Macron Vows to Heal France’s Divisions After Victory Over Le Pen

By Helene Fouquet, John Follain, Gregory Viscusi, and Mark Deen


Emmanuel Macron pledged to unite France’s rifts after his victory over Marine Le Pen in the presidential election, saying that he’ll work to address the concerns that were exposed during one of the most divisive campaigns of recent history.

The president-elect made his comments in a speech to supporters at his campaign headquarters in Paris less than an hour after Le Pen conceded the election. With counting still underway, projections by France’s four main pollsters put Macron on course to take about 65 percent of the vote in Sunday’s runoff to 35 percent for the far-right Le Pen.

Macron and his wife wave to supporters at the Louvre Museum on May 7. Photographer: Thomas Samson/AFP via Getty Images

“I know that there is anger, worry and doubts that many of you have expressed,” said Macron, 39, pledging to “fight with all my energy against the deepening divisions” in French society. Addressing a rally outside the Louvre museum later, he added: “I will do everything in the next five years so that they have no more reason to vote for extremes.”

Macron’s commanding victory over the National Front candidate on a platform of liberal policies strengthens the European Union and deals a blow to the populist wave that has roiled western democracies for the past year. An independent centrist who has never before run for office, he is set to become the youngest-ever elected French head of state.


“Macron is a new face and that’s exactly what France and Europe need: a fresh start,” Andre Sapir, a senior scholar at the Bruegel think tank in Brussels, said in an interview. “Macron gives Europe a huge hope.”

While the euro gained in early Asian trading as the result came in, its rise was muted as investors weighed the task ahead.

A pro-European globalist, Macron must now try to unite a divided France after one of the most bitter and turbulent elections of modern times. His challenge will be to end years of high unemployment and sluggish growth, deal with the terrorist threat that has traumatized the country and, ultimately, restore faith in the political establishment.

Leaders were quick to hail Macron’s achievement, with U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May among the first to offer her congratulations. German Chancellor Angela Merkel praised his pro-European campaign in a brief call. President Donald Trump took to Twitter to congratulate Macron on his “big win.”

UK and Trump Macron

The outcome will help restore some of the EU’s self-confidence after it was battered by Britain’s decision to leave the bloc last year. A committed free-trader, Macron will help act as a counterweight to the protectionist wing of Trump’s White House along with Merkel, Canada’s Justin Trudeau and Xi Jinping of China.

The election result is at once a blow to Russian President Vladimir Putin, who met with Le Pen at the Kremlin in March, and a rebuff to President Trump, who said in April that Le Pen was the “strongest” candidate on borders, even if neither leader officially endorsed her.

Swept Aside

“This is of huge significance for French politics,” Bruno Cautres, a political scientist at the Sciences Po institute in Paris, said by phone. “The voters’ demand for political renewal has swept everything aside, politicians of the establishment have been eliminated one after the other, and the winner is someone who has never been elected before.”

The election ultimately came down to a choice between two radically different visions for France that were on show last week when the candidates clashed in their only televized debate.

Having prevailed over 48-year-old Le Pen, Macron will be sworn in as soon as this week as the head of mainland Europe’s second-largest economy and its leading military power, as well as one of five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council.

Market with Macron

The victory is a relief for markets after a campaign that saw bond yields fluctuate in tandem with Le Pen’s political fortunes. The euro edged higher after currency markets opened in Auckland, climbing about 0.2 percent to $1.1023. While that’s the highest level since November, the jump was far more muted than the reaction to the first round, when the euro gained almost 2 percent within 15 minutes of the open.

Uncharted Territory

Capturing the presidency is a remarkable achievement for Macron, who built his En Marche! movement just last year. A former investment banker and one-time economy minister in the outgoing government of Francois Hollande, he only resigned his post in August to run for the presidency, and becomes the first postwar head of state to be elected from outside the traditional party structure.

Yet his victory also propels France into uncharted political territory. His lack of an established base may curtail his ability to fulfill campaign pledges to pursue closer ties to France’s European neighbors and launch far-reaching reform of the economy. Macron has pledged to strengthen the euro, cut taxes on business and kick-start competitiveness by allowing more company flexibility and by inviting top scientists to relocate to France.

“Macron’s biggest challenge now is to win the battle for parliament,” Dominique Reynie, politics professor at Sciences Po, said in an interview. “In the French system, if he doesn’t have a majority he’d have only limited power, he’d become a constitutional monarch. If he has his own majority, he’d have all the powers which the Fifth Republic grants the president.”

In her concession speech, Le Pen claimed the mantle of leader of the opposition, saying that the legislative elections were looming and “I’ll be at the head of this fight.”

Campaign Hacking

The election brings to an end a tumultuous campaign that culminated in a hacking attack on the Macron camp on the eve of polling. Surprises littered the way to Sunday’s runoff. The incumbent decided not to seek re-election, a first for a sitting president, while former head of state Nicolas Sarkozy and former Prime Minister Manuel Valls suffered humiliating defeats in their parties’ primaries.

Favorites came and went, above all former Prime Minister Francois Fillon, who led the polls until a newspaper revealed in January that he’d hired family members for what may have been no-show jobs. Then there was the unforeseen rise of a far-left candidate, Jean-Luc Melenchon, who took almost 20 percent of the vote in the first round two weeks back.

The final twist — the Macron team’s announcement late Friday that they had been hacked by an unknown party — will likely reverberate into Macron’s presidency. While details are still scant, suspicion has fallen on Russia after the CIA found the Kremlin interfered in the U.S. election, a charge rejected by Trump as “ridiculous.” Unlike Macron, Le Pen has called for sanctions on Russia to be lifted and coverage of her on Russia sites and media has been positive.

For her part, Le Pen will have to reflect on a campaign that highlighted the appeal of her anti-immigrant, anti-establishment rhetoric, but also its limits. The 35 percent she scored was about twice her tally in 2012, but still left her a long way from ultimate victory. Questions will now be asked about the direction of the party, in particular her policy to exit the euro, which changed several times during the course of the campaign and may have deterred many voters. She referred to the need for the National Front to “renew itself.”

Approaching Summits

On foreign policy, Macron has already signaled his desire to work more closely with Merkel on bolstering the foundations of the EU as the U.K. prepares to leave. Putin will also be facing a united front in Merkel and Macron, who has previously complained that Russian state news agencies have tried to disrupt his campaign with fake news reports. Macron will meet Trump and Merkel at a NATO leaders’ meeting in Brussels followed by a Group of Seven summit in Sicily later this month.

Macron’s electoral challenges aren’t over. His first significant announcement will be his prime minister who will lead a caretaker government until parliamentary elections in June. They will be crucial for a president whose En Marche! movement has no experience contesting legislative elections.

While Macron’s prime minister will get to select a government, the newly elected parliament will have the power to bring it down and impose its own choice unless En Marche! becomes the largest bloc. With at least five political formations contesting all 577 seats, a hung parliament could emerge.

And while Macron prevented France from succumbing to the populist wave that led to Trump’s victory in November and Britain’s referendum decision to quit the EU, he’ll be leading a country in which about 40 percent of the population voted in the April 23 first round for candidates opposed to the international liberal trading order. About 25 percent of the electorate are predicted to have abstained in the runoff.

“Macron’s achievement is that he played the aces he was handed very well,” said Rainbow Murray, reader in politics at Queen Mary, University of London. While his win is clear good news for Europe, “populism definitely hasn’t gone away. It didn’t triumph here but it came second and it is doing better all the time.”


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