BERLIN German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel on Sunday welcomed the projected success of centrist Emmanuel Macron in the first round of the French election, saying he was sure Macron would become the next French president.
"I am certain that Emmanuel Macron will be the next president of France. Great for Europe," Deutsche Welle reported Gabriel as telling the broadcaster. Gabriel, a Social Democrat, had taken the unusual step of endorsing Macron.
German politicians from across the spectrum echoed Gabriel's views, but some said they remained concerned about the combined strength of the anti-European vote.
Macron and far-right leader Marine Le Pen are leading in the official vote count in France's presidential election with about 38-39 percent of votes counted so far, official figures from the Interior Ministry showed on Sunday.
Conservative candidate Francois Fillon, who failed to qualify for the runoff, urged his supporters to back Macron.
"Macron's good results, and those of Fillon, are an encouraging signal for the future of Europe," said Juergen Hardt, foreign policy spokesman for Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives in parliament.
"Now it's essential that pro-European powers work together and prevail," he added.
Martin Schulz, the Social Democrat candidate to challenge Merkel in Germany's September election, said he hoped Macron would win the second round with a broad majority to defeat the "anti-European and openly racist candidate Marine Le Pen".
"We cannot underestimate the mobilisation required to ensure that Macron also wins the second round ... That's what has to happen now," Schulz told reporters.
Gunther Krichbaum, a member of Merkel's conservatives and head of the parliamentary European affairs committee, said Macron's victory was "a valuable signal" for German-French cooperation.
At the same time, he said it was alarming that the combined projected votes for Le Pen and far-left candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon, who is also critical of European integration, had totalled 40 percent.
Axel Schaefer, vice chairman of the Social Democrats in parliament, said the election result showed that the "right-wing march" across Europe had been stopped, following setbacks for populist candidates in Austria and the Netherlands.
"Macron showed that a pro-European candidate can also mobilise people. In the second round, all republican forces will have to stand together," he said.
(Reporting by Andrea Shalal, Reuters TV and Andreas Rinke; Writing by Andrea Shalal; Editing by Dale Hudson)