Far-right parties create Euro election 'earthquake'
Far-right and Eurosceptic parties have made huge gains in European Parliament elections, triggering what one prime minister called a political "earthquake" by those seeking to slash the EU's powers or abolish it altogether.
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.
In Germany, responding to the fallout of the swing to the far right, foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier called the National Front's success in France "a bad signal".
While chancellor Angela Merkel said the rise of right-wing populists was "remarkable and regrettable", and called for policies that could create jobs and improve competitiveness. Pro-European parties "have to take very seriously what is behind the vote", said Martin Schulz of the parliament's Socialist group.
Guy Verhofstadt, leader of the Liberal caucus, conceded as much but said even after the vote, two-thirds of the MEPs would be "people who are in favour of the European Union".
Despite the Eurosceptic gains, established pro-EU parties were forecast to remain the biggest groups in the parliament. The conservative caucus, known as EPP, was forecast to win 211 seats, down from 274, but enough to remain the parliament's biggest group.
The National Front was not the only party benefiting from widespread disillusionment
In Denmark, with 95pc of votes counted, the main government party, the Social Democrats, retained their five seats to remain the biggest party.
But the big winner in the elections was the populist, opposition Danish People's Party, which won three more seats for a total of four. A year-old party in Germany that wants that country to stop using the euro single currency reportedly won 6.7pc of the vote.
In Greece, with a quarter of the votes counted, the leftist Eurosceptic Syriza party led with 26.49pc. The extreme right Golden Dawn party was third with 9.33pc.
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".
In Italy, early projections indicated that the main government party, the Democrats led by premier Matteo Renzi, had beaten a challenge by the anti-euro 5-Star Movement of comic Beppe Grillo.
The centre-left Democrats were forecast to win 40pc, while Mr Grillo's anti-establishment movement would garner 22.5pc.
Despite the gains, unity may be hard to find in the fractured Eurosceptic camp. "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'.
Conservative caucus leader Joseph Daul put a brave face on the results.
"One thing remains certain: EPP is the responsible political force in Europe, which keeps Europe open," he said.
The European Parliament estimated turnout was narrowly up from the last election in 2009, at 43.1pc, reversing years of declining turnouts.
Voters also put new parties in the European Parliament, with preliminary results showing that Sweden elected the first MEP from a feminist party and the Dutch returned one representative for the Party for the Animals.