By SYLVIE CORBET
PARIS (AP) — France’s presidential candidates could hardly be more different: Pro-European progressive Emmanuel Macron is facing far-right, anti-immigration Marine Le Pen in their only direct debate Wednesday ahead of Sunday’s runoff election.
Here’s a look at the differences in their stances on Europe and security, and also their personal styles:
With Britain leaving the European Union, Macron says it needs to build a new leadership base anchored by France and Germany. He speaks about promoting common European ideals of peace, prosperity and freedom.
He wants the EU to be able to deploy 5,000 European guards to the external borders of the Schengen passport-free travel zone, and proposes a European fund to finance and develop shared military equipment.
Le Pen wants to pull France out of the EU. She advocates closing France’s borders, adopting protectionist trade policies and dropping the shared euro currency to return to the French franc. She promises to restore France to a sovereign state in charge of its own borders and money supply, and to crack down on immigration.
She considers Macron “an immigrationist” because he has backed German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s policy of welcoming refugees from Syria.
Le Pen asked a television program to remove the European flag from the stage during her speech. During Macron’s rallies, by contrast, many supporters wave European flags alongside French flags.
FIGHT AGAINST TERRORISM
In a country traumatized by a series of attacks by Islamic extremists, Le Pen and Macron both pledge to boost police and military and intelligence services.
Yet their views on international policies are starkly different.
Macron pledges to keep up French operations against extremists in Iraq and Syria and Africa’s Sahel region; Le Pen wants France to be militarily independent and to leave NATO’s military command to avoid being “drawn into others’ wars.”
Macron proposes increasing the French defense budget to at least 2 percent of GDP by 2025, up from 1.78 percent now — in line with NATO targets — and keeping the overall number of troops stable at 200,000.
Le Pen promises to reach 3 percent of GDP by 2022, adding 50,000 more soldiers, a second aircraft carrier and more jets, ships and armored vehicles.
Le Pen firmly backs the Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime and has distanced herself from U.S. President Donald Trump over recent U.S. airstrikes targeting Syria. She is also friendly with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Macron wants international pressure on Assad and to maintain sanctions against Russia over Ukraine.
Bold and gritty, Le Pen, 48, is an experienced party leader making her second bid for the French presidency. She has held elected office several times in northern France and has been a European lawmaker since 2004.
On stage, she favors a classic style, often wearing somber suits or playing on the blue-white-red colors of the French flag.
In her speeches, she uses dramatic, cut-to-the-chase expressions and doesn’t hesitate to harshly criticize her rivals.
Macron, 39, has never held elected office. He is a literature lover who likes to quote French authors in his lengthy speeches. He asks his supporters not to boo other politicians.
He’s leading an American-style campaign in which he often appears publicly with his wife, Brigitte. Le Pen’s long-time companion, Louis Aliot, remains more discreet.
Even their music choices contrast: Macron’s supporters were dancing to modern techno music during his election party in a Parisian exhibition center. The Le Pen faithful were celebrating with 1980s standards in her town of Henin-Beaumont in northern France.