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French presidential debate reveals schism over Europe

Xinhua | Updated: 2017-04-06 09:55

French presidential debate reveals schism over Europe

Candidates attend a prime-time televised debate for the French 2017 presidential election in La Plaine Saint-Denis, near Paris, France, April 4, 2017. [Photo/Agencies]

PARIS - Tuesday's long televised debate, which pitted all 11 French presidential candidates against one another, revealed a deep schism across the political class and French public opinion on the question of Europe.

With less than three weeks to go before the first round of voting, candidates battling for the highest position in the French Republic participated in a first-ever televised joust, lasting nearly four hours.

On the debate menu were jobs, security and social programs. But it was the European Union which provoked the most heated exchanges.

The format of the debate meant talking points were simplified. The favorites for the presidency had more to lose than to gain in the event, but none of them committed a major gaffe.

According to the Elabe survey for BFMTV, Jean-Luc Melenchon from the far-left Unsubmissive France won the evening thanks to his oratory skills with 25 percent favorable opinions, beating Emmanuel Macron from "En Marche!" (21 percent) and Francois Fillon from the Republican party (15 percent).

"I observe that of the 11 candidates, 10 approve the principle of European construction," said the ultra nationalist Francois Asselineau from the Popular Republican Union, "Either we continue to mislead the French, or we make serenely, legally, like the British, an exit from Europe," suggested the "Frexit" promoter.

Many candidates considered the EU as being responsible for the woes of the French. However, Macron stood by the Union, proclaiming to have "Europe in my heart because it makes us strong," adding it needed reform nevertheless.

The former economy minister also thrashed the Front National plan to leave the euro, saying "This is what you propose, Madame Le Pen, it's in effect, loss of buying power for the French. What you propose is economic war."

Rightwing candidate Fillon sought to position himself as the only candidate capable of putting France back on track.

Socialist Party's Benoit Hamon underlined "austerity no longer works" in the European Union.

The overall exchanges on Europe made it clear the schism between the pro and anti-Europeans parties replaced the traditional right-left confrontation in the French political landscape.

The New Anticapitalist Party's Philippe Poutou accused Fillon and Le Pen of having "pinched from public coffers."

According to an Ipsos-Sopra Steria survey for France Television and Radio France published Wednesday, 65 percent of French citizens think honesty and integrity are the qualities most important for a president of the Republic.

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