PARIS (AP) – French President Emmanuel Macron comfortably won a second term on Sunday, triggering relief among allies that nuclear power will not abruptly change course in mid-war in Ukraine from EU and NATO efforts to punish and limit Russia’s military expansionism.
The second five-year term for the 44-year-old center-back spared France and Europe from the seismic upheaval by having fiery populist Marine Le Pen at the helm, Macron’s presidential candidate challenger who quickly conceded defeat but still scored his best election campaign ever. .
Recognizing that “many” voters cast ballots for him simply to keep the fiercely nationalist right-wing extremist Le Pen out, Macron promised to reunite the country, which is “filled with so many doubts, so many divisions” and work to quell the French anger. voters who fed Le Pen’s campaign.
“No one will be left by the side of the road,” Macron said in a victory speech against the backdrop of the Eiffel Tower and a projection of the blue-white-and-red tri-colored French flag. He was cheered on by hundreds of supporters happily waving French and EU flags.
“We have a lot to do and the war in Ukraine reminds us that we are going through tragic times where France has to make its voice heard,” Macron said.
During his campaign, Le Pen promised to dilute French ties to the 27 countries EU, NATO and Germany, measures that would have shaken Europe’s security architecture as the continent handles its worst conflict since World War II. Le Pen also spoke out against EU sanctions against Russia’s energy supplies and was questioned during the campaign about her former friendliness with the Kremlin.
A chorus of European leaders hailed Macron’s victory as France has played a leading role in international efforts to punish Russia with sanctions and supply weapons to Ukraine.
“Democracy wins, Europe wins,” said Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez.
“Together we will make France and Europe move forward,” tweeted European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.
Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi called Macron’s victory “fantastic news for all of Europe” and a boost to the EU “being a major figure in the greatest challenges of our time, beginning with the war in Ukraine.”
Macron won with 58.5% of the vote for Le Pen 41.5% – significantly closer than when they first met in 2017.
Macron is the first French president in 20 years to win re-election since incumbent Jacques Chirac pulled Le Pen’s father in 2002.
Le Pen called her result “a glorious victory” and said that “in this defeat I can not help but feel a kind of hope.”
Breaking through the threshold of 40% of the vote is unprecedented for the French right wing. Le Pen was beaten 66% to 34% by Macron in 2017, and her father got less than 20% against Chirac.
She and hard-line left-winger Jean-Luc Melenchon, one of 10 candidates eliminated in the first round on April 10, both rushed forward on Sunday night to France’s legislative elections in June, urging voters to give them a parliamentary vote. majority to inhibit Macron.
Le Pen’s scoring this time rewarded her years-long efforts to make her right-wing extremist policies more palatable to voters. She fought hard for cost of living issues and made deep inroads among the general electorate in dissatisfied rural areas and in former industrial centers.
Le Pen voter Jean-Marie Cornic, 78, said he cast his vote for her because he wanted a president who would prioritize “our daily lives – wages, taxes, pensions.”
The decline in support for Macron compared to five years ago points to a fierce battle ahead for the president to rally people behind him in his second term. Many French voters found the presidential campaign in 2022 less convincing than in 2017, when Macron was an unknown factor.
Left-wing voters – unable to identify with either the center-right president or Le Pen – were tormented by Sunday’s election. Some reluctantly trooped to the polls solely to stop Le Pen, casting joyless votes at Macron.
“It was the least worst choice,” said Stephanie David, a transportation logistics staffer who supported a Communist candidate in the first round.
It was an impossible choice for retiree Jean-Pierre Roux. After also voting communist in the first round, he threw an empty envelope in the ballot box on Sunday, repulsed both by Le Pen’s policies and what he saw as Macron’s arrogance.
“I’m not against his ideas, but I can not stand the person,” Roux said.
In contrast, Marian Arbre, who voted in Paris, cast her vote for Macron “to avoid a government that is fascist, racist.”
“There is a real risk,” the 29-year-old worried.
Macron went to the polls as the firm favorite, but faced a divided, anxious and tired electorate. The war in Ukraine and the COVID-19 pandemic hit Macron’s first term, as did months of violent protests against his economic policies.
In celebration of the victory, Macron acknowledged a debt to the electorate that helped him get him over the line, “not to support the ideas I have, but to block them from the extreme right.”
“I want to thank them and tell them that I am aware that their voice commits me in the years to come,” he said. “I am the guardian of their sense of duty, of their attachment to the republic.”
Associated Press journalists Sylvie Corbet, Elaine Ganley, Angela Charlton and Thomas Adamson in Paris, Sam Petrequin in Brussels Michel Spingler in Henin-Beaumont and Alex Turnbull in Le Touquet contributed.
Follow the AP’s coverage of the French election at https://apnews.com/hub/french-election-2022