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International Business Times
International Business Times

French PM Duels With Far-right Chief In Bid To Close Poll Gap

Both Bardella (left) and Attal are part of a new generation of French politicians (Credit: AFP)

French Prime Minister Gabriel Attal and far-right party leader Jordan Bardella will lock horns Thursday in a TV debate ahead of European elections, as the ruling party of President Emmanuel Macron seeks to stave off disaster at the ballot box.

The far-right National Rally (RN) is currently far ahead in opinion polls for the June 9 elections in France, with Macron's Renaissance party in a battle for second place with the Socialists.

The debate between Attal, 35, and Bardella, 28, who leads the RN's list in the EU elections, will be the first head-to-head clash between the two leading figures in a new French political generation.

Polls have been making increasingly uncomfortable reading for Macron, who has had to fly to the French Pacific territory of New Caledonia to try to calm the violent unrest there.

Coming third would be a disaster for the president, who portrays himself as a champion of European democracy and bulwark against the far right.

The head of Macron's party list for the elections, the little known Valerie Heyer, has failed to make an impact and was widely seen as losing a debate with Bardella earlier this month.

According to a Toluna-Harris Interactive study for French media, the presidential camp is stuck at just 15 percent of the vote and in a dogfight for second place with the Socialists -- who are on 14.5 percent -- led by former commentator Raphael Glucksmann.

The RN, by contrast, is soaring ahead on 31.5 percent.

The RN's figurehead Marine Le Pen, who has waged three unsuccessful presidential campaigns, has sought to bring the RN into the political mainstream as she eyes another tilt at the presidency in 2027.

"There is a very clear signal that must be sent to Emmanuel Macron. He must suffer the worst possible defeat to bring him back to earth," Le Pen told CNews and Europe 1 this week, adding she was open to a head-to-head debate with the president.

Bardella, who took over the party leadership from his mentor, is key to Le Pen's strategy, a gifted communicator of immigrant origin with an expanding following on Tik-Tok.

Attal, also one of the best debaters in Macron's government, is expected to seek to portray Bardella as an extremist complacent over the threat posed by Russia and who has little interest in Europe.

Apparently aware of the danger, Bardella on Tuesday said the RN will no longer sit in the EU parliament with the Alternative for Germany (AfD) faction, indicating it had lost patience with the controversies surrounding its German allies.

The head of the AfD's list in the polls, Maximilian Krah, had said in a weekend interview that someone who had been a member of the SS in Nazi Germany was "not automatically a criminal".

Bardella is "putting his credibility and the future of his movement on the line in the debate", said the Le Monde daily, adding that a strong performance could see some RN supporters regard him as a stronger candidate in 2027 than Le Pen.

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