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The Macron v Le Pen debate: What happens?

The live head-to-head debate between Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen, as they battle it out for the presidency, takes place on Wednesday evening. Here's what you need to know about the debate and why is it important.

The Macron v Le Pen debate: What happens?
Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen at their 2017 debate. Photo by Eric Feferberg / POOL / AFP


The debate takes place on Wednesday, April 20th at 9pm.


The debate is screened live on TV, radio and online – TF1, France 2, BFMTV, Franceinfo, LCI and CNEWS will all carry it. 

It’s not a short debate – the one in 2017 lasted two-and-a-half fours – and immediately afterwards opinion polls are published on which candidate ‘won’ the encounter. 


The debate is a head-to-head between Macron and Le Pen, moderated by two journalists. The moderators will be Léa Salamé and Gilles Bouleau, familiar faces from French political TV shows.

READ ALSO 5 things to watch out for in the Macron v Le Pen debate

The candidates are each given equal time to answer questions on a range of subjects concerning their policies and the challenges facing France. 

It’s a debate so they have the opportunity to challenge each other and flag up anything their opponent says that they believe to be wrong.


The debate is an important feature in French elections and has featured in every second-round debate bar one since 1974.

Various TV and radio stations hold extended interviews and debates between some or all of the candidates before the first round, but the big debate is held once the candidates are whittled down to two ahead of voting in the second round.

It gives viewers the chance to see and compare their answers and also to assess how they perform under pressure.

Is it compulsory?

It’s not actually mandatory to take part, but candidates generally do.

The exception to this was Jacques Chirac in 2002 – he was faced with far-right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen (Marine’s father) in the second round and refused to take part in a debate with him, saying it would legitimise Le Pen’s extremist views.

In 2017 Macron was faced with Marine Le Pen in the second round and chose to debate her, as he will again in 2022.

Is it important?

It is. In the first round of this election Macron took 27 percent of the vote and Le Pen 23, which means that 50 percent of the electorate didn’t vote for either of them.

The two candidates now need to convince these ‘floating’ voters to back them in order to win the election.

Many factors play into this decision, and both candidates will be campaigning hard for the next two weeks, but history suggests that the debate is important in convincing voters.

Macron was widely considered to have ‘won’ their 2017 encounter after Le Pen put in a disastrous performance, and almost immediately after the debate his poll ratings began to rise. He went on to win the second round 66 percent to 33.

This time he is likely to face a tougher challenge – a better prepared Le Pen who will be able to attack his record in government.  

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Prosecutors: No new rape inquiry for France’s disabilities minister

France's disabilities minister will not face a new inquiry "as things stand" over a rape allegation that surfaced just after his nomination by President Emmanuel Macron last week, prosecutors have said, citing the anonymity of the alleged victim.

Prosecutors: No new rape inquiry for France's disabilities minister

Damien Abad has faced growing pressure to resign after the news website Mediapart reported the assault claims by two women dating from over a decade ago, which he has denied.

One of the women, identified only by her first name, Margaux, filed a rape complaint in 2017 that was later dismissed by prosecutors.

The other woman, known only as Chloe, told Mediapart that in 2010 she had blacked out after accepting a glass of champagne from Abad at a bar in Paris, and woke up in her underwear in pain with him in a hotel room. She believes she may have been drugged.

She did not file an official complaint, but the Paris prosecutors’ office said it was looking into the case after being informed by the Observatory of Sexist and Sexual Violence in Politics, a group formed by members of France’s MeToo movement.

“As things stand, the Paris prosecutors’ office is not following up on the letter” from the observatory, it said, citing “the inability to identify the victim of the alleged acts and therefore the impossibility of proceeding to a hearing.”

In cases of sexual assault against adults, Paris prosecutors can open an inquiry only if an official complaint is made, meaning the victim must give their identity.

Abad has rejected the calls to resign in order to ensure the new government’s “exemplarity,” saying that he is innocent and that his own condition of arthrogryposis, which limits the movement of his joints, means sexual relations can occur only with the help of a partner.

The appointment of Abad as minister for solidarities and people with disabilities in a reshuffle last Friday was seen as a major coup for Macron, as the 42-year-old had defected from the right-wing opposition.

The new prime minister, Elisabeth Borne, said she was unaware of the allegations before Abad’s nomination, but insisted that “If there is new information, if a new complaint is filed, we will draw all the consequences.”

The claims could loom large over parliamentary elections next month, when Macron is hoping to secure a solid majority for his reformist agenda. Abad will be standing for re-election in the Ain department north of Lyon.