STRASBOURG, France (Reuters) - French members of the European Parliament (MEPs) seized a rare opportunity on Wednesday to attack President Emmanuel Macron directly, three months before France's presidential election.
Macron was appearing before the assembly in Strasbourg to set out France's priorities for its six-month EU presidency, but French lawmakers were much more interested in debating his domestic policies.
"This is not a French election debate," said the Parliament's new chair, Roberta Metsola of Malta, as she struggled in vain to move the focus back to EU matters.
In France, a president never takes part in debates in the National Assembly, and having to respond live to lawmakers' questions is a highly unusual affair.
"For France, but also for Europe, it is essential that you have only one mandate," MEP Jordan Bardella of France's far-right National Rally told Macron, who came to power in 2017.
Manuel Bompard, of the hard-left La France Insoumise (France Unbowed), was one of several accusing Macron of lying, adding: "In three months, the French can ensure Europe gets rid of him."
Macron, who has already made clear he wants to run for a second mandate but has yet to offically confirm it, accused his opponents of misunderstanding the challenges facing Europe and France and misrepresenting his policies.
Opinion polls show Macron, 44, is the most likely winner of the April election but that it's not a done deal https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/whats-stake-frances-presidential-election-campaign-2021-12-11.
A staunch pro-European, Macron is hoping his proposals for a more assertive Europe https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/frances-macron-says-migration-crises-show-need-strength-eu-external-borders-2021-12-09 will help secure him a second five-year term as French president.
While Europe is not high on French voters' minds, opinion polls show that questions of sovereignty, security and identity are, and his opponents like to depict Macron as too cerebral and aloof to understand ordinary people's concerns.
"Emmanuel Macron's Europe has no heart, no head, no soul," far-right presidential candidate Eric Zemmmour said in Calais on Wednesday.
(Reporting by Benoit van Overstraeten, Ingrid Melander, Myriam Rivet, Tassilo Hummel; Writing by Ingrid Melander; Editing by Gareth Jones)