PARIS -- It’s crunch time for voters in France as incumbent President Emmanuel Macron, a centrist, is meeting far-right nationalist Marine Le Pen of the National Rally at the ballot box for Sunday’s final presidential vote. With foreign policy an issue as war ravages Europe's east, along with worries over inflation in one of the world's biggest economies, the stakes could not be higher.
Here’s a look at their key proposals.
WHAT WOULD THEY DO ABOUT UKRAINE?
Macron has played a key role in international talks on supporting Ukraine amid war and imposing sanctions on Russia. His prominence on the international stage at the beginning stages of the race gave him an initial poll bump but impeded his ability to campaign effectively.
Macron's government says it sent 100 million euros in weapons to Ukraine since the Russian invasion and Macron vows to continue this support and “significantly” reinforce European armed forces’ capacities and cooperation. He has supported sanctions against Russia and EU unity on the issue, and likens the presidential vote to a “referendum on Europe,” claiming that his rival wishes to trigger a “Frexit” in all but name.
Le Pen has for years cultivated ties with Moscow, receiving a loan of 9 million euros from a Russian bank in 2014 and meeting with Putin in 2017. She acknowledged that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine “partially” changed her views about Putin, saying he was “wrong” and it was “unacceptable.” She says she supports the Ukrainian people and refugees must be welcomed.
Le Pen is skeptical about supplying weapons to Ukraine, opposed to oil and gas sanctions, and wary of NATO, wanting France to remain a member but with a reduced role. Le Pen is no longer calling for a referendum on leaving the EU or withdrawal from the euro.
WHAT ABOUT THE ECONOMY?
A former economist and banker, Macron has championed startups and promises “full employment.” The jobless rate decreased during his 2017-2022 term to its lowest level in a generation. Some voters dub him “president of the rich” for abolishing a wealth tax and some of his comments about the poor.
He wants to progressively raise the retirement age from 62 to 65, boost the minimum monthly pension, and raise teachers' wages. He wants companies to be able to give employees an untaxed bonus of up to €6,000 and has spent billions capping energy bills.
Le Pen has tapped into frustration among working class voters over inflation, and promises to cut taxes on energy and essential goods. She wants to maintain the minimum retirement age at 62 and proposes that anyone who began working at 20 can retire at 60.
She wants to raise the minimum pension, and end income tax for under-30s. She wants companies to increase salaries by 10%, and to raise teachers’ salaries over the next five years. She claims she could fund this by slashing “massive immigration.”
ARE THEY TALKING ABOUT CLIMATE CHANGE?
Although Macron was associated with the slogan “Make The Planet Great Again,” his green credentials are mixed. He capitulated to “yellow vest” protesters by scrapping a fuel tax hike. He pledges to build new-generation nuclear reactors and develop solar energy and wind farms at sea. Macron is pledging that his next prime minister would be in charge of environmental planning as France seeks to become carbon neutral by 2050. He also promises more public transport nationwide to wean people off being dependent on cars.
Le Pen has earned support in rural regions by campaigning against wind farms, vowing to dismantle them and invest in nuclear and hydro energy. She would also scrap subsidies for renewable energies. She wants to force schools to serve a majority of French agricultural products in their cafeterias instead of imported food.
HOW WOULD THEY APPROACH IMMIGRATION?
This has been the central pillar of Le Pen’s party for generations. Le Pen’s plans include ending family reunification policies, restricting social benefits to the French only, and deporting foreigners who stay unemployed for over a year and other migrants who entered illegally. She wants French nationals to be fast-tracked over foreigners for social services. This plan to create a “national preference” for French citizens across employment, benefits, welfare and housing might violate EU law and cause trouble in Brussels.
Macron has taken a tougher line on immigration as he has sought support from right-wing voters. He pushes for strengthening the external borders of the European passport-free area and creating a new force to better control national borders. He vows to speed up processing of asylum and residence permit applications and to deport those who aren’t eligible.
WHAT ARE THE OTHER BIG ISSUES?
Le Pen wants citizens to be able to have a direct voice in laws by allowing them to propose referendums if they obtain 500,000 signatures to back them. For that, the constitution would need to be revised. This was a key demand of the anti-Macron yellow vest protesters, who saw him as too powerful and out of touch with everyday concerns.
Among Le Pen's most controversial proposals is a promised law banning Muslim headscarves in all public places. She calls the garb an “Islamist uniform” that spreads a radical vision of religion. Macron is a firm defender of French secularism but warns this ban could lead to “civil war.” Since France has Western Europe’s biggest Muslim population, this constituency’s vote could play a role in runoff vote.
Sylvie Corbet and Elaine Ganley in Paris contributed.
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