France

French far-right's Le Pen faces off with hardline interior minister in TV debate

Head of the far-right National Rally party Marine Le Pen in front of French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin (L) on October 6, 2020 in Paris.
Head of the far-right National Rally party Marine Le Pen in front of French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin (L) on October 6, 2020 in Paris. AFP - LUDOVIC MARIN
3 min

Marine Le Pen, the leader of France's far-right, and hardline Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin are to clash Thursday evening on public TV channel France 2 in a debate seen as litmus test for the 2022 presidential election. The main topics: Islamism, immigration and security.

Advertising

The debate comes as opinion polls show Le Pen is likely to face off again against incumbent Emmanuel Macron in next year's presidential contest.

Le Pen's National Rally made its strongest showing to date in the 2017 vote.

By installing hardline Darmanin, a man of North African, working-class, background and an uncompromising commitment to France’s secular values, as interior minister in July, Macron signalled his intent to win over conservative voters.

French way of life

After the brutal Islamist murder of teacher Samuel Paty in a Paris suburb in October, Darmanin vowed to root out extremists, saying he wants to "preserve the French way of life", inviting criticism that he was taking aim not just at Islamists but at all Muslims.

Darmanin argues that minority groups who stay within their own communities are more vulnerable to radicalisation. His vision for the country includes fewer halal butchers and limiting ethnic clothing stores and specialist aisles in supermarket.

“It always shocked me to enter a supermarket and see a shelf devoted to the food of one community, and another one next to it,” Darmanin told French television in October. “Some people need to understand that winning market share by appealing to basic instincts doesn’t necessarily contribute to the common good.”

Le Pen trial

On Wednesday, Marine Le Pen went on trial on charges of breaching hate speech laws by tweeting pictures of atrocities committed by the Islamic State armed group.

In 2015, shortly after Islamist terror attacks in Paris left 130 people dead, the leader of the National Rally party shared images published by IS that showed the graphic execution of several prisoners. 

Le Pen says the charges challenge her right to free speech.

Thursday's debate, which gets underway at 9:30pm Paris time, will be watched closely by both supporters and critics keen to see if she has refined her technique since her last performance in the presidential debate against Macron in 2017.

Daily newsletterReceive essential international news every morning