European Union leaders were breathing a huge sigh of relief Monday as they savor the victory of centrist Emmanuel Macron in the French presidential race.
And the continent’s pro-EU newspapers greeted the 39-year-old’s landslide win over France’s far-right leader Marine Le Pen, who’d promised if elected to take France out of the eurozone and to hold a vote on EU membership, as a turning point for the troubled economic bloc.
After months of grappling with a nationalist populist surge across the continent and the divisive political fallout of the migration crisis, Macron’s landslide victory holds out the possibility of a new start for a European Union that’s preparing to enter tricky negotiations on Britain’s exit.
“This election was not about the future of democracy,” according to Financial Times columnist Wolfgang Munchau. “It was about the future of France in Europe, and about the future of Europe itself. The French were asked a clear question. They gave a clear answer.”
Italy’s daily newspaper La Repubblica agreed, headlining its front page Monday, “Macron. Europe's turning point.”
That’s how EU leaders and pro-EU politicians are interpreting the result of the win by Macron, a centrist outsider and former investment banker who ran on an unashamedly pro-EU platform.
European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker tweeted his congratulations, saying, “Happy that the French have chosen a European future. Together for a stronger and fairer Europe.”
A spokesman for the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, hailed the result as a “victory for a strong and united Europe”. “Congratulations, @EmmanuelMacron. Your victory is a victory for a strong and united Europe and for French-German friendship,” tweeted Steffen Seibert in both French and German.
While Merkel’s chief of staff, Peter Altmaier, wrote, “Vive la France, Vive L’Europe!” German foreign minister Sigmar Gabriel celebrated Macron’s win for keeping France “at the heart of Europe.”
EU a winner
In the run-up to the election, EU bureaucrats and centrist politicians across the continent viewed the French election as even more important for the survival of the European project than the Brexit vote last June. As a founding member of the European Union, France has always been a key member of the bloc. Britain had been seen as a semi-detached participant.
Eurocrats threw caution to the winds after the first round of the French presidential race and backed Macron openly, risking a backlash by French voters, who could have reacted badly to Germans, Belgians and others advising them on how to cast their ballots. That contrasted with their much more cautious approach in the campaigning in the Brexit referendum.
“For all those who think that France can only be strong in a strong Europe and that Europe needs France to be self-confident and sure of its assets, this result is an immense relief,” said Manfred Weber, the leader of the European People’s party, a center-right group of lawmakers in the European parliament.
Macron's decisive victory in the French elections will have short and long term economic and financial markets implications, according to Vincent Deluard, an analyst with a global macro strategist.
“His victory offered significant relief to the European Union, which Ms. Le Pen had threatened to leave. His platform to loosen labor rules, make France more competitive globally and deepen ties with the European Union is also likely to reassure a global financial market that was jittery at the prospect of a Le Pen victory,” he adds.
But Macron said last week if he won, he didn't expect he would get much of a honeymoon. Neither will the European Union, which faces three immediate challenges, Brexit negotiations that have already seen flashes of anger on both sides of the English Channel, the Greek debt crisis that holds out the risk of wrecking the single euro currency, and the danger of Italy’s anti-Euro Five Star Movement emerging as the largest party in Italian elections later in the year.
There is also the continuing challenge of Europe’s still powerful right wing populist movements. But in France, and the Netherlands earlier this year, their hopes have been dashed.
They aren’t going away. Nigel Farage, one of the Brexit campaign leaders, says Macron’s victory will guarantee Le Pen wins the French presidency next time around in 2022. He says the French weren’t ready for Frexit, but he insists one day they will.