For several years, television channels have not hesitated to shake up their usual programs to organize debates between the presidential candidates ahead of the first round. The idea of a debate bringing together all the candidates as well as the outgoing president does not seem to please the head of state.
Emmanuel Macron is not yet an officially declared candidate, but despite the desire of the French and his opponents to see him participate in the debates of the first round, his entourage, and in particular Gabriel Attal, told journalists that it was necessary to prepare for his absence on the sets. But is it new?
If the debate between the two rounds is a real tradition since 1974, the media (and the candidates) benefit from more flexibility concerning those of the first round. The last outgoing president to have refused the exercise is none other than François Hollande, and for good reason: shaken by a mixed record, the incumbent head of state had given up seeking a second term. The news, announced during a speech on 1is December 2016 by François Hollande himself, was a first under the Fifth Republic.
In 2012, Nicolas Sarkozy also refused to take part in a debate between the ten presidential candidates, just like his main socialist opponent, François Hollande. However, he had complied with a different exercise on France 2, which had organized two “Five-party debates” bringing together a total of ten candidates from the first round, in the form of a succession of interviews. In fact, no real confrontation between the candidates had taken place.
no legal obligation can force him to comply with this exercise
The debates preceding the first round of the presidential election of 2007 were held without Jacques Chirac, outgoing president and forced to leave his place following his two terms. He is also the only one not to have participated in the famous debate between the two rounds – an almost obligatory passage – in 2002, against Jean-Marie Le Pen.
Emmanuel Macron’s absence from the debates before the first round would therefore be neither a novelty nor a breach of his duties as outgoing president. Indeed, no constitutional or legal obligation could force him to comply with this exercise. To escape political and media pressure, the Head of State could put forward several arguments: the health crisis or the French presidency of the European Union, thus strengthening his almost unprecedented status as the first round approaches, which will take place next April 10.