Newstalk's Shona Murray reports from Paris after an emphatic victory for centrist Emmanuel Macron...
A nervous European Union breathed a sigh of relief last night, as Emmanuel Macron’s newly-formed En Marche! movement won a seismic victory over far-right candidate, Marine Le Pen of the Front National.
One third of voters, however, voted for Marine Le Pen – Front National’s best ever performance. And a little over a quarter of voters abstained from voting in spite of the fact that it was warned that doing so could lead Le Pen to victory.
Chancellor Merkel of Germany was one of the first to call to congratulate the 39-year-old former economy minister. She’s hopeful he can be a reliable and more importantly, strong partner for the turbulent times ahead.
The far-right has been kept at bay for now, but movements in Poland, Hungary and the existing anti-EU malaise that has been creeping among EU member states for several years now has not gone away.
It is in fact this growing discontent that will be Macron’s starkest challenge. Macron’s stunning victory is for now a vote against the far-right, less so, a ringing endorsement of his policies. He came in from the first round at 24% of the vote, compared to Hollande who received 29% of the first round in 2012, and Sarkozy who received 31% in 2007.
“It’s unusual to have a president with such little support in the first round”, says Ranuad Girard analyst with Le Figaro. 24 per cent is not very much – it’s not a major endorsement.”
Auerilie, a 26-year old student, said: “It’s an ambience of relief, I live with two Moroccan girls who thought they would be sent home, if Le Pen had won. It is not a huge celebration, just relief because Marine Le Pen would have been so dangerous for France and Europe."
Macron’s strenuously pro-EU programme is in theory exactly what the faltering union needs right now – a focus on reform and optimism. The fear is that it will serve to alienate, further, those who want less Europe, and see the EU as part of the problem, due to open borders and a globalised agenda.
He told the French people at Paris’ Carrousel du Louvre last night: “I understand the divisions in our nation which led some to vote for extremes. I understand the anger, the doubts and anxiety that some have expressed”.
The incredible momentum behind him at present, notwithstanding the hesitancy of some who voted for him as the lesser of two evils, will likely play well for him in next month’s legislative elections. French voters are going to the polls once more next June to elect 577 members of parliament using France’s first-past-the post system.
Although Macron’s En Marche! movement only launched last year, he is said to have 577 candidates ready for the election, and polls show him likely to win around 249 – 286 seats.
In France, it is the president who chooses the prime minister who can then choose ministers. It will be crucial for him to try to win a majority of seats in order to ensure he is not stymied in his power, and can get on with the business of reform and change.
It is unclear how much of Le Pen’s relative successes will translate to seats, and whether Front National can be disruptive influence on France’s parliamentary complexion.
“We have a great candidate that is less (sic) than 40 years old – that is beautiful," said 22-year-old Raul. “The message that France is sending to the world is amazing, we love Europe and we love France."
For now, and although the country was not emphatically behind the man, voting pragmatism is key in order for France to avoid another five years of stagnation.