French election: Emmanuel Macron defeats Le Pen to win second term

Strong showing by far-right Le Pen is seen as warning in Brussels: millions voted for a candidate whose campaign platform advocates dismantling the EU

Emanuel Macron
Emanuel Macron

French President Emmanuel Macron was re-elected on Sunday with 58% of the vote share compared to 41% for far-right candidate Marine Le Pen.

The two candidates had presented fundamentally different visions of France and Macron acknowledged in a victory speech that many voters supported him only to counter the far-right.

He called on the divided population to be “benevolent and respectful” and promised a “new era”.

Abstention was estimated by pollster Ipsos to be at around 28% nationally, which would be the highest since 1969, with many voters rejecting a repeat of the 2017 election.

The centrist incumbent swept to victory by a comfortable margin, but the president’s victory is clouded by the fact that his rival – an anti-immigration, nationalist candidate who advocates banning the Islamic headscarf in public, has courted Russian President Vladimir Putin and wants to turn the European Union into an “alliance of European nations” – won more votes than any far-right candidate in the history of the French Republic.

More than 12 million people chose Le Pen, about five million more than during her last presidential bid in 2017 — an increase that suggests that her strategy of trying to bring her party into the political mainstream has been largely successful.

The result carries also warnings for the EU and NATO: in the midst of Russia’s war on Ukraine, with footage of bombed-out cities featured daily on TV news, a huge chunk of the French electorate backed a candidate who has called for forming an alliance with Moscow and said she would pull France out of NATO’s integrated command if elected.

In one of the EU’s founding countries, millions voted for a candidate whose campaign platform advocates dismantling the EU from within by suspending its free-travel rules and downgrading the supremacy of EU law.

“This result is [the sign] of a great mistrust against our leaders and against European leaders, a message they cannot ignore,” Le Pen told supporters in her concession speech. “Voters have shown they want a strong opposition power to Macron.”

Her strong showing will be seen as a warning in Brussels, which is still rattled by Britain’s vote to leave the European Union and is locked in judicial battles with Poland and Hungary over rule-of-law disputes.

The vote shows that divisions that have plagued French politics for decades are not shrinking, but getting larger with every successive election.

Le Pen is on her third presidential campaign but she has not ruled out another and is by no means finished politically. She has recovered from her defeat in 2017 and significantly expanded her party’s base. In her concession speech, the National Rally party chief struck a combative tone and hinted that she would be leading her troops into battle when voters elect a new French parliament in June.

“It’s a striking victory,” Le Pen told cheering supporters in Boulogne, a suburb of Paris that has historically been her party’s home base.