Published:  12:43 AM, 12 May 2022

What Macron's Victory in France Means for Europe?

What Macron's Victory in France Means for Europe?

 Rayhan Ahmed Topader

French President Emmanuel Macron has won a second term in office, defeating his far-right rival Marine Le Pen by a comfortable margin in a runoff election. Macron faced the daunting challenge of uniting a deeply divided nation after winning re-election in a battle against Marine Le Pen that saw the far right come its closest yet to taking power. Centrist Macron won 58.54 percent of the vote in the second-round run-off compared with 41.46 for Le Pen, according to final results from the interior ministry. Macron is the first French president in two decades to win a second term and his victory prompted a sigh of relief throughout Europe. But his win over his far-right rival was narrower than their last face-off in 2017, when Macron won more than 66 percent. Le Pen's result this time around was the best ever for the far right. Macron acknowledged some of the challenges he now faces in his victory speech at night in front of the Eiffel Tower in Paris. The French president has a long to-do list, ranging from preparing for key parliamentary elections in June to implementing his long-delayed pension reform plans and dealing with the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Macron also has to contend with an energised far left, many of whom backed far-leftist Jean-Luc Mélenchon in the first round and voted for the incumbent in the final round only to stop a far-right victory. Macron came to power as France's youngest-ever president in 2017 at the age of 39.He is a former investment banker, a reason why he is called a political outsider. At that time, he had said that will be neither on the left nor the right of the political spectrum. Brigitte is Emmanuel Macron's wife and his former drama teacher.

She is 24 years older than the French President and at the time (in 2007), married with three children. In a French documentary, Brigitte once told, We'd call each other all the time and spend hours on the phone. Bit by bit, he defeated all my resistance, in an amazing way, with patience. There are a few controversies as well. For example, Anne Fulda, who is one of Macron's biographers once said that it's an unusual love story and it was a story the couple chose not to publicise until he ran for power. After Macron's first year in office, he faced some of the most violent anti-government demonstrations since the 1960s when protesters in florescent yellow safety jackets began a nationwide revolt against his policies. From the beginning of 2020, he battled a once-in-a-century global pandemic as Covid-19 spread from China, rendering almost all other government business irrelevant and putting paid to his last reform plans. For the last month and a half, having weathered Donald Trump's norm-shredding American presidency, he has been on the diplomatic frontlines trying to end Russian President Vladimir Putin's invasion of Ukraine. This time, Macron's chief pitch is continuity and steady leadership at a time of crises, not least during the Covid pandemic and in response to rocketing inflation and to the war in Ukraine. He says his political positioning is neither left, nor right and his programme borrows from both sides of the traditional divide. From the left's toolbox are his proposals to raise the minimum level of pensions, hire more people for the health service, and to make gender equality and tackling school harassment priorities.

From the right come promises of more tax cuts for companies, of thousands more police officers and judges, and a rise in the retirement age, currently at 62, to help reduce the pension system's massive debt. He also vowed that 140 million trees would be planted, and that he would put his next prime minister directly in charge of the ecology plan. Macron is the first French president in two decades to win a second term, but his latest victory over his far-right rival was narrower than their last face-off in 2017, when the margin was 66.1 per cent to 33.9 per cent The historic gains for the far right dampened the French leader's celebrations on Sunday night. Addressing supporters in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower, he vowed to heal rifts in a deeply divided country. The 44-year-old president will start his second term with the challenge of parliamentary elections in June, where keeping a majority will be critical to ensuring he can realise his ambitions. Several hundred demonstrators from ultra-left groups took to the streets in some French cities to protest Macron's re-election and Le Pen's score. Police used tear gas to disperse gatherings in Paris and the western city of Rennes. In his victory speech on the Champ de Mars in central Paris, Macron promised his next five-year term would respond to the frustrations of voters who backed Le Pen. An answer must be found to the anger and disagreements that led many of our compatriots to vote for the extreme right,' he told thousands of cheering supporters. He also pledged a renewed method to governing France, adding that this 'new era' would not be one of continuity with the last term which is now ending.

In a combative speech to supporters in the capital, in which she accepted the result but showed no sign of quitting politics, Le Pen, 53, said she would 'never abandon' the French and was already preparing for the June legislative elections. This evening, we launch the great battle for the legislative elections, Le Pen said, adding that she felt hope and calling on opponents of the president to join with her National Rally party. For Le Pen, a third defeat in a presidential poll will be a bitter pill to swallow after she ploughed years of effort into making herself electable and distancing her party from the legacy of its founder, her father Jean-Marie Le Pen. Critics insisted her party never stopped being extreme-right and racist while Macron repeatedly pointed to her plan to ban the wearing of the Muslim headscarf in public if elected. The projections caused immense relief in Europe after fears a Le Pen presidency would leave the continent rudderless following Brexit and the departure from politics of German chancellor Angela Merkel. Italian prime minister Mario Draghi called Macron's victory 'great news for all of Europe' while German chancellor Olaf Scholz said French voters 'sent a strong vote of confidence in Europe today'. European Council president Charles Michel said the bloc could now 'count on France for five more years' while European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen also congratulated Macron, saying she was 'delighted to be able to continue our excellent cooperation'. Macron will be hoping for a less complicated second term that will allow him to implement his vision of more pro-business reform and tighter EU integration.

After a first term shadowed by protests, then the coronavirus pandemic and finally Russia's invasion of Ukraine. But he will have to win over those who backed his opponents and the millions of French who did not bother to vote. Polling organisations estimated turnout of just 72 per cent, the lowest in any presidential election second-round run-off since 1969.

Meanwhile, 6.35 per cent of voters in the election voted for neither candidate in blank ballots while 2.25 per cent spoilt their papers. The third-placed candidate in the first round, hard-left Jean-Luc Melenchon, had refused to endorse Macron. While he welcomed Le Pen's defeat as 'very good news for the unity of our people', Melenchon pointed out that the two leading candidates had barely managed to win a third of support from registered voters. The political situation ahead of parliamentary elections forces us to act. the nationalist bloc needs to unite, nationalist movements must join forces, said Zemmour, who was also a candidate in the first round of the vote but failed to make it to the second round. Outside France, Macron's victory was hailed as a reprieve for mainstream politics rocked in recent years by Britain's exit from the European Union, the 2016 election of Donald Trump and the rise of a new generation of nationalist leaders. In this turbulent period, we need a solid Europe and a France totally committed to a more sovereign and more strategic European Union. Here is a long and very good thread on the loger term consequences of the result for France and Europe from Cas

Mudde of the University of Georgia in the US, a leading expert on populism and regular Guardian contributor. This is obviously a huge relief and good news, but the parliamentary elections will be criticial for the next five years in France and no one can possibly predict where Macron's centrist movement - bust also not Le Pen's far-right party after her third successive defeat will be by 2027.French President Emmanuel Macron has seen off his far-right rival Marine Le Pen to secure five years more years at the helm of Europe's second economy. But the narrowing margin of victory and an increasingly polarised nation herald another rocky term for the incumbent, whose success was tarnished by the lowest turnout in half a century.

Rayhan Ahmed Topader is a Researcher and Columnist

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