French presidential elections 2017: Macron and Le Pen discourses offer contrasting visions for France
For the first time in French history, no mainstream candidate will be on the ballot in the second-round run-off, a unexpected defeat for the centre-right and centre-left groupings that have dominated the country’s politics for decades. Emmanuel Macron, the leader of the En Marche! (Onwards!) movement and Marine Le Pen, leader of the far-right movement National Front (NF) will compete in the second round of the election on May 9.
As the second round approaches, the two main candidates did their best to win over the estimated 18% of the undecided voters and win the election.
After the first round of election held on April 23, centrist Emmanuel Macron won 24.01 percent of the votes in the first round of the French presidential election on Sunday, according to final results from the interior ministry.
In one of the key moments of their final TV presidential debate, Macron said that his far-right rival Marine Le Pen’s strategy “is to lie” and called his opponent a “high priestess of fear”.
Le Pen called her 39-year-old rival “the candidate of savage globalisation“ , happy to sell off France’s assets and relinquish control of the country to German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
“Either way France will be led by a woman; either me or Madame Merkel,” said Le Pen during the TV debate.
Macron is currently favoured to become France’s youngest president ever, leading Le Pen in the most recent polls Opinionway poll 61% to 39%.
Speeches after the first round of the presidential election
In the victory speech, Macron told supporters of his fledgling En Marche! (Onwards!) movement: “In one year, we have changed the face of French politics.”
With an eye to Le Pen’s “France-first” policies, Macron told the crowd: “I want to be the president of patriots in the face of a threat from nationalists.”
Addressing the battle ahead, he declared he would seek to break with a system that “has been incapable of responding to the problems of our country for more than 30 years”.
“From today I want to build a majority for a government and for a new transformation. It will be made up of new faces and new talent in which every man and woman can have a place,” he said.
At his headquarters in Paris, Macron promised to be a president “who protects, who transforms and builds” if elected. With an eye to Le Pen, he told the crowd: “I want to be the president of patriots in the face of a threat from nationalists.”
Le Pen, who is herself bidding to make history as France’s first female president, follows in the footsteps of her father, who founded the National Front and reached the second round of the presidential election in 2002.
Marine Le Pen addressed her supporters and told them that they were choosing between unchecked globalisation and homeland-defending nationalism.
“The great issue in this election is the rampant globalisation that is putting our civilisation at risk,” she declared in her first word after results came through.
She went on to launch an attack on the policies of Macron, whom she again described as “the money king” in a disparaging swipe at his investment banker background.
“French people must seize this historical opportunity that has opened to them because what is at stake in this election is savage globalisation, which jeopardises our civilisation,” she said to the crowd of supporters.
Socialist candidate Benoit Hamo and scandal-ridden Conservative candidate Francois Fillon conceded defeat and threw their support behind Macron, condemning the nationalist right-wing views of Le Pen and her National Front party.
“Extremism can can only bring unhappiness and division to France,” said Fillon. “There is no other choice than to vote against the far right. I will vote for Emmanuel Macron. I consider it my duty to tell you this frankly. It is up to you to reflect on what is best for your country, and for your children.”
According to most polls, supporters of the conservative candidate François Fillon and far-left contender Jean-Luc Melenchon, who were knocked out in the first round on April 23, are considering staying home in large numbers.
If he wins, Macron’s biggest challenges will lie ahead, as he first tries to secure a working parliamentary majority for his young party in June, and then seeks broad popular support for labour reforms that are sure to meet resistance.
Key issues dividing Macron and Le Pen addressed between the two voting rounds
Both French presidential candidates are promising national renewal, but their visions differ significantly, especially regarding France’s position in the European Union, as well as the attitude towards immigration and terrorism.
The speeches after the results of the first round of voting, presented voters with contrasting visions: Macron’s vision of a tolerant France and a united Europe with open borders against Le Pen’s “France-first” platform that calls for closed borders, tougher security, less immigration and dropping the shared euro currency to return to the French franc en route to a so-called Frexit.
France’s membership in EU and the currency
During the presidential campaign, Marine Le Pen has capitalised on anti-EU feeling among a part of the voters, and has promised a referendum on France’s membership.She has won support in rural and former industrial areas by promising to regain control of France’s borders from the EU and take a harsh stance against immigration.
Meanwhile, pro-EU centrist Emmanuel Macron has nuanced his tone regarding France’s position in the European Union. Days before the last round of voting, Macron said he thinks the European project must undergo a significant reform process to avoid the possibility of Frexit.
“I’m a pro-European, I defended constantly during this election the European idea and European policies because I believe it’s extremely important for French people and for the place of our country in globalisation,” Macron, leader of the En Marche! movement, told the BBC.
“But at the same time we have to face the situation, to listen to our people, and to listen to the fact that they are extremely angry today, impatient and the dysfunction of the EU is no more sustainable.
“So I do consider that my mandate, the day after, will be at the same time to reform in depth the European Union and our European project.”
“And I don’t want to do so,” he said. “Because the day after, we will have a Frexit or we will have [Ms Le Pen’s] National Front (FN) again.”
Le Pen has repeatedly referred to her opponent as being Hollande’s political heir — an “investment banker” who wants to turn France into a giant “trading room” where “everything is for sale.”
