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Macron vs Le Pen: battle of the policies 

Marine Le Pen and Emmanuel Macron have each promised to bring renewal to French politics.

Still, the two insurgent candidates, who will go head to head in the second round of the presidential election on Sunday, have clashed over how to handle the challenges facing France. 

Ms Le Pen, of the National Front, is running on a populist, anti-immigration platform but has spurned economic liberalism in favour of the protective state. Independent centrist Mr Macron borrows from the left on issues of social protection but his pro-business platform is well to the right of socialist orthodoxy. 

With the pair set to clash in a televised debate on Wednesday evening, here is an overview of where they stand on the main campaign issues. 

Europe

On Europe, the two candidates could scarcely be more opposed. Ms Le Pen has promised to ditch the euro if she wins, outlining an exit plan that has already tested investors’ nerves.

She has also said that the government would hold a referendum on “Frexit” from the EU entirely, but only if she were unable to renegotiate its rules on border-free travel and budget contributions.

Countering Ms Le Pen’s Euroscepticism, Mr Macron has long campaigned for greater co-operation and integration within the bloc on fiscal, environmental and social regulation.

He would be warmly received in Brussels: the European Commission’s president Jean-Claude Juncker broke with protocol to congratulate the committed Europhile, whose rallies have typically been festooned with EU flags, on his first-round victory.

Budget

Ms Le Pen, a fierce critic of austerity, has pledged to cut taxes for households and increase welfare benefits for the working class.

Those measures would be paid for, she says, by savings from reduced immigration and withdrawal from the EU. She has also said that once France were out of the euro she would get its central bank to print more money to bring down the country’s debt.

Her offer tacks further to the left than that of her centrist rival. Mr Macron is advocating a Nordic-style economic model for France, mixing more moderate spending cuts of €60bn, over five years, with a €50bn stimulus package over the same period and lower taxes — but also an extension of the welfare state.

He says he could still keep France’s deficit below the EU’s limit of 3 per cent of gross domestic product and would cut 50,000 state jobs.

Immigration

Nativism and “national preference” lie at the heart of Ms Le Pen’s campaign. Not only has she pledged to introduce a quota to cut immigration by 80 per cent to 10,000 people a year, she has also promised to impose an extra tax on employers hiring foreigners and make it harder to acquire French citizenship.

In the final leg of campaigning before the first vote, she hardened her rhetoric, promising to suspend all legal immigration immediately.

By contrast, Mr Macron, who has praised Chancellor Angela Merkel’s open-door refugee policy that “saved our collective dignity”, has promised to prioritise dealing with asylum requests within six months. France should welcome refugees in need of “protection”, but “other” asylum seekers should be returned to their home country immediately, he says.

Labour reform

With French unemployment just under 10 per cent, the labour market has become a politically charged issue in the campaign. Strict labour laws, including the flagship 35-hour working week policy, are disliked by many employers but fiercely defended by the unions.

Ms Le Pen intends to maintain the 35-hour week and lower the retirement age from 62 to 60, while making overtime tax-free.

Mr Macron has backed away from the confrontation that he provoked when, as economy minister, he suggested scrapping the 35-hour rule. Instead, he plans to introduce flexibility on overtime.

He has vowed to leave the retirement age and pensions untouched but would give companies the freedom to negotiate specific deals on working hours and pay. 

Trade

A heated debate over the challenges of globalisation, in particular its impact on French jobs, has dominated the campaign.

As president, Ms Le Pen would reject international trade agreements in favour of “intelligent protectionism” benefiting French companies. Her anti-globalisation push would include a 3 per cent tax on imports and would direct public procurement towards French companies.

Mr Macron is more open to free trade and was the only contender in the first round to voice support for trade pacts such as the EU-Canada deal, Ceta.

But his stance has proved contentious since he made the second-round run-off: he was received with angry jeers and burning tyres when he visited a factory in his hometown Amiens that is set to be relocated to Poland next year. 

Nevertheless, he calls for deeper European co-operation and integration to create a “protective Europe”. This includes, for example, creating an EU mechanism to control foreign takeovers of important industries. 

Security and defence

Both candidates have proposed increased spending on defence and policing as part of France’s fight against terror following attacks over the past two years.

Ms Le Pen wants to quit Nato, almost double the defence budget from 1.8 per cent of GDP to 3 per cent, and reintroduce military service. She supports closer relations between France and Russia, arguing that Moscow is critical to defeating Isis in the Middle East.

Mr Macron would increase defence spending to 2 per cent, add 10,000 police officers and restore a network of field agents to combat Islamist terror. He has said that his top foreign policy goal is “to kill Isis” and called for greater co-operation with the US to do so.

Via FT