lead France to civil war and give in to what Islamist extremists want by creating fear and infringing on the rights of Muslim residents. 

French Election: Macron and Le Pen to fight for presidency

Insisting he would make terrorism a priority and fight it on every front including on the internet, he added that closing the borders would not help to tackle the issue. 

Ms Le Pen accused Mr Macron of “European extremism” and of seeking German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s “blessing”. 

“France will be steered by a woman, it will be me or it will be Ms Merkel,” she said. 

Mr Macron said his rival was “proposing an exit from history” and said he would “build a strong euro and a strong european politic to serve the interest of France”. 

On international relations, Mr Macron gave a hand to US President Donald Trump saying he will continue to work with the US and that France “needs a strong cooperation [with the US] to ensure its security”. 

The former leader of the Front National said she will be best placed to hold talks with Russia, the US and Mr Trump and the UK as it prepares to leave the EU.  

Ms Le Pen used her conclusion to tear apart Mr Macron's programme once more. In turn, he criticised her attitude, telling her: “France deserves better than you”. As time ran out she got in the last word - calling Mr Macron "Hollande's project".  

While there were two moderators – journalists Christophe Jakubyszyn and Nathalie Saint-Cricq – they mostly allowed the debate to flow and at times struggled to be heard over the bickering of the two candidates.

Observers on social media reacted to the lack of authority of the journalists in the television studio. 

 

Michelle O’Neill tweeted: “The moderators cannot cope.” Benjamin D showed compassion for the journalists and tweeted: “Courage Nathalie.” Llowett‏ said: “Journalistes useless #rip #2017LeDebat.” 

This was the first time a candidate from the Front National has ever been debated head-to-head in a presidential debate. 

In 2002, when Jean-Marie Le Pen faced conservative Jacques Chirac in the second round of the election, Mr Chirac refused to take part in a TV debate. 

For the first time since 1981, both candidates also agreed to be filmed when they were not speaking, meaning neither had a moment to relax in what to proved to be a relentless two-and-a-half hour snapshot of this extraordinary campaign as a whole. 

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