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France's First Presidential Election Campaign Debate

French presidential election candidate for the right-wing Les Republicains (LR) party Francois Fillon (C) sings the French National anthem on stage with the Eiffel tower on the background, while his supporters greet him with French national flags during a rally at the place du Trocadero, in Paris, on March 5, 2017.

Photographer: EOFFROY VAN DER HASSELT/AFP/Getty Images

Join us at 9 P.M. Paris time when the French presidential candidates debate each other for the first time.

Monday March 20, 2017
Welcome to TOPLive. France's presidential election this year is unfolding like no other in history. Never before in a French election have five candidates confronted each other directly in a formal televised debate before the first round of voting. Join us at 9 p.m. Paris time for full news, analysis and market reaction of first TV debate of the campaign.

Bonjour, I'm Geraldine Amiel and together with my Paris colleague Gregory Viscusi will be taking you through today's TV debate between France's five main presidential candidates.
From left: Francois Fillon, Emmanuel Macron, Marine Le Pen, Jean-Luc Melenchon, Benoit Hamon
It's the first one ever to be held ahead of the first round of a French presidential election. Stakes for most contenders are high, notably as the odds that far-right Le Pen, who's pledged to take France out of the euro zone, could reach the helm are high. Macron who's never been elected needs to convince he can handle the office and Fillon, once the polls' favorite, must get voters to forget he's at the heart of several corruption scandals.
The debate will be televised by the French TV channel TF1 in Aubervilliers, just outside Paris. The candidates will be in a circular formation around the moderators.
Set of French TV Channel TF1 for President Debate
Photographer: Patrick Kovarik/AFP/Getty Images
Marine Le Pen: The 49-year-old National Front candidate took her father Jean-Marie Le Pen's party in 2011 and built it into France’s largest by downplaying his overt racism and focusing more on an anti-globalist, anti-Europe message that appeals to working class voters. While polls show she’ll make the May 7 run-off, they also suggest she’d lose because most French still regard her as a risk to democracy. Tonight's her chance to soften her image.
Photographer: Marlene Awaad/Bloomberg
Emmanuel Macron: the 39-year-old one-time banker and former economic adviser to Socialist President Francois Hollande has gone from long shot to front runner thanks to missteps by his rivals and a public appetite for a fresh face. But much of his support is driven by dissatisfaction with his rivals, making him vulnerable if any of them shine in the debate. And as the frontrunner, they’ll all be out to get him.
Photographer: Jasper Juinen/Bloomberg
Francois Fillon: the 63-year-old former prime minister was the odds-on favorite to be France’s next president after he won The Republicans primary last November, but went into free-fall after he was put under investigation for providing potentially no-show jobs for his family. He's lagging badly in polls, but he won the primary with string debate performances and will hope to shine tonight.
Photographer: Christophe Archambault/AFP/Getty Images
Benoit Hamon: The former education minister won the Socialist primary with a far-left platform, so far left that many Socialist elders have withheld their endorsement or even backed Macron. At the same time he failed to create a united left with Jean-Luc Melencon (see below). At the moment, Hamon is out of the running for the second round, but he'll be looking to convince leftist voters that he's their only hope.
Photographer: Philippe Lopez/AFP/Getty Images
Jean-Luc Melenchon: While polls put him in distant fifth place, he has a loyal backing attracted by his uncompromising positions against globalization and Western militarism, and refused to join Hamon on a united leftist ticket. Melenchon, 65, is on his second run for president and in some ways the most articulate and feisty of the five.
Photographer: Tiziana Fabi/AFP/Getty Images
Tonight's two-hour debate will be broken into three sections:
  1. What social model for France (i.e., education, welfare, health system)
  2. What economic model for France (i.e., fiscal policy, euro, trade)
  3. Role of France in the world (foreign relations)
For those of you not familiar with the French election process here is a quick rundown:

  • French voters pick their head of state every five years in a direct election in which every vote has an equal weight.
  • In theory, a candidate can win on the first ballot.
  • In practice, the election has always gone to a second round, generally two weeks later. 
  • In the eight elections since the system was implemented in 1965, the first-round winner became the president five times. In 1974, 1981 and 1995, the candidate who placed second came back to win.

Here is the latest OpinionWay poll released midday Monday:
  1. Le Pen 27%
  2. Macron 23%
  3. Fillon 18%
  4. Hamon 13%
  5. Melenchon 12%
  6. Six candidates divide up the remaining 7%
* Macron beats Le Pen 60%-40% in second round

Penelope Fillon, whose parliamentary aide salary for what could potentially have been a no-show job is at the heart of a scandal, is present to support her husband Francois Fillon. He's been charged with embezzlement and lagging in the polls since then, after having been a front-runner.
Photographer: Patrick Kovarik/AFP/Getty Images
The euro is almost completely flat on the day going into the debate, but the recent story has been one of strength. The shared currency has shaken off concerns about the French election, and is on course for a monthly gain of 1.5 percent.

From stocks editor Cecile Vannucci: Investors positioning before next month’s French election have led to a third weekly increase in the Euro Stoxx 50 Volatility-of-Volatility Index, while the CBOE VVIX Index in the U.S. continued its decline. The two measures, which moved in unison about three-quarters of the weeks in the past three years, have gone opposite ways since mid-January.
Hedges against stock price swings into the first-round of the French vote next month stayed elevated. The cost of hedging against CAC 40 Index volatility in the next two months has reached a record relative to bets for swings in the Euro Stoxx 50 Index. With investors weary of the vote, the benchmark gauge for French equities is lagging behind the regional measure this year.
The full list of 11 contenders include independents Emmanuel Macron, Francois Asselineau, Jacques Cheminade and Jean Lassalle, along with far-left candidates Jean-Luc Melenchon, Philippe Poutou, Nathalie Arthaud. The others are Socialist Benoit Hamon, Republican Francois Fillon and far-right candidates Marine Le Pen, Nicolas Dupont-Aignan.
Melenchon says he'll be the last president of the 5th Republic. He says he wants to end France's monarchial presidential system. In the meantime, he'll be an anti-poverty ecological president.
Le Pen also says the six other candidates should be present. Then she says she wants to be the `Real' President of France, that she doesn't aspire to lead a region of the European Union, nor to be the vice-chancellor to Agnela Merkel.
Most candidates complain that only them are part of the debate... Yet they accepted the principle and stand there, without those who are called here 'the little candidates', well below 5% of voting intentions in the first round
Le Pen says France should be free to defend its interests, not the interests of the banks or other EU capitals. Says France needs to be free to defend itself against Islamic fundamentalism. It's her usual hardline rhetoric, but presented very calmly and serenely.