French presidential candidates face off in heated debate

Polls suggest centrist Emmanuel Macron has widened his lead with around 59% of the vote

French presidential candidates face off in heated debate

French presidential candidates Marine Le Pen and Emmanuel Macron during the final debate of the campaign, 03-05-2017. Image: Pool/ABACA/ABACA/PA Images

The two remaining candidates in the French presidential election have faced off in the final debate of the campaign with up to 47 million voters preparing to take to the polls this Sunday.

A snap opinion poll following the televised debate watched by around 20 million people suggest a large majority found centrist Emmanuel Macron more convincing than his far right opponent Marine Le Pen.

There were testy exchanges and insults all through the debate, with Ms Le Pen calling her opponent a smirking, arrogant banker who did little for French workers during his tenure at economy minister.

Mr Macron ended one of his exchanges by telling Ms Le Pen that she was talking nonsense - adding that French voters deserve better than her.

He responded angrily after Ms Le Pen accused him of being soft on extremism - insisting he would "fight against Islamic terrorism on every front."

Economy

Ms Le Pen played up Mr Macron's background as a former banker and economy minister in the outgoing Socialist government.

Portraying him as Francois Hollande's lapdog, she said he was the "candidate of globalisation gone wild."

In response Mr Macron tore into his opponent’s flagship policy of abandoning the Euro and accused her of failing to offer solutions to France's economic problems such as high unemployment.

Security

The sharpest exchanges however were over national security - a sensitive subject in a country which has suffered a series of recent terrorist attacks.

Ms Le Pen accused Mr Macron of having no plan on security but being indulgent with Islamic extremism.

He told her that radicals would love her to become president because she would stoke conflict.

The TV appearance was the first time a National Front candidate has appeared in a run-off debate - an indication of how far Le Pen has brought her party by softening its image and trying to separate it from past xenophobic associations.

Opinion polls

Polls suggest Mr Macron has widened his lead with around 59% of the vote - while Ms Le Pen is on 41%.

While the race does not appear to be as tight as previously expected, experts have warned that the campaign is still not over.

Voter turnout is expected to be key to the outcome – and next weekend is a bank holiday.

There are approximately 8,000 French people in Ireland who are eligible to vote.

Additional reporting from IRN ...