Eurosceptic, anti-immigrant parties hope to make big gains in vote for a new EU parliament.
Far-right and anti-EU parties have made sweeping gains in the European Parliament elections, with the socialist French prime minister Manuel Valls describing the results “an earthquake”.
Eurosceptic parties came first in France, the UK and Denmark, among others. The European Parliament’s predictions on Monday showed that there would be about 140 anti-EU and far-right members of the 751-seat assembly.
The European People’s Party, the centre-right bloc in the parliament, is expected to win 212 seats, while the European Socialists are predicted to secure 186 seats.
The turnout was 43.1 percent, according to the preliminary results, compared to 43 percent in 2009.
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Nathalie Tocci, from the Institute of International Affairs in Rome, specialises in EU politics. “The European Parliament elections are an expression of the EU lacking legitimacy in the eyes of EU citizens, both due to the handling of the [eurozone] crisis and the perceived disconnect between decision-makers and publics,” she told Al Jazeera.
She said that the sting would be taken away if economic conditions improved, adding that the EU also needed to increase its public accountability.
According to preliminary results, France’s anti-immigration and anti-EU National Front party, which is seen as the most significant victor in the elections, got almost 25 percent of the vote.
It took 24 of France’s 74 seats in the European Parliament. It had previously held three.
‘Loud and clear’
Marine Le Pen, the party’s leader, said: “The people have spoken loud and clear. They no longer want to be led by those outside our borders, by EU commissioners and technocrats who are unelected.”
Manuel Valls, France’s Socialist prime minister, described the election results as “an earthquake” and called for a European response.
“Europe has disappointed,” Valls said. “Europe needs to give hope again. We need a Europe that is stronger, with more solidarity, more fairness.”
He was brought in by the president, Francois Hollande, barely two months ago after the Socialist Party suffered a similar rout in local elections.
Kinga Krzeminski, an unemployed 32-year-old French from Lyon, said she did not think there was a rise in far-right feeling in France, but only far-right voters go to the polls, resulting in the current situation.
“People think the EU has no effect in their lives but it actually has. I voted because I want my representatives in the European Parliament. The EU should put more effort into engaging Europeans, not only make laws, as it seems Eurosceptics are keener to vote,” she told Al Jazeera.
There was also victory for Ukip in the UK. Nigel Farage, the party’s leader called the election “the most extraordinary result in British politics for 100 years”.
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With 56 out of 73 seats announced, Ukip, which wants to pull the UK out of the EU, had won 28.6 percent of the vote to secure 23 seats, ahead of the Conservatives and Labour, while the Liberal Democrats had won just one seat.
“I don’t just want Britain to leave the European Union,” Farage said. “I want Europe to leave the European Union.”
Chris Gibbons, a 33-year-old health economist from Chesterfield, said Ukip tapped into disillusionment with politicians in the UK, and gave straight answers, which he believed many found refreshing.
“They have also cleverly blamed the economic crisis and all our ills on immigration. Because Ukip are angry, and there is a large angry group in the electorate who are fed up with the establishment,” he told Al Jazeera.
He said he believed immigration was good for the country.
Nathalie Tocci said the success of Eurosceptic parties would mean that the pro-EU parties, which still have a large majority, would deepen their cooperation.
She it was not clear how closely the anti-EU parties would work. “The extreme right – Le Pen and her allies – Ukip and the 5 Star Movement [of Italy] represent three very different brands of Euroscepticism,” she said.
In Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives won with 35.3 percent of the vote. Centre-right parties took first place in Italy, while Spain’s election was won by the centre-left.
The anti-immigration and anti-EU Danish People’s Party won its country’s elections, securing 26.7 percent of the votes and four of Denmark’s 13 seats.
Greece’s far-left opposition Syriza Party won 26.6 percent of the Greek vote on an anti-austerity platform. The country’s neo-Nazi Golden Dawn Party came third with 9.4 percent.
Centrist parties won in the Netherlands, Belgium, Finland, Sweden and Austria,
In Austria, the right-wing Freedom Party came third with 20 percent of the vote. The Freedom Party, the anti-immigration party in the Netherlands, won just 12.2 percent of the vote and just three seats, compared with 17 percent in 2009.
Follow Umut Uras on Twitter: @Um_Uras