French President Emmnauel Macron faced a dilemma ahead of his 20 April debate with Marine Lepen.
Would he confront his opponent on an equal footing, as a candidate who according to the polls and the results of the first round of the French presidential election will garner the vote of nearly half of the electorate, or would he highlight her ignorance on basic issues, thus risking coming across as arrogant.
Would he be respectful or condescending? Would he play defence or offence?
Macron chose the second option. For three hours he encircled Lepen like a Boa Constrictor, as the daily Le Monde wrote, deconstructing her arguments one by one. He accused her of running on a platform of fear and envy and said she seeks to trigger a civil war.
In a line that will be long remembered, about her taking out a loan from a Russian bank, he said that when she speaks to Russia, she speaks to her banker.
Macron’s strategy appears to have worked, as in a post-debate survey 59 percent of voters found him more convincing than Lepen, but that does not mean that Sunday’s battle has been decided.
There are still many undecided voters, the choice of left-wing voters cannot be predicted, and a very large segment of the electorate dislikes Macron.
It is indicative that 39 percent of those who intend to vote for him will do so not because they agree with his ideas, but in order to defeat Lepen.
The polls indicate that for the next five years the French will have a liberal president, though no one can say the same about its prime minister.
The issue is more existential than political.
More than ever, the EU needs a united and strong leadership in order to manage the repercussions of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine: millions of refugees, major energy price hikes, and the prospect of an extraordinarily dangerous precedent of a border change in Europe.
France should continue to function as the engine of the European continent, especially because Germany’s new chancellor comes across as timid.
A Macron victory in Sunday’s election is the only choice.