French President Francois Hollande has called for the European Union to change focus and reduce its role. It follows significant gains by Euroskeptic and far-right parties in the European elections.
Hollande was speaking in a televised address on Monday evening, a day after the major win by the anti-immigrant, anti-EU National Front (FN) party - which received over a quarter of the popular vote as France chose its European Parliament MPs.
The party's stunning success, in which it won its first-ever nationwide poll, trumped Hollande's Socialists, which was placed third with 14 per cent, behind the conservative UMP party of former President Nicolas Sarkozy, on 21 per cent.
Hollande said that the EU had become "remote and incomprehensible" for many of its citizens.
"Europe has become illegible, distant, basically incomprehensible, even for governments," Hollande said.
"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."
Hollande labeled Sunday's results "a vote of mistrust towards Europe," and said that eurozone austerity had damaged European integration.
"I am a European, my duty is to reform France and to change the direction of Europe," said Hollande
"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 French president nonetheless pledged to push forward with economic and social reforms at home, after holding an urgent meeting of government ministers earlier in the day.
His comments are likely to be welcomed by Euroskeptics, who assert that Brussels plays too large a role in home affairs, but could worry Germany and other countries which believe the end of the road for European integration is some way off.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the rise of populist right-wing parties in the elections was "remarkable and regrettable," and said better policies needed to be created to boost jobs and competition.
"That goes for France too," Merkel said on Monday in Berlin.
Merkel experienced a rather different result, with her own conservative party winning the poll in Germany.
German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said the National Front's success was concerning.
"France is of course a bad signal with the National Front, and for me it's a horror, that even Germany's NPD will also be represented at the European Parliament," Steinmeier said.
Germany's far-right NPD, which many political rivals are seeking to outlaw, won one seat in the election.
In Britain, the euroskeptic United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) won more seats than any mainstream party, but has ruled out an alliance with the National Front, saying the party was too closely tied to racism and anti-Semitism.
Valls promises tax cuts
French prime minister Manuel Valls on Monday promised more tax cuts for low earners. He said the previous round of tax hikes had been a reason for the FN's success.
"We need more tax cuts, because the burden has become unbearable," Valls told RTL radio. "Until unemployment falls, until purchasing power rises, until taxes drop, the French won't believe us."
But Valls insisted that France would maintain its efforts to bring deficits in line with EU limits.
European Summit on Tuesday
The European election results are likely to dominate discussions at a summit of EU leaders in Brussels on Tuesday.
jr/lw (AP, Reuters, AFP)