Emmanuel Macron and Marine le Pen clash over Putin & cost of living in French election debate

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 (POOL/AFP via Getty Images)
(POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen clashed over the cost of living and foreign policy in a fiery debate ahead of the French election.

The French president accused Ms Le Pen of being “dependent on Vladimir Putin” as the two candidates met head-to-head for the first time ahead of the vote on April 24.

Ms Le Pen currently lags behind Mr Macron in voter surveys, with most polls putting the French president ahead by a margin of around 5 per cent.

However, Mr Macron’s lead has narrowed since 2017 when he beat Ms Le Pen with 66.1 per cent of the vote.

During the debate, the far-right challenger and leader of the National Front party attacked Mr Macron’s economic record in office.

“I want to give the French their money back," Le Pen said, hitting hard against Macron’s record in office, saying that over the past five years she had seen the French “suffer”.

“I would like to tell them that another choice is possible," Le Pen said, adding: “I will be the president of the cost of living.”

In response, Mr Macron took aim at Ms Le Pen’s past admiration for Russian president Vladimir Putin, a loan for the 2017 campaign contracted through a Russian bank and her recognition of Russia’s annexation of Crimea.

“You depend on the Russia power, you depend on Mr Putin. You took out a loan from a Russian bank," Macron told his opponent. “A lot of your choices can be explained by this dependence… you made a choice that constrained you politically.”

Ms Le Pen rejected the accusations, saying: “I am a completely free and independent woman.”

Elsewhere, Mr Macron claimed that implementing Ms Le Pen’s ideas would mean leaving the European Union.

He compared European Union membership to owning a flat in an apartment building with other owners, saying: “You can decide to fix up the facade on your own, but with joint ownership you cannot say from one day to another ‘things have to be done this way or that way because my name is Madame Le Pen’.”

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