PARIS (NBC) – Outsider Emmanuel Macron faces a showdown with far-right populist Marine Le Pen in the French presidential election, remaking the country’s political landscape and setting up a battle over its participation in the European Union.
For the first time in French history, no mainstream candidate will be on the ballot in next month’s second-round runoff — a huge defeat for the center-right and center-left groupings that have dominated the country’s politics for decades.
It also presents voters with the starkest possible choice: Macron’s vision of a tolerant France and a united Europe with open borders against Le Pen’s “French-first” platform that calls for closed borders, tougher security, less immigration and dropping the shared euro currency to return to the French franc.
Macron, a political novice, won 24 percent in Sunday’s first-round ballot and Le Pen gained 22 percent, Reuters reported.
At his headquarters in Paris, Macron promised to be a president “who protects, who transforms and builds” if elected. With an eye to Le Pen, he told the crowd: “I want to be the president of patriots in the face of a threat from nationalists.”
Socialist candidate Benoit Hamo and scandal-ridden Conservative candidate François Fillon conceded defeat Sunday afternoon and threw their support behind Macron, condemning the nationalist right-wing views of Le Pen and her National Front party.
“Extremism can can only bring unhappiness and division to France,” said Fillon. “There is no other choice than to vote against the far right. I will vote for Emmanuel Macron. I consider it my duty to tell you this frankly. It is up to you to reflect on what is best for your country, and for your children.”
Marion Maréchal Le Pen, Marine Le Pen’s niece and a member of the French Parliament, said the National Front’s presence in a runoff was a big deal for her party.
“For 15 years, there has not been a pro-sovereignty candidate in the second round of a presidential election,” she said. This is great ideological victory.”
Marine Le Pen added her own comments later in the afternoon, when she addressed supporters in her home constituency of Hénin-Beaumont. She told them that they were choosing between unchecked globalization and homeland-defending nationalism.
“French people must seize this historical opportunity that has opened to them because what is at stake in this election is savage globalization, which jeopardizes our civilization,” she said to a roaring crowd.