Europe speaks out against Le Pen

French presidential candidate for the far-right Front National party, Marine Le Pen delivers a speech after finishing second of the first round of the French presidential elections in Henin-Beaumont, Northern France, 23 April 2017. [Olivier Hoslet/EPA]

The second round of France’s presidential election will be a run-off between Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen. Across the EU, politicians have called on French voters to rally against the extreme-right candidate. EURACTIV France reports.

On 7 May, the most pro-European of the 11 presidential candidates will face off against the most Eurosceptic for France’s top job.

Martin Schulz, the former president of the European Parliament who aims to challenge Angela Merkel for the post of German chancellor later this year, on Twitter called for “all the democrats in France to unite to ensure the nationalist does not become president”.

In Brussels, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker congratulated Macron on his first-round victory on Sunday (23 April) and wished him luck.

Merkel also spoke out in favour of the En Marche candidate. Through her spokesman she said “Macron’s success shows that France and Europe can win together. The centre is stronger than the populists believe.”

While ostensibly offering a massive vote of confidence in the former banker and economy minister, EU leaders are focused on keeping Le Pen from power. If she wins, the National Front leader has promised to do her utmost to drag France out of the EU, ditch the single currency and return to the franc – measures which could spell the end of the European Union.

Manfred Weber, the president of the centre-right European People’s Party group (EPP) in the European Parliament, welcomed Le Pen’s “weaker than predicted” performance in the first round.

“We are disappointed by Benoît Hamon’s result,” said Gianni Pittella, the leader of the Parliament’s Socialists and Democrats group (S&D). “Despite the result, Hamon was the only candidate to have defended a progressive pro-European project with innovative proposals.”

“This evening, the French people have called for change. It is a clear message that we cannot ignore. For the good of France and the whole of Europe, we now need to unite all the democratic forces in the second round to confront the National Front,” he added.

EU Socialists split between Hamon and Macron

Officially, the European Parliament’s Socialists and Democrats (S&D) group backs Benoît Hamon for the French presidency. But MEPs are split over his European outlook, with some, especially the British and Italians, preferring Emmanuel Macron. EURACTIV France reports.

In Belgium, liberal Prime Minister Charles Michel congratulated Macron, endorsing his programme as an “optimistic European project looking to the future”.

The president of the Belgian Socialist Party, Elio di Rupo, also called on French democrats to stop the National Front in its tracks. “This is about the future of France and of Europe, so it is also about our future,” he posted on Twitter.

For Sigmar Gabriel, Germany’s foreign minister, Macron was “the only truly pro-European candidate”.

But Le Pen was not without her plaudits. Geert Wilders, the leader of the Dutch Freedom Party, described Sunday as a “day of celebration for all patriots in Europe”.

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