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Three Takeaways From The First Round Of French Elections

With the results of the first round of the French presidential election counted, French voters must now decide between Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen. 

Macron is a centrist, pro-European Union candidate who won about 24 percent of the electorate, while Le Pen is a far-right, anti-immigrant and anti-globalist candidate who won more than 21 percent of the electorate — in an 11-candidate field. 

The runoff election between Le Pen and Macron is scheduled for May 7. 

Maxime Larivé, associate director of the European Union Center at the University of Illinois, said the election was “a major victory” for Le Pen and the National Front party.

Larivé spoke with Worldview’s Alexandra Solomon about what the results might mean. Below are three takeaways from their conversation.

The first round was won by an outsider, sort of

Maxime Larivé: Many people say that Emmanuel Macron is a neophyte, but in fact he fits very well with the type of French politician that we’ve had for the last 60 or 70 years. He was trained at the elite school ENA, then he worked as an investment banker at the Rothschild Banque and then he was part of the socialist government of the current president, Francois Hollande, first as an adviser and then as an economic minister. So he may have never held elected position, but he has been in government for quite some time and he’s not quite new.

This is only the second time a candidate from the National Front party has reached the runoff round

Larivé: The first time was in 2002 when the party was under the leadership of her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen. In 2002, he arrived a little bit by accident. It was quite a surprise when this happened. Today, in 2017, it is not a surprise at all. She was expected to make it to the second round, but she was expected to win by a larger margin. Many polls thought that she should be first with almost 30 points. She actually, when you look at the numbers, I think there was some disappointment at the National Front where she only makes it to 21.3 percent (to Macron’s approximate 24 percent).

France is a divided country

Larivé: This result and the choice for the second round really illustrates the two Frances that exist today. On the one hand there is this constant quest for finding and defending our roots and our history and our values and our principles — and this has been pretty much the baseline and the narrative of the National Front. … And then on the other side, Emmanuel Macron is this new generation. He’s 39 years old — quite young to hold the presidency of France — and his whole narrative is very positive. You could just listen to his speech. He does not use such dire and dark vocabulary that’s been used by the National Front, always mentioning that France is under attack and we need to be in our house and we need to reject the other. … He wants to embrace the challenges of the future. He wants to embrace globalization, and in order to do so he will go through working with European partners and the European Union. In my lifetime, I don’t recall a candidate making it to the second round being so pro-European. … To make Europe and to make the European construction such an important piece of one’s platform, I think this is the first time I’ve seen it in my lifetime.

This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity. Press the ‘play’ button above to hear the entire segment.

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