It was long – four hours of live prime-time television. It was historic – never before had 11 French presidential candidates assembled for a political debate. It was occasionally chaotic, ill-tempered, and rambling, but on the whole civilised and restrained.
Most of all, France’s second presidential debate was an example of democracy in action.
The five main candidates: Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen, along with François Fillon, Jean-Luc Mélenchon and Benoît Hamon, were joined by six lesser-known rivals.
Though none of the also-rans have a hope of challenging the frontrunners, the rule of Tuesday evening’s debate was egalité in its most basic form: each candidate, no matter what their standing in the opinion polls, was to be given exactly the same amount of time – 18 minutes – to express their views.
The result was a range of ideas and opinions from communist to nationalist, protectionist and conservative, plus everything in between.
The majority of the smaller candidates proved either virulently anti-Europe or equally fiercely anti-capitalist.
The favourite, Macron, was cautious and seemingly anxious not to put a foot wrong. However, he clashed with Le Pen over her proposal to scrap the euro and return to the franc. “What you are proposing, Madame Le Pen, is a reduction in French people’s purchasing power because for savers and for workers, withdrawing from the euro will be a reduction in spending power.”
Nathalie Arthaud of the Lutte Ouvrière (Workers’ Struggle) party said it hardly mattered to the badly paid what currency they earned.
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