Centrist Emmanuel Macron and far-right veteran Marine Le Pen face each other Sunday in the final round of the French presidential election, after emerging as the top candidates from a field of 12 in the first round of voting on April 10.
Over the past two weeks they have sought to rally the voters of their former rivals for the coming run-off, especially those of leftist Jean-Luc Melenchon, who came in a close third.
In efforts to broaden their support, both have made some last-minute modifications in their respective platforms, including on key issues.
Here is a summary of their programmes:
– Macron –
After five years in power, the 44-year-old Macron’s chief pitch is continuity and steady leadership at a time of crises, not least during the Covid pandemic and in response to rocketing inflation and to the war in Ukraine.
Macron says his political positioning is “neither left, nor right” and his programme borrows from both sides of the traditional divide.
From the left’s toolbox are Macron’s proposals to raise the minimum level of pensions, hire more people for the health service, and to make gender equality and tackling school harassment priorities.
From the right come promises of more tax cuts for companies, of thousands more police officers and judges, and a rise in the retirement age, currently at 62, to help reduce the pension system’s massive debt.
“I take responsibility for telling you that yes: we need to work longer,” Macron said shortly before the first round.
But after Melenchon scored well with his promise to stick to the current retirement age, Macron said that he was now ready to “modify” his own target of 65 that he had steadfastly defended throughout the campaign.
“It’s not a dogma,” Macron said between the two rounds, promising consultations and negotiations before any further decisions.
These could lead to more progressive pension reform, with the retirement age likely ending up at 64 by the time Macron leaves office after a second five-year term.
In another nod to Melenchon voters who are mostly young and urban, Macron put the environment centre-stage at a campaign rally following the first round.
“My policies over the next five years will be ecological or nothing,” Macron said, promising twice the previous speed in French efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Macron also vowed that 140 million trees would be planted, and that he would put his next prime minister “directly in charge of the ecology plan.”
– Le Pen –
The far-right leader is offering her traditional hard line on immigration and upholding traditional French identity, coupled with a programme aimed at helping struggling households.
She is promising to hold a referendum on introducing strict controls on immigration, including a requirement that applications for residency can be made only outside France.
A principle of “national priority” would see housing and other social services given to French nationals ahead of foreigners, and she is also promising 25,000 new prison places and extra police.
But Le Pen appears to have softened her stance on banning the Muslim headscarf in all public places.
Challenged by a headscarf-wearing elderly woman while campaigning, Le Pen acknowledged that the question was “complex” and she herself was “not obtuse.”
The question should be debated in parliament, she conceded, but also said it was “unbearable” to see young women who did not want to wear the headscarf “threatened, isolated and placed under suspicion.”
Le Pen says she wants policies for struggling households, including a cut in taxes on petrol and electricity to 5.5 percent from 20 percent, and rises in pension payouts.
“Our programme is a social one because it completely takes into account the questions of daily life, above all the cost of living,” she said at a rally.
But Le Pen has stepped back from her promise to put a return of the death penalty — abolished in 1981 — to a vote by referendum.
She said she accepted that such a vote would be illegal since France’s constitution expressly forbids the death penalty.
Instead, Le Pen said that she wanted courts to be able to pronounce life prison sentences without parole.
On foreign policy, Le Pen has distanced herself from Russian leader Vladimir Putin after past admiration of his regime, but she proposes pulling out of NATO’s joint military command.
She has also proposed France-first changes that would challenge the foundations of the European Union, by reducing France’s financial contributions to the bloc and insisting that French law could supersede EU directives.