FACTCHECK: The Macron v Le Pen TV debate

It was a lengthy debate with plenty of facts and figures thrown about - so here's a check on some of the claims made by Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen in their live TV debate ahead of the final round of the French presidential election.

FACTCHECK: The Macron v Le Pen TV debate
Marine Le Pen shows a printout of a tweet supporting Ukraine when attacked over her links to Russia. Photo by Ludovic MARIN / AFP

Do Le Pen’s figures really not add up? Is Macron a climate sceptic or a climate hypocrite? And who the hell is Gérard Magax?

Here’s a look at the claims and counter-claims in the debate.

Is Le Pen truly in debt to Putin?

Macron accusing her of being “dependent” on the Kremlin, describing the Russian leader as her “banker”.

“Your interests are linked to the interests of Russian power. You depend on Russian power and Mr Putin,” Macron said.

This refers to a €9 million loan that Le Pen took from First Czech Russian Bank to finance her 2017 election campaign, much of this has not been repaid.

French political parties are now banned from taking financing from outside the EU, so for her 2022 campaign Le Pen went to banks in Hungary for loans, totalling €10 million. 

Macron described First Czech Russian Bank as “close to the Russian government” and said it meant that Le Pen was beholden to the Russian leader. She insisted she was a “free woman” and that her loans were from foreign banks because French banks would not lend to her.

Le Pen has certainly been friendly to Putin – her election campaign leaflet featured a picture of the pair of them shaking hands, which had to be hastily pulped after the invasion of Ukraine. Even since the invasion she has taken a much softer line than many other politicians, opposing sanctions and saying that she hopes to have Russia as an ally once the war is over.

She also promoted the Russian Sputnik vaccine during the Covid pandemic, and called for it to be rolled out in France.

How much of this is because of her debts and how much is her personal conviction, however, is impossible to say.

What will Le Pen’s proposed pension reforms cost?

Pensions were a tricky issue for Macron – his proposal to raise the retirement age to 65 has been very unpopular and he has been backtracking in recent days.

Le Pen has an easier sell with her policy, which is to reduce the pension age to 60 for anyone who started work before the age of 20. Broadly, she wants to make retirement about how long you have worked, not your age.

But how much will her plan cost?

Her team says her proposals will cost €9.6 billion per year. The think tank Institut Montaigne, however, puts that at nearer €26.5 billion per year. 

Climate sceptic or climate hypocrite?

Macron called Le Pen a “climate sceptic”, she responded by calling him a “climate hypocrite”.

Neither of them has the best record on environmental issues – the subject is barely mentioned in Le Pen’s manifesto while Macron has been accused of dragging his feet on climate issues over the past five years.

The issue – a global crisis that threatens the future of the entire planet – took up around 10 minutes of the 2 hour 45 minute debate.

Le Pen called for an end to building wind farms and the dismantling of existing wind farms, while claiming that offshore wind farms will “destroy” France’s fishing industry, a claim that would come as a surprise to the many countries around the world that have both offshore wind farms and a fishing industry.

She accused Macron of hypocrisy, saying that he was building wind farms all along the coast apart from at Le Touquet, where he and his wife have a holiday home.

It’s true that a project for a 40-turbine farm off the coast of Le Touquet was suspended in 2017 by the then-environment minister Nicolas Hulot, after consultation with stakeholders. Hulot later resigned from the government, accusing Macron of dragging his feet on environmental issues. He’s had plenty of bad words for the president since, but has never made any allegations of interference in the Le Touquet wind farm. 

Has the EU flag ‘replaced’ the French flag?

A longtime Eurosceptic (although she has dropped her plans for a Frexit, and now wants to stay in the EU but not follow its rules), Le Pen made plenty of jabs at the Europhile Macron.

As well as saying that France doesn’t defend its interests at an EU level, Le Pen also accused Macron of “replacing” the French flag with an EU flag.

On most public buildings such as schools and mairies, the French and EU flags fly side by side, with the option for a third flag for particular occasions such as the rainbow flag for Pride month. Many mairies are currently also flying the Ukrainian flag as a gesture of solidarity.

It’s usual for French government ministers to give briefings with both the French and EU flags in the background.

Le Pen was probably referring to a moment earlier this year when the EU flag was flown on its own underneath the Arc de Triomphe.

