Voters across France were choosing a new president Sunday in an unusually tense and important election that could decide Europe’s future, making a stark choice between pro-business independent Emmanuel Macron and far-right populist Marine Le Pen.
With Macron the pollsters’ favorite, voting stations opened across mainland France at 8 a.m. (0600 GMT) under the watch of 50,000 security forces guarding against extremist attacks. Polling agency projections and initial official results are expected as soon as the final stations close at 8 p.m. (1800 GMT.)
The most closely watched and unpredictable French presidential campaign in recent memory ended with a hacking attack and document leak targeting Macron on Friday night. France’s government cybersecurity agency, ANSSI, is investigating the hack, which Macron’s team says was aimed at destabilizing the vote.
The fate of the European Union may hang in the balance as France’s 47 million voters decide whether to risk handing the presidency to Le Pen, who dreams of quitting the bloc and its common currency, or to play it safer with Macron, an unabashed pro-European who wants to strengthen the EU.
Global financial markets and France’s neighbors are watching carefully. A “Frexit” would be far more devastating than Britain’s departure, since France is the second-biggest economy to use the euro. The country also is a central pillar of the EU and its mission of keeping post-war peace via trade and open borders.
The vote will help gauge the strength of global populism after the victories last year of a referendum to take Britain out of the EU and Donald Trump’s U.S. presidential campaign. In France, it is a test of whether voters are ready to overlook the racist and anti-Semitic past of Le Pen’s National Front party.
Le Pen has broadened the party’s appeal by tapping into — and fueling — anger at globalization and fears associated with immigration and Islamic extremism. Macron has argued that France must rethink its…