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Le Pen vs. Macron: Where they stand

Barbara Wesel | Lewis Sanders IV
April 27, 2017

The two candidates have raised the stakes in France's presidential election. They both seek reform, but offer polarizing visions for France's future and its place in the world. DW examines their positions.

Japan französische Präsidentschaftswahl in Tokio
Image: Getty Images/AFP/K. Nogi

The two remaining candidates in France's presidential election don't belong to a mainstream party, and their political visions are worlds apart.

Far-right leader Marine Le Pen has established her entire policy program on protecting a so-called national identity. From trade to foreign relations, her potential electoral victory would herald massive changes across the spectrum of French policy.

On the other hand, banker-turned-politician Emmanuel Macron has positioned himself in the center of French politics, of which his electoral victory would represent comparatively moderate changes.

With the candidates' proposed policies bearing few commonalities, French citizens face a relatively clear decision in the second round of the presidential elections, slated for May 7.

DW explores where Le Pen and Macron stand on key issues that affect the future of Europe and France's place in the international community.

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Europe: Frexit or EU? 

Le Pen has expressed her desire for France to leave the EU, vowing to hold a referendum on the country's membership in the bloc if elected president. She has blamed the EU, and particularly Germany, for France's sluggish economy.

In remarks reminiscent of British activists campaigning for a "Leave" vote ahead of last year's Brexit referendum, she has called for the restoration of national sovereignty, saying France's objectives are in contrast with the idea of the "European ideal" and the treaties that have accompanied it.

On the opposite side of the spectrum, Macron has positioned himself as the pro-European candidates in the French presidential elections. He expressed his desire to further deepen France's relationship in the EU, stressing that the future of European nations can only be realized as a community. 

Currency: Franc or euro?

One of the fundamental tenets of Le Pen's campaign has been the promise to reintroduce France's former currency the franc, which preceded the introduction of euro banknotes and coins in 2002. However, her campaign has failed to provide details on the transition. But analysts have warned of a grave financial crisis in France if it left the eurozone.

For Macron, France's presence in the eurozone is a non-issue. However, he has suggested the desire to make major changes within the monetary union, including changes to the eurozone's fiscal rules, such as how much debt a country can take on. Like Le Pen, though, he has yet to clarify details of his proposal, which would likely require changes to EU treaties.

France: Macron vs. Le Pen

Foreign trade: Protectionism or free trade?

Le Pen has vowed to protect the French economy through a series of protectionist measures. Her campaign slogan effectively equates to "France First." If elected, she has promised to protect France from what she describes as "unbridled globalization." She has voiced opposition to free trade and "offshoring" French jobs. However, she has also used her "France First" motto as the basis of increasing the export of French goods. 

Macron, who served as outgoing French President Francois Hollande's economy minister, stands for a liberal economic order. He has promised to make France more competitive through a series of reforms, including promoting business start-ups and reducing financial burdens. He views free trade and emerging technologies positively. In order to reduce red tape for businesses, he has vowed to shrink France's bureaucracy by scaling down the state apparatus through the reduction of serving officials.

Labor market: Social or liberal

In terms of France's labor market, Le Pen has effectively campaigned on preserving existing protections for workers with a preference for the allocation of jobs to French citizens. She has pledged to fix the retirement age at 60 and fill any ensuing financial burdens by fighting tax evasion. 

Macron has instead envisioned a transformation of France's rigid labor market by making it more flexible. He has promised to reduce social costs, especially those related to unemployment insurance. His plan would include cutting the right to assistance. In terms of retirement, he has planned to set the pension-receiving age at 62 with a proposed increase to the age limit later on down the line.

Immigration: Closed or open?

Le Pen has assured the closure of France's borders if she wins the second round of the presidential election. She has vowed to reduce the number of immigrants France accepts to 10,000 per year. The far-right leader has warned of the risks immigration poses to French identity, especially from Muslim migrants. Consequently, she has promised to cut all state support for migrants.

Instead, Macron has called for the inclusion of asylum seekers and foreign students in French society, describing it as an opportunity for the European nation. He has also supported proposals to safeguard the EU's external borders in order to limit the influx of migrants. In the event of an electoral victory, the centrist politician would otherwise follow European agreements on migration.

Terrorism: Preventive deportations or rule of law? 

Marking one of her strongest campaign pledges, Le Pen has vowed to deport all migrants suspected of links to terrorist groups. She has promised to tighten existing laws and increase penalties, while creating thousands of new jobs for law enforcement agencies. She has also envisioned expanding powers for state intervention in cases of suspected terrorism. 

Macron has voiced a similar plan to create new jobs for law enforcement agencies after they witnessed major budget cuts under former conservative President Nicholas Sarkozy. The ex-economy minister said he would also rely on existing counter-terrorism mechanisms to combat terrorism complimented by increased European cooperation. During his first 100 days, he has also vowed to establish a taskforce to fight the "Islamic State" militant group. 

Defense: Russia or NATO?

With financial backing from Russian circles, Le Pen has eyed closer relations with Russia. She has defended Russia's illegal annexation of Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula. Le Pen has suggested increased cooperation with Moscow on fighting the "Islamic State" militant group. The far-right leader has also expressed an interest in pulling France out of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).

On the other hand, Macron has defended sanctions imposed on Russia after the illegal annexation of Crimea. He effectively backs Europe's policy on keeping Russia at a distance in the wake of the annexation. If elected, the centrist politician would largely uphold France's defense policy.

In either case, the two candidates represent nearly polar opposites of France's political spectrum. Although both seek to reform the country through a myriad of policy objectives, they offer French citizens contrasting visions for the future of France and its place in the world.

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