This was intended to mark France taking over the presidency of the EU, and was there for just a couple of days, although it attracted plenty of criticism from politicians on the right. 

Who is Gérard Majax?

Taking aim at the vagueness of some of Le Pen’s costing, Macron said: “It’s not Gerard Majax (on TV) this evening. You never explain how you will finance your projects and you are not honest with people.”

In case you’re not familiar, Gérard Majax is a French conjourer who was popular on TV in the 1980s.

Don’t feel too bad about not knowing that, although remaining popular with the older demographic, many younger French people had to resort to Google to find out who Macron was talking about.

Member comments

  1. Thanks to the attention paid to these elections by the Local and John Lichfield, we watched the debate last night. It took a bit of patience and accepting that we didn’t understand everything, but we were pleased we saw it and can judge for ourselves how well the candidates did.

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Newly appointed French Minister faces rape allegations

The final composition of the new French government was announced on Friday. A new investigation suggests that historic rape allegations against a newly appointed minister were ignored.

Newly appointed French Minister faces rape allegations

It didn’t take long for scandal to hit the France’s new government.

An investigation by Mediapart published the day after the final list of ministerial positions was announced revealed that two women have accused one of the appointees of rape. 

READ MORE Who’s who in France’s new government?

Damien Abad, the new Solidarity Minister denies the allegations and a police investigation into one allegation was dropped in 2017. But another could be about to open. 

Who is Damien Abad? 

Damien Abad is a 42-year-old son of a miner from Nimes in southern France who became the first handicapped MP to be elected in 2012. He has arthrogryposis, a rare condition that affects the joints.

Prior to his appointment as the Minister for Solidarity, Autonomy and Disabled People, he was the leader of the France’s right-wing Republicans party in the Assemblée nationale

What are the allegations? 

Two alleged victims, who didn’t know each other, told Mediapart that Abad raped them on separate occasions in 2010 and 2011.

The first woman described meeting Abad for dinner after having met him weeks earlier at a wedding. She said she blacked out after one glass of champagne and woke up in her underwear in a hotel bed with Abad the next morning fearing she had been drugged. 

A second woman who lodged a formal charge against Abad in 2017 said that he harassed her by text message for years. She eventually agreed to meet with him one evening. After initially consenting, she told him to stop – but her plea fell on deaf ears as Abad raped her. 

What does Abad have to say? 

The new minister denies the accusations.

“It is physically impossible for me to commit the acts described,” he told Mediapart – in reference to his disability. 

He admitted to sending “sometimes intimate” messages, but said he had “obviously never drugged anyone”. 

“I was able to have adventures, I stand by my claim that they were always consensual.”

Is he under investigation? 

The second alleged victim made a formal allegation against Abad in 2017. 

A subsequent investigation was dropped later that year after a “lack of sufficient evidence was gathered”.

Mediapart report that Abad’s entourage were not questioned by police and that the MP told investigators that he had no memory of the alleged crime. 

The first alleged victim flagged the abuse to the Observatory of Sexist and Sexual Violence in Politics – an unofficial watchdog monitoring elected bodies – earlier this month. 

The Observatory has since brought the case to the state prosecutor, but it is unclear if another investigation will be launched.  

Who knew? 

The tone deaf appointment of Gérald Darmanin as Interior Minister in 2020 was controversial because at the time he was under investigation for rape. His nomination was met with street protests in Paris and elsewhere. Feminists accused (and continue to accuse) Emmanuel Macron of not taking sexual violence seriously. 

The investigation into Darmanin’s alleged crime has since been dropped.

Some will question whether the naming of Abad shows that lessons have not been learned. 

“Once again a minister  in the government of Emmanuel Macron accused of rape,” said Caroline De Haas, the founder of the #NousToutes feminist movement. 

The Observatory sent a message warning senior party figures in the Republicans and LREM about the allegations on Monday – prior to Abad’s nomination. 

France’s new Prime Minister Élisabeth Borne denied having any knowledge of the warning. 

“I am going to be very clear on all these questions of harassment and sexual violence, there will be no impunity,” she said during a visit to Calvados. 

“If there are new elements, if the courts are summoned, we will accept the consequences.” 

READ MORE Who is Élisabeth Borne, France’s new PM?

The Observatory meanwhile claims it has been ignored. 

“Despite our alerts, Damien Abad who is accused of rape has been named in government. Thoughts and support to the victims,” it tweeted