As it happened: Macron and Le Pen repeatedly clash in final French election debate

French presidential candidates Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen went head to head in a televised debate on Wednesday night. Here's what happened.

As it happened: Macron and Le Pen repeatedly clash in final French election debate
Photo: BFMTV screengrab

00:24 – Closing live blog

We're closing off our blog now after a feisty debate indeed. Here's a recap of the clash. Scroll down for a look at the evening as it panned out. 

As for us, we're closing off the blog for tonight, but will be back on Thursday morning as usual as France readies for the election on Sunday. 

Thanks for reading.

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

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

00:13 – Le Pen accuses Macron of being aggressive

Marine Le Pen has just left the studio to head to her campaign headquarters where she says she will have a glass of Champagne with her militants.

“He was aggressive and went for personal insults,” she told media. “It was the mark of someone who cannot discuss anything in depth.

“I'm used to being badly treated and insulted,” she said. “It doesn't really destabilize me.”

00:05: Macron judged the most convincing by viewers

TV viewers polled by Elabe polling institute have judged fairly clearly that they thought Emmanuel Macron was the clear winner.

Some 63 percent of viewers found him the most convincing, compared to 34 percent for Le Pen. And when it came to who they found had the most convincing programme, they again judged in favour of Macron by 64 percent to 33 percent.

MIDNIGHT: “All Le Pen has is invective”

Here are some final thoughts from Paul Smith a professor of Francophone studies who has been following the debate for The Local.

He wasn't very impressed by Le Pen at all.

“That's all she's got. Invective. 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… again.

“I notice she slipped in a reference to one of the past debates, when she said she was not his pupil to be taught lessons. Mitterrand said the same to Giscard in 1981. But I can't help thinking that Macron's concluding point was 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?”

23:55 – 'The people will decide on Sunday'

Emmanuel Macron has just left the studio, looking calm and smiling , although no signs of celebrating. He had this to say when asked about his tonight's debate:

“I hope I cleared some things up,” he said. “In any case it will be for the French people to decide on Sunday.

“I tried to explain things clearly and present the project I have for the country as well as uncover some lies that were put forward,” he said.

23:43 – 'A debate not worthy of the presidential campaign'

And so the debrief has begun immediately on France’s TV channels.

Ruth Elkrief, political editor from BFM TV called the debate “chaotic” and said it was not worthy of the presidential campaign saying it lacked “seriousness and solemnity”.

She accused Marine Le Pen of being over aggressive and talking like she was at a political rally.

“It’s almost like she had accepted defeat. She did not put herself in the clothes of a French president,” said Elkrief.

“Emmanuel Macron was surprised by this aggressiveness and wasn’t able to present himself as being presidential.

“But then he found his poise and presidential stature and maintained it until the end,” she said.

23:36  – Closing statements

The debate is over. Here's how the two candidates ended their two hours.

Macron's closing statement:
Marine Le Pen, your tactic is to sully the reputation of your adversary, you don't care about the country. It is all faslification and lying. Your programme is based on lying and fear, that's what nourished your father for decades and made you what you are. You are a parasite and you live off this,” he said.
“My country will not be divided. I want to bring answers and reforms, to France that have not been implemented for 30 years.”
“I want a real renewal of France, a new face for France, and one that is not extreme right. The country deserves better.”
Le Pen's closing statement
“People may say I'm old fashioned but I like France as it is, with its culture, heritage, language, and borders. Without these borders we aren't free and independent. 
“Macron, you want France to be open to mass immigration just so you can put downward pressure on wages. 
This is contrary to the unity of France and the French… that's your plan to weaken France to ease the work of the financial powers at your side, which seek to derive profit from France to serve themselves.”

23:25 – Le Pen hanging on the ropes?

Macron and Le Pen are just trading blows now, like at the end of a boxing match, but Macron has had Le Pen on the ropes.

He blasts her for questioning the independence of judges and for repeatedly attacking organisations.

“This country doesn’t need slander,” he says.

Le Pen's last swing at Macron is to suggest he has offshore bank accounts, hidden away from the tax man. a bit of a low blow, especially without any proof.

Christophe Barbier criticises Le Pen for smirking constantly, suggesting she has lost her nerves.

“A big moment of TV. The emotional collapse of Marine Le Pen live that shows her limits,” tweets Jean Quatremer.

