The pro-European centrist Emmanuel Macron has vowed to unite a divided France after winning a second term as French president in a decisive victory against the far-right’s Marine Le Pen, who nonetheless won more than 12 million votes in a historic high for her anti-immigration party.
Macron became the first French leader to win re-election for 20 years, scoring a clear margin of 58.5% to 41.5%, according to initial projected results by Ipsos for France Televisions.
Addressing a victory rally at the foot of the Eiffel Tower, where his supporters waved French and European flags, Macron vowed to respond “efficiently” to the “anger and disagreement” of voters who chose the far right.
“I know that a number of French people have voted for me today, not to support my ideas but to stop the ideas of the far right,” he said and called on supporters to be “kind and respectful” to others, because the country was riven by “so much doubt, so much division”.
He added: “I’m not the candidate of one camp any more, but the president of all of us.”
Macron beat Le Pen with a lower margin than the 66% he won against her in 2017. Turnout was also lower than five years ago, with abstention estimated at a record 28%.
Le Pen succeeded in delivering the far right its biggest-ever score in a French presidential election, after campaigning on the cost of living crisis, and promising a ban on the Muslim headscarf in public places as well as nationalist measures to give priority to native-French people over others for jobs, housing, benefits and healthcare – policies Macron had slammed as “racist” and “divisive”. Le Pen called her score “a shining victory in itself”, adding: “The ideas we represent are reaching new heights.”
Macron’s victory was swiftly welcomed by EU leaders after a campaign the French president had described in its final days as a “battle for Europe” against the Eurosceptic Le Pen.
The European Council president Charles Michel tweeted: “Bravo Emmanuel. In this turbulent period, we need a solid Europe and a France totally committed to a more sovereign and more strategic European Union.” The European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen said: “I am delighted to be able to continue our excellent cooperation.” The German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said French voters had delivered “a strong message in favour of Europe”. Macron’s first foreign trip as president is expected to be to Berlin to see Scholz.
During a frantic final two weeks’ campaigning, Macron had travelled to town squares across France to shake off what he felt was the unjustly persistent tag of a being an aloof “president of the rich”. He had promised to dedicate the next five years to restoring France to full employment, arguing that his policies such as loosening French labour laws had already succeeded in creating jobs and that he would definitively put an end to the country’s decades of mass unemployment.
But although Macron has promised his own swift new package of laws to address the cost of living crisis and tempered his time frame for raising the retirement age, he ultimately focused far less on his own manifesto in the final days and more on stopping what he called the “unthinkable”: the far-right, anti-immigration Le Pen taking the helm in France, the eurozone’s second biggest economy and a nuclear power.
Macron will use his win to bolster his push for an increased EU defence project, closer collaboration on immigration and more regulation to counter the weight of giant tech platforms such as Google. France holds the rotating European Council presidency until the end of June.
Macron had framed the choice between himself and Le Pen as “a referendum on Europe, ecology and secularism” and said the far-right leader’s demands for EU treaty change would have seen France pushed out of the bloc. He called her a “climate sceptic” and said her plan to ban the Muslim headscarf from all public places, including the street, would breach the French constitution and religious liberties, and spark “a civil war”.
Macron accused Le Pen of being financially “dependent” on Vladimir Putin’s Russia, after she took out a Russian loan for her party in 2014, and said her ties to the Kremlin meant she would have been a dangerous choice at the time of war in Ukraine. Le Pen, in turn, had said that “fear was the only argument he had left”.
But Macron knew that, after campaigning to stop Le Pen, his support at the ballot box would reflect as much the rejection of the far right as support for his own programme.
“If the French put their trust in me on April 24, I know full well … that there will be a part of the people who voted for me who would have done it to block the Front National,” he had told the TV programme Quotidien, deliberately using the former name for Le Pen’s party, now renamed the National Rally. “And so it won’t mean they have given me a blank cheque and that they support and find brilliant every point of my programme.”
A significant number of the 7.7 million first-round voters for the radical left’s Jean-Luc Mélenchon, who narrowly missed reaching the final, had said they felt torn over abstaining or voting to keep out Le Pen.
Macron had leaned to the left in the final days to try to court Mélenchon voters, promising to speed up measures against climate breakdown and expand environmental policy. His first task is to appoint a new prime minister, who he promised would be specifically devoted to addressing the climate crisis.
The focus will now shift to the parliamentary elections in June, where Macron will seek to get a majority for his centrist grouping, possibly expanding alliances with the right. He had promised a “big new political movement” and could go as far as rebranding his party, La République En Marche. Both Le Pen and Mélenchon are seeking to increase their parties’ lawmakers.
For his first step, Macron has promised to introduce a package of measures to ease the pressure of the cost of living crisis before summer, including continuing caps on gas and energy prices. (The Guardian UK)