BRUSSELS: Stunning victories in European Parliament elections by nationalist, Eurosceptic parties from France and Britain left the European Union licking its wounds yesterday and facing a giant policy dilemma.
Across the continent, anti-establishment parties of the far right and hard left more than doubled their representation amid voter apathy, harnessing a mood of anger with Brussels over austerity, mass unemployment and immigration. While the centre-right and centre-left will continue to control more than half of the 751 seats in the EU legislature, they will face an unprecedented challenge from noisy insurgents determined to stop business as usual in the 28-nation bloc.
French Prime Minister Manuel Valls called the breakthrough by Marine Le Pen’s anti-immigration, anti-euro National Front, which topped a national vote for the first time and pushed his Socialists into third place, a political “earthquake”. He rapidly countered by offering more tax cuts to spur an economy which is flatlining.
The anti-EU vote was amplified in many countries by a low turnout of just 43.1 percent, but the pro-European centre ground held firm in Germany, the EU’s biggest member state with the largest number of seats, as well as Italy and Spain.
France is one of the EU’s founder members and the weakness of President Francois Hollande may leave German Chancellor Angela Merkel without a strong partner for the next leg of European integration which economists say is vital to underpin a single currency but leaves voters, who want hope of better times to come, cold.
“The legitimacy of Europe is weakened, the legitimacy of France in Europe is weakened further,” said Dominique Moisi of the French Institute of International Relations.
“To function, Europe needs a strong balance between France and Germany. But France is moving the way of Italy or Greece in economic terms and moving the way of Britain in its relationship with Europe.”
Earlier, a jubilant Le Pen told cheering supporters the French people had made clear “they no longer want to be led by those outside our borders, by EU commissioners and technocrats who are unelected. They want to be protected from globalisation and take back the reins of their destiny.”