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French PM Attal and far-right candidate Bardella clash during EU debate

The debate ire of the other EU candidates
The debate ire of the other EU candidates Copyright Daniel Cole/Copyright 2024 The AP. All rights reserved
Copyright Daniel Cole/Copyright 2024 The AP. All rights reserved
By Sophia Khatsenkova
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The highly anticipated debate was heavily criticised by other candidates who felt left out and angered by the platform given to the far right and French President Emmanuel Macron's party Renaissance.


French Prime Minister Gabriel Attal and far-right EU candidate Jordan Bardella clashed on Thursday night during a TV debate just two weeks before the European elections on 9 June. 

The debate crystallised the radically opposing views of both parties. The duel started out cordial but very quickly became heated, marked by multiple stinging accusations from both sides. 

One of the most heated exchanges focused on Russia, as Attal accused Bardella's party of cosying up to the Kremlin.

“Your party needed money. Russia needed a party in Europe precisely to weaken Europe from within," said Attal, referring to repeated accusations that the far-right party has alleged links to Moscow.

“In the European Parliament, I have always been very clear and I have always condemned without the slightest ambiguity the aggression of Ukraine by Russia, which is today a multi-dimensional threat,” responded Jordan Bardella. 

An unfair advantage?

The debate was a highly criticised one. Firstly, the head of French President Emmanuel Macron's party Renaissance for the EU elections, Valérie Hayer, was not present during the duel — and Gabriel Attal isn't even on the ballot for the June elections. 

Secondly, Raphaël Glucksmann, the French leader of the Socialist Party, is currently neck and neck with Valérie Hayer in the polls. 

Glucksmann said the televised two-person debate gave an unfair advantage to both parties and ignored other candidates. 

Both politicians rank highly in terms of popularity, especially among the younger population (Bardella is 28 years old, and Attal is 35, making him the youngest French Prime Minister). 

However, Jordan Bardella's National Rally party (RN) is crushing the polls with more than 32% of voting intentions, nearly double compared to Macron's Renaissance party, lagging at 15%. 

The challenge for Attal and the Renaissance party was to try and revert the polling trend and rally more centrist voters. 

Do we need more or less Europe?

The central theme of the debate was "Do we need more or less Europe?" and Bardella claimed he did not wish to leave the bloc but instead to reform it. 

“I am not against Europe, I am against the current functioning of it,” said the candidate of the historically Eurosceptic party. 

France's Prime Minister Gabriel Attal and France's President Emmanuel Macron attend a "national tribute" ceremony at the Hotel des Invalides in Paris, 20 March 2024
France's Prime Minister Gabriel Attal and France's President Emmanuel Macron attend a "national tribute" ceremony at the Hotel des Invalides in Paris, 20 March 2024AP Photo/Ludovic Marin

Throughout the debate, Attal tried to show contradictions in the National Rally's EU policies.

“When were you lying, now or then?”, Attal said, pointing at the far-right's policy changes, over the years, on issues including the euro, which it no longer wants to get rid of. 

“I am convinced that the Union creates strength,” insisted Gabriel Attal. 

Climate change, immigration and Ukraine all in focus

Both opponents agreed that climate change is “the fight of the generation”. However, the prime minister wants to defend an ambitious policy with 1,000 billion euros of investments in the green transition.

Bardella criticised this measure, claiming the presidential party has "unrealistic expectations" and said he is against "any restrictive regulations for the French industry."


Immigration was one of the key subjects, as it remains one of the top concerns for French people. 

The National Rally wants to close the free movement of non-Europeans around the Schengen area, citing a “security problem” in Europe. 

“You are Syrian, Libyan, you arrive in Italy, in Sweden, you obtain a residence permit, for example, to work. I do not want this residence permit to give you the right to travel in all the countries of the European Union,” said Bardella.

The far-right candidate once again outlined his goal of holding a national referendum on the issue, outside the framework of the EU.

Gabriel Attal immediately attacked this view. "We will never agree on immigration and it is a source of pride for me. Listening to you, we have the impression that behind every foreigner, there is a delinquent or a terrorist. It’s revolting," said the Prime Minister. 


The final major theme was Ukraine. Bardella strongly decried Macron's wishes to send French troops on the ground and said he was against Ukraine joining the EU.

The government representative reaffirmed Paris' support for Ukraine and Macron's desire for appeasement.

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