23:19 – Macron takes on Le Pen's fake jobs scandal
Macron slams Le Pen over her alleged fake jobs scandal in which the European Parliament has accused Le Pen's FN of defrauding it to the tune of some €340,000 ($360,000).
“You are a threat for our institutions,” says Macron.
“France deserves better than you.”
Marine Le Pen's 'fake jobs' cost EU parliament '€5 million'
Le Pen responding by saying she hopes France won't find out tomorrow that Macron has bank accounts hidden offshore. 


“You are in a permanent conflict of interest,” she says. 

23:10 – Some analysis

Paul Smith, a professor in Francophone studies from the University of Nottingham has just sent us what he makes of the debate so far.

“From the outset, Le Pen, who won the draw to go first, has ripped into Macron,” says Smith.

“This may be a tactic to try and destabilize him. During the day there have been rumours that he would walk out of the debate is she was too aggressive, but this was always unlikely.

“If she believed that, then she has been disappointed. But, instead of laying out her programme, she has spent a large part of the evening accusing Macron of being part of the Hollande government for the last five years and the establishment for the last… well… forever.

“The consequence that very little of her programme has really emerged, except during the calmer moments. Macron has risen to the bait and this has not worked very well for him, but at least he has not allowed himself to be cowed. He has certainly not been on the back foot. To be honest, the journalists hosting the debate have been overwhelmed and not really up to the task.

“It's been an evening of people not really listening to each other and talking over the top of one another. Bref, une soirée française. The debates in the primaries were much better.

“Nevertheless, Le Pen's approach shows that she is not really on top of the detail in the way Macron is.”

Paul Smith is an Associate Professor in French and Francophone studies at the University of Nottingham in the UK.

23:01 – Candidates asked about Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin
Macron on US: “I will propose to Trump to keep working together, they are our partners in intelligence, we need them”.
Macron on Russia: “I wont have my behaviour dictated by Vladimir Putin, that's the difference between me and Le Pen.”
Le Pen on Russia and US: “France needs to be equidistant from Russia and the US. Russia is a great nation that has showed no hostility to France. I don't care about the relationships between US and Russia, but I hope they're the best in the world.”
TV viewers criticising Le Pen for being close to Putin while attacking Macron for being close to Germany.

23:00 – Le Pen the 'high preacher of fear'

Macron continues his attack on Le Pen's plans to leave Europe. He blasts her for being the “high preacher of fear.”

He says he plans are “deadly” in terms of purchasing power and competitiveness.

She hits back accusing him of being under Merkel's thumb.

“Either way France will have a female president, either me or Angela Merkel,” she says.

22:44 – Europe, the Euro, Brexit, “project fear”

Macron is on home turf now and knows the euro is Marine Le Pen's weak point. Remember she wants French people to be able to buy their baguettes in francs, and for companies to be able to buy and sell in euros.

“The euro is the currency of the banks and not the people,” she says.

But Macron almost turns into the role of the moderator to ask Le Pen exactly what her plans are. They seem incoherent to many viewers, not just her opponent.

“My idea of Europe is the opposite of hers, where companies can trade in euros on the one side and then pay their staff in another currency,” Macron says.

“On the euro, you almost have to pity Le Pen,” says Christian Delporte.

22:43 – Le Pen talking the most

If you think you're hearing a lot from Le Pen then you're probably right. 

We're around half way through and she has already spoken for five minutes more than Macron, with 43 and 38 minutes used up respectively. 

22:37 – Journalists coming in for some stick

To be fair you wouldn't envy their job tonight.

22:34 – Le Pen continues attacks on Macron for being part of Hollande's government

This has been Le Pen's main thrust of attack tonight – trying to convince voters that five years of Macron is five more years of Hollande.

He tries to hit back telling her he walked away from the government, but it's unlikely to dissuade her from her course of attacks.


22:30 – Lots of repetition tonight

Macron has repeatedly accused Le Pen of either telling lies or talking nonsense.

“How many times has Macron said the word lie tonight?” asks BFM TV's Christophe Barbier.

22:24 – 'Crimes against humanity' in Algeria

Le Pen is again on the attack, this time about Macron's recent comments saying France's colonisation of Algeria was a 'crime against humanity'.
His comments on the matter caused an uproar in February.
Macron causes uproar by saying France's colonisation of Algeria was 'crime against humanity'

21:15 – 'You are promoting civil war'

Macron really lays into “Madame Le Pen” for seeking to sow “civil war” and “divide the French people”. He accuses her of insulting them because of their religion, referring, we presume, to Muslims, as Macron has accused her of this previously.

