Allies are relieved that French President Emmanuel Macron won re-election to a second term on Sunday, indicating that the nuclear-armed country would not abruptly abandon European Union and NATO efforts to punish and constrain Russia’s military expansionism in the middle of the Ukraine conflict.
The 44-year-old centrist’s second five-year term saved France and Europe the seismic upheaval of having nationalist Marine Le Pen at the helm, Macron’s presidential runoff adversary who immediately accepted defeat but nevertheless managed to achieve her best-ever election showing.
Macron vowed to reconcile a country “laden with so many questions, so many differences” and attempt to ease the fury of French voters that fueled Le Pen’s campaign, acknowledging that “many” supporters voted for him merely to keep out the strongly nationalist far-right Le Pen.
“No one will be abandoned on the side of the road,” Macron declared during his victory address, which was held against a backdrop of the Eiffel Tower and a projection of the French tricolor flag of blue, white, and red. Several hundred people cheered him on as they proudly waved French and EU flags.
“We have a lot to accomplish,” Macron added, “and the situation in Ukraine reminds us that we are living in dreadful times in which France must make its voice known.”
During her campaign, Le Pen promised to weaken France’s relations with the EU, NATO, and Germany, steps that would have shattered Europe’s security architecture at a time when the continent is dealing with its deadliest crisis since World War II. During the campaign, Le Pen was questioned about her former friendship with the Kremlin, since she spoke out against EU restrictions on Russian energy supply.
Since France has taken a leadership role in international attempts to punish Russia with sanctions and is selling weaponry to Ukraine, a chorus of European politicians applauded Macron’s triumph.
“Democracy triumphs, and Europe triumphs,” Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez declared.
Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, tweeted, “Together, we will make France and Europe advance.”
Macron’s win was hailed by Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi as “splendid news for all of Europe” and a boost to the EU’s “position as a protagonist in the greatest issues of our time, beginning with the war in Ukraine.”
Macron received 58.5 percent of the vote to Le Pen’s 41.5 percent, a far narrower margin than when the two first met in 2017.
Since President Jacques Chirac defeated Le Pen’s father in 2002, Macron is the only French president to win reelection in 20 years.
“In this setback, I can’t help but feel a type of hope,” Le Pen said, describing her win as “a bright victory.”
For the French far-right, breaking beyond the threshold of 40% of the vote is unprecedented. In 2017, Macron defeated Le Pen 66 percent to 34 percent, and her father received less than 20 percent against Chirac.
She and hard-left leader Jean-Luc Melenchon, who was one of ten candidates ousted in the first round on April 10, both focused on the June legislative election, encouraging voters to give them a parliamentary majority to put pressure on Macron.
This time, Le Pen’s score reflected her years of effort to make her far-right policies more appealing to people. She made substantial advances among blue-collar voters in disgruntled rural regions and old industrial hubs by focusing her campaign on cost-of-living problems.
Jean-Marie Cornic, 78, a Le Pen supporter, said he voted for her because he wanted a president who would put “our everyday life — wages, taxes, and pensions” first.
The dip in Macron’s popularity compared to five years ago indicates that the president will face a difficult task in rallying support for his second term. Many French voters regarded the rematch for the presidency in 2022 to be less intriguing than the 2017 election, when Macron was an unknown quantity.
Leftist voters anguished over Sunday’s decision, unable to connect with either the mainstream president or Le Pen. Some voters went to the polls grudgingly simply to defeat Le Pen, casting joyless votes for Macron.
Stephanie David, a transportation logistics worker who endorsed a communist candidate in round one, stated, “It was the least bad alternative.”
Jean-Pierre Roux, a retiree, couldn’t make a decision. He slipped an empty envelope into the ballot box on Sunday, appalled both by Le Pen’s ideas and what he considered as Macron’s arrogance, having also voted communist in round one.
“I don’t disagree with his beliefs, but I can’t tolerate the man,” Roux added.
Marian Arbre, on the other hand, voted for Macron in Paris “to prevent a government dominated by Nazis and racists.”
“There’s a serious danger,” the 29-year-old expressed concern.
Macron went into the election as the clear favorite, but he was up against a divided, nervous, and fatigued population. The conflict in Ukraine and the COVID-19 epidemic, as well as months of violent protests against Macron’s economic policies, harmed Macron’s first term.
In his victory speech, Macron expressed gratitude to voters who helped him get over the finish line, “not to endorse my views, but to stop those of the extreme right.”
“I want to thank them and let them know that their vote binds me for the foreseeable future,” he stated. “I am the keeper of their feeling of duty and allegiance to the Republic.”