Far-right, eurosceptics gain ground in EU elections

May 26, 2014 07:48 am | Updated December 04, 2021 11:37 pm IST - Brussels

Far-right and eurosceptic parties scored big victories on Sunday as voters in the >European Union picked a new parliament for the bloc, setting the stage for a challenging five years of >EU lawmaking .

France delivered the biggest upset, with the anti-immigrant, far-right National Front expected to score its first victory in a national election. Its leader, Marine Le Pen, called for parliament to be dissolved and new elections held.

Ms. Le Pen, whose party wants France to ditch the euro and hold a referendum on quitting the EU, told reporters the country had voted for rule “of the French, by the French, for the French.” But her compatriot Joseph Daul, the leader of the conservative faction in the European Parliament, expressed disappointment.

“I am sad tonight of the image France is displaying vis-à-vis other European countries,” he told journalists in Brussels.

Two exit polls showed the National Front winning 25 per cent of the vote -- well ahead of President Francois Hollande’s Socialist Party, which trailed in third with what could be its worst showing since 1994.

Governing parties in other countries were also punished by voters, amid disenchantment with the EU -- and notably its response to the eurozone’s economic crisis.

“Ruling parties have paid a price in these elections,” Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt told supporters in Stockholm, after his conservative party saw its worst result in an >EU election .

The anti-EU UK Independence Party (UKIP) looked headed to top the British poll with 31 per cent of the vote and 22 seats, after nine of 12 regions had been counted early on Monday. The ruling Conservative Party was in second place with 25 per cent.

Scotland and Northern Ireland were not expected to give results until later on Monday and results in London were reportedly delayed by vote-counting problems in one council.

“The day where we have more referendums on EU membership and membership of the euro will have come much, much closer with these results tonight,” its leader, Nigel Farage, told journalists in Brussels via videolink.

Ruling parties in Germany and Spain were also dealt a blow. The conservative Spanish People’s Party saw its vote share drop by 17 percentage points, while Germany’s ruling Christian Democrats were expected to face their worst-ever result in an EU poll.

The anti-euro Alternative fuer Deutschland, on the other hand, secured its first seats in the EU’s parliament. The far-right National Democratic Party -- which has overtly neo-Nazi supporters -- could also be on course to win its first seat.

In Greece, exit polls had the far-left SYRIZA party leading with 26-30 per cent, ahead of the ruling conservative New Democracy Party.

SYRIZA has campaigned vociferously against the austerity that was part of the response to the economic crisis.

Right-wing and anti-immigrant parties also made gains in Austria, Finland and Sweden, while the Danish People’s Party won the biggest share of the vote in that Nordic country, according to exit polls and initial projections.

In the east, ruling parties took a drubbing in Bulgaria, Croatia and the Czech Republic, while Hungary’s far-right Jobbik party became the largest opposition party.

Commission president candidate Guy Verhofstadt nevertheless struck an upbeat tone, arguing that a large majority of the incoming parliament will be pro-EU.

The conservative European People’s Party is expected to remain the largest group in the legislature, with provisional results issued early Monday attributing it 212 out of 751 seats. They foresaw the Socialists coming in second with 186 seats.

“You cannot say that there is a majority of eurosceptics and nationalists winning these elections,” Verhofstadt said. “At least two (out of) three representatives in the new parliament are people who are in favour of the EU.” Eurosceptics also were handed resounding defeats in two of the EU’s largest countries -- Italy and the Netherlands.

Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi was forecast to have led his centre-left Democratic Party to a landslide win, crushing fears that it could lose to the anti-establishment Five Star Movement of Beppe Grillo, which came in a distant second.

The Dutch far-right, anti-immigrant Party for Freedom of eurosceptic Geert Wilders also unexpectedly lost support to land in third place.

Voter turnout delivered another surprise. There had been warnings that interest could drop, but a parliament projection estimated that around 43 per cent of eligible EU voters had cast ballots -- in line with the last election in 2009.

“It’s true, 43 percent is not a high figure, but what is important is that for the first time it is going up and no longer going down, as we have seen the last 30 years,” Verhofstadt noted.

Around 400 million people across the 28-country EU were eligible to vote in the quinquennial elections. Official results are expected to trickle in over the coming days.

The race for commission president was a novelty meant to boost voter interest. Conservative contender Jean-Claude Juncker, a former Luxembourg prime minister, said he felt “entitled” to the post since his party will be the largest in the new parliament.

But Juncker will now need to win over a majority in the new legislature and among EU governments.

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