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Emmanuel Macron emphatically defeated Marine Le Pen in the second round of France's presidential election on Sunday. At 39, he will be the youngest leader of the nation since an ambitious Corsican named Napoleon Bonaparte came to power more than two centuries ago.

What does a Macron presidency mean for France?

There are many remarkable story lines in Macron's victory. Beyond his youth, Macron had never stood for office before this election. He operated without the machinery of France's establishment parties. He and his independent Onward movement promised a renewal of French politics at a time of profound public disillusionment with the status quo, offering an optimistic vision of France anchored in pluralism as well as a commitment to the European Union.

Macron's win was, in effect, that of the globalist over the nationalist. It also marked the latest European rejection of far-right politics, following setbacks and defeats for anti-immigrant populists in Austria and the Netherlands this year. While Le Pen and her National Front painted the former banker as a figure of the old system — he served as a minister in the outgoing Socialist government of President François Hollande — a majority of French voters rejected her party's legacy of neofascism, bigotry and Holocaust denial.

Zeev Sternhell, a prominent historian of French fascism, told my colleague James McAuley that Le Pen herself, rather than being a true agent of change, represented a long-standing political tradition in France.

“This is classic hard-right nationalism with the usual xenophobia, the hatred of the ‘other’ and the cult of the people against the elite,” said Sternhell.

What are Macron's politics?

Macron's critics often point to the gauziness of his platform. Millions of French voters abstained from the election because, while potentially appalled by Le Pen's ultranationalism, they could not bring themselves to vote for the centrist alternative. Macron will now have to thread a slender needle: Winning over a huge segment of skeptical voters on both the left and the right while promoting the institutions — the European Union, in particular — that many resent and neoliberal policies many oppose.

“Macron’s platform combined business-friendly reforms such as labor-market deregulation with promises to invest in green jobs and decrease French dependence on fossil fuels,” explained academic Art Goldhammer in Foreign Affairs. “He favors a Scandinavian-style 'flexicurity' model, in which workers are supported while transitioning from jobs in declining sectors to jobs (hopefully) created in rising sectors. Of all the candidates in the race, he was the staunchest defender of the European Union and the most adamant in insisting that French industry must adapt to become more competitive in the globalized economy.”

Some analysts contend that Macron has a huge capacity to disappoint. If Macron governs “as a timorous centrist,” wrote former French civil servant Nicolas Colin in the Financial Times, he could face a backlash that may galvanize both the National Front and the hard left.

“But there is another historical precedent to consider,” suggests Colin. “Elected as an un-ideological technocrat in 1932, U.S. president Franklin Roosevelt subsequently had to take sides and move leftward for fear of losing his reelection campaign. He went on to design a social compact, the New Deal, that still shapes America, almost a century later.”

What is Macron's first big challenge?

Macron will have to assemble his cabinet, then shift all his attention to parliamentary elections in June. Onward has no presence in the current National Assembly, and Macron may immediately feel the limitations of his maverick campaign. Without a majority in parliament, he would struggle to govern.

He intends to run candidates in all of France's 577 parliamentary constituencies, with half of them being women. Initial polls show Onward candidates winning a slim plurality in June, with Macron's movement supplanting the Socialists as France's real center-left party. Parties on both the right and left are vowing to fight Macron tooth-and-nail ahead of the June vote.

But Macron is presenting himself as a unifying figure who transcends the nation's old politics. “I want experienced people in the government, but those who come from civil society, who have legitimacy through the skills and what they have done and not necessarily from politics,” he told a French TV station last week.

What next for Le Pen and the far right?

 

The National Front will be competitive in the June elections, and Le Pen now claims to represent France's main opposition party. After all, about 11 million French voters opted for her — a staggering figure given the National Front's identity and history. Le Pen significantly outperformed the showing of her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, in 2002.

But she told supporters on Sunday that “the National Front must also renew itself.” This may include a new name for the party as Le Pen seeks to further distance her cause from the toxicity of the past. There is the risk that Sunday's defeat may exacerbate the existing divisions within the National Front — and, indeed, the Le Pen family — and endanger its already fragile unity.

Has the European Union been saved?

Had Le Pen won, Europe would have immediately plunged into crisis. The euro would have dropped, markets would have sunk and talking heads would already be fulminating about the end of the European project, with a potential “Frexit” precipitating a wider unraveling.

That is no longer in the cards. Macron entered his victory rally on Sunday night to the chorus of Beethoven's “Ode to Joy” — the E.U.'s anthem. The political head winds have shifted since last November, when President Trump shocked the world and won the U.S. elections, a moment Le Pen and other European far-right leaders hailed as a sign of things to come.

Advocates of Brexit reacted gloomily to the defeat of Le Pen, a prominent euroskeptic:

Centrists and center-left parties also stand to gain ground in pivotal upcoming elections in Germany. Observers suggest that much of Macron's political future hinges on the relationship he can build with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

“Macron hopes to soften Germany’s exacting insistence on fiscal austerity as he imposes sweeping pro-business reforms inside his own country,” wrote my colleagues Michael Birnbaum and Anthony Faiola. “If he succeeds, he may help disarm anti-E. U. voices across the continent. But if he fails to jump-start France’s economy — and Europe's — he will fuel questions about whether the European Union is helping or hurting its citizens’ lives.”

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