Macron, Le Pen Clash in Bad-Tempered French Pre-Poll TV Showdown

Presidential candidates Macron, Le Pen will enter the final battle on 7 May. 

Far-right candidate Marine Le Pen and centrist Emmanuel Macron clashed over their vision of France's future and ways of handling terrorism in an ill-tempered televised debate on Wednesday ahead of Sunday's run-off vote for the presidency.

The two went into the debate with opinion polls showing Macron, 39, maintaining a strong lead of 20 percentage points over the National Front's Le Pen, 48, in what is widely seen as France's most important election in decades.

For Le Pen, the debate, watched by millions, was a last major chance to persuade voters of the merits of her programme which includes cracking down on illegal immigration and ditching the euro currency.

In angry exchanges, Le Pen played up Macron's background as a former investment banker and economy minister, painting him as a continuation of the outgoing unpopular Socialist government and a backer of rampant globalisation. He accused her of not offering solutions to problems such as France's chronic unemployment.

But the sharpest exchange was over national security, a sensitive issue in a country where more than 230 people have been killed by Islamist militants since 2015.

Le Pen accused Macron of being complacent in confronting the threat of Islamist fundamentalism.

Le Pen to MacronYou have no plan (on security) but you are indulgent with Islamist fundamentalism

Macron retorted that terrorism would be his priority if he is elected and accused Le Pen of being simplistic. “What you are proposing is snake oil,” he said, referring to her proposals to close France's borders.

“I will lead a fight against Islamist terrorism at every level. But what they are wanting, the trap they are holding out for us, is the one that you offer - civil war,” he said.

‘Globalisation Gone Wild’

Le Pen labelled Macron a “smirking banker” and said he represented unfettered globalisation.

“Mr. Macron is the candidate of globalisation gone wild, of Uberisation, of precariousness, of social brutality, of war by everybody against everybody ... of the butchering of France by big economic interests,” she said, referring to the gig economy typified by U.S. app-based cab service Uber.

Macron hit back by calling Le Pen a liar, saying she was talking nonsense and that her rhetoric lacked substance.

On unemployment, Macron told Le Pen: “Your strategy is simply to tell a lot of lies and just to say what isn't going right in the country.”

Macron finished only three points ahead of Le Pen in the first round on April 23, but he is widely expected now to pick up the bulk of votes from the Socialists and the centre-right whose candidates were eliminated.

(The article has been edited for length.)