French Election: As Allies Hail Macron’s Victory, Challenges Loom

Credit…Dmitry Kostyukov for The New York Times

BRUSSELS — There were sighs of relief throughout the European Union after President Emmanuel Macron beat back a serious challenge in France from the populist far-right champion, Marine Le Pen.

“Europe can breathe,” said Jean-Dominique Giuliani, chairman of the Robert Schuman Foundation, a pro-European research center.

Officials in Europe were also relieved that Slovenia’s populist, three-time prime minister, Janez Jansa, lost to a loose coalition of centrist rivals in parliamentary elections on Sunday, a development that means he is almost sure to be replaced as prime minister when a new government is formed.

But Ms. Le Pen’s strong showing was also a reminder that populism — on both the right and the left — remains a vibrant force in a Europe with high voter dissatisfaction over rising inflation, soaring energy prices, slow growth, immigration and the bureaucracy emanating from E.U. headquarters in Brussels.

After the retirement late last year of Angela Merkel, the former chancellor of Germany, a re-elected Mr. Macron will inevitably be seen as the de facto leader of the European Union, with a stronger voice and standing to push issues he cares about — a more robust European pillar in defense and security, economic reform and fighting climate change.

But analysts say he must also try to consult more widely. His penchant for announcing proposals in his first term rather than building coalitions annoyed his European counterparts, often leaving him portrayed as a vanguard of one, leading with no followers.


Emmanuel Macron defeated his far-right challenger, Marine Le Pen, becoming the first French president to be re-elected since 2002.CreditCredit…Sergey Ponomarev for The New York Times

“Europe is central to his policy and will be in his second term, too,” said Jeremy Shapiro, research director for the European Council on Foreign Relations in Berlin. In his first term, he said, Mr. Macron had “a lot of grand plans but failed to create the coalitions he needed, with Germany and the Central European states, to implement them.”

Mr. Macron “knows that lesson and is making some efforts in the context of the Russian war against Ukraine,” Mr. Shapiro said. “But he’s still Emmanuel Macron.”

In his second term, Mr. Macron “will double down” on the ideas for Europe he presented in his speech to the Sorbonne in 2017, “especially the idea of European sovereignty,” said Alexandra de Hoop Scheffer, director of the Paris office of the German Marshall Fund.

She predicted he would be more pragmatic now, building “coalitions of the willing and able” even if he cannot find unanimity among the other 26 E.U. members.

France holds the rotating presidency of the bloc until the end of June, and one of Mr. Macron’s first priorities will be to push forward an oil embargo on Russia, Ms. de Hoop Scheffer said, a difficult move since many in the bloc are reliant on Moscow for energy.

The climate agenda is important for him, especially if he wants to reach out to the angry left and the Greens in France. And to get much done in Europe, he will need to restore and strengthen the Franco-German relationship with a new, very different and divided German government.

“That relationship is not easy, and when you look at the Franco-German couple, not a lot keeps us together,” Ms. de Hoop Scheffer said.

There are differences over Mr. Macron’s desire for more collective debt for another European recovery plan, given the effects of war. There is also a lack of consensus over how to manage the response to Russia’s aggression, she said — how much to keep lines open to the president of Russia, Vladimir V. Putin, and what kinds of military support should be provided to Ukraine in the face of German hesitancy to supply heavy weapons.

If Mr. Macron is clever, “French leadership in Europe will not be followership by the other E.U. countries but their empowerment, by their commitment to a new European vision,” said Nicholas Dungan, a senior fellow of the Atlantic Council. “Macron can do this.”

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