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The banker vs. the far-right firebrand

France's historic election have huge implications for Europe. Here's what you need to know.

France’s historic election has huge implications for Europe. Here’s what you need to know.

This story was updated at 4:27 p.m.

After a close race, centrist Emmanuel Macron and far-right candidate Marine Le Pen emerged as the two biggest vote-getters in the first round of the historic French presidential election Sunday, so they will face off against in the runoff in early May, the Associated Press reports. The election could determine France’s willingness to remain in the European Union. 

Pollsters estimate that Macron will take about 24 percent of the vote and Le Pen will wind up with 22 percent. The race was too close to call up until the polls closed, a four-way race between Macron and Le Pen, as well as conservative Fraçois Fillon and the communist candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon who surged in polls at the eleventh hour.

Macron, the 39-year-old former investment banker, a political novice who has never held political office, is expected to defeat Le Pen easily in the final round. Both the right-wing Fillon and the socialist Benoît Hamond have thrown their support behind Macron over Le Pen.

The anti-immigration, anti-Europe policies of Le Pen and her party, the National Front, have Europe anxious about the future of the European Union. While Le Pen wants France to leave the EU, Macron is calling for even closer collaboration among the union’s 28 member-states. France will go to the polls again for the runoff election on May 7.

Here’s where the two candidates stand:

Marine Le Pen: the controversial far-right firebrand

Le Pen became head of the far-right National Front in 2011, taking over from her father, Jean-Marie, the convicted Holocaust denier who founded the party in 1972. (She and her father currently don’t speak.)

Le Pen is known for her hard-line stance on immigration — she wants to shut down “radical mosques,” cut immigration by 95 percent, and prioritize public housing for French nationals — and for her euroscepticism. During her 2012 campaign, she developed her brand of nationalistic protectionism, calling for France to leave the European Union and the restoration of tariffs. She’s scaled that back, now advocating for a referendum on the Euro than abandoning it outright. If elected, she’s promised to renegotiate France’s relationship to the EU and will call for a referendum vote on France’s membership in the Union.

After moving to the runoff election, she said in a victory speech, which was transcribed on Twitter, “It is time to liberate the French people from the arrogant elites who want to dictate the country’s path.”

Though she’s gone to great lengths to make clear that her party isn’t her racist father’s, she came under fire recently for disavowing France’s role in the rounding up of French Jews during World War II.

What Le Pen wants

  • To expel all illegal immigrants from France and a 10,000-person limit on new immigration
  • Retirement age at 60, a fixed 35-hour workweek, and bolstered public services
  • A referendum on whether France should stay in the Euro

Emmanuel Macron: The centrist former banker

Emmanuel Macron, the 39-year-old former Rothschild & Cie investment banker, was unknown in French politics until he became finance minister to Fraçois Hollande in 2014. He launched his own party a year ago — called “En March!,” or “On the Move!” in English — and announced his run for the Élysée Palace seven months later. He’s recruiting prospective parliamentary candidates for his new party through an online application. He describes himself as neither left nor right, though his policies are pretty solidly centrist.

Formerly a member of the Socialist party, his pro-business policies became increasingly untenable with the party’s left flank. Marcon is for cutting the corporate tax and making it easier for businesses to hire and fire by chipping away at France’s labor code.

“Today we are clearly turning a page in French political life,” Macron told Agence France-Presse shortly after the preliminary results were announced. “The French have expressed a desire for renewal.”

The endorsements for Macron have been flowing in, with both the conservatives and socialists voicing their support for him over Le Pen. He’s racked up praise from the Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel as well as the German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel, who called him “the only real pro-European candidate,” according to Bloomberg.

What Marcon wants

  • To bolster the country’s relationship with the EU.
  • Industry deregulation, flexibility for companies with the 35-hour workweek
  • An investment plan to help move France toward renewable energy
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