Belligerent Marine Le Pen fails to convince the French she should be president

Marine Le Pen has been heavily criticized in France by politicians, analysts and the media for her aggressive attitude in Wednesday night's live debate with rival Emmanuel Macron. Some described it as "shipwreck", while others said it showed she was unsuitable to be president.

Belligerent Marine Le Pen fails to convince the French she should be president
Photo: AFP

The live TV debate between Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen was two a half hour slanging match in which insults and invective were traded from the word go.

In the run up to the debate many thought Le Pen would tone down her aggressive style in order to appear more presidential.

But she came straight out of her corner of the ring swinging at her rival.

She was the first to speak and launched straight into an attack on Macron calling him “the candidate of wild globalization, uberization, poverty… the candidate of a war of everyone versus everyone…”

She referred to him as the “cold banker” and the “darling of the system”.

Le Monde’s Vanessa Schneider said “Le Pen had opened with a flame thrower”.

Le Pen had set the tone for how she would go on, but it wasn't the right one.

Her tactic was to unnerve and rattle Macron and get under his skin. Rather than persuade electors to vote for her and her vision she aimed to dissuade those reluctant Macron voters from backing him on Sunday -perhaps hoping to boost the abstention rate, knowing that's her only hope of victory.


She spent a great deal of time attacking Macron for the record of François Hollande's government, of which he was the former economy minister.

Macron too was combative, repeatedly telling Le Pen she was telling lies or “saying stupid things”. 

But it was Le Pen's “permanent aggression”, which at one point verged on defamation when she suggested Macron might be hiding money in offshore bank accounts (he later announced he had officially filed a complaint) , that was heavily criticized by political analysts and appeared to infuriate viewers.

Alain Juppé, the former Prime Minister and former presidential runner said: “How bad was she! Messy, aggressive, sarcastic. How can imagine such a person as President of France,” said the Mayor of Bordeaux.

Even her father Jean-Marie said she wasn't good enough.

“Invective is all she’s got,” said Paul Smith, professor of Francophone studies at the University of Nottingham who was following the debate for The Local.

“You cannot debate with her because her tactic is to simply slag off, that's the technical term. She set the tone and while Macron might have stood back, he had to show he wouldn't be bullied by her. It was a fight and she didn't win.”

“I can't help thinking that Macron's concluding point wad spot on. You had two minutes to say why the French should vote for you and all you did was slag me off. Is that all you've got?”

TV viewers were less than convinced by Le Pen’s performance with a poll carried out by Elabe and published by BFMTV showing that 63 percent found Macron the most convincing candidate in the debate and 64 percent of viewers found his programme the most suitable for France.

Le Pen and Macron trade insult after insult in fiery final French election debate

However it's unsure if Macron will emerge with any real credit given that many in France thought the debate as a whole was “undignified”, even if it made for great viewing. 

The media on the whole were critical of Le Pen, with Le Monde accusing her of presenting fake facts and information 19 times.

Ruth Elkrief, political editor with BFM TV said the event was “not worthy of a presidential election campaign”.

She criticized Marine Le Pen for her excessive aggressiveness and for speaking as though she was at a political rally rather than a presidential debate.

“It’s like she had already accepted her defeat,” said Elkrief. “She did not put herself in the clothes of a future president,” adding that she was surprised given how professional Marine Le Pen had campaigned until now.

Another BFM TV political analyst Thierry Arnaud criticised her “permanent aggressiveness” saying it was a “surprising attitude given all that was at stake.”

Many following on Twitter were equally critical.

Amid all the aggression and insults of which Macron was hardly a bystander (he called Le Pen a parasite at one point) all talk of their projects to rejuvenate France was lost amid the racket, which the two moderators found hard to restrain.

She was widely mocked on Twitter for an exchange (see the viral meme below) in which she accused Macron of insulting millions of French people, whilst waving her arms around.

By the end many accused Marine Le Pen of cracking or losing her nerves.

French journalist Jean Quatremer, who works for left wing newspaper Liberation tweeted: “This is a big moment in television, the emotional collapse of Marine Le Pen live, which highlights her limits.

