Polar opposites: The issues that divide Le Pen and Macron

Vincent DROUIN
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French presidential candidates Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen are at odds on many issues

Centrist candidate Emmanuel Macron and far-right leader Marine Le Pen, who go head-to-head in the second round of France's presidential election on May 7, are diametrically opposed on issues ranging from taxes to Europe.

Here is where the two candidates stand on the key questions:

- Europe -

Le Pen has long insisted on the need for France to drop the euro single currency and return to the franc, and also leave Europe's Schengen visa-free travel zone.

She has predicted the EU "will die" and has vowed to hold a "Frexit" referendum on France's membership of the European Union.

Le Pen wants to abolish an EU directive allowing companies in one EU country to send their workers elsewhere in the bloc, and opposes the CETA trade deal between the EU and Canada.

Macron, a former banker and economy minister who ran on an unabashedly pro-European campaign, wants to bolster the eurozone by setting up a separate budget for the 19 countries that use the common currency.

He also proposes giving the zone its own parliament and finance minister.

Macron also wants Europe to strengthen is external borders by setting up a common border force, pool more of its defence forces and impose higher tariffs to protect European industry from unfair competition, particularly from China.

He is generally supportive of international trade deals and he backs the treaty with Canada.

- Immigration -

Le Pen has pledged to reduce net immigration -- the difference between the number of people arriving and leaving -- to just 10,000 and has vowed a "moratorium" on legal immigration.

She would make it harder to qualify for asylum and curtail policies that let migrants bring relatives to France, while also making it impossible for illegal migrants to secure residency status.

Foreigners convicted on terror charges or any other crime would be automatically deported, and she would abolish a law that allows children with migrant parents who are born in France to eventually become French.

She would also ban the wearing of "ostentatious" religious symbols such as Muslim head scarves and veils in public, having routinely warned against the "mortal danger that fundamentalist Islam".

Macron, however, has said he would not look to prohibit head scarves, and has pledged to speed up the review process for asylum requests to a maximum of six months, including appeals.

He has praised German Chancellor Angela Merkel over her generous policy to asylum seekers that has seen more than a million new arrivals since 2015.

- Labour and retirement -

Both candidates have said they would keep France's 35-hour work week, adopted by a Socialist government in 2000, but Macron would undercut it by allowing companies to negotiate new working practices with their employees.

Le Pen wants to lower the retirement age to 60 years old from 62, while Macron wants to unify a complex web of retirement rules for various public and private-sector employees, while maintaining the current retirement age.

He also wants to suspend unemployment benefits for qualified workers who refuse two "decent" job offers.

To rein in the budget, Macron wants to cut 100,000 civil servant jobs, though hospitals would be spared, while also creating 10,000 police jobs and 4,000 to 5,000 teaching posts.

Le Pen advocates more civil servant jobs at the national level and for hospitals, but fewer jobs managed by French regional authorities. She also wants 21,000 more police and customs officials.

- Taxes -

Le Pen would impose a 35 percent tax on goods by companies which move production outside France, and would penalise groups that hire foreign workers.

She would cut income taxes by 10 percent for the lowest-earning households, and would drop France's plan to withhold income tax from monthly earnings starting next year -- currently French pay tax on income the year after it is earned.

Macron wants a three-year suspension of housing taxes for 80 percent of French households.

He also wants to turn France's so-called "solidarity" wealth tax on people claiming more than 1.3 million euros ($1.4 million) in assets into a tax on real-estate wealth, which would exclude financial assets.

Le Pen has said she would leave the wealth tax untouched.

- Energy, education, family -

Macron has pledged to cut France's reliance on nuclear energy to 50 percent of its total electricity needs by 2025, from about 75 percent now.

Le Pen has been a staunch defender of nuclear power, and would halt France's efforts to develop wind power.

In education, Le Pen would impose a uniform for all public school students and roll back a controversial reform meant to make French school days shorter.

Macron wants to give schools more autonomy in terms of hiring and cut primary school class sizes in half in low-achieving and poor areas.

He would also ban the use of cellphones in elementary schools.

Le Pen opposes gay marriage, although she would allow civil unions, and would restrict medically assisted procreation to only couples unable to have children naturally.