European Commission spokesman Margaritis Schinas said on Monday (24 April) that the commission is not interfering in the French presidential campaign, despite Jean-Claude Juncker's public endorsement of Emmanuel Macron.
On Sunday, Schinas tweeted that Juncker had “congratulated” Macron with his success at the first round of France's presidential election, and “wished him good luck” for the second round.
Juncker's congratulatory remarks were unprecedented, and raised questions during Monday's daily EU press conference.
Why did Juncker support a candidate in a member state election when the electoral process is not yet over? Normally, the commission does not provide comments on ongoing elections.
Schinas said that France is “one of the countries which incarnates and symbolises those values on which European integration is based”, and that Juncker congratulated Macron because “he is the candidate who represents those values”.
The second round of the French presidential election on 7 May will amount to a referendum on the far-right and the EU after traditional left and right parties were eliminated.
Emmanuel Macron, a social-liberal who campaigned with the French and European flags, will face Marine Le Pen, who wants to take France out of the euro and organise a referendum on EU membership.
Macron, a 39-year old former economy minister, finished ahead in the election's first round on Sunday (23 April), with 23.9 percent versus 21.7 percent for Le Pen. This is the first time that the Socialist Party and the center-right Republicans Party are both absent from the run-off.
Bar a major upheaval, Macron will be the new French president, as he will most likely benefit from a so-called republican front, where voters from the left and right unite to block the far-right.
A first poll on Sunday said that he would beat Le Pen with a 62-38 percent outcome.
The prospect of Le Pen being beaten and the wave of anti-EU forces being contained in the bloc’s second biggest country sent sighs of relief in Europe.
In unprecedented moves after the first round of a national election, German chancellor Angela Merkel and European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker expressed their support to Macron through their spokespeople.
Merkel’s Steffen Seibert wished “all the best” to Macron on Twitter and congratulated the French politician for being successful with his programme of “a strong EU and social market economy”.
Juncker’s Margaritis Schinas , said also on Twitter that the EU executive chief had “congratulated” Macron and wished him “good luck” for the run-off.
“The second round will be a vote for or against Europe,” Marie-Sixte, a Macron supporter, told EUobserver as she was waiting for the candidate’s speech on Sunday. “Its not a matter of person, but of programme. The question for France is: what do we do?”
In his address, Macron referred several times to Europe simultaneously with France, and said that he wanted to represent a "path for hope for our country and for Europe".
Using by Le Pen's own words, he said that he would be "the president of patriots against the threat of nationalists".
Le Pen conspicuously did not mention the EU in her speech on Sunday, but she said that she now had "the immense responsibility to defend the French nation, its unity, its security, its culture and its independence".
"It is time to free the French people … from arrogant elites that want to tell it what to do," she said, using the language she usually uses to refer to France’s EU membership.
She said that what was mainly at stake was "the wild globalisation that endangers our civilisation".
She called on voters to "choose France, borders that protect our jobs and our spending power, our security, our national identity".
Despite Macron’s predicted victory in the second round, Sunday’s results and first reactions show that the debate is not over.
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