Europe reacts with relief to Macron’s victory

Brussels Europe faces two weeks of waiting. Incumbent Emmanuel Macron got more votes than expected in the first round of the French presidential election on Sunday. In the end, the liberal politician was more than four percentage points ahead of second-place right-wing populist Marine Le Pen with 27.6 percent.

But the polls for the runoff between the two on April 24 are so tight that the threat of a rightward swing at the Élysée Palace has not yet been banned. A survey sees Macron as tight as possible at only 51 percent. In the last duel with Le Pen five years ago, he still got 66 percent.

The Europeans cannot breathe a sigh of relief yet. Liberal MEP Guy Verhofstadt tweeted: “Macron wins the first round, but the battle has only just begun.” He added: “Two weeks to keep Putin’s allies out of the Élysée.”

The election will be closely followed in Europe’s capitals because a Le Pen victory could be even more devastating than Brexit. Among other things, she wants to remove France from the NATO command structure and terminate the close Franco-German cooperation in the EU.

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The European united front against Russia in the Ukraine war also threatens to break up if the declared Putin supporter were to have a say in the future.

Concern about the performance of right-wing populist parties

Luxembourg Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn expressed concern about the strong performance of right-wing populist parties. France is “in a kind of political civil war,” he said before the EU foreign ministers’ meeting in Luxembourg.

Le Pen will turn the runoff into a referendum on Macron. “It’s going to be a really bad fight.” If Le Pen were to win, it would spell upheaval for the EU. “That would put the European Union on a completely different track. The French must prevent that.”

Macron’s first-round victory was therefore greeted with relief across political camps. Former German Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel (SPD) tweeted: “Every vote for him is a vote for a strong France and a strong Europe.”

Russian chess grandmaster and opposition politician Garry Kasparov commented: “I am often critical of Macron’s dealings with Russia, but in France today he is a crucial bulwark.” Macron’s adversary Le Pen is “part of Putin’s war, a second front in the attack on Europe and the democracy”.

The former British Secretary of State for Europe and France expert Denis MacShane pointed out that Le Pen did worse than in the last presidential election in 2017. It is therefore clear to him: “France does not want a racist president who is for Putin and against the EU .”

But there were also warning voices. “Honestly, I fear the relief tweets are coming way too soon,” tweeted Green MEP Rasmus Andresen. “Macron’s arrogance and neoliberal attitude make it easier for Le Pen than last time.”

In Spain, too, several commentators point out that the danger of Marine Le Pen winning the election has not yet been averted. “Macron starts with an advantage, but it’s not big enough to rule out that Le Pen has opportunities,” comments the liberal online newspaper El Confidencial.

Since the two’s last duel in 2017, Le Pen has toned down her discourse and gained popularity – despite being close to the Kremlin. “Le Pen has benefited from expressing more concern about the war’s impact on French purchasing power than about Putin’s expansionist bluster,” the op-ed said.

“Europe breathes a sigh of relief – but only for a moment”

The conservative newspaper el Mundo argues similarly. Europe breathes a sigh of relief, but only for the moment, according to an opinion piece. “Macron and Le Pen are repeating their 2017 duel, but this time the risk of the far right prevailing is more palpable – to the extreme that some polls predict just a three percentage point difference between the candidates.”
The left-leaning Spanish newspaper El País asks how it is possible that the xenophobic, authoritarian and anti-European right can form an alternative government in a country like France. And gives the answer: the responsibility lies with the “French political and cultural elites, who have neither managed to adapt France to the new reality of an ethnically, culturally and religiously diverse society nor to propose a social project that brings the citizens together”. .

In Italy, the reactions are different: “The first ballot is encouraging,” said ex-Prime Minister Enrico Letta, head of the co-governing Social Democrats in “La Repubblica”. The result shows that “those who believe in Europe have an advantage”. If Le Pen came to power, an “anti-European, populist and anti-integration government” would operate in the heart of Europe for the first time.

Matteo Salvini, head of the right-wing populist Lega, which also sits in the broad Roman coalition, wrote on Twitter: “Very good Marine, we are happy about your success and proud of your work, your courage, your ideas and your friendship.”

Although many commentators have focused on Marine Le Pen’s role, the recent duel between Macron and the right-wing populist also emphatically underlines that the two traditional mainstream parties, the Socialists and Republicans, are probably finished. The conservative hopeful Valerie Pecresse received only 4.8 percent of the votes, the socialist Anne Hidalgo only 1.7 percent.

Tara Varma of the think tank European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR) says: “A complete reconfiguration of French politics is about to happen.” Varma adds: “It started in 2017, but now it is being completed.”

The politics professor Peter Neumann, ex-member of Armin Laschet’s shadow cabinet, pointed out that the parties of the radical right and left received 51 percent together in the first round. “France is the Saxony of Europe,” he tweeted.

Macron can now hope that the majority of the voters of the losing candidates will vote for him in the second round. With the exception of the two southpaws in the field, all losing candidates called on their supporters to vote for Macron or at least against Le Pen in the runoff. Left-wing candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon set the tone: “Not a single vote for Le Pen.”

More: Duel between Macron and Le Pen – runoff election eagerly awaited