Marine Le Pen vs Macron: what it’d mean for France if far right National Rally party won presidential election

A Le Pen victory would mark the first far-right presidency in French history with fears it could diminish NATO and the European Union

Voters in France will go to the polls on Sunday (24 April) for the presidential election runoff between the centrist incumbent Emmanuel Macron and far-right leader Marine Le Pen.

The first round of voting on 10 April saw Mr Macron take the lead, closely followed by Le Pen who is running for the third time and appears closer to the presidency than ever before.

The pair went head-to-head in a fiery televised debate on Wednesday (20 April), clashing over important topics such as energy, immigration and climate.

With the election fast-approaching, NationalWorld takes a look at what a Ms Le Pen win would mean for France, what was said in the debate and how close she could be to winning.

What would a Marine Le Pen win mean for France?

Ms Le Pen took over France’s main far-right party from her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, who had a history of xenophobia and Holocaust denial.

She has gradually sought to moderate the party’s image following this.

In 2017, Ms Le Pen changed the party’s name from National Front to National Rally, emphasising economic issues instead of concerns about radical Islam.

However, she has continued to advocate far-right policies, stating that her government would fine women for wearing headscarves in public.

She has promised that among her first acts as president would be a “referendum to stop immigration.”

Ms Le Pen is in objection of NATO, believing that France should take control of its own defence and avoid “subjection to an American protectorate” - suggesting there could be a rocky relationship with the United States if she was to become the president.

Before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, she argued for a Franco-Russian alliance, even if it provoked US sanctions.

What does the election mean to the world?

A victory for Mr Macron would mark the first time in two decades that French voters have granted a president a second term.

A Ms Le Pen victory would mark the first far-right presidency in French history potentially bolstering Moscow and diminishing NATO and the European Union.

Ms Le Pen has long portrayed herself as an ally of Vladimir Putin.

Although she has condemned Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, she suggested she would halt French weapon transfers to Ukraine, stand in the way of embargoes on Russian oil and gas, and advocate a “strategic rapprochement” between NATO and Russia.

Her proposals to implement new border controls, to give preference to French citizens for certain benefits — would challenge the rules and values of the European Union.

Observers expect she would align with the leaders of Hungary and Poland in their battles with Brussels.

What are the chances of Le Pen winning?

Macron is ahead of Le Pen by 8% ,according to The Washington Post’s polling average.

This is compared to the 30% gap between the pair back in 2017.

The far-right leader has benefited from efforts to moderate her image.

However, according to opinion odds offered by UK political bookmakers on 20 April, French President Emmanuel Macron has a more than 90% chance of winning Sunday’s presidential runoff vote.

Macron has seen his lead in opinion polls edge higher over the past few days.

The websites of William Hill and Paddy Power gave odds of 90.9% for the current President winning the election, while the Betfair Exchange had 92.6% and Ladbrokes 94.1%.

What was said in the debate?

Candidates were faced with many questions on important topics.

One of the first to be covered was the cost of living crisis, with Ms Le Pen stating that she wants to act as the “spokesperson” for the French people and to increase the purchasing power of the population.

However, Mr Macron said there is not anything on unemployment in his far-right opponent’s platform - suggesting there is apparently no problem.

Ms Le Pen said she would be the president that would look after everyday concerns.

She said: “I will be the president of justice. I will be the president of national fraternity. I will be the president of civil peace.”

Mr Macron talked about how he has led France through difficult periods, including the Covid pandemic and spoke about making the country “more independent and stronger”.

The candidates clashed over Ms Le Pen’s party financing and a decision to take out a loan with a Russian bank.

Her National Rally party has been accused of taking millions of euros in loans from Kremlin-linked banks.

Questioned on the European Union, Ms Le Pen said she wants to stay but with big changes, whereas Mr Macron questioned whether one country can change a whole organisation.

The two candidates also clashed over the much-debated topic of retirement age.

Mr Macron wants to increase it to 65, which Ms Le Pen called an “injustice”.

Mr Macron said: “I don’t want to increase our taxes, I don’t want to increase our debt, I even want to start paying it off over the next five years.

“So I want us to work more, a pillar of which would be to push back the legal retirement age by four months a year until we reach 65 in 2031.”

Ms Le Pen countered with: “All those who had their first proper job before the age of 20 will be able to retire at 60.”

When the host asked about Muslim headscarves in public, Ms Le Pen said she wants to ban them in public spaces and fight against “islamist ideology”.

Mr Macron said such a law would be a “betrayal” of the French spirit.

On immigration he has proposed limits including strengthening external borders of the European passport-free area and creating a new force to better control national borders.

He also wants to speed up processing of asylum and residence permit applications and to deport those who are not eligible.

Ms Le Pen says she wants a referendum on immigration - a topic she has been famously tough on.

She pushed for ending family reunification policies, restricting social benefits to the French only, and deporting foreigners who stay unemployed for over a year and other migrants who entered illegally.