Emmanuel Macron was elected president of France on Sunday with a business-friendly vision of European integration, defeating Marine Le Pen, a far-right nationalist who threatened to take France out of the European Union, early projections showed.
The centrist’s emphatic victory, which also smashed the dominance of France’s mainstream parties, will bring huge relief to European allies who had feared another populist upheaval to follow Britain’s vote to quit the EU and Donald Trump’s election as U.S. president.
Five projections, issued within minutes of polling stations closing at 8 p.m. (2 p.m. ET), showed Macron beating Le Pen by around 65 percent to 35 – a gap wider than the 20 or so percentage points that pre-election surveys had pointed to.
Even so, it was a record performance for the National Front, a party whose anti-immigrant policies until recently made it a pariah in French politics, and underlined the scale of the divisions that Macron must now try to heal.
Le Pen’s high-spending, anti-globalization ‘France-first’ policies may have unnerved financial markets but they appealed to many poorer members of society against a background of high unemployment, social tensions and security concerns.
Macron’s immediate challenge will be to secure a majority in next month’s parliamentary election for En Marche! (Onwards!), his political movement that is barely a year old, in order to implement his program.
The 39-year-old former investment banker, who served for two years as economy minister but has never previously held elected office, will become France’s youngest leader since Napoleon with a promise to transcend outdated left-right divisions.
At least one opinion poll published in the run-up to the second round has indicated that the majority he needs could be within reach.
Despite having served briefly as economy minister in President Francois Hollande’s deeply unpopular Socialist government, Macron managed to portray himself as the man to recast a political landscape moulded by the left-right divisions of the last century.
While Macron sees France’s way forward in boosting the competitiveness of an open economy, Le Pen wanted to shield French workers by closing borders, quitting the EU’s common currency the euro, radically loosening the bloc and scrapping trade deals.