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Fact-Checking France's First Presidential Debate.

J.N. PAQUET photo
J.N. PAQUETLondon
Fact-Checking France's First Presidential Debate.
Yesterday night, for the very first time in France, a TV debate opposing five candidates to the French Presidency has gathered 9.8 million viewers. If you missed it, here is how we could summarise what happened.

On Lobbies.

Independent candidate Emmanuel Macron, a former Minister of the Economy, was attacked by his former colleague in government and current Socialist candidate Benoît Hamon on the financing of his campaign and whether executives from “pharmaceutical companies” or “oil companies” could donate money to his campaign and so influence him. After explaining that his party En Marche! could not accept any donations of above 7,500 euros from individuals, Macron stammered that he would ensure he would not be influenced by any such donors, saying: “I am free. The financing is transparent.”

Fact-checking: According to French daily newspaper Le Monde, individuals are allowed to donate up to 4,600 euros in a campaign year. However, what a candidate personally donates is not limited. Candidates can donate money from their personal account or through a bank loan. Companies and associations are prohibited from financing election campaigns. Outside election campaigns, individuals can also donate to a political party up to 7,500 euros per party per year. A household can donate no more than 15,000 euros per party per year. Everything is being supervised by a national commission on financing campaigns and political parties (CNCCFP).

Therefore, Emmanuel Macron’s arguments are correct since the donations he mentioned were made before the start of the Presidential campaign. As for Hamon’s questioning on whether influential bankers or wealthy press barons might donate money to Macron, they might and they are allowed to do so, to the very limit every individual is allowed to. If some wealthy individuals finance Macron, others may actually finance Hamon’s Socialist Party or any other party to the same limit that is permitted by the law.

Watch the video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0E6aH5ub1Gw


On International Affairs.

Far-Right Marine Le Pen accused Emmanuel Macron’s international policies of being “an absolute and sidereal vacuum”. “You have such a talent, you get to speak for seven minutes and I am unable to summarise your thought,” she said after Macron confusedly talked about wanting to be the President of an “independent France” within the EU.

Fact-checking: Emmanuel Macron was, in fact, quite clear on his vision of what France must do in Europe and in the world. He pretty much repeated what he already said in a speech at Berlin’s Humboldt University, last January, i.e. he wants to see a strengthening of the European Union’s external borders and bring extra resources for the European Border and Coast Guard service. He mentioned the creation of a “roadmap for Europe” for the EU27 to decide together what they want to implement in areas such as defense and security for example.

Macron’s answer to Le Pen that he “will not fight for France’s independence by getting us closer to Putin as you suggest” is for example a sign that his vision of France and Europe is one of a united front that can face the big Russian bear when Le Pen, Fillon and Mélenchon seem happy to take their instructions from Vladimir Putin, if elected President.

Watch the video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=04pHPVWnrEU


On Security.

When Marine Le Pen claimed that France was seeing “an explosion of insecurity, violence and burglary”, Benoît Hamon accused her of being “addicted to petty crimes”.

Fact-checking: Marine Le Pen and her party always define social, immigration and economic issues in France as incredibly bad and getting always worse. It is all about language. In an interview given to weekly magazine Les Inrocks, last January, Professor Cécile Alduy, from Stanford University, a specialist of contemporary French politics and culture, particularly political discourse analysis of the far right and presidential campaigns, explains that “Marine Le Pen uses words to make them mean their opposite. She can take a word that belongs to the Left and give it a totally new meaning. During the 2012 Presidential campaign, she redefined ‘laïcité’(secularism), despite the fact the word has nothing to do with her party’s core message, and that forced everyone to fight to give it back its meaning.”

Another example given by Professor Alduy is Marine Le Pen’s slogan ‘La France apaisée’ (A calmer France). “It suggests peace and calm when, in fact, her discourse is meant to divide, crack open and feed the differences and offer a vision of society opposite to alleviation. ‘La France apaisée’ hides a discourse of conflict. The whole process to reach this so-called ‘La France apaisée’ would be an extreme political violence.” A final example is with Le Pen’s saying “la France est généreuse” (France is generous). “In the next sentence, she explains that it is for that reason that it is necessary to stop immigration and close the borders. Generosity becomes not giving any more, not to receive any more. She says ‘We want an open France’ but her whole discourse is about closing everything down.”

The author of Marine Le Pen prise aux motsfinally said she was surprised by the way Marine Le Pen keeps re-inventing herself. “In 2012, she made secularism her own, now it is feminism. In 2012, she tried to sell her opposition to immigration as a rational position based on economic facts, now she uses another argument: Islamic terrorism. She is really good at detecting the fears of the day. In 2012, it was the financial crisis, nowadays it is the terrorist attacks and the refugee crisis.”

Watch the video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rhWEJbqfTxA



On The Moralisation of Politics.

François Fillon explained that as President he wants to set up a commission that would formulate “proposals on transparency and moralisation of politics”.

