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


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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Macron rules out ‘national unity government’ for France

French president Emmanuel Macron has promised a new style of government based on 'listening and respect' - but did not announce an alliance with any other parties that would give him a majority in parliament.

Macron rules out 'national unity government' for France

Macron has been holding meetings with all other party leaders in an attempt to break the deadlock in parliament after his group lost its majority in Sunday’s elections, but in a live TV address to the nation he did not announce an alliance.

Instead he said that a new style of government was called for, saying: “The responsibility of the presidential majority is therefore to expand, either by building a coalition contract or by building majorities text by text.”

He rejected the idea of forming a “government of national unity” with all parties, saying that the present situation does not justify it.

READ ALSO Can Macron dissolve the French parliament?

But he said that opposition groups have signalled that: “They are available to advance on major topics” such as the cost of living, jobs, energy, climate and health.”

He said: “We must learn how to govern differently, by dialogue, respect, and listening

“This must mean making agreements, through dialogue, respect, and hard work. The country has made its desire for change clear.”  

Speaking for just eight minutes in the gardens of the Elysée, Macron added: “I cannot ignore the fractures and strong divisions that traverse our country.”   

He said urgent draft laws, especially to alleviate the impact of inflation and rising energy prices, would be submitted to parliament over the summer.

Macron called on the opposition parties to “clarify in all transparency, in the coming days, how far they are willing to go” in their support of such measures, which he said would not be financed by higher taxes.

He added that he himself had been re-elected in April on a platform of “ambitious reform” which he expected to carry out.

The parliamentary impasse should not lead to “stagnation”, Macron said, but to “dialogue and the willingness to listen to each other”.

Macron’s centrist group Ensemble (Together) ended Sunday’s elections as the largest group in parliament – but with 245 seats they are 44 short of an absolute majority.

The leftist coalition Nupes – an electoral alliance of the hard-left La France Insoumise, the centre-left Parti Socialiste, the Greens and the Communists – got a total of 131.

Meanwhile Marine Le Pen’s far-right Rassemblement National got 89 seats and the centre-right Les Républicains got 61 seats. 

With deadlock in parliament, Macron has been holding meetings over the last two days with the party leaders in the attempt to create an alliance that will allow him to pass legislation over the next five years.

Reacting to Macron’s speech, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, leader of the leftist alliance which is the second largest group in parliament, said: “He was elected because most French people did not want the extreme right – the French people have rejected the president’s proposals.

“Nothing can change the choice of the French people.”

Macron’s position as president is not directly threatened by the lack of a majority, but it will mean that passing any legislation – which must be agreed by parliament – will be very difficult.

While negotiations between all parties will continue, Macron himself heads to Brussels on Thursday for an EU summit.