In three days, French voters will go to the polls again to choose between the two first-round winners who will be the President of France and the most powerful politician in Europe for the next five years. Some of the undecided made their choice after last night's only televised debate between the two candidates, far-right Marine Le Pen and incumbent President Emmanuel Macron. More than 15 million French people watched the debate.
The debate between the two candidates lasted almost three hours and was the only one where the two candidates could be seen one-on-one. While Le Pen performed poorly in the last debate five years ago, she did much better this time, but experts estimated that Macron won this time too - he looked more knowledgeable and professional, although still arrogant.
Macron laid out Le Pen's electoral program for the March, revealing its deeper purpose: a de facto withdrawal from the European Union (EU); a retreat from active participation in world politics; and religious sectarianism - essentially a small and timid France that has abandoned its ideals of freedom and universalism - as Macron put it.
For her part, the right-wing Le Pen blamed Macron for the failures of his presidency - the decline in the purchasing power of the middle class, and the fall in real wage growth. She also admitted that she supports the ban on the headscarf for Muslim women.
Proud of the EU, which, of course, worried Brussels, she said: "I want to stay in the European Union, but I want to change it fundamentally so that an alliance of European nations can emerge. Why do I want to do that? Because, first of all, there are a whole series of European Union policies that I do not agree with. I do not agree with many free trade agreements, I do not agree with the posted workers policy."
The most striking moment was Macron's accusation against Le Pen that her party borrowed €9 million in 2014 from a Kremlin-linked Russian bank, which is also involved in corruption and money laundering.
"This is bad news for our country because you are dependent on the Russian regime and you are dependent on Putin. That's why, instead of talking to the leader of another country, you talk to your banker when you talk about Russia, and that's the problem, Mrs. Le Pen", Macron said.
What was not discussed, as Politico pointed out, is why it is still legally and politically possible in France for a political party to be financed by a foreign body, let alone by a hostile state body. In Le Pen's defense, however, no French bank has been willing to grant her a loan for years. At the moment, Macron is 10 percentage points ahead of Le Pen. The ratings are 55% for Macron and 45% for Le Pen.
Five years ago, Macron and Le Pen also faced off in the second round of the French presidential elections; then Macron won a landslide victory with 66% to 34%. Unlike in 2017, this time the second round is expected to be a much tougher fight. A poll carried out in the first half of April still suggests that Macron could win the second round by a narrow margin: the incumbent is expected to win 51% of the vote, while Le Pen could receive 49%.