This is a critical moment for voters in France as incumbent President Emmanuel Macron, a centrist, meets far-right nationalist Marine Le Pen of the National Rally at the polls for Sunday’s final presidential vote. With foreign policy an issue as war ravages eastern Europe, along with worries about inflation in one of the world’s largest economies, the stakes couldn’t be higher.
Here is an overview of their main proposals.
What would they do with Ukraine?
Macron has played a key role in international talks on supporting wartime Ukraine and imposing sanctions on Russia. His prominence on the international stage early in the race gave him an early boost in the polls, but hampered his ability to campaign effectively.
The Macron government says it has sent 100 million euros of weapons to Ukraine since the Russian invasion and Macron pledges to continue this support and to “significantly” strengthen the capabilities and cooperation of European armed forces. He has backed sanctions on Russia and EU unity on the issue, and compares the presidential vote to a ‘referendum on Europe’, saying his rival wants to trigger a ‘Frexit’ in all but name .
Le Pen has had ties with Moscow for years, receiving a €9 million loan from a Russian bank in 2014 and meeting Putin in 2017. She acknowledged that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine had “partially changed her view of Putin, saying he was ‘wrong’ and it was ‘unacceptable’. She says she supports the Ukrainian people and that refugees should be welcomed.
Le Pen is skeptical of arms supply 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 no longer calls for a referendum on leaving the EU or withdrawing from the euro.
What about the economy?
A former economist and banker, Macron has championed start-ups and promises “full employment”. The unemployment rate fell during his 2017-2022 tenure to its lowest level in a generation. Some voters call him “president of the rich” for abolishing a wealth tax and some of his comments about the poor.
He wants to gradually raise the retirement age from 62 to 65, increase the minimum monthly pension and increase teachers’ salaries. He wants companies to be able to give employees an untaxed bonus of up to €6,000 and has spent billions to cap energy bills.
Le Pen tapped into working-class voters’ frustration with inflation and vowed to cut taxes on energy and essential goods. She wants to maintain the minimum retirement age at 62 and proposes that anyone who started working at 20 can retire at 60.
She wants to increase the minimum pension and end income tax for those under 30. She wants companies to raise salaries by 10% and increase teacher salaries over the next five years. She claims she could finance this by reducing “mass immigration”.
Are they talking about climate change?
Although Macron has been associated with the slogan “Make The Planet Great Again”, his green credentials are mixed. He capitulated to the “yellow vest” protesters by scrapping a fuel tax hike. He pledges to build next-generation nuclear reactors and develop solar power and offshore wind farms. Macron pledges that his next prime minister will be in charge of environmental planning as France seeks to become carbon neutral by 2050. It also promises more public transport across the country to wean people off car addiction.
Le Pen won support in rural areas by campaigning against wind farms, promising to dismantle them and invest in nuclear and hydropower. It would also remove subsidies for renewable energy. 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?
It 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 French people only, and deporting foreigners who remain unemployed for more than a year and other migrants who entered illegally. She wants French nationals to be accelerated compared to foreigners for social services. This plan to create a “national preference” for French citizens in terms of employment, social benefits, social assistance and housing could violate EU law and cause unrest in Brussels.
Macron has taken a tougher line on immigration as he seeks support from right-wing voters. It pushes for the reinforcement of the external borders of the European space without passport and the creation of a new force to better control the national borders. He promises to speed up the processing of asylum applications and residence permits and deport those who are not 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 referenda if they obtain 500,000 signatures in support. For this, the constitution should be revised. It was a key demand of Macron’s anti-yellow vest protesters, who saw him as too powerful and out of touch with day-to-day concerns.
Among Le Pen’s most controversial proposals is a promised law banning the Muslim headscarf in all public places. She describes this garment as an “Islamist uniform” which spreads a radical vision of religion. Macron is a firm defender of French secularism but warns that this ban could lead to a “civil war”. With France having the largest Muslim population in Western Europe, this constituency’s vote could play a role in the second round.