EU leaders have reacted to Emmanuel Macron’s victory in the French presidential election with relief and with hope the result will strike a blow against other nationalist forces.
Macron won by 65 per cent on Sunday (7 May) against the nationalist-populist Marine Le Pen, who had campaigned to pull France out of the euro and possibly the EU.
The 39-year old Macron had campaigned on a pro-EU ticket, but also said he wanted to reform the bloc.
EU Council president Donald Tusk congratulated him on Twitter. Referring to Russia’s efforts to interfere in the French elections, Tusk said: “Congratulations to French people for choosing Liberty, Equality and Fraternity over [the] tyranny of fake news.”
European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker told Macron he was ready to help “build a better Europe”.
“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 in the debate about the history of Europe,” Juncker said in a letter to Macron.
He added that he was ready to work with him to change the bloc.
“The European Commission has been working for two and half years to build a better Europe, a Europe which protects and defends our citizens and gives them the means to react,” he said.
The EU saw Macron’s win as a reinforcement of its project.
The French result came amid the start of talks on the UK’s exit from the EU and amid fears that populist movements elsewhere could pull Europe asunder.
The fact that populist Geert Wilders came second in the Dutch election in March had already given succour.
Macron’s win came as a fresh and a bigger blow to anti-EU forces.
With Germany and Sweden also heading for elections, it showed that votes could still be won via a pro-EU campaign.
But with one in three French voters choosing the far-right and with Macron facing another battle, in June, to build a parliamentary majority, it also showed that there was plenty of work left to do for the pro-European side.
Merkel on phone
German chancellor Angela Merkel has also hailed Macron’s victory. Her spokesman Steffen Seibert tweeted: “Congratulations, Emmanuel Macron. Your victory is a victory for a strong and united Europe and for French-German friendship.”
Seibert said that Merkel congratulated Macron in a phone call in which she “praised his stance for a united and open European Union during the campaign” and told Macron that “the decision of the French voters is a clear statement of support for Europe”.
Merkel ’s rival in the German elections in September, the former European Parliament president Martin Schulz, has promised to be more pro-European than Merkel on social issues.
He tweeted: “Congratulations, Emmanuel Macron. And now let’s build a stronger Europe together!”
Merkel has been criticised for harsh austerity policies during the euro crisis, but praised for her caution on deeper EU integration and for keeping Europe united.
Her centre-right CDU party also came first on Sunday in a local election in the state of Schleswig-Holstein, with Schulz’s Social Democrats trailing in recent polls.
British prime minister Theresa May also phoned Macron, who is expected to be a tough negotiator in the Brexit talks.
They briefly discussed Brexit, according to a statement by the British prime minister’s office.
May “reiterated that the UK wants a strong partnership with a secure and prosperous EU once we leave”.
But pro-Brexit campaigner and MEP Nigel Farage highlighted that Le Pen still won a big chunk of the French vote.
“Euroscepticism in France has taken a massive leap forward today”, he said on Twitter.
Macron, during the last phase of the campaign, also warned that unless the EU changed, angry and disillusioned voters would try to drag France out of the bloc.
Eszter Zalan / EUobserver