By Michel Rose and John Irish
PARIS (Reuters) – Emmanuel Macron was confronted on Monday with pressing reminders of the challenges facing him as France’s next president, even as allies and some former rivals signaled their willingness to work closely with him.
The centrist’s victory over far-rightist Marine Le Pen in Sunday’s election came as a huge relief to European Union allies who had feared another populist upheaval to follow Britain’s vote to quit the EU and Donald Trump’s election as U.S. president.
“He carries the hopes of millions of French people, and of many people in Germany and the whole of Europe,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel told a news conference in Berlin.
“He ran a courageous pro-European campaign, stands for openness to the world and is committed decisively to a social market economy,” the EU’s most powerful leader added, congratulating Macron on his “spectacular” election success.
But even while pledging to help France tackle unemployment, she rejected suggestions Germany should do more to support Europe’s economy by importing more from its partners to bring down its big trade surplus.
European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker put it bluntly: “With France, we have a particular problem … The French spend too much money and they spend too much in the wrong places. This will not work over time,” Juncker said in Berlin.
The euro fell from six-month highs against the dollar on confirmation of Macron’s widely expected victory by a margin of 66 percent to 34 percent, as investors took profit on a roughly 3 percent gain for the currency since he won the first round two weeks ago.
France’s economic malaise, especially high unemployment, had undermined the popularity of outgoing Socialist President Francois Hollande to the point where he decided not even to run as a candidate.
“This year, I wanted Emmanuel Macron to be here with me so that a torch could be passed on,” said Hollande, who appeared with Macron at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Paris’ Arc de Triomphe to commemorate Victory in Europe Day and the surrender of Nazi forces on May 8, 1945 at the end of World War Two.
Elsewhere in Paris, hundreds of people, led by the powerful CGT trade union, marched in protest against Macron’s planned labor reforms.
On assuming office next Sunday as France’s youngest leader since Napoleon, the 39-year-old faces the immediate challenge of securing a majority in next month’s parliamentary election in order to have a realistic chance of implementing his plans for lower state spending, higher investment and reform of the tax, labor and pension systems.
With the two mainstream parties – the conservative Republicans and the left-wing Socialists – both failing to reach the presidential runoff, his chances of winning a majority that supports his election pledges will depend on him widening his centrist base.
The Socialists are torn between the radical left of their defeated candidate Benoit Hamon and the more centrist, pro-business branch led by former premier Manuel Valls.
On Monday, key members of the centrist arm of The Republicans appeared ready to work with Macron despite the party hierarchy calling for unity to oppose the new president and calling those that were wavering “traitors”.
“I can work in a government majority,” said Bruno Le Maire, a senior Republicans party official, who had been an aide of presidential candidate Francois Fillon.
“The situation is too serious for sectarianism and to be partisan.”
Le Pen, 48, defiantly claimed the mantle of France’s main opposition in calling on “all patriots to join us” in constituting a “new political force”.
Her tally was almost double the score that her father Jean-Marie, the last far-right candidate to make the presidential runoff, achieved in 2002, when he was trounced by the conservative Jacques Chirac.
(Additional reporting by Ingrid Melander, Andrew Callus, Bate Felix, Adrian Croft, Leigh Thomas, Tim Hepher, Gus Trompiz; Writing by Richard Balmforth and John Irish; Editing by Mark Trevelyan and Ralph Boulton)