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2022 FRENCH PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION

Macron and Le Pen clash on debt, Russia and Islam in live debate

A ban on the Muslim headscarf, concerns over the cost of living and links to Putin proved the flashpoints in the live TV debate between Emmanuel Macron and his far-right rival Marine Le Pen in their live TV debate on Wednesday night.

Macron and Le Pen clash on debt, Russia and Islam in live debate
French President and La Republique en Marche (LREM) party candidate for re-election Emmanuel Macron (L) and French far-right party Rassemblement National (RN) presidential candidate Marine Le Pen (R) (Photo by Ludovic MARIN / POOL / AFP)

Probably the most animated moment was when the pair were asked about their plans for Muslim women who wear the hijab headscarf.

READ ALSO 6 take-outs from the Macron v Le Pen debate

Macron warned that Le Pen risked sparking a “civil war” if she was elected and implemented her plans to ban the Muslim headscarf in public.

The pair also clashed over the cost-of-living crisis and Le Pen’s links to Vladimir Putin in a televised debate that last for almost three hours.

Headscarf

Le Pen confirmed that she stood by her controversial idea of banning the headscarf, which she called “a uniform imposed by Islamists”, but she said she was not “fighting against Islam.”

Macron responded: “You are going to cause a civil war. I say this sincerely.”

“France, the home of the Enlightenment and universalism, will become the first country in the world to ban religious symbols in public spaces. That’s what you’re proposing, it doesn’t make sense,” he continued.

“You’re proposing how many policemen to go running after a headscarf or a kippah or a religious symbol?”

Le Pen initially sought to play down the importance of the ban when asked about it, saying it was “causing excitement in the media these last few days although it is just one part of a whole”.

“What I want to do is fight against Islamism because, unlike what you say, I haven’t forgotten that there is terrorism, I haven’t forgotten that there are Islamists,” she said, addressing Macron.

“I think we need to introduce a law against Islamist ideology. I’m not fighting against a religion, I’m not against Islam, which is a religion that has a place (in France),” she added.

“I’m fighting against Islamist ideology which is way of thinking that undermines the foundations of our republic, which undermines equality between men and women, undermines secularism, undermines democracy,” she said.  

Cost of living

Le Pen said she had seen people “suffering” over the first five years of Macron’s rule and that “another choice is possible”.

“If the French people honour me with their confidence on Sunday, I will be a president for daily life, the value of work and purchasing power,” she said.

Macron replied that “we must and should improve people’s daily lives through major projects for the school and health systems”.

He claimed his measures to help household incomes were more effective than Le Pen’s and also said that France should become a “great ecological power of the 21st century”.

Russia

“You are dependent on the Russian government and you are dependent on Mr Putin,” Macron said, referring to a loan agreed by Le Pen’s party with a Czech-Russian bank which he said was “close to the Russian government”.

Le Pen replied that she was “an absolutely and totally free woman” adding “I am a patriot”.

“It was because no French bank wanted to give me a loan,” she said.

The exchange was the first major clash between the two, with Macron also highlighting Le Pen’s decision to recognise Crimea as Russian after the Ukrainian territory was annexed by the Kremlin in 2014.

“Under international law we rarely recognise… territories that have been annexed by force,” he said.

Le Pen stressed that she was in favour of all the sanctions against Moscow announced since Russian leader Vladimir Putin ordered an invasion of Ukraine on February 24, and she backed supplying arms to Ukraine

“The aggression that Ukraine has been victim of was unacceptable,” she said.

She also held up a printout of one of her old tweets defending an independent Ukraine.

Le Pen created waves last week when she proposed closer ties between Western military alliance NATO and Russia once the war in Ukraine was over.

She also reaffirmed her intention of repeating France’s 1966 move of leaving NATO’s integrated military command, while still adhering to its key article 5 on mutual protection.

‘Not honest’

“You never explain how you will finance your projects and you are not honest with people,” Macron told Le Pen.

She in turn sought to put heat on the president, mocking how the “Mozart of finance” had left a “bad” economic legacy that included an extra €600 billion in national debt.

On the environment, Le Pen hit back at Macron’s accusation that she was “climate-sceptic” by calling him a “climate-hypocrite”.

Turning to Europe, Le Pen insisted she wanted to stay in the European Union but reform the bloc into an “alliance of nations”.

“Europe is not all or nothing,” she said, as Macron retorted that she appeared to be proposing something other than EU membership.

“Your policy is to leave Europe,” he said, describing the election as a “referendum for or against the EU”.

Winners

The priority for Le Pen was to avoid a repeat of the 2017 run-off debate where Macron managed to make her look flustered and sometimes not on top of her brief.

When she cited increased debt under Macron, he replied: “Oh dear, oh dear. Stop. you’re getting everything confused.”

Despite the flashpoints, much of the debate was muted, even dull, with Le Pen keeping a lid on her temper – unlike the pair’s firey clash in 2017.

Early analysis suggests that the debate was unlikely to have changed many voters minds and polls are unlikely to see a big swing either way.

Macron is favourite to win the run-off, with most polls showing an advantage of over 10 percent, and become the first French president to win a second term since Jacques Chirac in 2002.

The latest poll by Ipsos/Sopra Steria published on Wednesday predicted a solid margin of victory for Macron on 56 percent to 44 for Le Pen.

But analysts and allies of the president have warned the result is far from a foregone conclusion, with polls indicating over 10 percent of French who intend to cast their ballots have yet to decide who to vote for.

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POLICE

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.

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