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How do the French presidential candidates' programmes measure up?

Former investment banker and political novice-Emmanuel Macron will go head-to-head with far-right, _Front National_ leader-Marine Le Pen for the keys to the Élysée Palace. But how do their policy prop

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How do the French presidential candidates' programmes measure up?

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Former investment banker, minister in a socialist government and political novice Emmanuel Macron will go head to head with far-right, eurosceptic National Front leader Marine Le Pen for the keys to the Élysée Palace. But how do their policy proposals shape up? As one might imagine, their visions for France’s future are like chalk and cheese on almost every issue.

Europe and Frexit

Le Pen hopes to follow in the footsteps of Nigel Farage, her UK counterpart, by holding a “Frexit” referendum. Like others in the right-wing populist fold, she is wary of Brussels and would pursue protectionist economic policies.Tearing up the CETA trade agreement between the EU and Canada is said to be high on her agenda and it is on these policies that the French far-right and far-left almost converge.

Emmanuel Macron positioned himself as the most pro-European of all the candidates in the first round of the campaign. He proposes holding “democratic conventions” throughout the entire European Union (after the German elections this coming autumn) in order to bring about bottom-up reform.

He is calling for the Eurozone to have its own budget, parliament and economy minister. The former investment banker has defended the CETA trade agreement.

The refugee crisis

Le Pen’s policies are underpinned by what she calls “national preference”. This means France would leave the Schengen area; firm up its borders and reduce immigration to 10,000 people per year (down from 200,000); greatly restrict the conditions for asylum applications; ensure no illegal immigrants can seek legalisation; expel all “foreign criminals and delinquents” and immediately impose a two-year delay on free medical care for foreign nationals.

In stark contrast, Macron is championing an “open” France which is “faithful to its values”. This translates into “taking responsibility” by welcoming refugees and doing so in cooperation with other EU member states.

The former Economy Minister has described welcoming foreign students as “fortunate” and something “to be proud of”. Although he has not proposed any changes in legislation, Macron has spoken about “improving integration”.

Employment and the Economy

Macron’s budget plans hinge on saving 60 billion euros by removing 120,000 positions within the civil service. His opponent has yet to release detailed figures for her budget proposals but says she aims to reduce the deficit by making savings within the French State Health Service, eliminating EU contributions and by taking a robust stance on “fiscal and social fraud”.

Both candidates are in favour of hiring more police officers, though the numbers differ enormously, with Macron suggesting 10,000 to Le Pen’s 21,000.

The National Front would tax businesses with factories abroad at 35%, and fix penalties for the hiring of foreign workers.

Le Pen says she would do away with the Socialist Government’s controversial labour law reforms, which sparked mass protest across the country. But Macron, who was the Economy Minister when they were enforced, unsurprisingly, hopes to hang on to them.

Russia

Whilst Macron is one of the few candidates to come out explicitly against strengthening ties with Russia, Le Pen sees a “strategic coming-together” with the Kremlin as crucial in the fight against ISIL. She recently visited Putin in Russia , where she has enjoyed considerable political and financial support.

Macron sees it as Europe’s responsibility to “get on with Russia” but is in favour of upholding the current sanctions in response to the annexation of Crimea “as long as the Minsk agreement is not respected”. Le Pen does not view Russia’s actions in Ukraine as illegal.