One could almost hear the sighs of relief, from Paris to Brussels, and all the way to Washington, as French leader Emmanuel Macron clinched another five-year term in the Elysée Palace. Though polls narrowed during some points leading up to Sunday’s runoff, Macron eventually beat out far-right nationalist Marine Le Pen in the presidential elections—a contest that risked shattering the Western alliance against Russia, and jeopardizing the very survival of the European Union.
Macron’s victory over Le Pen, with 58.2% of the vote to her 41.8%, according to estimated results released at 8 p.m. local time after polls closed, was significantly smaller than the two politicians’ last face-off in 2017. Back then, 39-year-old Macron shot to power as an outsider, with a 32-point lead over Le Pen, by promising to modernize what he called a sclerotic, over-regulated country.
In the past five years, he streamlined French labor laws, making it easier for companies to hire and fire people, and scrapped the wealth tax. But he was forced to drop an increase in fuel tax, when the plan sparked the so-called “yellow vest” movement, with explosive protests that rocked the country for months in 2018 and 2019. Then came COVID-19 in 2020, with nationwide lockdowns, in a pandemic that has so far killed 142,000 people in France. And as that receded, the Ukraine war broke out, thrusting Macron into the role as the E.U.’s major conduit to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
For all that, Macron, 44, pulled off an impressive feat: He is the first French leader in 20 years to win reelection—since 2002, when then-president Jacques Chirac won against Le Pen’s rabidly anti-immigrant father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, who faced a wall of opposition that blocked his path to power.
Macron managed that despite barely campaigning for months, preferring instead to play the global statesman in the buildup to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Then over just a few weeks, Macron sprinted across France, warning voters that a Le Pen presidency would ravage their cherished humanist principles, and render the 27-country E.U. untenable. “April 24 will be a referendum for or against Europe, and we are for!” he told thousands of people in the closing hours of the campaign on Friday, standing in a marketplace in the southern village of Figeac, amid a sea of blue, E.U. flags in the crowd.
Yet even so, his shrunken margin of 16.4% of victory signals the fraught political divide he now faces, as he settles back into the Elysée–problems that could play out in the country’s parliamentary elections, which take place in just seven weeks’ time.
No longer the wunderkind, Macron will need to reckon with roiling anger over his business-friendly policies, including his determination to raise the public-pension age. And there is also the deep personal dislike of Macron among many French, who describe him in numerous opinion polls and to journalists as arrogant and aloof, and too hidebound to the interests of the rich. “He will have to demonstrate he is not going to govern as he did during his first term–quite alone,” Marc Lazar, political history professor at Paris’s Sciences Po university, told TIME on Sunday night, as it became clear that Macron had won. “He will have to negotiate more, and look for compromises.”
Culled From TIME Magazine