France’s presidential rivals ready for high-stakes TV debate

Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen returned to campaigning for the French presidency ahead of this week's key prime-time debate before the weekend's second-round run-off vote.

France's presidential rivals ready for high-stakes TV debate
(Photo: Charly Triballeau / AFP)

The two rivals held low-key events after a brief Easter pause before Wednesday’s face-off, when the centrist Macron will defend his record over the past five years against his combative far-right rival.

It will be a rematch of their debate in 2017, when the same two finalists clashed at the same stage of the campaign. Analysts say that match was handily won by Macron, who was making his first-ever run for public office.

Le Pen, making her third attempt for the presidency, insists she is better prepared this time around.

READ ALSO Macron v Le Pen debate: What happens?

“I’m very confident, and I think I’m going to win,” the Rassemblement national candidate said while posing for selfies with well-wishers at the sunlit village square in Saint-Pierre-en-Auge in Normandy, northern France.

“I hope this debate is carried out calmly… I hope it won’t be what I’ve been hearing for the past week, a series of insults, fake news and excesses,” she said.

Opinion polls have suggested for weeks that Macron has the edge. On Monday, an Ipsos-Sopra Steria survey of voter intentions had him winning by 56 percent. Ifop had him winning with 54.5 percent.

But allowing for margins of error, Macron knows there is no room for complacency. Polls have underestimated the results of far-right candidates in the past – most notably in 2002, when Le Pen’s father Jean-Marie Le Pen reached the presidential run-off against Jacques Chirac.

Macron’s supporters – and Macron himself – were at pains to stress that nothing was in the bag.

In an interview with France 5 television Monday evening, Macron recalled the shock results that saw Donald Trump win the US presidency and Britain’s exit from the European Union approved.

“So if you want to avoid the unthinkable or something that repulses you, choose for yourself,” he said.

Reassure everybody
Macron took aim at Le Pen’s proposal to hold constitutional referendums on tougher immigration laws; on her plan for “national priority” for French citizens for jobs and welfare benefits; and her backing for citizens’ initiatives to propose and vote on legislation.

“She is implying that once elected, she believes she’s above the Constitution since she can decide not to respect it by changing the rules,” he told France Culture radio in an interview broadcast Monday.

But instead of focusing on immigration and the threat of Islamist extremism, Le Pen has insisted mainly on her plans to tackle rising prices, a key element of her strategy of presenting a more moderate face to voters.

Her team has played down in particular a proposed ban on the Islamic headscarf in public places, Le Pen acknowledging that it was a “complex problem” that would require parliamentary debate, and that “I’m not obstinate.”

Le Pen also hit back at a report that the European Union’s anti-corruption body OLAF had accused her and senior colleagues of embezzling more than €600,000 of EU funds during their time as MEPs.

“Low blows from the European Union, just a few days from the second round, I know all about them and I think the French aren’t stupid,” she said, adding that “I absolutely deny these allegations, which I wasn’t even aware of.”

Russian roulette
Polls suggest that up to a quarter of the French electorate might not vote at all on Sunday, and much will also depend on the decisions of the millions of leftwing supporters of Jean-Luc Mélenchon, who finished in a close third place in the first round on April 10th.

The results of a survey published on Sunday carried out by Mélenchon’s France Insoumise party suggested that only a third of those who voted for him will back Macron to block a far-right presidency under Le Pen.

The rest preferred to return a blank or spoiled ballot, or simply to stay home on voting day next Sunday.

Mélenchon is poised to loom large on the left ahead of parliamentary elections in June in which Macron is hoping to renew a majority if re-elected.

He has pointedly refused to urge voters to back Macron, saying only that “not a single vote” should go to Le Pen.

Christophe Castaner, the leader of Macron’s Republic on the Move (LREM) group in parliament, attempted to play down the significance of the survey. But he also warned: “Not to choose, is to accept you are playing Russian roulette.”

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France proposes getting rid of penalties for ‘minor’ speeding offences

The French government is considering changing speeding laws so that drivers will not lose points on their licence if they are caught going just a few kilometres over the speed limit.

France proposes getting rid of penalties for 'minor' speeding offences

France’s Interior Ministry is considering changing its current rules for minor speeding violations – proposing getting rid of the penalty for drivers who only violate the rule by going just a few kilometres over the speed limit.

The Ministry has not laid out a timeline for when this could come into effect, but they said they are currently in the preliminary stages of studying how the change could be carried out.

“The fine of course remains,” said the Interior Ministry to French daily Le Parisien.

That is to say you can still be fined for going five kilometres over the speed limit, but there might not be any more lost points for driving a couple kilometres over the posted limit. 

READ ALSO These are the offences that can cost you points on your driving licence

Of the 13 million speeding tickets issued each year in France, 58 percent are for speeding violations of less than 5 km per hour over the limit, with many coming from automated radar machines.

How does the current rule work?

The rule itself is already a bit flexible, depending on where the speeding violation occurs.

If the violation happens in an urban area or low-speed zone (under 50 km per hour limit), then it is considered a 4th class offence, which involves a fixed fine of €135. Drivers can also lose a point on their licences as a penalty for this offence. 

Whereas, on highways and high-speed roads, the consequences of speeding by 5 km per hour are less severe. The offence is only considered 3rd class, which means the fixed fine is €68. There is still the possibility of losing a point on your licence, however. 

How do people feel about this?

Pierre Chasseray, a representative from the organisation “40 Millions d’Automobilistes,” thinks the government should do away with all penalties for minor speeding offences, including fines. He told French daily Le Parisien that this is only a “first step.”

Meanwhile, others are concerned that the move to get rid of points-deductions could end up encouraging people to speed, as they’ll think there is no longer any consequence.

To avoid being accused of carelessness, France’s Interior Ministry is also promising to become “firmer” with regards to people who use other people’s licences in order to get out of losing points – say by sending their spouse’s or grandmother’s instead of their own after being caught speeding. The Interior Ministry plans to digitalise license and registration in an effort to combat this. 

Ultimately, if you are worried about running out of points on your licence, there are still ways to recover them.

You can recover your points after six months of driving without committing any other offences, and there are also awareness training courses that allow you to gain your points back. It should be noted, however, that these trainings typically cost between €150 and €250, and they do not allow you to regain more than four points.