France is reeling from a political earthquake after the far-right National Front (FN) topped the polls in European elections by winning the backing of just over one in four voters.
With 80 per cent of ballots counted following Sunday’s vote, the Interior Ministry announced that the anti-immigration, anti-EU party led by Marine Le Pen had secured 26 per cent of the vote, guaranteeing them around a third of France’s 74 seats in the European Parliament.
Riding twin waves of Euroscepticism fuelled by a belief that Brussels is responsible for the country’s current economic woes and furious disillusionment with its political establishment, the FN beat the centre-right Union for a Popular Movement (UMP) into second place (20.6 per cent).
President Francois Hollande’s Socialist Party was left languishing in third with a humiliating tally of just 13.8 per cent.
Prime Minister Manuel Valls said the stinging reverse demonstrated the need to accelerate political and economic reforms, while Hollande summoned his ministers for crisis talks on the setback first thing on Monday morning.
“Lessons have to be learned,” a Hollande aide acknowledged.
“We have to find a way of convincing the French people that we can change Europe without leaving Europe.”
As FN leaders celebrated their triumph by demanding the dissolution of the National Assembly, senior Socialist minister Segolene Royal acknowledged that the far right’s success represented “a shock on a global scale.”
Marine Le Pen, 45, has been credited with significantly broadening the appeal of a party founded by her father Jean-Marie Le Pen and long tainted by association with his multiple convictions for inciting racism and denying the holocaust.
She said voters had demonstrated their desire to “reclaim the reins of their own destiny.”
“Our people demand only one type of politics – a politics of the French, for the French and with the French,” she said.
“They have said they no longer want to be ruled from outside, to have to submit to laws they did not vote for or to obey (EU) commissioners who are not subject to the legitimacy of universal suffrage.”
Angela Merkel’s conservatives claim victory
German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives have claimed victory in European Parliament elections despite strong gains for the centre-left Social Democrats and the rise of a new anti-euro party.
Germany, the most populous country in the EU, sends 96 members to the 751-seat European Parliament which has demanded a stronger say in who takes over from outgoing European Commission president Jose Manuel Barosso.
Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU) and their Bavarian sister party the CSU – a team that last September celebrated a landslide win at the national level – between them scored about 36 per cent in the Sunday vote, public broadcasters ARD and ZDF estimated.
The result – though less triumphant than last year’s German election result of 41.5 per cent – is being seen as another endorsement for Merkel, the only leader of a major EU member country to have weathered the political fallout from the eurozone crisis.
It also points at the German electorate’s “extreme satisfaction with the federal government”, said political scientist Jens Walther of Dusseldorf University.
“Compared to other countries, she (Merkel) had a very good result.”
The CDU’s top candidate David McAllister said: “We had a goal and we achieved that goal, we are the strongest force in this election, we clearly won. And Germany clearly voted in a pro-European way. This confirms our good policy for Europe.”
But the vote was also celebrated by Merkel’s new partners in a left-right ‘grand coalition’ government, the Social Democrats (SPD), who looked set to score over 27 per cent, up from 20.8 per cent at the last such EU vote in 2009.
Since teaming up with Merkel’s party, the SPD has pushed social reforms including a national minimum wage in Germany. It also boasts among its ranks the European candidate for European Commission president, Martin Schulz.