French political analyst Christophe Barbier said Le Pen's constant smirking showed she was losing her nerves.

Leaving the studio at the end it was Le Pen who accused Macron of being aggressive and going in for personal attacks.

“I'm used to being badly treated and insulted,” she said, before saying she was off to have a glass of Champagne with her party members.

Given that analysts and pollsters have repeatedly stated they doubt the final debate would impact on Sunday's election result, especially given Macron's 20 point poll lead, Le Pen's aggressive and unconvincing performance probably won't have dented her score.

But with just two days of campaigning left it looks ever more likely it will be Emmanuel Macron drinking the Champagne on Sunday night.


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Le Pen narrowly tops European election polls in France in blow for Macron

The far-right National Rally party led by Marine Le Pen finished top in European elections in France on Sunday, dealing a blow to pro-European President Emmanuel Macron.

Le Pen narrowly tops European election polls in France in blow for Macron
Marine Le Pen and Jordan Bardella. Photo: AFP

Results released on Monday morning by the Ministry of the Interior, which have yet to be formally verified and declared by the National Voting Commission, showed that the far right Rassemblement National (RN) party topped the polls with 23.3 percent of the vote, beating French president Emmanuel Macron's La Republique En Marche.

They were closely followed by Macron's party, which polled 22.4 percent.

Emmanuel and Brigitte Macron at a polling station in Le Touquet earlier on Sunday. Photo: AFP

The allocation of seats in the European Parliament has been complicated for France by the UK's delayed departure from the EU.

The Parliament had already decided that after Brexit, some of the seats that had been occupied by British MEPs would be reallocated to other countries, with France set to gain an extra five seats

However, last minute delays to Brexit meant that the UK had to take part in the elections, with the result that France will not gain its extra seats until Britain leaves the EU.

On last night's polling results, the RN will get 22 seats in the European parliament immediately, and an extra seat once Britain leaves.

Macron's LREM will get 21 seats now and 23 after the UK leaves.

The green party lead by Yannick Jadot was placed third with 13.4 percent of the vote, gaining 12 seats now and 13 after Brexit. 

The two parties that between them had dominated French politics for decades until the rise of Macron both polled in single figures. Nicolas Sarkozy's old party Les Republicains polled 8.4 percent, while the Socialist party of Francois Hollande was on 6.31 percent, winning them eight and six seats respectively.

Meanwhile the 'yellow vest' candidates scored just 0.54 percent of the vote, below the Animalist party which polled 2.17 percent.

Nathalie Loiseau with LREM party workers. Photo: AFP

Although a total of 34 parties fielded candidates in the European elections in France, the election had largely been framed as a contest between Macron and Le Pen.

Macron's La Republique En Marche party, its list headed by former Europe Minister Nathalie Loiseau, was contesting its first European elections.

Marine Le Pen, on the other hand, was hoping to replicate her 2014 European election victory with her Rassemblement National party, its list headed by a political novice, the 23-year-old Jordan Bardella. Bardella called the results a “failure” for the LREM ruling party and sought to portray Macron's defeat as a rejection by voters of his pro-business agenda in France and pro-EU vision.

Macron had made no secret of the significance he attached to the results, telling regional French newspapers last week that the EU elections were the most important for four decades as the union faced an “existential threat”.

Jordan Bardella, head of the RN list. Photo: AFP

He has jumped into the campaign himself in recent weeks, appearing alone on an election poster in a move that analysts saw as exposing him personally if LREM underperformed.

The score of the National Rally is slightly below the level of 2014 when it won 24.9 percent, again finishing top.

Le Pen had placed herself towards the bottom of the RN list, so she will be returning to the European Parliament, where she served as an MEP from 2004 to 2017.

Turnout at the polls in France was the highest in recent years, with 50.12 percent of people voting, significantly up from 35.07 percent in 2014.

Veteran France reporter John Lichfield said: “After six months of 'yellow vest' rebellion, that Macron list has 22 percent is respectable. Much better than President Hollande did in 2014 (14.5 percent).

“But he made the election all about himself and lost. His hopes of emerging as de facto EU leader or enacting more French reforms are damaged.”