22:10 – Macron hits back on terrorism

Macron might be considered weak on terrorism but he silenced Le Pen by pointing out that her National Front party voted against all the reforms proposed by the EU to fight terrorism.

He says the fight against terrorism must be led by the intelligence services and cooperation between EU states.

22:00 Terrorism – Le Pen on home turf

Marine Le Pen is on home turf now with the candidates debating the subject of terrorism.

Le Pen accuses Macron of having nothing in his programme to provide a solution to the threat of terrorism. She accuses him of “tolerating Islamic terrorism”.

Macron criticises Le Pen for her longstanding plan to strip convicted terrorists of their French nationality. “Stripping someone's nationality won't stop them from blowing themselves up,” Macron says. 

21:54 – Macron toying with Le Pen?

Plenty of debate commenters talking of how Macron appears to be in control of many of the subjects when it gets to the meaty details.

While Le Pen can send over insults and criticize Macron for his previous government's failings. Even the journalists are asking her to talk “in depth” about the subjects.

On the subject of retirement age which Le Pen wants to reduce to 60 years old, MAcron simply says “how are you going to fund it?” It's either by raising taxes or lowering pensions. “How can you explain that to the French people?”

21:52 –   France's Macron, Le Pen trade insults in heated debate

Here's an early report from AFP:

French centrist presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron accused his far-right rival Marine Le Pen of telling lies, while she

branded him the “candidate of the elite” in a heated TV debate Wednesday.

“Your strategy is to tell lots of lies, you don't propose anything,” 39-year-old former banker Macron told Le Pen, while she replied that he was “the darling of the system” in the final debate ahead of Sunday's runoff vote.

Le Pen, who is trailing Macron in opinion polls, attacked her rival in the opening minutes, saying he represented “uncontrolled globalisation”.

Macron retorted that 48-year-old Le Pen was “the heir of a system which has prospered from the fury of the French people for decades”, adding: “You play with fear.”

Opinion polls show Macron scoring 59 percent to 41 percent for Le Pen in Sunday's vote, but previous debates during the rollercoaster French campaign have quickly shifted public opinion.

21:49 – 'Le Pen's strategy is to make Macron snap'

21:46 – More insults fly

Le Pen accuses Macron of insulting her. Macron hits back saying Le Pen has been doing all the bad mouthing.

21:40 – “Where's the money coming from Marine?”

Macron is targeting Marine Le Pen's reforms.

He pauses for a moment and ask her “where she will get the money from” to cut taxes. Le Pen says she'll get the money back from the EU, quoting the figure of €9 million.

“That money belongs to the French people,” she says.

“Finally we are talking about concrete measures. That's good. Project against project,” tweets a relieved Yves Marie Cann from polling agency Elabe.

21: 35 – Macron being too smug?

Marine Le Pen has already accused Emmanuel Macron of trying to speak to him “like a teacher to a child”. Le Pen also accuses Macron of showing arrogance to the French people.

21:32 – Journalists not really getting a look in

As you'd expect the quickfire debate is leaving little room the moderators to control the two candidates. 

They eventually manage to move the debate on from Whirlpool to taxes. Handling the candidates is more difficult than in 1974, says French political analyst Christophe Barbier.

21:25 – All in a Whirlpool

The subject of the Whirlpool factory is provoking fierce exchanges between Le Pen and Macron.  

The pair of course visited the factory in northern France this week where Le Pen was greeted with applause as she took selfies with workers and Macron was then booed before spending an hour and half talking to workers.

Macron accuses Le Pen of “spending 15 minutes in the parking lot” and of “proposing nothing” to the workers.

Le Pen said tells Macron “you were booed, people said get out, get out.”

Eventually the referees persuade the candidates to move on.

The Battle of Amiens: Macron jeered by Whirlpool workers after Le Pen's publicity stunt
21:23 – “You have nothing to propose”

Macron is repeatedly telling Marine Le Pen of “constantly talking about the past and proposing nothing”.

21:18 – Labour reforms being argued over

The pair are arguing about the controversial labour reforms brought in Hollande's government of which Macron was the Economy Minister.

Le Pen is accusing Macron for everything Hollande's government did wrong, Macron is refusing to take the blame.

