French election: How the papers responded to the final TV debate

Matty Edwards
French presidential candidates Marine Le Pen, Benoit Hamon and Francois Fillon: Reuters

On the eve of the French presidential election, the final televised debate between all 11 candidates was largely overshadowed by the terror attack in Paris, which left one policeman dead and two injured.

Although France has been ravaged by numerous terror attacks in recent years, the threat of terrorism has barely featured so far in the election campaign. This changed, however, in the aftermath of the killing in Paris on Thursday night.

Here’s how the French press reacted to the last presidential debate:

Le Monde

Le Monde’s front page read: “The end of the campaign confirms the electorate’s mistrust towards the candidates,” alluding to the uncertainty of Sunday’s result and the large number of voters still undecided.

In their editorial, the paper called for the French people to not fall into “terrorist trap”.

“France must not fall into the trap which is set by the killers either ordered or supported by Islamic State,“ it continued.

Referring to Marine Le Pen, it said: “They mustn’t panic or turn to those who want to impose the policy of an eye for an eye.“

This is the message delivered by left-wing candidate Jean Luc Mélenchon, who said on Thursday night that France cannot “succumb to panic”.

“We must not interrupt our democratic process to show that republicans, not these killers, will have the last word,” he said. Central candidate Emmanuel Macron stressed the importance of “ensuring the safety of our fellow citizens”.

Independent centrist presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron (Martin Bureau/AP)

Libération

The front page of left-leaning daily Libération read: “They have everything to lose- and then some”.

For those eliminated on Sunday, the battle will be on to secure the future survival of their parties, particularly for Benoit Hamon of the Parti Socialiste and Les Républicains candidate François Fillon.

“Never has a campaign pitted candidates against each other so isolated from their own parties,” one article read.

In its assessment of the debate itself, the paper concluded that left-wing candidate Mr Mélenchon didn't quite have the time to sparkle as much as he had done on previous occasions.

Ms Le Pen of the Front National, who hasn’t flourished in previous debates, kept her calm and came through unscathed after focusing on her family-friendly image as a mother of three.

Libération concluded that Mr Fillon was trying to appear more firm and authoritative than the young, inexperienced Mr Macron, as he said “the fight against Islamist fundamentalism has to be the absolute priority for the next president of the republic.”

French Left party leader Jean-Luc Melenchon (Martin Bureau/AP)

Le Figaro

Conservative paper Le Figaro’s leading election story was on the fears for the economy in the scenario of a run-off between mr Mélenchon and Ms Le Pen. The far-left and far-right candidates both propose increased public spending, which is worrying the markets, they report.

They too focused on the impact the terror attack could have on polling day. In an interview, polling expert Bruno Jeanbart said the Front National took a lead in the polls after the Bataclan attack in November 2015, and the latest incident could have a similar effect, with Ms Le Pen and Mr Fillon most likely to benefit from their hardline stances.

The two candidates of the right joined Mr Macron in cancelling campaign events on Friday because of the Paris killing.

Les Echos

Les Echos lead on its front page with “France in danger from the extremes.” It cited the fact the likely pair to go through to the second round is still far from clear as cause for concern for the French people. Like Le Figaro, it also focused on how the prospect of Ms Le Pen and Mr Melenchon making it through was “putting global investors on high alert.”

L’Obs

Centre-left weekly magazine Nouvel Obs gave each candidate a score out of 10 for their performance in the final debate. Highest rated were Mr Macron, who “wasn’t really tested”, and Mr Mélenchon, who was “on the top of his game”. Mr Fillon came across as “statesmanlike and safe”, and the “caricature-like” Ms Le Pen scored poorly. Trailing in fifth place in the polls, Mr Hamon performed well, but it was too little too late, according to L’Obs.

L’Express

News magazine L’Express accused Mr Fillon of sexism after he insinuated that the fact female presenter Léa Salamé was pregnant meant she had been unable to follow the campaign, after she asked him a question he didn’t like.

The conservative candidate said: “I understand that you are asking me this question because you have been absent some of the time… I have answered it 20 times.”

The magazine also highlighted the inferior TV ratings of 4.6 million viewers compared to the 10 million who tuned in at the end of March. The most followed candidates were Mr Macron and Ms Le Pen.

The official campaign closes at midnight on Friday, and France goes to the polls on Sunday. The second round between the top two candidates takes place on 7 May.

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