France – (warsoor) – Emmanuel Macron was due to attend a ceremony marking the Western allies’ World War Two victory in Europe on Monday as relieved investment markets celebrated his election as French president.
The ceremony in Paris later on Monday marks the 72nd anniversary of the victory over Nazi Germany in 1945. It comes less than 24 hours after the independent centrist declared he had beaten the present day forces of extremism in the shape of his far-right opponent, Marine Le Pen.
Polls had predicted a comfortable win for the 39-year-old ex-banker for months, but investors and European leaders had watched on anxiously as the election campaign lurched from one surprise and scandal to another, fretting over the possibility the anti-globalization, anti-EU Le Pen could pull off an upset.
However, Macron prevailed with 66 percent of the vote to become France’s youngest leader since Napoleon. Asian markets sent the euro to a six-month high against the dollar in the early hours after the result became clear, Asian shares gained and U.S. stock futures briefly touched a record high.
“Political risk in Europe has been considered as a major market theme this year. But in the Netherlands (anti-EU party leader Geert) Wilders lost in March. The French election is now out of the way,” said Norihiro Fujito, senior investment strategist at Mitsubishi UFJ Morgan Stanley Securities.
“And in Germany the ruling Christian Democrats are recovering. The political risks in Europe have receded,” he said.
Macron’s victory also smashed the dominance of France’s mainstream parties. Even though he is an unknown quantity to some extent, the win brought huge relief to European allies who had feared another anti-globalization electoral result to follow Britain’s vote to quit the EU and Donald Trump’s election as U.S. president.
It was still a record performance for the National Front, whose anti-immigrant policies once made it a pariah, and underlined the scale of the divisions that Macron must now try to heal.
Macron had been accused of behaving as if he was already president after winning the first round two weeks ago. On Sunday night, with victory finally sealed, he was much more solemn.
“I know the divisions in our nation, which have led some to vote for the extremes. I respect them,” Macron said in an address at his campaign headquarters, shown live on television.
“I know the anger, the anxiety, the doubts that very many of you have also expressed. It’s my responsibility to hear them,” he said. “I will work to recreate the link between Europe and its peoples, between Europe and citizens.”
He later strode alone almost grimly through the courtyard of the Louvre Palace in central Paris to the strains of the EU anthem, Beethoven’s Ode to Joy, not breaking into a smile until he mounted the stage of his victory rally to the cheers of his partying supporters.
His immediate challenge will be to secure a majority in next month’s parliamentary election for a political movement that is barely a year old, rebranded as La Republique En Marche (“Onward the Republic”), in order to implement his program.
Outgoing president Francois Hollande, who brought Macron into politics and will lead Monday’s ceremony, said the result “confirms that a very large majority of our fellow citizens wanted to unite around the values of the Republic and show their attachment to the European Union”.
Jean-Claude Juncker, president of the European Commission, told Macron: “I am delighted that the ideas you defended of a strong and progressive Europe, which protects all its citizens, will be those that you will carry into your presidency.”
Macron spoke by phone with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, with whom he hopes to revitalise the Franco-German axis at the heart of the EU, saying he planned to visit Berlin shortly.
Trump tweeted his congratulations on Macron’s “big win”, saying he looked forward to working with him. Chinese President Xi Jinping said China was willing to help push Sino-French ties to a higher level.
Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe also congratulated Macron.
A 39-year-old former investment banker, Macron served for two years as economy minister under Hollande but has never previously held elected office.
Le Pen, 48, said she had also offered her congratulations. But she defiantly claimed the mantle of France’s main opposition in calling on “all patriots to join us” in constituting a “new political force”.
Her tally was almost double the score that her father Jean-Marie, the last far-right candidate to make the presidential runoff, achieved in 2002, when he was trounced by the conservative Jacques Chirac.
Her 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.
RESHAPING THE LANDSCAPE
Despite having served briefly in Hollande’s deeply unpopular Socialist government, Macron managed to portray himself as the man to revive France’s fortunes by recasting a political landscape moulded by the left-right divisions of the past century.
“I’ve liked his youth and his vision from the start,” said Katia Dieudonné, a 35-year-old immigrant from Haiti who brought her two children to Macron’s victory rally.
“He stands for the change I’ve wanted since I arrived in France in 1985 – openness, diversity, without stigmatizing anyone … I’ve voted for the left in the past and been disappointed.”
Macron’s team successfully skirted several attempts to derail his campaign – by hacking its communications and distributing purportedly leaked documents – that were reminiscent of the hacking of Democratic Party communications during Hillary Clinton’s U.S. election campaign.
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.
Macron will become the eighth president of France’s Fifth Republic when he moves into the Elysee Palace after his inauguration next weekend.
Opinion surveys taken before the second round suggested that his fledgling movement had a fighting chance of securing the majority he needed.
He plans to blend a big reduction in public spending and a relaxation of labor laws with greater investment in training and a gradual reform of the unwieldy pension system.
A European integrationist and pro-NATO, he is orthodox in foreign and defense policy and shows no sign of wishing to change France’s traditional alliances or reshape its military and peacekeeping roles in the Middle East and Africa.
His election also represents a long-awaited generational change in French politics that have been dominated by the same faces for years.
He will be the youngest leader in the current Group of Seven major nations and has elicited comparisons with youthful leaders past and present, from Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to British ex-premier Tony Blair and even the late U.S. president John F. Kennedy.
But any idea of a brave new political dawn will be tempered by an abstention rate on Sunday of around 25 percent, the highest this century, and by a record share of blank or spoiled ballots by more than 11 percent of those who did vote.
Like Macron, Le Pen will now have to work to try to convert her presidential result into parliamentary seats, in a two-round system that has in the past encouraged voters to cast ballots tactically to keep her out.
She has worked for years to soften the xenophobic associations that clung to the National Front under her father, going so far as to expel him from the party he founded.
On Sunday night, her deputy Florian Philippot distanced the movement even further from him by saying the new, reconstituted party would not be called “National Front”.
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