But the most important take-away is that Macron won with a strong pro-European message of hope and reform at a time when the very word Europe has become almost a synonym for despondency. That’s why the choice of the Ode for Joy at such a solemn moment was an immense symbol. To grasp it fully, imagine for a moment what would have happened if Marine Le Pen had won.

Across Europe, populist xenophobes would have popped champagne bottles. Proponents of an insurrectionary “patriotic spring”, those who had held a summit with Le Pen in Koblenz just hours after Trump took office in January, would have glowed in the belief that their plan was unfolding brilliantly. Le Pen’s victory speech would have been all about the advent of a “European alliance of free and sovereign nations” set to replace the EU. And soon enough, she would have spoken of a French withdrawal from Nato’s integrated structures (which she’d called “a threat to national independence”), as well as a roll-back on sanctions against Russia.

In Moscow, Vladimir Putin would have hailed the beginning of a new era with the redrawing of Europe’s political map – a “civilisational” Russian victory over western values. Russian state-controlled media would have gone wild with satisfaction over the defeat of Macron, which they’d described days before the vote as “a classic psychopath with bulging eyes”. Despite his armada of hackers, and despite all the eagerness he’s shown towards Le Pen by hosting her in the Kremlin during the French campaign, Putin was left scrambling for attention when he called for “the end of mutual mistrust”.

If Le Pen had won, Trump would have tweeted: “HUGE! AMAZING!” Just as Trump has recently relished the prospect of meeting with tyrants from Pyongyang to the Philippines, he would now have a new-found illiberal friend in the Elysée palace. And Steve Bannon would be waxing lyrical about a “global Tea Party movement” and the salvaging of the west’s “Christian identity” in the face of “Islamic fascism”.

In Beijing, Xi Jinping would have soon enough repeated words he’d said in January and which deserved more attention than they got media: about China being ready to “guide” a “new world order”. China would have made the best of an impending unravelling of euro-Atlantic structures. Indeed, with Le Pen’s win, all the articles about the “death of the west” after Trump’s election would have made one great leap towards becoming true.

Human rights activists everywhere would have known too that the age of “resistance” had suddenly become a much more gruelling, if desperate, one. France, the country of the Enlightment, would have squandered everything that stood at the heart of defending fundamental values. For one thing, a permanent member of the UN security council that had, in recent years, lobbied for the lifting of veto rights when mass-scale atrocities are committed (think Syria) would not only have been silenced, its diplomacy would have become instantly complacent about some of the worst human rights offenders we know today.

That so many sided with ‘neither Macron neither Le Pen’ slogans says a lot about the challenges that still lie ahead

In Berlin, panic would have set in, although Angela Merkel would have probably remained cool-headed. She would have instantly set forth the conditions under which “cooperation” with France would be possible – just as she’d done after Trump’s election. She would have started preparing contingency plans for damage limitation in Europe, by perhaps focusing on a hard core of the remaining, democratic-minded representatives of founding members of the EU (the Benelux, Italy, Spain). It would be an uphill battle to save the euro, with financial markets swiftly affected. Merkel had consistently and openly warned against Le Pen, her avowed political enemy. What remained of the Franco-German “engine” would have been entirely broken.

Now, all eyes will be on how Macron manages – or not – to further eurozone integration plans after the German elections in September. Encouragingly, Sigmar Gabriel, the foreign minister and a social democrat, has promised his country will “help”.

So, yes, playing the Ode to Joy was not just timely, it was the most meaningful, inspiring symbol Macron could choose. Just on the eve of France’s ceremonies marking the anniversary of victory over Nazism, it was clear reminder of what was at stake, and not just in one country or region. It was especially astute in an era where fake news and democratic fatigue in western societies have fed a degree of moral relativism mixed with amnesia.

Of course, Macron’s victory does not answer high unemployment or France’s other deep social tensions – nor does it instantly solve the problems of a much weakened Europe that needs, as he rightly says, to be “founded again” as a project. The anti-Le Pen “Republican front” was far from what it ought to have been (in 2002, over 80% voted against Le Pen’s father, she garnered a stupefying 11 million votes). That so many sided with “neither Macron neither Le Pen” slogans, and shamelessly so among parts of the radical left, says a lot about the challenges that still lie ahead.

But anyone doubtful about the meaning of Macron’s victory should really reflect on what the world would look like if he’d been defeated on Sunday. French voters have stalled the national populist wave, and surely that’s not just a source of relief. Like beautiful music, it sends a universal message.

[Source: The Guardian]

* Natalie Nougayrède is a columnist, leader writer and foreign affairs commentator for the Guardian. She was previously executive editor and managing editor of Le Monde.