French President Emmanuel Macron wins his second term

French President Emmanuel Macron comfortably won a second term on Sunday, sparking relief among allies that nuclear power will not abruptly change course amid war in Ukraine because of European Union and NATO efforts to punish and contain Russia’s military expansionism.

The 44-year-old centrist’s second five-year term spared France and Europe the seismic upheaval of incendiary populist Marine Le Pen at the helm, Macron’s second-round candidate who quickly conceded defeat but still marked its best electoral performance. .

Acknowledging that “many” voters voted for him simply to keep Le Pen’s fiercely nationalist far-right sidelined, Macron pledged to reunite the country “filled with so many doubts, so many divisions” and to work to appease the anger of the French. voters who fueled Le Pen’s campaign.

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“No one will be left by the wayside,” Macron said in a victory speech against the backdrop of the Eiffel Tower and a projection of the blue-white-red French tricolor. He was cheered by several hundred supporters who happily waved French and European flags.

“We have a lot to do and the war in Ukraine reminds us that we are going through tragic times when France must make its voice heard,” Macron said.

During her campaign, Le Pen pledged to dilute France’s ties with the EU27, NATO and Germany, moves that would have undermined Europe’s security architecture as the continent faces its worst conflict since World War II. Le Pen has also spoken out against EU sanctions on Russian energy supplies and has come under scrutiny during the campaign due to her previous friendship with the Kremlin.

Emmanuel Macron greets voters as he leaves his house with Brigitte Macron to go to vote on April 24, 2022 in Le Touquet-Paris-Plage, France. (Photo by Aurelien Meunier/Getty Images)

A chorus of European leaders hailed Macron’s victory, as France played a leading role in international efforts to punish Russia with sanctions and supply arms to Ukraine.

“Democracy wins, Europe wins,” said Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez.

“Together, we will move France and Europe forward,” European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen tweeted.

Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi described Macron’s victory as “splendid news for all of Europe” and a boost for the EU “as the protagonist of the greatest challenges of our time, starting with the war in Ukraine”.

Macron won with 58.5% of the vote to Le Pen’s 41.5% – much closer than when they first faced off in 2017.

Macron is the first French president in 20 years to be re-elected, since incumbent President Jacques Chirac defeated Le Pen’s father in 2002.

Le Pen called his result “a resounding victory”, saying that “in this defeat, I can’t help but feel a form of hope”.

Crossing the threshold of 40% of the vote is unprecedented for the French far right. Le Pen was beaten 66% to 34% by Macron in 2017 and her father got less than 20% against Chirac.

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She and far-left leader Jean-Luc Melenchon, one of 10 candidates eliminated in the first round on April 10, both quickly contested France’s June legislative election on Sunday night, urging voters to give them a majority parliamentarian to paralyze Macron.

Le Pen’s score this time rewarded his years-long effort to make his far-right policies more palatable to voters. Campaigning fiercely on cost-of-living issues, she made deep inroads among blue-collar voters in disgruntled rural communities and in former industrial hubs.

Le Pen voter Jean-Marie Cornic, 78, said he voted for her because he wanted a president who would prioritize “our daily lives – salaries, taxes, pensions”.

The decline in support for Macron from five years ago portends an uphill battle for the president to rally the people behind him in his second term. Many French voters found the 2022 presidential rematch less compelling than in 2017, when Macron was an unknown.

Voters on the left – unable to identify with either the centrist president or Le Pen – are anguished over Sunday’s choice. Some reluctantly went to polling stations only to arrest Le Pen, happily voting for Macron.

“It was the least worst choice,” said Stephanie David, a transportation logistics worker who backed a communist candidate in the first round.

It was an impossible choice for retired Jean-Pierre Roux. Having also voted communist in the first round, he dropped an empty envelope into the ballot box on Sunday, rebuffed by both Le Pen’s politics and what he saw as Macron’s arrogance.

“I’m not against his ideas but I can’t stand the person,” Roux said.

On the other hand, Marian Arbre, voting in Paris, voted for Macron “to avoid a government that ends up with fascists, racists”.

“There is a real risk,” worried the 29-year-old.

Macron came to the vote as a heavy favorite but faced a fractured, anxious and fatigued electorate. The war in Ukraine and the COVID-19 pandemic challenged Macron’s first term, as did months of violent protests against his economic policies.

In celebrating the victory, Macron acknowledged a debt to voters who helped him cross the line, “not to support the ideas I defend, but to block those of the far right.”

“I want to thank them and tell them that I know their vote binds me for years to come,” he said. “I am the custodian 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.

Michael J. Chiaramonte