Macron beats Le Pen again as France rallies once more against the far right

French President Emmanuel Macron has seen off his far-right rival Marine Le Pen to secure five years more years at the helm of Europe’s second economy. But the narrowing margin of victory and an increasingly polarised nation herald another rocky term for the incumbent, whose success was tarnished by the lowest turnout in half a century.

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Macron, 44, is the first president to secure re-election since Jacques Chirac 20 years ago. His back-to-back wins are no small feat in a country that has recently developed a taste for kicking out the incumbent at the first opportunity. It helped that on both occasions he faced a political force that a (shrinking) majority of the French still considers unfit for government.

At 58.8% to Le Pen’s 41.2%, Macron’s margin of victory ultimately exceeded most pollsters’ forecasts. Still, Sunday’s rematch produced a much closer outcome than in 2017, when the political upstart carried the day with 66 percent of the vote. On her third attempt, Le Pen has moved another step closer to the Élysée Palace. Not since World War II has the nationalist far right come this close to power in France.

“The ideas we represent have reached new heights,” Le Pen told supporters in a defiant speech, hailing a “shining victory” even as she conceded defeat. The 53-year-old vowed to “keep up the fight” and lead the battle against Macron in parliamentary elections in June.

After a turbulent five years in office marked by violent protests and a succession of Covid lockdowns and curfews, Macron relied on an uncertain coalition of ardent supporters and reluctant “tactical” voters determined to keep Le Pen out of power. In the end, it proved more than enough to hold off the “anti-Macron front” summoned by his challenger.

Le Pen had sought to frame the election as a referendum on the incumbent. She urged voters to “choose between Macron and France”. Some did see the contest that way – but more chose between Le Pen and the Republic.

“Many of our compatriots voted for me not out of support for my ideas but to block those of the extreme right,” Macron told supporters at the Eiffel Tower, striking a more humble tone than he had on the campaign trail. “I want to thank them and I know that I have a duty towards them in the years to come,” he added, hinting at a more grounded style for the years to come.

The stakes were huge in Sunday’s election. Victory for Le Pen would have sent shockwaves around the European Union, which she vowed to radically reform once in power, remodelling it as an “alliance of nations”.

The far-right leader insisted she had no “secret agenda” to drag France – a founding member of the EU – out of the 27-nation bloc, its single currency or its passport-free Schengen zone. But Macron warned her policies would effectively lead to a “Frexit” by stealth. He described the contest as a “referendum for or against Europe”.

That’s certainly how many of his European peers saw it too. They rushed to congratulate Macron on his re-election, hailing the incumbent’s victory as a victory for Europe too. The result means the European Union “can count on France for five more years”, said the head of the European Council, Charles Michel.

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