Five reasons the French election is a big deal

Emmanuel Macron becomes France's youngest leader since Napoleon after defeating Marine Le Pen in the country's presidential election. ABC News

French voters Sunday rejected far-right presidential candidate Marine Le Pen to elect centrist Emmanuel Macron, a choice that resonates far beyond the nation's borders, from extremist strongholds in Syria to London and Hong Kong trading floors to the halls of the United Nations Security Council.

The outcome could have been bigger than Brexit and decided the future of Europe.

Here are five reasons this election mattered:

Risk of a 'Frexit' averted

Macron's victory effectively ends any near-term threat that France could pull out of the European Union, just as the United Kingdom did with Brexit. Le Pen had made leaving the EU a priority.

The loss of a founding member of the alliance and one of its biggest countries would have all but doomed the EU to collapse and ended post-World War II dreams of a politically and economically united continent.

Currency chaos

Markets will be relieved that Macron, though untested and France's youngest ever president, will be the country's 25th leader.

Le Pen wanted to scrap the euro and return to using the French franc, a change that would have roiled currency and other financial markets around the globe.

A Frexit may also have heralded controls on money transfers, capital flight and a plague of defaults and lawsuits on bonds and contracts.

Migrant movements

Macron wants to strengthen France's external borders and work with EU partners to more effectively police immigration.

His victory puts a halt to controversial proposals by Le Pen, who wants to limit immigration and ban Muslims from entering France. That could have a ripple effect elsewhere in Europe among anti-immigrant governments at a time the world is facing its worst refugee crisis since World War II because of war, drought and famine.

If she became president, her victory could have emboldened other European countries to follow suit and jeopardize a fragile EU migrants deal with Turkey. ​

Assad's Syria, Putin's Russia

Nuclear-armed France has a permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council. Macron will likely keep up French operations against extremists in Iraq and Syria and Africa's Sahel region. He will also likely keep pressure on Russia over Ukraine and its actions to bolster Syrian President Bashar Assad.

Le Pen, on the other hand, firmly backs Assad and distanced herself from President Trump over recent U.S. airstrikes targeting Assad's regime. Le Pen also met recently with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow and would have pushed for lifting sanctions against Russia over the conflict in Ukraine.

Her loss Sunday puts France on a less confrontational path with key allies.

Political establishment

Macron's presidency does not signal the end of political populism in Europe, although it does blunt it. A win by Le Pen would have been a resounding victory for the populist wave reflected by the votes for Trump and Brexit.

It also would have given impetus to other right-wing, anti-establishment parties vying in upcoming elections, such as in Germany later this year.

Even with Le Pen's defeat, however, she has proved that populism is a powerful force in France that could make it hard for Macron to accomplish his goals, especially with parliamentary elections to be held in June. Many who voted for Macron on Sunday saw him as the lesser of two evils, as opposed to being a favored candidate.

If Macron's tenure fails to live up expectations, Le Pen could also come back stronger in 2022, the next scheduled presidential election.

© 2017 USATODAY.COM


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