Security and money: French centre-right candidates clash in TV debates

French right-wing presidential candidates vying to clinch the nomination for the Republicans party took aim at President Emmanuel Macron on Monday in the first of several televised debates they hope will energise their flagging campaigns.

From left, candidates Michel Barnier, Valerie Pecresse, Philippe Juvin, Eric Ciotti and Xavier Bertrand
From left, candidates Michel Barnier, Valerie Pecresse, Philippe Juvin, Eric Ciotti and Xavier Bertrand Photo: Bertrand Guay/AFP

More than 100,000 card-carrying members of the party, which traces its roots back to post-war leader Charles de Gaulle, will choose their nominee at a congress on December 4th.

Five candidates took part in three hours of debate on Monday night that saw broad consensus on traditional right-wing themes such as immigration, delinquency and radical Islam – as well as the perceived inadequacies of Macron.

READ ALSO Who’s who in the crowded field vying to beat Macron?

Former EU Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier called security “the main failure of this presidential term”, while regional leader Valérie Pécresse accused the 43-year-old head of state of “burning up our cash” with his management of the Covid-19 crisis.

Xavier Bertrand, seen by the party’s rank-and-file as the most credible candidate before the debate, blamed Macron for the emergence of far-right pundit Eric Zemmour whose radical rhetoric has shaken up the presidential race.

“French people want to turn the page on Macron because he’s failed. I’m convinced I’m the one who can beat him. It’s not the extremes that can beat him,” Bertrand concluded.

Polls currently suggest that none of Les Républicains (LR) candidates will make it past the first round of the two-stage election in what would mark another crushing setback for a party which counts de Gaulle, Jacques Chirac and Nicolas Sarkozy as past presidents.

Macron is widely seen as the favourite to win next April, though analysts warn that the election remains highly unpredictable.

Part of the problem for LR is the number of defections of senior figures over the last five years to Macron’s centrist camp, while Zemmour is also seen as draining conservatives away from the party, analysts say.

Sarkozy, who remains popular among right-wing voters, has been convicted twice this year, effectively ending any chances he has of attempting another comeback after a first failed try five years ago.

In the run-up to the debate, Barnier had benefited from a flurry of positive headlines about his chances of clinching the nomination for LR, with some media reports referring to him as favourite.

Supporters had promoted the 70-year-old as a possible “French Joe Biden” – a moderate, grey-haired statesman capable of uniting his divided political family.

In one of few clashes, he was attacked by Pécresse and Bertrand over his proposal for a moratorium on immigration, which he revealed would mean merely reductions in the number of visas granted to foreigners, rather than zero immigration.

“My friends are pretending to not understand my moratorium,” he complained.

Of the three leading candidates, Bertrand, the moderate head of the northern Hauts-de-France region, is seen by 54 percent of LR members as “in a position to win the presidency”, according to a poll released Monday.

Only 26 percent saw Barnier as best placed, and 16 percent favoured Pécresse, the head of the greater Paris region.

But Bertrand publicly quit the party in 2017 and had intended to shun the primary and run as an independent, only to relent last month under pressure.

Analysts say this could count against him in the nominating process, whereas Barnier is seen as having shown loyalty to the party over a decades-long career that has taken him from his home in the French Alps to Paris and then Brussels.

In 2017, the party suffered humiliation and disappointment when its presidential candidate, Francois Fillon, became embroiled in multiple financial scandals which saw the hardline former prime minister eliminated in the first round.

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Revealed: What will you receive from France’s €65bn cost-of-living aid package?

The French parliament has finally passed a massive €65 billion package of measures aimed at helping French residents with the spiralling cost of living. Here's a rundown of the help on offer, who it's available to and when it comes into effect.

Revealed: What will you receive from France's €65bn cost-of-living aid package?

After three weeks of sometimes heated debate, France’s parliament has adopted its multi-part purchasing power package to help mitigate rising cost of living and inflation.

In total, parliament approved a budget of nearly €65 billion for the whole package. 

It includes a raft of measures including price shields, tax rebates and grants. Here’s what is included and who will benefit.

Electricity and gas The government has voted to extend the tariff shield on gas and electricity prices until the end of the year: this means that gas prices will continue to remain frozen and that price hikes for electricity prices will be capped at four percent. 

For who: This applies to everyone who has a gas or electricity account in France.

When: The price freeze is already in effect and will continue until at least December 31st.

Fuel subsidy – The government’s fuel rebate (on petrol/gasoline and diesel) will be increased from €0.18 per litre to €0.30 in September and October, and then in November and December it will fall to €0.10. 

For who: All drivers (including tourists) – this is applied automatically at all fuel stations in France

When: The €0.18 per litre rebate is already in place and remains until August 31st, and rises to €0.30 on September 1st.

Pensions – The index point for pensions will be raised by four percent.

Who: This covers anyone who receives a French pension – roughly 14 million people – it does not affect anyone who gets a pension from another country.

When: From September 9th. 

Abolishing the TV licence fee – The annual TV licence raised €3.7 billion a year for public broadcasting, with the majority having gone toward France Télévisions, but has now been scrapped. It was €138 per household. 

For who: Any household with a television. This equates to about 23 million households in France who will no longer have to pay this yearly tax.

