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2022 FRENCH PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION

Macron vs Le Pen: 5 things to watch out for in tonight’s live TV debate

Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen go head-to-head in a live TV debate on Wednesday evening. At stake: the French presidency. Here's what to expect.

Macron vs Le Pen: 5 things to watch out for in tonight’s live TV debate
Marine Le Pen and Emmanuel Macron in the 2017 election TV debate (Photo: Eric Feferberg / POOL / AFP)

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.

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.

READ ALSO The Macron v Le Pen debate: What happens?

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.

READ ALSO Le Pen’s plan to legalise discrimination against foreigners in France – including dual nationals

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.

READ ALSO OPINION: Macron will win the French election – and then his real problems begin

Topics

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.

READ ALSO EXPLAINED: What are the key policy differences between Macron and Le Pen?

Careful candidates

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.

A Macronism

Remember poudre de perlimpinpin from the 2017 debate? Or even le grand rabougrissement from earlier in this campaign?

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.

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POLITICS

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.

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