April 21, In the aftermath of the French Presidential Debate, in a small library room at the Roeterseiland campus, two engaging teams went head to head and debated the ideas of the two candidates for the French elections. Many pertinent subjects, addressed similarly during the Presidential debate, were touched upon during this intense discussion, ranging from purchasing power and the Covid-19 crisis to secularism and growing security issues. For the third time during the Fifth Republic, the Rassemblement National, a far-right party led by Marine Le Pen, reached the second round of the elections. This held the breath of many French citizens, who massively voted for the outgoing president Emmanuel Macron, leader of the center-right party La République En Marche, to prevent extremism. Four days after the debate, the results were alleviating: Emmanuel Macron got 58,5% of the votes, which permitted him to be reelected for another five-year term as the French President. After the outcome, a collective sigh of relief was heard across Europe. 

Back to the Rostra Debate. Two teams were created: The first defended the Le Pen’s Rassemblement National’s ideas: as an anti-immigration party, it advocates strongly for significant control of immigration and protection of French identity. The other side represented outgoing President, Emmanuel Macron, leader of La République en Marche. The party stands for liberal political and economic values and has even been renamed Renaissance on the 5th of May for the next legislative elections on June 12th, 2022. The sides were randomly assigned and the debate was structured in four parts: the opening statement, choosing topics, discussion and rebuttals, and the closing statement. 

The opening statements clearly set the tone for the rest of the session. Le Pen’s team emphasized the decline of France’s greatness, especially during the last quinquennium. This team blamed Macron’s policies for the working classes, higher prices, and declining security. On the other hand, the opposing team congratulated the last five years under Macron’s watch. They applauded five productive years in which France overcame many obstacles, such as the Covid-19 crisis and the recovery period after the terrorist attacks that happened under François Hollande’s mandate. Disagreements were growing as the teams presented their perspective on today’s France.

The topics presented by both teams were diverse. Le Pen’s side primarily pointed out the importance of two themes: the economic and social situation of the workers, and the security issues that threaten French people’s lives. The first critique directly addressed the outgoing president’s economic policies. They were, according to Le Pen’s side, directed mostly toward the rich people. Many economic reforms were mentioned: the removal of the wealth tax, the extension of the retirement age to 65 years, and the increase of the carbon tax. Le Pen’s side clearly put the French workers on the front side of the argument, judging that they were left aside during the last five years. The second critique, a feature of the Rassemblement National ideology, was the drastic decline of security. The issue was quickly turned to the rising immigration and the many terrorist attacks suffered by France in the last 10 years. Framing 2015’s Islamist terrorist attacks as belonging to the Muslim community. Macron was blamed for not controlling enough immigration flows and putting France at dire risk. 

Macron’s side conversely put the focus on the international status of France. France’s greatness rests on its position in the European Union, and on the forever alliance with Germany. In contrast to the opposition which vouches for more sovereignty, Macron’s corner wants the European link to be multiplied and strengthened. But the opposite is wanted on Le Pen’s side, the team positioned themselves for strategic autonomy and advocated against NATO which is considered a burden for France. The environment subject made a short apparition, with both teams agreeing about its importance. Nuclear energy was defended by both teams, but Macron’s side bet on more technological development to increasingly get free of it. 

It comes as no surprise that the aforementioned environmental issues were quickly overshadowed by the secular French expectations. Born from the secular agreements in 1905, where the state got separated from the Church. From that moment and so on, every single French political institution strengthens the importance of secular thoughts and processes.  but to different extents. Le Pen’s representatives expected an absolute separation of the public sphere and any religious symbols that intends to prohibit the veil in all public spaces. While Macron’s side conversely chose a moderate alternative, and suggest maintaining veil banning only in schools. 

The great political differences made the debate very entertaining, but the real-life results were especially alleviating for both the French population and across Europe that feared the rise of the far-right.

Becoming the first French president in twenty years to win reelection, Macron held a speech beneath the Tour Eiffel, in Paris. The speech was simple and straightforward, as he thanked his voters, and addressed special thanks to those that do not necessarily support his ideas but chose him to keep the far-right out. On the other hand, Marine Le Pen congratulated Macron on his considerable victory. She also declared with a determination impetus that, despite her third unsuccessful attempt, she will continue to keep up the fight for France. Besides the common relief after keeping the far-right out, many French citizens were disillusioned and feared a second mandate to maintain the status quo. However, they still hold hope for the legislative elections on June 12th. Many citizens plan on voting massively for the left that has been united in one coalition; La Nouvelle Union Populaire, Écologique et Sociale.

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