When: The was due to be levied on November 15th, but this year no bills will be sent out.

Tripling the Macron bonus – The maximum annual bonus – which is exempt from income and social security taxes – will be tripled.

It is a one time, tax-free payout that can be given to workers by their employers – if they chose to. Companies will now be able to pay up to €3,000 to their employees (and up to €6,000 for those with a profit-sharing scheme).

Who: This pertains to salariés (employees) whose businesses choose to offer this bonus.

When: The bonus can be paid between August 1st and December 31st.

Rent cap – Rent increases will be limited to 3.5 percent per year for existing tenants. Some cities already have in place their own rent control schemes, but the 3.5 percent cap is nationwide.

Who – This affects anyone who already has a tenancy agreement for a property in France (and also affects all landlords who are banned from making big rent hikes).

When – The 3.5 percent cap concerns annual rent increases that fall between July 2022 and June 2023.

Housing allowance – Those who benefit from personalised assistance for housing (APL) will see that increased by 3.5 percent.

Who: This pertains to those who qualify for governmental financial assistance with rent. Typically, this means low-income households. If you are already on APL – around 3.5 million people – the increase will be automatic, if you think you might qualify, apply through your local CAF.

When: The increase comes in your next payment, with the increased rate backdated to July 1st 2022.

Social benefits – The RSA top-up benefit will be increased by four percent (local authorities, who deal with RSA, will receive €600 million to help them finance and allocate this increase). Additionally, those who benefit from the ‘prime d’activité‘ (activity bonus) will see that value raised by four percent as well.

Who: Unemployed people below the age of 25 can qualify for RSA – this pertains to about 1.9 million people in France. The activity bonus is available to low-income workers – about 4.3 million people.

When: Catch-up payments will be in place from August 18th to September 5th. On September 5th, the updated payment will begin to be paid out.

Student grants – An increase of 4 percent for student grants (bourses) for higher education

Who: Students under the age of 28 who qualify for financial assistance in the form of grants. These students must qualify as ‘financially precarious’ for the school year of 2022-2023.

When: September 2022

Back-to-school grants – Families who meet certain income requirements are eligible for an allowance to help cover back-to-school costs – that grant will increase by four percent this year. There will also be an extra €100 subsidy for eligible families (with an additional €50 per child) paid “to those who need it most” according to Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire in an interview with RTL. 

Who: Low-income families with children. You can test your family’s eligibility on the website This aid will impact 10.8 million households.

When: The one time payment will be paid at the start of the school-year in September.

The option to convert overtime days into extra cash – This is encompassed in two measures: increasing the ceiling of tax exempt overtime hours to €7,500 and opening the possibility for companies to buy back RTT days from their employees.

Eligible employees covered by the 35-hour week agreement accrue time in lieu if they work overtime, known as RTT days. Currently this time is taken as extra vacation days, but now employees will have the option to forgo the time off and instead be paid extra.

Who: For the buying back of RTT days, this applies to employees (salariés) who have an RTT agreement with their company.

For the increased cap on non-taxed overtime work, this applies to a range of employees, such as those who have 35-hour per week contracts and have their employer request that they work overtime or those who work beyond their part-time contract amount. You can learn more about whether you have the ability to declare overtime hours HERE

When: The RTT days buyout will run from between January 1st, 2022 to December 31st, 2025. For employees eligible for tax-free overtime compensation, the ceiling of €7,500 will only be in place for the year 2022.

READ MORE: EXPLAINED: Why is France’s 35-hour week such a sacred cow?

Pay rise for public sector workers – public sector pay will get a four percent rise in the index.

Who: Anyone employed in France as a fonctionnaire (eg civil servants, teachers, librarians).

When: This will be retroactive to July 1st

Assistance for some self-employed workers – A reduction in health and maternity insurance contributions will be introduced for low-earning self-employed workers. “Microentrepreneurs” will also benefit from a reduction in their flat-rate contributions.

Who: Self-employed workers whose monthly income does not exceed 1.6 times the minimum wage and who are registered as ‘microentrepeneurs’

When: TBC

The biometric carte vitale –  The Senate introduced this into the purchasing power package, but it is not a benefit. It will involve the implementation of a biometric carte vitale health card to “fight against social fraud” by adding an electronic chip with biometric data on it to health insurance cards. You can read more HERE.

Who: Everyone who is registered in the French health system and has a carte vitale (about 60 million people)

When: Lawmakers will begin plans to implement the plans in Autumn 2022, but it’s not clearly exactly what form the rollout will take.

How much will these measures impact inflation?

Some measures will likely be more effective than others. For instance, the extension of the tariff shield and increase of the fuel rebate in the early fall is largely to thank for France’s inflation level being two points lower than the European average, according to INSEE.

On the other hand, the tripling of the ceiling for the (optional) Macron bonus will likely not make a large difference. This is because it will likely not be widely taken advantage of, as last year only 4 million French people received the optional bonus, with the approximate average of the bonus having been only €500.

The pension changes will impact about 14.8 million people in France. However, according to economist Christopher Dembik, the revalorsation values are based on actual inflation and not on inflation expectations. “These revaluation measures will be too weak by the time they will be implemented,” Dembik said to French daily Le Parisien.