Fact-checking: Last week, Fillon was placed under formal investigation for misuse of public funds. The former Prime Minister is alleged to have given his wife and children generous fake jobs funded by the taxpayer. The charges have been extended yesterday by prosecutors to forgery and use of forgeries, as Le Monde reported that investigators now also suspect Fillon and his wife of forging documents, post-dating them, in order to prove that she worked for him. When he met the judge on 14 March, François Fillon simply refused to speak and read a letter claiming his innocence instead.

Satirical newspaper Le Canard enchaîné had also uncovered allegations that Fillon had failed to declare a £43,000 interest-free loan given by businessman Marc Ladreit de Lacharriere in 2013. The very billionaire who was awarded, in 2011, the Grand-croix de la Légion d’honneur, France’s highest state honour, by the then-Prime minister… François Fillon. Also, the very Lacharriere who paid Fillon’s wife about £85,000 to write a couple of book reviews in his literary magazine, La revue des deux mondes.

But that is not it.Le Canard enchaîné published today new evidence that François Fillon was allegedly paid £40,000 to organise a private meeting between a Lebanese billionaire, Fouad Makhzoumi and Russian President Vladimir Putin, at an annual economic conference in St Petersburg, Russia, in June 2015.

In an article published today, Bloomberg explains that whilst “photographs published by Russia’s official news agency, RIA Novosti, show Putin and Fillon meeting with Makhzoumi, Peskov (Vladimir Putin’s spokesman) denied that Fillon had played any role in organizing the meetings.”

The “Putin connection”?

Watch the video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ce5lroQt_nM


On Islam.

When Marine Le Pen claimed that “A few years ago, there was no ‘burkini’ on the beaches. I know you are in favour, Emmanuel Macron”, the independent candidate answered without hesitation: “You don’t talk for me! I do not need ventriloquist. When I have something to say I say it clearly.”Emmanuel Macron then accused the Far-Right candidate of “provocation”, “wanting to divide the society”and making French Muslims “enemies of the Republic”.

Fact-checking: In an interview he gave to weekly magazine Le 1, in September 2016, Emmanuel Macron explained: “The burkini is not related to the religion. It is cultural, ideological and political. We must preserve the individual freedoms, public order and most importantly how the State must answer. If we fall in the trap, the risk is that we would exclude a community of French people who exist socially and politically, and who will feel excluded because of their faith because of our answer.”

Watch the video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lBDipzo12mU


On The Refugee Crisis.

On the topic of migrants and refugees moving to Europe, Right-Wing François Fillon claimed that “most refugees mostly flee poverty and come from every region in the world”.

Fact-checking: Not really, according to Eurostat. The figures for 2016 show that Syrians accounted for the largest number of applicants in 13 of the 28 EU Member States, then come Afghan, Iraqi and Pakistani applicants. Four groups of refugees that don’t flee poverty, but war.

Watch the video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vjkuRE9MsHM


On Brexit.

The Far-Right candidate was mocked by her opponents when she claimed that the results, since the EU referendum, were “fantastic”. “It’s really great what they’ve done in Great Britain,” Marine Le Pen said. “The results in Great Britain are formidable. Their growth is double our growth.”

Fact-checking: It is a bit difficult to claim that Brexit is a success right now as Brexit has not actually started yet and, according toMarketWatch today, Britain’s inflation has jumped to 2.3% in February and topped the Bank of England’s target. It is “the fastest pace of annual price growth since September 2013, and the first time consumer price inflation came in above the Bank of England’s 2% target since November of that year.”MarketWatch explains that the data shows that “the increase in the inflation rate was driven largely by rising prices for food, transport as well as culture and recreation.”


On Russia.

Far-Left Jean-Luc Mélenchon and François Fillon suddenly had something in common: both are ready to resume discussions with Russia on the “border issue” with Ukraine and Crimea. Mélenchon would like to organise a big “Conference from the Atlantic to the Ural” with which he said he would hope to review the borders between Ukraine and Russia, maybe more.

Big smiles guaranteed in the Kremlin!

Russian President Vladimir Putin


Conclusion.

Everyone agrees the debate was a success. The audience was there. The arguments were there. The little fights were there.

Overall, it seems obvious that Emmanuel Macron is the winner of the debate. He presented well, fought his corner when it was necessary and showed he can also accept not all positions on the Left or on the Right are wrong. Some may call this “dubious politics” others may call it “pragmatism” or “consensual politics”.

Mélenchon was certainly the second most convincing candidate with his “I speak my mind” style of speech, his populist arguments and his humour.

Le Pen didn’t bring anything new to the debate that we didn’t already know.

The two big losers have to be Hamon and Fillon who just didn’t connect with the camera, appeared very much invisible at times and didn’t really attack anybody else’s policies with strong arguments.


The next TV debate will take place on 4 April on CNews and BFMTV. Expect more fights than yesterday — as the candidates will have had time to watch their last performance — and, most importantly, do expect some real chaos on the stage with all 11 candidates attending the debate this time.


(Photo Cover - The five candidates who were invited to debate live in “Le Grand Debat”, Twitter - @TF1LeJT)


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J.N. PAQUET is an author, journalist and political writer. He is the editor of PoliticsMeansPolitics.com. His book series on populism and nationalism “The Tip of The Populist Iceberg?” is available in print, eBook and audiobook on Amazon worldwide.

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