Face to face

Face to face

Daniil Nizamutdinov

Like five years ago, Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen are fighting for the highest state post. In 2017, only Republican candidate Francois Fillon could compete in the elections, but he was deftly knocked out of the race by throwing in compromising evidence. And Le Pen and her party were given the old labels of “terrible nationalists.” As a result, Macron won, but this time there was no easy walk.
Zelensky to help
The course of the election campaign in France was disturbed by the development of the situation in Ukraine: the news from there completely ousted other agendas from the screens and front pages. The focus of the discussion between the contenders shifted, the president-candidate concentrated on resolving diplomatic issues and almost did not take part in the campaign – he held only one rally.
With the approach of the first round, the gap between Macron and Le Pen in the polls narrowed and reached almost a statistical error. The result of the vote is 27.9% for Macron, 23.2% for Le Pen.
Further, the incumbent president actively took up the campaign. His team and supporters launched an aggressive offensive against the leader of the National Rally, pressing on the vulnerable points of her program and playing the good old card: the ultra-right will not pass. The media is also in the game – the vast majority of experts on the main TV channels are in favor of Macron, and the rare supporters or representatives of Le Pen can only fight back.
In addition, just in time, a few hours before the pre-election debate, an interview with President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelensky appeared on the BFMTV news channel, who criticizes Le Pen, and answers a direct question from a journalist with whom he prefers to work with Macron.
Neighbors are also helping: three days before the election, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and Spanish and Portuguese Prime Ministers Pedro Sanchez and António Costa openly called on the French to vote for Macron and against “the candidate of the far right who attack freedom and democracy.”
Connected from across the ocean. “I can say that it will be good for Canada and the world if we continue to work with Emma-nuel,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said.
All polls promise re-election of the presidential candidate: from 53% to 57% of participants can support him. And yet this time the fight is much tighter.
Face to face
On Wednesday, the traditional debate of the candidates took place – face to face for almost three hours live on six television channels, in front of 15 million viewers. In 2017, Le Pen constantly attacked her opponent, who succumbed to emotions and raised his tone.
This meeting went more smoothly. “Madame, this time we are much more disciplined,” Macron concluded. “Getting old,” she smiled (Macron is 44, Le Pen is 53).
It is very likely that Le Pen was cunning: in her camp, they clearly analyzed the past failure and made work on the mistakes. The leader of the “National Association” tried to be as restrained as possible, spoke more about her program and about the mistakes of the president-candidate.
Macron, on the other hand, has not been able to rid himself of the reputation of an arrogant and arrogant politician. At times he became irritated, listened with his arms crossed or in an ironic pose, showing disregard for the words of his opponent.
Despite attempts by political advisers and image makers to change something, Macron retains the image of an elite leader, a “president for the rich.” Whereas Le Pen relies more on the support of “ordinary people”, the inhabitants of the hinterland – the same “yellow vests”, who have been opposing the government for a long time.
On the vast majority of issues, the positions and vectors of the candidates differ radically. Thus, Macron prefers a united Europe, strengthening the role of the EU and even closer cooperation between the France-Germany couple as the locomotive of the European Union. Le Pen, who previously called for leaving the EU, has softened her position today. She speaks in favor of an “alliance of European nations”, but with the strengthening of sovereignty, and considers it necessary to reduce deductions to the union budget by five billion euros.
Both share concern about the decline in the purchasing power of the population, but the measures proposed are different: Macron relies more on increasing subsidies and limiting price increases, while Le Pen emphasizes reducing the tax burden. In particular, to abolish income income for young people (under 30) and reduce VAT on fuel purchases from 20% to 5.5%.
The presidential candidate intends to complete the pension reform by progressively increasing the retirement period for all citizens from 62 to 65 years. Le Pen considers these measures “unbearably unfair.”
Both candidates agree that it is necessary to develop nuclear energy in the country. However, if the president wants to lay the foundations for the construction of dozens of new wind farms, then Le Pen, on the contrary, calls for a halt to current projects and the gradual dismantling of wind turbines, which are expensive and disfigure landscapes.
“You want to stick them everywhere, on every coast, just not opposite Le Touquet,” she said, hinting that it was in this seaside town that Macron’s wife had a private house. Interestingly, the project for the construction of a windmill park in the Le Touquet district existed in 2017 – and it was indeed canceled, although there was no evidence of any intervention by Macron or his entourage.
During the debate, the incumbent sharply attacked Le Pen, accusing her of being dependent on Russia, since in 2014 her party took out a loan of nine million euros from the First Czech-Russian Bank. “When you talk about Russia, you are talking about your banker,” Macron said.
Le Pen denied the allegations, noting that she was looking for funds abroad only because not a single French bank had given a cent. She also said that she condemns Russia’s actions in Ukraine, supports the sending of defensive weapons and agrees with sanctions against Russian businesses and oligarchs. However, he opposes the refusal to import gas and oil from Russia, since French citizens will suffer.
“We cannot hara-kiri ourselves in the hope of causing financial harm to Russia, which, moreover, will easily find someone to sell gas and oil to,” she said.
Another direct attack by Macron is related to Le Pen’s calls to ban the wearing of the hijab in public places. “If you do this, you will provoke a civil war,” he said. Le Pen herself believes that Islamists impose wearing a headscarf and many women simply do not have the opportunity to disobey.
An important topic for Le Pen is the fight against immigration. She would like to tighten asylum conditions, deport foreigners who have committed crimes in France, give up the right to family reunification, and also oblige employers to hire employees on a national basis. Macron is much more reserved.
Division of votes of other candidates
One of the key questions is how the votes of candidates who did not make it to the second round will be distributed on voting day. The most tasty morsel is the electorate of Jean-Luc Mélenchon, who finished third, leader of the Unsubdued France (he received 22% of the vote).
A leftist politician, Mélenchon urged his voters to go to the polls and not vote for Le Pen. At the same time, he does not want to speak for Macron directly, because his entire campaign was based on criticizing the current government and opposing a powerful new project to it.
According to experts, about 40% of Mélenchon’s supporters will prefer Macron on Sunday, but Le Pen may receive about 20% of support.
Right-wing publicist Eric Zemmour, who came fourth (7.1%), advised his electorate to vote for Le Pen in the second round. Most of the rest of the participants called for support for Macron and to prevent the election of Le Pen.
Well, very soon, France is expecting a “third round” – parliamentary elections will be held in the country in June. In 2017, they turned out to be triumphant for Macron: supporters of his movement received an absolute majority of seats in the lower house (308 out of 577).
But now you should not count on an easy walk. The same Melenchon said that he was aiming for parliamentary elections and would fight for the chair of the government. And with such an irreconcilable and decisive prime minister, Macron does not expect a sweet life.

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