After a polarizing campaign and election, centrist Emmanuel Macron defeated Marine Le Pen to become the next president of France—the youngest ever and one who is determined to take the country in a new direction.

Macron beat Le Pen by a margin of 66% to 34%, a decisive victory in a campaign where he was often seen as the frontrunner, though his rise to the top was unpredicted just a few months ago.

Turning the Page

Macron, a centrist candidate running as an independent, ends the decades-long dominance of the two traditional parties in French politics, which fall on the left and right sides with their views. He considers his win as a new page being turned in French history and a sign against the established political system.

“I want it to be a page of hope and renewed trust,” he said.

Macron, a former economy secretary, left the socialist government of President Francois Hollande last year and formed his new movement, called En Marche, which is neither left wing or right wing. His campaign centered around moderate ideas that support business and the EU, including reducing public sector jobs and public spending and lowering the unemployment rate by easing labor laws and making it easier to be self-employed.

Effect on Europe

One of the main issues of the final campaign was the role France would play in Europe, which is becoming an increasingly hot-button issue. Macron and Le Pen had starkly different views of the future of the country and the role it would play within the region and the EU.

Macron has repeatedly stated his focus on fighting the forces of division that undermine France and said he would “guarantee the unity of the nation…and defend and protect Europe.” He wants to strengthen France’s ties to the EU and help the country compete on a global scale. Conversely, under Le Pen’s message, the country would be headed to a vote to leave the EU, something that Macron vows won’t happen during his presidency.

Macron’s victory was celebrated by leaders of other EU countries, with the European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker tweeting, “Happy that the French chose a European future.”

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Next Moves

Macron’s historic win brought together supporters from many walks of life and traditional political beliefs. Although it marks the change in French politics, it doesn’t guarantee the new president a smooth road to success. The next steps to unify the country, especially after a particularly polarizing election, will likely take significant time and effort.

According to many experts, Macron succeeded largely because of his charisma and charm, but now comes the time to put actions behind the words to bring together a country that is angry and divided. Although Macron has won significant public support, his relatively new En Marche movement doesn’t hold any seats in Parliament, meaning he doesn’t have a built-in block of support. However, legislative elections will be held in the middle of June, meaning that soon could change.

Emmanuel Macron - French Elections

“I understand the divisions of our country that have led some to vote for extremists,” Macron said. “I understand the anger, the anxiety, the doubts that a great part among us have also expressed.”

Showing the current political discontent in France, 25% of the electorate didn’t vote, and more than 11% of ballots were left blank—a record. One of Macron’s early tasks will be gathering a strong backing of supporters and winning over those skeptical of his vision of who voted for him simply to keep Le Pen out of office.

Macron’s victory may signal a turning page for France, but his long-term success and the success of the country and the EU won’t come without some challenges in coming weeks and months.

 

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