(RFE/RL) — President-elect Emmanuel Macron has pledged to help strengthen France’s relationship with Europe after easily defeating nationalist Marine Le Pen to become the nation’s youngest president ever following a divisive runoff vote that pitted two diametrically opposed visions for the country’s future.
Three projections showed Macron taking about 65 percent of the May 7 vote after a bruising race marked by negative campaigning and a last-minute hacking attack targeting Macron, a former economy minister and banker who has never held an elected post.
Macron’s emphatic victory by the second-largest margin in recent French history comes as a relief to much of Europe and its allies who had feared another shock result at the ballot box on the heels of Britain’s decision to leave the European Union and U.S. President Donald Trump’s surprising win in November.
Amid a sea of red, white and blue tricolor flags at a victory party outside the iconic Louvre Museum in Paris, Macron said the country was turning a page in its history and pledged to the thousands in attendance to defend France and Europe and “rebuild links between Europe and its citizens.”
“We will not give into fear, divisions,” he said after arriving while the European Union anthem “Ode to Joy” blared through the museum’s courtyard.
“I will fight the divisions that undermine France,” he added in a nod to the 11 million votes Le Pen received, a record for the far-right leader.
The 39-year-old Macron, who topped the first round of the election on April 23, campaigned on a pro-EU, pro-business platform, while anti-immigration Marine Le Pen, 48, wanted France to leave the 28-nation bloc and abandon the euro currency.
“Happy that the French chose a European future,” European Commission head Jean-Claude Juncker said on Twitter.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel called Macron’s win “a victory for a strong and united Europe” and, in a sign of Macron’s pledge to put Europe high on his agenda, the president-elect told the German leader during a 10-minute phone call that he would travel to Berlin “very quickly.”
The White House said in a statement that it looked forward “to working with the new President and continuing our close cooperation with the French government.”
The election was the culmination of a polarizing campaign in which Le Pen portrayed Macron as an elitist who is soft on Islamic fundamentalism and other potential threats to her vision of the French state.
Still, Macron was expected to defeat his rival after enjoying a lead in opinion polls since the first round, with the former investment banker holding a 62 percent to a 38 percent advantage over his rival in the polls on May 5 — the last day of campaigning.
“The Prime Minister warmly congratulates President-elect Macron on his election success. France is one of our closest allies, and we look forward to working with the new president on a wide range of shared priorities,” British Prime Minister Theresa May said in a statement.
‘Vote To The Extreme’
During the campaigning Macron called Le Pen “the high priestess of fear” who “speaks for no one” and “exploits anger and hatred.” But after the vote, he also noted that divisions in French society drove people to “vote to the extreme.”
In a sign of how high tensions ran on voting day, the courtyard of the Louvre was briefly evacuated earlier on May 7 after a suspect bag was found.
Police said they made security checks of the area as a precaution and later added that the situation there had returned to normal.
Le Pen, the head of the National Front party founded by her father, had pushed for abandoning the euro for the French franc, saying the euro was “the currency of bankers, it’s not the people’s currency.”
“The French have chosen a new President of the republic and have voted for continuity,” Le Pen told her supporters after conceding to Macron.
In her concession speech, she also announced plans to establish a new political association that will take part in the parliamentary elections in June saying she will “lead this struggle” to protect France’s “independence, freedom, prosperity, security, identity, and social model.”
The CGT, one of France’s more militant unions, called for a demonstration in Paris on May 8 to kick off Macron’s presidency in a protest against “liberal” economic policies.
‘Predictable’ Foreign Policy
While differing on almost every domestic policy, the two candidates also had very divergent views on foreign policy.
Macron’s foreign policy is expected to largely be a continuation of the course set by current President Francois Hollande, a Socialist in whose government Macron served as economy minister from 2014 to 2016.
“Macron is a politician who has never in his career dealt with [foreign policy] issues…so you can expect lots of predictability on the Macron team,” Martin Michelot, deputy director of the EUROPEUM Institute for European Policy, told RFE/RL, ticking off a list of EU points of emphasis vis-à-vis security and Russia, whose invasion of Ukraine and continuing support of separatists there prompted Western sanctions: “the same strong position on Russia, the importance of respecting the Minsk agreements, on not recognizing the illegal annexation of Crimea,” and a strong commitment to NATO.
Since the first round of the election — in which Macron edged Le Pen by 24 percent to 21.3 percent — the leader of the En Marche! (Forward!) political party has accused Russia of meddling in his election campaign with cyberattacks and refused to accredit Russian media outlets RT and Sputnik, accusing them of issuing fake news stories.
‘Massive’ Computer Hack
Moscow has rejected accusations of interfering in the election campaign, as it has rejected similar charges from Berlin and Washington.
On May 5, Macron’s campaign said it had been the victim of a “massive” computer hack that dumped its campaign emails. It was not immediately clear who was responsible for the security breach.
Macron’s political movement En Marche compared the hack with the leak of Democratic Party e-mails in last year’s U.S. presidential election that was blamed on Russian hackers.
Macron has been endorsed by the overwhelming majority of French politicians, many European leaders, and by former U.S. President Barack Obama.
The French president is elected to a five-year term.