Emmanuel Macron easily defeated far-right rival Marine Le Pen on Sunday, heading off a political earthquake for Europe but acknowledging dissatisfaction with his first term and saying he would seek to make amends.
His supporters erupted with joy as the results appeared on a giant screen at the Champ de Mars park by the Eiffel tower. Leaders in Berlin, Brussels, London and beyond welcomed his defeat of the nationalist, eurosceptic Le Pen.
With 97% of votes counted, Macron was on course for a solid 57.4% of the vote, interior ministry figures indicate. But in his victory speech he acknowledged that many had only voted for him only to keep Le Pen out and he promised to address the sense of many French that their living standards are slipping.
“Many in this country voted for me not because they support my ideas but to keep out those of the far-right. I want to thank them and know I owe them a debt in the years to come,” he said. “No one in France will be left by the wayside,” he said in a message that had already been spread by senior ministers doing the rounds on French TV stations.
Two years of disruption from the pandemic and surging energy prices exacerbated by the Ukraine war catapulted economic issues to the fore of the campaign. The rising cost of living has become an increasing strain for the poorest in the country.
“He needs to be closer to the people and to listen to them,” digital sales worker Virginie, 51, said at the Macron rally, adding he needed to overcome a reputation for arrogance and soften a leadership style Macron himself called “Jupiterian”.
Le Pen, who at one stage of the campaign had trailed Macron by just a few points in opinion polls, quickly admitted defeat. But she vowed to keep up the fight with parliamentary elections in June.
“I will never abandon the French,” she told supporters chanting “Marine! Marine!”
Macron can expect little or no grace period in a country whose stark political divisions have been brought into the open by an election in which radical parties scored well. Many expect the street protests that marred part of his first term to erupt again as he presses on with pro-business reforms.
“There will be continuity in government policy because the president has been reelected,” Health Minister Olivier Veran assured. “But we have also heard the French people’s message.”
How Macron now fares will depend on the looming parliamentary elections. Le Pen wants a nationalist alliance in a move that raises the prospect of her working with rival far-rightists like Eric Zemmour and her niece, Marion Marechal.
Ultra-left Jean-Luc Melenchon, who emerged as by far the strongest force on the left of French politics, said he deserves to be prime minister – something that would force Macron into an awkward and stalemate-prone “cohabitation”.
“Melenchon as prime minister. That would be fun. Macron would be upset, but that’s the point,” remarked Philippe Lagrue, 63, technical director at a Paris theatre, who voted for Macron in the run-off after backing Melenchon in the first round. Outside France, Macron’s victory was hailed as a reprieve for mainstream politics rocked in recent years by Britain’s exit from the European Union, the 2016 election of Donald Trump and the rise of a new generation of nationalist leaders. “Bravo Emmanuel,” European Council President Charles Michel, wrote on Twitter. “In this turbulent period, we need a solid Europe and a France totally committed to a more sovereign and more strategic European Union.”