Macron and Le Pen face off against one another in the now-traditional TV debate between candidates, which is screened live on multiple French TV channels from 9pm on Wednesday.
If you want to play a drinking game while watching, journalists at the French daily Libération have come up with this debate bingo card.
— Libération (@libe) April 20, 2022
It’s a rerun of the 2017 debate, which was notably nasty – the French press described it as a ‘dirty debate’ the morning after. This one is likely to be a bit different.
Here are some of the things to watch out for;
A better-prepared Le Pen
In 2017, Marine Le Pen had what sports journalists would call ‘a nightmare’ in the second-round debate against Emmanuel Macron, a programme that was watched by some 16.5 million people in France.
The day after the bruising two-and-a-half hour TV battle for hearts and votes, French media criticised Le Pen’s “permanent aggression” and found her “unconvincing” as she referred repeatedly to her notes and made a number of factual errors that Macron was quick to correct and turn to his advantage.
He even got away with telling her to ‘stop being ridiculous’. She lost four points in the polls immediately after the debate, and was well beaten in the vote a few days later.
This time around she is expected to be much better prepared and will seek to portray herself as the ‘caring candidate’, concerned with the cost of living crisis and the ability of the French people to make ends meet.
She has taken two days out of campaigning to prepare for what could be a campaign-defining moment. Macron, too, has been busy swotting up on his policy points and attack lines.
Flat questions from the journalists
If you’re hoping for a tough interrogation from the two journalist hosts, prepare to be disappointed – and not simply because France 2’s no-nonsense devourer of politician egos Anne-Sophie Lapix isn’t involved, after both Macron and Le Pen reportedly turned her down as a moderator.
Hosts Léa Salamé and Gilles Bouleau have a strictly constrained role. Their questions will deliberately be flat and as open as possible. They are, basically, there to set the ball rolling on each topic, and let the candidates at it. It is not their job to correct factual errors – that’s down to the other candidate.
Macron has scheduled a one-on-one with Lapix the morning after the big debate, when she might actually be able to do a better job of quizzing him than if she had been on the debate itself.
The debate will open with questions on the cost of living – considered to be a strong suit for challenger Le Pen. After disagreement over what to start the debate between the two parties – Macron wanted international affairs – the opening topic was decided on the drawing of lots.
Security and governance will close the debate, with international affairs – a strength for Macron – and climate issues, a weak point for Le Pen, both also on the agenda.
Le Pen will also speak first, having won another coin toss, while Macron will get the final word.
The 2017 debate was about as brutal as primetime political TV gets. Macron and Le Pen wasted little time laying into each other’s policies and personalities.
Macron branded Le Pen a“hate-filled” liar who “fed off France’s misery” and would bring “civil war” to France.
Le Pen called Macron an arrogant, spoilt, cold-eyed, “smirking banker” intent on “butchering France” in favour of “big economic interests”.
There’s likely to be less of that this time. The consensus of opinion among political watchers in France is that this debate will be much calmer. Bad news for anyone hoping for a repeat of the explosive TV of five years ago.
Macron is quite well known for his use of unusual or archaic phrases when debating.
While there’s no guarantee of that this rime, expect a social media burst if either of them come up with something a little esoteric, while foreign correspondents will be scrabbling for the dictionary.
We will have the latest news, reactions and analysis of the debate on our homepage HERE from 9pm on Wednesday.