Emmanuel Macron has swept to emphatic victory in France’s presidential election, clinching 66 per cent of the vote to beat far-right candidate Marine Le Pen.
The National Front candidate’s 34 per cent share fell well short of the most optimistic projections for Ms Le Pen, which had suggested she could win as much as 45 per cent of the vote in the second round.
Mr Macron’s victory is a phenomenal achievement for the 39-year-old former Rothschild banker, who has never before held elected office and whose political movement En Marche! was set up barely a year ago. He becomes the youngest French president.
His win follows a divisive and at times rancorous campaign that produced a stark choice between two radically different visions of France and its place in the world.
In a solemn address to the French people, Mr Macron on Sunday night said: “A new page in our long history opens tonight. I want it to be one of hope and confidence regained.”
But he said he did not underestimate the difficulties facing France. “I understand the divisions in our nation which led some to vote for extremes. I understand the anger, the doubts and the anxiety that some have expressed.”
The reaction of the markets were muted with a Macron victory largely priced in last week. After an initially positive open, European blue-chip equity indices were lower on Monday morning. The CAC 40 in Paris was down 0.6 per cent after briefly hitting its highest level since 2008 with a 0.1 per cent gain at open. The FTSE 100 and Germany’s Xetra Dax index were both marginally lower.
The euro was losing momentum down 0.4 per cent at $1.0956 after briefly touching a six-month high against the dollar at $1.1021 in Asian trading earlier.
French government bond yields were steady at 0.77 per cent after a brief rally earlier in the price of the benchmark 10-year notes had reduced the gap between French yields, or borrowing costs, and those on German debt to a seven-month low.
Mr Macron, the europhile social liberal with a programme of pro-business reforms coupled with Nordic-style welfarism, easily defeated his far-right opponent who wanted to pull France out of the euro, impose protectionist barriers and drastically curb immigration.
Ms Le Pen swiftly conceded defeat but said her “historic and massive result” had made her party “the number one opposition force” in France. She vowed to continue the battle between “patriots and globalists” in legislative elections next month. She also said she wanted to profoundly transform her party into a new political force.
President Donald Trump, whose onslaught against globalism carried him to the White House, sent his congratulations to Mr Macron in a tweet.
There was relief across Europe that the pro-EU centre ground held up against the populist far-right. In the end, Ms Le Pen fell well short of the 45 per cent that she had been projected to win at one point in the year.
Jean-Claude Juncker, European Commission president, said he was “happy the French had chosen a European future”.
More on the French presidential election
President François Hollande said the result showed that a “large majority of our citizens wanted to unite around the values of the republic and mark our attachment to the EU as well as to France’s openness to the world”.
But Ms Le Pen’s score of 34 per cent is almost twice the 18 per cent won by her father Jean-Marie Le Pen in 2002. That she won about 10.6m votes points to a depth of disaffection and anger towards France’s political elite that could nourish the far-right for years to come, especially if Mr Macron fails to deliver on his promises.
Abstentions in Sunday’s election were expected to hit 26 per cent, the highest rate since 1969, reflecting a lack of enthusiasm for the choice on offer. In addition an estimated 12 per cent of the electorate voted blank or spoiled their ballot papers.
Ms Le Pen spent years trying to soften the FN’s extremist edges but in the end she seemed incapable of following through on her strategy. In the final weeks of the campaign, she made contentious claims about the deportation of French Jews during the second world war, appointed a man with an alleged record of anti-Semitic views to become interim FN leader and harangued and insulted Mr Macron in a vicious television debate.
Mr Macron, a former government adviser and economy minister, will immediately turn his attention to the elections for the National Assembly on June 11 and 18. He needs to build a stable majority from a party that as yet has no MPs.
The centre-left Socialists and centre-right Republicans are in disarray after their candidates both failed to qualify for Sunday’s election run-off, the first time in nearly 60 years. Both camps are divided on whether to work with a Macron presidency.
Bernard Cazeneuve, the Socialist prime minister, said on Sunday evening that the “governmental left” should lend its support. But Jean-Luc Mélenchon, the hard left candidate who won 20 per cent of the vote in the first round, vowed resistance.
Bruno Le Maire, one-time Republican presidential hopeful, said he was willing to work with the new president, prompting criticism from other party heavyweights.
Mr Macron’s victory caps an extraordinary election campaign full of twists and turns.
Mr Hollande, the unpopular incumbent, decided not to seek a second term, unprecedented in the fifth republic. The Socialist, Green and centre-right Republican parties all rejected apparent frontrunners for the presidential nomination in primary contests. Then François Fillon, the centre-right candidate and one-time favourite, was felled by corruption allegations. Finally, Ms Le Pen, for a long time the one fixed point in France’s political firmament, faded just as voters made up their minds.