France’s Prime Minister Gabriel Attal and far-right Rassemblement National (RN) lead candidate Jordan Bardella engaged in an unprecedented TV debate on Thursday, hoping to sway voters just days before the European elections.

“You are bound by a moral contract with [Russia],” Attal told his far-right counterpart, raising alarm bells over the RN’s actual patriotism and national integrity.

“Russia needed a party in Europe to weaken the EU from within”, the prime minister added, pointing out that the RN had benefited from Russian loans in 2014, for €9 million.

Even if these have been repaid, the French far-right is “not free of [its] votes and [its] decisions in the European Parliament”, tied as it were by “mutual interests” with the Kremlin.

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Bardella dismissed the accusation, claiming his party had “always condemned Russia’s aggression against Ukraine without the slightest ambiguity”.

He did admit however that he, alongside all other political leaders, had “made a mistake” with regards to Vladimir Putin’s intentions towards the EU, and that Russian threats had been underplayed in past years, dubbing it “collective naivety”.

The TV debate between Attal and Bardella covered a wide range of topics from the economy to trade, agriculture, immigration and the war in Ukraine.

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With different goals for each, Attal looked to prove that the RN “hated Europe,” while Bardella claimed Attal bore the responsibility for seven years of Emmanuel Macron’s “disastrous” European leadership.

Bardella also accused his political opponent of using “below-the-belt” arguments that were “not fit for his role [as prime minister]”.

With the RN soaring high in the polls, with over 30% of voting intentions, and Macron’s camp struggling to keep the momentum before the EU elections, Attal was seen as a tool to shift the dynamics and bring undecided voters to the centre.

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It is all the more pressing as the majority elections list, headed by MEP Valérie Hayer, is being closely trailed by socialist Raphaël Glucksmann, at 15 and 13% respectively, according to the latest polls.

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