21: 15 – Some reaction from Twitter to the blistering start

21:12 – “You tell a lot of lies and propose nothing”

Oh as expected Le Pen is trying to get under Macron's skin. She mentions his post-first round party at La Rotunde, which he was criticized for. 

“Madame Le Pen,” says Macron. “The French deserve better”. 

He accuses her of saying “stupid things”. 

He also accuses her of “telling lots of lies but of proposing no solution.”

21:00 – And we're off with Le Pen and the gloves are off straight away

Le Pen starts the ball rolling by immediately laying into Emmanuel Macron essentially following her argument from throughout the  campaign that he is the heir to François Hollande's disastrous government.

She on the other hand is the “candidate of the people, of France's culture, its civilisation.. the candidate that protects the French people, their jobs, France's borders and protects the French against Islamist fundamentalism.”

Macron blasts Le Pen for being the heir of the family Le Pen, the far right National Front party and the extreme right.

He presents a far more positive image of the country that he says is the one he wants to bring to the French people.

20:55 – Some key numbers about tonight

20:45 – Candidates are in place 

As you'd expect the candidates are in the studio in Seine St Denis to the north of Paris. They have been locked away with advisers for the last two days running through what might happen and probably memorizing a few put downs and insults.

Not long to go now.

20:37 – What's it all about?

If most analysts say tonight's debate between the two leading contenders won't change anything, is there any point us all gathering around TV screens tonight?

Well apart from tradition and good old TV viewing, tonight's debate could sway the minds of many abstainers for a start. It may persuade them to get out and vote or reinforce their view that it's not worth turning up at the polling station.

But it's worth remembering that this whole French election malarkey doesn't end on Sunday night. If Le Pen performs well tonight and can boost her score above 40 percent she can take that momentum into next month's legislative elections, where she might have realistic dreams of forming the main opposition party in France. 

Macron too can hope a strong performance can convince voters that he is a president that shouldn't just be backed on Sunday but also in the crucial general election.

So Sunday's result might not ride on tonight but it's important enough.

20:30 – Who are the hosts?
Meet the two hosts: Christophe Jakubyszyn from TF1 and Nathalie Saint-Cricq from France 2 (both pictured below, and both political editors for their respective channels).
The debate was originally going to be hosted by two male journalists but the French broadcasting regulator, the CSA, requested that the TV channels select one female and one male presenter. 
The two presenters have apparently come up with around 60 questions in total and have been diligently studying the manifestos of the two candidates.
20:15 What can we expect tonight (and will it change anything)?
We asked political expert Edouard Lecerf earlier today whether the debate will actually change anything. Here's what he said:
“In my opinion, Macron will be very well prepared and he will carefully avoid anything that could make him blow it. It's more about where Le Pen will try and lead him,” he said, adding she may push to make him appear as “the finance candidate” in an effort to deter voters.
“She will soften her image and try to win voters on an emotional level, while making Macron look technocratic. I don't think she will try and fight with him.”
Other analysts expect Marine Le Pen to try to get underneath Macron's skin, to provoke him into an outburst that will make him lose any presidential aura he might have built up. 
Time will tell.
20.10: A “perfect battle”
There's just under an hour left until the candidates enter the ring… well, the studio. 
Here's a little background on tonight's two candidates and their very different visions for France. 
Earlier in the election campaign French geographer and author Christophe Gully was asked to describe what a Le Pen vs Macron run off would mean.
“It would be perfect. It would be chemically pure. It would be a battle for France,” said Gully, whose book Peripheral France looked at the impact of globalisation in France's forgotten towns and the subsequent rise of Le Pen's National Front.
20.00: Welcome to the blog
Welcome to our live blog of the French presidential debate between Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen, which will start at 9pm. For some background on what to expect tonight, click here
In short, this will be a 2.5 hour debate between the two presidential candidates ahead of Sunday's vote.
Experts have said that it's unlikely the debate will change the fact that Macron is leading handsomely in the polls and is expected to win. 
“Second round debates don't typically change the course of history,” Edouard Lecerf from polling agency Kantar Public told The Local on Wednesday morning
“If there was just a one point difference in the polls I would say something different, but this is a huge gap, and I can't think of anything that would destabilize the current trends,” Lecerf said. 
Indeed, Macron is leading by 19 points in the polls. 
Still, it should be an interesting night – neither of the politicians have got this far in a presidential race before. History is being made. 

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