Opinion editor's note: Editorials represent the opinions of the Star Tribune Editorial Board, which operates independently from the newsroom.
On Sunday, Emmanuel Macron won the French presidential election.
So did the West.
And to some extent, so did the world, at least given the stakes in Ukraine.
The significance of Macron's victory wasn't because he was flawless in his first term. On the contrary, his policies, particularly domestically, were met with mixed approval. And as importantly in politics, his personality was considered aloof even by supporters. But on the big issues, the ones that will define France and Europe and the West in the years to come, Macron's pro-European Union, pro-NATO approach has been and will now continue to be crucial to the unity needed to sanction Russia and arm Ukraine.
Conversely, Marine Le Pen, Macron's second-round opponent, has been openly hostile to the E.U., skeptical of NATO and friendly to Russian President Vladimir Putin. While she softened her position on all three key issues (and many more to broaden her appeal since losing to Macron in 2017), her election still would have sent Brexit-like shock waves globally and could have torn at transatlantic unity at the worst possible time.
Instead, the steady, steely approach will continue from Macron, now Europe's de facto leader after Brexit and the departure of former German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
As the populist era emerged last decade it might have been assumed that France would lead the way, reeling as it was from a sclerotic economy, multiple terrorist attacks and a well-developed right-wing movement challenging exhausted center-left and center-right establishment parties.
Instead, in the politics of Macron, the center held in France, Ben Judah, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council's Europe Center, told an editorial writer.
"If you told someone in 2015 that it was America and it was Britain that was going to vote for a populist option in the Brexit referendum or vote for a populist president in the form of [Donald] Trump, and it was France that was going to elect twice, for a 10-year period in total, a liberal-minded, centrist, pro-European ... [that person] would have been very surprised and very relieved," Judah said.
For the war effort "it means France's support for the Ukrainian government, support for the Western sanctions alliance, support for arms transfers to Ukraine, support for NATO increasing its deployments on the Eastern flank, is set to continue and we can expect Macron to continue to push how he thinks that conflict should be handled," he added.
And for America, Judah believes that Macron's re-election "means that America will continue to have a strong, capable, and now experienced French president as a partner, a man who's committed to his vision of a strong, autonomous Europe in alliance with the United States and who's ready to burden share on many of the challenges of the 21st century."
Of course, Macron's ability to lead internationally depends on his ability to deliver domestically, so he must continue to reform as well as start to connect better with those deeply disaffected from the globalism Macron espouses. Ignoring that portion of the country could prove debilitating soon, since legislative elections are set for June.
In 2017 Macron's new party rode the optimism of its new president to emerge victorious in the legislative contests. This time, Le Pen's far-right movement as well as Jean-Luc Melenchon's far-left movement, which is also cool to the E.U. and NATO, might win a legislative majority, which would crimp Macron's plans to address issues that led to rising support for the xenophobic populist Le Pen.
Regarding European politics, William Drozdiak, a senior fellow at the Wilson Center who has written a biography of Macron, said during a virtual panel discussion on Monday that he believes "the left-right cleavage has been replaced by a pro-Europe, open-society, liberal international order versus the closed, nationalistic approach embodied by Marine Le Pen."
If so, it was a good Sunday for the side embodied by Macron. It not only won in France — in Slovenia a more centrist coalition defeated the three-time populist prime minister.
More tests are ahead, including key plebiscites in Spain and Italy. But for now, it's a relief to Europe, America and perhaps most profoundly Ukraine, which is fighting for the kind of society that can hold such defining elections.