PARIS — French President Emmanuel Macron will emerge victorious in his contentious reelection race, polling agencies projected Sunday. At 8 p.m. French time, local media reported that, based on early results, Macron had won with 57.9% of the vote.
"Thank you," Macron said in his victory speech. "I’m not the candidate of one camp anymore, but the president of all of us."
The centrist Macron’s seemingly comfortable win marks a victory for the European establishment that his rival, the far-right Marine Le Pen, threatened to upend. She conceded the race after her loss became clear on Sunday.
“If Le Pen had won, I would have moved to Canada,” said Enzo Katteau in a cafe in the Montparnasse area of Paris. A few blocks away at Losserand Café, amid clapping and cheering, the proprietor announced that drinks were on the house in celebration of Macron’s victory.
A Le Pen win would have sent shockwaves across the European Union, which has had to contend with Russia's invasion of Ukraine and soaring energy prices while trying to wean itself off of Russian oil and gas. The bloc was already weakened after Britain withdrew from it two years ago.
Although Le Pen softened her previous call for France to outright leave the European Union and the euro currency, her antipathy towards NATO and warmth towards Vladimir Putin (her party also received a loan from a Russian bank with ties to the Kremlin) nevertheless put European leaders on edge.
The stakes are so high that German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez and Portuguese Prime Minister António Costa published a joint op-ed last week in the French paper Le Monde, urging French citizens to vote for Macron, who is often portrayed by critics as an aloof elitist who is concerned only with France’s cities.
Le Pen’s “French First” policies would have also triggered a cultural earthquake across the European Union, which was founded on internationalist and egalitarian ideals. Le Pen’s calls to ban Muslim headscarves in public and to restrict immigration to France, which is home to the largest Muslim population in Europe, likewise triggered uneasiness.
“We could be in for a big, big shock,” 20-year Paris resident Andrew Hussey, a political essayist for the British magazine New Statesman, told Yahoo News ahead of the vote, speaking at a restaurant in Montparnasse.
Macron trounced Le Pen almost two-to-one in the 2017 presidential election, but an increasing split between urban and rural residents along with a realignment of French politics away from a traditional left-right divide, combined with economic pressures, created an opportunity for Le Pen to cast herself as the outsider willing to shake up the status quo.
Another worry for Macron’s supporters was that far-left candidate Jean-Luc Mélanchon, who took nearly 22 percent of vote in the first round of voting two weeks ago, held off on explicitly endorsing Macron. Mélanchon told his supporters only to avoid casting a single vote for Le Pen; liberal voters boycotting the election or casting a blank ballot would accomplish the same result while also hurting Macron.
“This election is dangerous — I am not optimistic,” said Mathieu Durand, a fervent Mélanchon supporter. In the 2017 election, when Mélenchon again didn’t make it to the final runoff, Durand nevertheless wrote Mélanchon’s name on the ballot. “Macron gives nothing to left-wing voters,” Durand said, adding that he would reluctantly vote for the centrist candidate this time.
“That’s how afraid I am,” said Durand.
Jack Lewis, a finance graduate student who owns a bar in Chatelet, echoed that point.
“If Le Pen wins, it’s the end of the world for me,” Lewis told Yahoo News. “Macron isn’t great. Both candidates suck.” Lewis also referenced the 2016 presidential election in the U.S.: “Remember what happened with Trump.”
Five years ago, Macron, a former investment banker and finance minister, easily won the presidency with the support of the entire mainstream French political establishment. Even former U.S. President Barack Obama endorsed Macron’s candidacy in a rare show of international support.
Since then, however, he’s been dogged by the perception that he’s out of touch with French economic concerns, like inflation and rising gas prices. The COVID-19 pandemic has taken its toll, all the more since France implemented harsh restrictions, including requiring vaccine passports for public spaces. And Macron had embarked in a high-profile, unsuccessful bid to halt the Russian invasion of Ukraine earlier this year, meeting with Putin at the Kremlin’s almost comically long table.
This election feels different, far more tense, than the one five years ago, Monica Vammalle told Yahoo News. “I’m 100% for Macron and 100% against Le Pen,” the former UN interpreter said. “Le Pen would be catastrophic for France. Her ideas are impractical.” Her sister, Viviana Vammalle, added of Le Pen: “She tells people what they want to hear, but her ideas aren’t possible.”
“I am worried,” added Monica Vammalle. “So many in France are simply voting against Macron, not because they support Le Pen, but because in certain parts of the French public, Macron is hated. They always say he’s arrogant, but I don’t find him arrogant at all. I find him lucid.”
But Gael D., who described himself as “from a long family of sailors” and declined to give his full last name, was happy to talk about why he supports Le Pen. “France is in big trouble,” he said. “Macron is psychotic. He's making a mess. He’s like a little boy.”
“I’m deeply French,” and “my heart beats for France,” Gael said, expressing concern about Muslim immigration, European Union regulations and NATO, which he thinks is being far too aggressive with Russia.