French President Francois Hollande has called for the European Union to reduce its role “where it is not necessary” after Eurosceptic parties made sweeping electoral gains across the bloc.
Reacting to the spectacular success of parties like France’s own National Front and the UK Independence Party (UKIP) in Sunday’s European Parliament elections, Hollande acknowledged that the EU had become “remote and incomprehensible” for many of its citizens.
“This cannot continue. Europe has to be simple, clear, to be effective where it is needed and to withdraw from where it is not necessary,” he said in a televised address to the nation.
Hollande’s comments will be greeted with delight by Eurosceptics who accuse Brussels of meddling in national affairs, and also by the likes of British Prime Minister David Cameron, who also advocates a scaling back of the powers currently vested in the European institutions.
But the signal that France would consider a reversal of powers to national governments could cause concern among those, particularly in Germany, who believe European integration still has further to run.
Hollande’s Socialist Party suffered a humiliating setback in Sunday’s election, registering a record low vote of just under 14 percent while the FN topped the polls with nearly 25 percent.
The French leader stressed that France remained committed to playing a leading role in Europe, but also acknowledged that the economic austerity of recent years had damaged the cause of integration.
“I am a European, my duty is to reform France and to change the direction of Europe.
“Europe, in the last two years, has overcome the euro crisis but at what price? – An austerity that has ended up disheartening the people.”
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.