Far-right parties, some of whom stand accused of anti-Semitism, made huge gains in the European elections, triggering what one prime minister called a political “earthquake”.
Voters in 21 of the European Union’s 28 nations went to the polls yesterday to choose MEPs for the bloc’s 751-seat legislature. The other seven countries had already voted in a sprawling exercise of democracy that began on Thursday in Britain and the Netherlands.
One of the most significant winners was France’s far-right National Front party, which was the country’s outright winner with 26% support – or 4.1 million votes.
“The sovereign people have spoken … acclaiming they want to take back the reins of their destiny,” party leader Marine Le Pen said. She called the results “the first step in a long march to liberty”.
French prime minister Manuel Valls, in an impassioned televised speech, called the National Front win “more than a news alert … it is a shock, an earthquake.”
President Francois Hollande’s office said he would hold urgent talks today with top government ministers in what French media called a crisis meeting.
All of Europe would have to deal with the fallout, analysts and politicians said.
The National Front was not the only party benefiting from widespread disillusionment with the EU.
In Greece, with a quarter of the votes counted, the leftist Eurosceptic Syriza party led with 26.49%. The extreme right Golden Dawn party was third with 9.33%.
Doru Frantescu, policy director of VoteWatch Europe, an independent Brussels-based organisation, said Europe’s mainstream political parties won enough seats to still muster a majority on issues where they concur.
“The problem comes when the left, the Socialists and EPP will not agree on issues,” he said.
In the incoming European Parliament, he said, fringe parties will be able to exert more pressure on key topics, ranging from how liberal to make the internal European market for services or the proper mix of energy sources to which clauses should be scrapped in a proposed trade and investment agreement with the US.
In the Netherlands however, the right-wing Eurosceptic Party for Freedom surprisingly dropped a seat from five to four. Its outspoken leader, Geert Wilders, said his party looked forward to working with Ms Le Pen in Europe, calling her “the next French president”.
Le Pen has said she will work with Mr Wilders’ party but Mr Farage has ruled out co-operating with either, which have strident anti-immigrant platforms.
“We won’t work with right-wing populists,” Alternative for Germany’s leader Bernd Lucke also said after the vote, insisting his party was generally in favour of the EU despite its rejection of the common currency.
Mr Grillo has said in the past his movement would not ally itself with Ms Le Pen‘s party, claiming the 5-Stars had a different “DNA”.
The European Parliament estimated turnout was narrowly up from the last election in 2009, at 43.1%, reversing years of declining turnouts.