(Reuters) — Far right wing nationalists scored stunning victories in European Parliament elections in France and Britain on Sunday as critics of the European Union more than doubled their seats in a continent-wide protest vote against austerity and unemployment.
French Prime Minister Manuel Valls called the breakthrough by Marine Le Pen’s anti-immigration, anti-euro National Front in one of the EU’s founding nations a political “earthquake”.
Anti-establishment parties of the far right and hard left, their scores amplified by a low turnout, made gains in many countries although in Germany, the EU’s biggest member state with the largest number of seats, and Italy, the pro-European center ground held firm.
In a vote that raised more doubts about Britain’s long-term future in the EU, Nigel Farage’s UK Independence Party, which advocates immediate withdrawal, led the opposition Labor party and Prime Minister David Cameron’s Conservatives comfortably with almost half the results declared.
A jubilant Le Pen, whose party beat President Francois Hollande’s ruling Socialists into third place, told supporters: “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.
“They want to be protected from globalization and take back the reins of their destiny.”
With 80 percent of votes counted, the National Front had won 26 percent of the vote, comfortably ahead of the conservative opposition UMP on 20.6 percent, with the Socialists on 13.8, their second heavy defeat in two months after losing dozens of town halls in March.
First official results from around the 28-nation bloc showed the pro-European center-left and center-right parties will keep control of around 70 percent of the 751-seat EU legislature, but the number of Eurosceptic members will more than double.
The center-right European People’s Party, led by former Luxembourg Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker, was set to win 212 seats, preliminary results issued by the parliament showed.
“As the EPP has a strong lead … I am ready to accept the mandate of the European Commission president,” Juncker told reporters in parliament. “We will have a clear pro-European majority in this house.”