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Macron Wins French Presidency with 66 Percent, Commits To European Unity

  • RFE/RL

Emmanuel Macron celebrates winning the French presidency at a rally near the Louvre in Paris on May 7.

President-elect Emmanuel Macron pledged on May 7 to strengthen France’s relationship with Europe after easily defeating nationalist Marine Le Pen to become the nation's youngest president ever following a divisive runoff vote that pitted two diametrically opposed visions for the country's future.

With nearly all the ballots counted, officials said on May 8 that Macron had received 66.06 percent of the 47 million votes cast. All major exit polls had earlier projected Macron’s total at about 65 percent or slightly above

The centrist Macron, a former economy minister and banker who has never held an elected post, received further good news as two opinion polls published after his victory indicated that his year-old political movement, En Marche! (Forward!), would come first in legislative elections set for June 11 and June 18.

The polls show En Marche! taking 24-26 percent in the first round, with the right-wing Les Republicains at 22 percent and Le Pen's far-right National Front at 21-22 percent.

Macron’s presidential victory comes after a bruising race marked by negative campaigning and a last-minute hacking attack targeting his campaign.

The victory -- by the second-largest margin in French recent history -- comes as a relief to much of Europe, which had feared another shock result at the ballot box on the heels of Britain's decision to leave the European Union and U.S. President Donald Trump’s surprising win in November.

WATCH: Macron Wins French Presidency

Amid a sea of red, white, and blue tricolor flags at a victory party outside the iconic Louvre Museum in Paris, Macron said the country was turning a page in its history and pledged to the thousands in attendance to defend France and Europe and "rebuild links between Europe and its citizens."

"We will not give into fear, divisions," he said after arriving while the EU anthem "Ode to Joy" blared through the museum’s courtyard.

"I will fight the divisions that undermine France," he added in a nod to the 11 million votes Le Pen received, a record for the far-right leader.

The 39-year-old Macron, who topped the first round of the election on April 23, campaigned on a pro-EU, pro-business platform, while anti-immigration Marine Le Pen, 48, wanted France to leave the 28-nation bloc and abandon the euro currency.

The euro rose in value after Macron’s emphatic win, edging up to $1.10 in early Asian trading, the highest in six months. Stocks in Tokyo rose 1.35 percent at the open, and U.S. stock futures were also higher, but many European markets are closed for a holiday on May 8.

The euro and world stocks had rallied sharply after Macron’s strong showing in the first round.

"Happy that the French chose a European future," European Commission head Jean-Claude Juncker said on Twitter.

A 'Victory' For Europe

German Chancellor Angela Merkel called Macron's win "a victory for a strong and united Europe" and in a sign of Macron's pledge to put Europe high on his agenda, the president-elect told the German leader during a 10-minute phone call that he would travel to Berlin "very quickly."

WATCH: Merkel 'Delighted' By Macron's Electoral Victory

Trump was among world leaders sending congratulations to Macron.

"Congratulations to Emmanuel Macron on his big win today as the next President of France. I look very much forward to working with him," he wrote on Twitter.

Many people said that Trump had supported Le Pen after comments he made in April in apparent praise of the far-right candidate.

"She's the strongest on borders, and she's the strongest on what's been going on in France," he said. "Whoever is the toughest on radical Islamic terrorism, and whoever is the toughest at the borders will do well in the election."

Russian President Vladimir Putin told Macron that Russia was ready for constructive work on bilateral and global issues, the Kremlin said on May 8.

"The citizens of France have trusted you with leading the country at a difficult time for Europe and the whole world community. The growth in threats of terrorism and militant extremism is accompanied by an escalation of local conflicts and the destabilization of whole regions," Putin said in a congratulatory telegram released by the Kremlin.

"In these conditions it is especially important to overcome mutual mistrust and unite efforts to ensure international stability and security," Putin told Macron.

Since the first round of the election, Macron has accused Russia of meddling in his campaign with cyberattacks and has refused to accredit Russian media outlets RT and Sputnik, accusing them of issuing fake news stories.

Moscow has rejected accusations of interfering in the election campaign, as it has rejected similar charges out of Berlin and Washington.

On May 5, Macron’s campaign said it had been the victim of a “massive” computer hack that dumped its campaign emails.It was not immediately clear who was responsible for the hack.

Le Pen, who met with Putin in Moscow in March, has called for the lifting of EU sanctions against Russia, imposed over its illegal annexation of Crimea from Ukraine.

Polarizing Campaign

The election was the culmination of a polarizing campaign in which Le Pen portrayed Macron as an elitist who is soft on Islamic fundamentalism and other potential threats to her vision of the French state.

During the campaigning Macron called Le Pen "the high priestess of fear" who "speaks for no one" and "exploits anger and hatred." But after the vote, he also noted that divisions in French society drove people to "vote to the extreme."

Defeated French presidential candidate Marine Le Pen
Defeated French presidential candidate Marine Le Pen

Le Pen, the head of the National Front party founded by her father, pushed for abandoning the euro for the French franc, saying the euro is "the currency of bankers, it's not the people's currency."

"The French have chosen a new President of the Republic and have voted for continuity," Le Pen told her supporters after conceding to Macron.

In her concession speech, she also announced plans to establish a new political association that will take part in the parliamentary elections in June saying she will "lead this struggle" to protect France's "independence, freedom, prosperity, security, identity, and social model."

The CGT, one of France’s more militant unions, called for a demonstration in Paris on May 8 to kick off Macron's presidency in a protest against "liberal" economic policies.

Macron's foreign policy is expected to largely follow the course set by current President Francois Hollande, a Socialist in whose government Macron served as economy minister from 2014 to 2016.

"Macron is a politician who has never in his career dealt with [foreign policy] issues...so you can expect lots of predictability on the Macron team," Martin Michelot, deputy director of the EUROPEUM Institute for European Policy, told RFE/RL.

Michelot ticked off a list of EU points of emphasis vis-à-vis security and Russia, whose invasion of Ukraine and continuing support of separatists there prompted Western sanctions: "the same strong position on Russia, the importance of respecting the Minsk agreements, on not recognizing the illegal annexation of Crimea," and a strong commitment to NATO.

Macron was endorsed by the overwhelming majority of French politicians, many European leaders, and by former U.S. President Barack Obama.

The French president is elected to a five-year term. He is expected to be sworn in on May 14.

With reporting by Current Time’s Yevhenia Rudenko, Reuters, AFP, AP, and the BBC.

With reporting by Current Time’s Yevhenia Rudenk, Reuters, AFP, AP, and the BBC
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