She has also focused on Macron’s period as minister in President Hollande’s government and has accused him of being a “candidate of continuity… littered with the corpses of jobs transferred off-shore, the ruins of bust businesses, and the gaping holes of deficit and debt”.
On the other hand, Emmanuel Macron has described Le Pen’s “culture of defeat” and warned that her protectionism was a sign of a lack of confidence in the country’s capacity to deal with challenges.
Another cause of disagreement is the European currency. Le Pen wants to turn the euro into a “common currency” used for trade, but restore the franc in the domestic economy.
Emmanuel Macron commented on Le Pen’s vow to replace the euro as France’s currency, saying that Le Pen promised “the franc in the morning and the euro in the afternoon”.
During the final TV debate Le Pen said she wants not only full control of borders and trade agreements but also a “return to our national currency, it’s key”.
The far-right leader added that banks and large companies could have a choice as to whether they paid in euros or a French currency, but individuals would return to a French currency.
Macron called the proposal “nonsense”. “How can a big company pay in euros on one hand and pay its employees in another currency?” he asked his political opponent.
Immigration and the risk of terrorism
During the two weeks since the first round of voting, Emmanuel Macron emphasised unity against the far-right Le Pen, whom he called the “candidate of hate”.
“What is at stake isn’t only politics,” Macron said. “It is not only the state, it is not only the future of a group [or] a party … it is the future of our society, of the French people, of our lives together.”
Focusing on theme of unity, Macron called for support for Muslims in France: “I will never allow people to be insulted because they believe in Islam,” Macron said.
The centrist candidate also claimed that Le Pen’s divisiveness only encouraged those who want to commit terrorist acts in France.
On the other hand, Marine Le Pen said that Macron’s deregulation policies would lead to unjust international competition against France’s business interests, mass immigration and free movement of terrorists.
During the final presidential TV debate Le Pen accused her rival of being complacent about Islamic fundamentalism.
“Security and terrorism are major issues that are completely missing from your programme,” she said. Le Pen even suggested Macron was “waiting for an attack” rather than taking proactive measures.
The Leader of En Marche movement said he would strengthen security measures already taken but insisted France needed to work with other countries, and closing borders and general expulsions were not the answer.
The Front National leader said Islamic fundamentalism needed to be “eradicated”, and that meant shutting down extremist mosques, expelling preachers of hate and target funding from countries such as “Qatar and Saudia Arabia”.
Macron responded that the proposed measures enforce terrorists’ desire for a “civil war”.
“Marine Le Pen and our assaillants nourish one another” because both want ‘civil war'”, Macron said, while also promising to fight terrorism abroad and at home.
Economic measures and the labour reform
Emmanuel Macron pledged he would not change his proposed labour reforms despite the demands of Jean-Luc Melenchon, the far-left candidate who picked up one in five votes in the first round of voting last weekend.
“I heard the calls to change my manifesto,” Macron said “Some did it in the past, but I won’t do it.”
His reforms include capping severance payments to make firing and hiring easier, which he said were necessary to address unemployment, which has hovered around 10 percent in France for several years.
“These changes are essential to prevent the National Front from becoming stronger in five years’ time,” Macron added.
Macron also kept his plan of maintaining the age of retirement at 62, a measure criticised by a large part of the French society.
He also repeated he would seek fairer EU rules to prevent what he calls “social dumping” – under which companies can move jobs to member countries where labour is cheaper and employ imported workers at lower rates.
Le Pen wants to lower the age of retirement to 60 years old and has constructed her entire economic strategy on the idea of “France-first” focusing on “intelligent protectionism”, including favouring French firms in public sector contracts.
Far-right candidate Marine Le Pen has called Macron a “candidate of continuity” and a morbid continuity, littered with the corpses of jobs transferred offshore, the ruins of bust businesses, and the gaping holes of deficit and debt”.
“Emmanuel Macron is just [current President] Francois Hollande, who wants to stay and who is hanging on to power like a barnacle,” she told a rally in Villepinte, a suburb north of Paris.
Macron said he would fight “until the last second” against Ms Le Pen’s ideas “of what constitutes democracy”.
“I will fight up until the very last second not only against her programme but also her idea of what constitutes democracy and the French Republic,” he told reporters.
Addressing a rally in Paris on May Day, the 39-year-old told supporters that the future of France, of Europe “and of a certain concept of the world”, was at stake in the election.
The centrist candidate even admitted that if the EU does not reform, France faces the prospect of “Frexit” – the French equivalent of Britain’s Brexit.
During the final debate, Le Pen called Macron a clone of Francis Hollande and the candidate of wild globalisation.
“Your cynical choices and the shameful use of campaign arguments have revealed the coldness of the investment banker that you never stopped being.”
“The studious smile has morphed into a smirk…and the darling child of the system and elites has removed his mask,” she said.
Emmanuel Macron hit back, saying: “France’s deserves better than you.”
Madame Le Pen, la France mérite mieux que vous. #2017LeDébat
— Emmanuel Macron (@EmmanuelMacron) May 3, 2017
“You smear everyone, you smear foreigners, you smear judges. The country doesn’t need that.”
“You are the heir of a name, a political party, a system that has prospered from the anger of the French people for so many years…For 40 years we have had Le Pens as presidential candidates.”