Great For Europe!

European leaders cheer Macron victory in first round of French election

Commission president breaks protocol to join chorus of congratulations for pro-European centrist, who faces far-right Marine Le Pen in second round

The European commission president has broken protocol to wish Emmanuel Macron well in the second round of the French presidential election, as the EU rallied against those seeking its “destruction”.

Jean-Claude Juncker congratulated Macron for winning Sunday’s first round and wished him luck against the Front National’s Marine Le Pen on 7 May, Margaritis Schinas, a commission spokesman, said on Twitter.

The commission usually avoids commenting on ongoing national elections, but Schinas later said circumstances had forced Juncker’s hand. He said the decision facing the French electorate “was a fundamental one”, between Macron, who represents pro-Europe values, and Le Pen, who “seeks its destruction”.

“When the choice is set along these lines, for Jean Claude Juncker, who has spent 35 years of his life defending Europe’s values and the need for cooperation, the choice is pretty obvious,” Schinas said.

The spokesman said the commission would not be involved in the next two weeks of campaigning, but it had “tools” at its disposal in Paris and Brussels should it be necessary to debunk any untruths told about the EU.

Macron, a pro-European centrist who ran as the head of his own political movement, topped the first round with 23.75% of votes, slightly ahead of the anti-immigration, far-right Le Pen, who took 21.53%.

The historic first-round result marked the rejection of the ruling political class – it was the first time since the postwar period that the traditional left and right ruling parties were both ejected from the race in the first round.

Macron, the clear favourite to win the second round, was swiftly endorsed by the defeated republican and socialist candidates, François Fillon and Benoît Hamon. The euro briefly reached five-month highs on Monday morning, while European shares rose sharply on the likelihood of a Macron victory.

As both sides looked to court support from their defeated rivals, Le Pen went on the attack on Monday morning.

“I’m on the ground to meet the French people to draw their attention to important subjects, including Islamist terrorism, to which the least we can say Mr Macron is weak on,” Le Pen said. “Mr Macron has no project to protect the French people in the face of Islamist dangers.” She added that the runoff with Macron was a referendum on “uncontrolled globalisation”.

The former French finance minister, Pierre Moscovici, a Socialist party politician, who is now economic affairs commissioner in Brussels, defended Juncker’s intervention, describing the election in France as a “referendum on Europe”.

Of Le Pen, he said: “She will not be the next president of France, but I fear she might get 40%. It would be a second shock. We must remain vigilant to erect a barrier against the [Front National].

“Le Pen qualified for the second round. She may have scored less in percentage terms than was expected, but it is frightening that she still got 7.6 million votes. It is too early yet to heave a sigh of relief. The election is not over.”

The EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, described Macron as a “patriot and European” who he felt confident would beat Le Pen. “France must remain European,” he said.

Le Pen has spoken of “liberating” France from the EU and calling a referendum on the country’s membership of the euro. The Front National leader, who has no natural alliances with other parties – crucial for winning the second round – called for all “patriots” to join her. Analysts have said Le Pen’s best chance of hauling back Macron’s big lead in the polls is to paint him as a part of an elite aloof from ordinary French people and their problems.

The German chancellor, Angela Merkel, has yet to comment personally on Sunday’s result, but her chief of staff, spokesman and foreign minister signalled their delight.

The German foreign minister, Sigmar Gabriel, said: “I am certain that Emmanuel Macron will be the next president of France. Great for Europe.” Gabriel, who has long championed Macron, said the 39-year old former investment banker offered a “new beginning” for Europe while Le Pen’s plans “could cost hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of jobs in France and all over Europe”.

Merkel’s chief of staff, Peter Altmaier, tweeted: “The result for Emmanuel Macron shows: France AND Europe can win together! The middle is stronger than the populists believe!”

The chancellor’s spokesman, Steffen Seibert, wished Macron “all the best” in the runoff against Le Pen. “Good that Emmanuel Macron was successful with its course for a strong EU + social market economy,” he tweeted.

Merkel’s main opponent in Germany’s September election, Martin Schulz, the Social Democrat candidate, said he hoped Macron would win the second round with a broad majority to defeat the “anti-European and openly racist candidate Marine Le Pen”.

He added: “We cannot underestimate the mobilisation required to ensure that Macron also wins the second round. That’s what has to happen now.”

Spain’s foreign minister, Alfonso Dastis, said he hoped a victory for Macron in the second round would mark a break in the rise of extremist populist parties in Europe. European countries “need to get their act together, need to re-examine and constantly improve the European project,” Dastis told Cadena Ser radio.

Russia, which had been seen as a keen backer of Kremlin-friendly Le Pen, said it respected the result of the first round and hoped for better ties with Paris whoever won the second round.

“We respect the choice of the French people. We are in favour of building good and mutually beneficial relations,” said the Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov.

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