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François Fillon beats Alain Juppé in presidential candidacy debate

François Fillon beats Alain Juppé in presidential candidacy debate
The men, running as candidates for the French right’s nomination, debated issues including abortion and the economy

Angelique Chrisafis in Paris
Friday 25 November 2016 00.54 GMT

François Fillon, the socially conservative former French prime minister promising a pro-business “electric shock” for France, was seen as the winner of a TV debate against his more moderate rival, Alain Juppé, ahead of Sunday’s vote to nominate the French right’s presidential candidate.

The two-hour live TV stand-off was surprisingly mild-mannered after days of savage attacks between the two candidates, in which Fillon complained of being called a “medieval reactionary” for his plans to roll back certain adoption rights for gay couples and his private beliefs on abortion, and Juppé complained he had been labelled an Islamist “Ali Juppé” for supporting the diversity of France.

Fillon said this week that France had never been so rightwing and that he was the best candidate to tap into that rightwing shift. He told the TV debate he felt he had won the “ideological battle”. He promised to cut half a million public sector jobs while returning France to full employment in five years – a huge promise in a country that has battled with mass unemployment for three decades, including during Fillon’s recent five-year stint as prime minister. Fillon also said there needed to be more privatisation in the French health service and that France’s cherished social model – its vast security net including pensions, unemployment benefit and the health system – was defunct and had to be overhauled.

Juppé warned against what he called brutal reform that wouldn’t work.

Juppé insisted that their stances on abortion should be clarified. Fillon, who has been emphasising his Christian faith as he attempts to appeal to a hardline Catholic vote, has said he was personally opposed to abortion. But he said in the debate that he would do nothing to change French abortion laws introduced in 1975. Juppé said, for him, abortion was a fundamental right.

The two candidates differed on the scale of economic reform and public spending cuts, but both proposed tax cuts and public-sector-job cuts.

They also differed on the identity of France. “No, France is not a multicultural nation,” Fillon said, adding that foreigners who came to France must assimilate. “When you come to someone’s house, by courtesy, you don’t take over,” he said.

Juppé said France’s identity came from its rich diversity which should be celebrated and that he wanted to bring people together.

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