Presidential rivals clash over Brexit in first TV debate

21 March, 2017, 11:32 | Author: Leticia Walters

Whether this helps National Front leader Marine Le Pen attract angry voters, or whether they prefer the reforms offered by conservative Francois Fillon or centrist Emmanuel Macron remains to be seen.

The debate, which has been seen as a key opportunity for candidates to differentiate themselves in the election where almost 40 per cent of voters are undecided, lasted three hours and overran by 50 minutes. Socialist candidate Benoît Hamon came in last.

Supporters of Macron, who styles himself as a progressive, are among the most likely to switch camp while Le Pen's are seen as the most loyal.

Answer EURACTIV's 10 questions and see which candidate you should back on 23 April.

The two frontrunners for the French presidency clashed over Islam and Brexit in heated exchanges during the first televised debate of the campaign. After a thinly veiled dig from Le Pen suggesting that the former banker would be beholden to financial lobbies if elected, Macron told her: "You'd be bored without me". The ex-prime minister appeared tired and at times absent during the debate. "But I have experience", Fillon said.

Macron retorted that he was the only candidate who was not funded by public money, since his party is new and had not yet benefited from public subsidies.

Macron made a name for himself by criticising sacred cows of the French "social model" such as the 35-hour working week, iron-clad job protection and civil servants' jobs for life.

France's conservatives appeared to be at war with themselves less than 50 days from the presidential election as François Fillon clung on to his struggling, scandal-tainted campaign and senior party members fought to oust him as their candidate.

But Le Pen, the anti-immigration, anti-European Union leader of the National Front, was looking for opportunities to pounce.

Donald Trump's election as US president and Britain's vote to leave the European Union were both supposed to be influenced by voters who felt left out of the economic recovery.

"This is called "project fear".

But no one is making any firm predictions after Donald Trump's shock election in the U.S. and Britain's surprise decision to quit the EU.

"Without peace in school it is impossible to learn", Le Pen said.

He dismissed Le Pen's proposals to create space for 40,000 more prisoners as unrealistic, saying it "had never been done in five years (a French president's term)". Television debates were key to Fillon's victory in the centre-right primaries in November and to Benoit Hamon in the Socialist primaries in January. The two parties see eye-to-eye on a number of issues, including Russian Federation.

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