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Marine Le Pen, Front National. (Photo: REUTERS/Christian Hartmann)
Image: Reuters

A move to the right

Kersten Knipp/ cb
May 26, 2014

After the success of the French National Front and other rightwing nationalist or populist parties in the European elections, the composition of the parliament in Strasbourg will change significantly.


While it was expected, it's still a sensation: the rightwing extremist National Front (FN) got more than 25 percent of the vote in the European parliamentary elections in France. That makes Marine Le Pen's party France's strongest political force in the EU legislature. France's current government party, the Socialists, only gathered 14 percent of the vote and landed in third place behind the conservative UMP, the party of former President Nicolas Sarkozy, which got 21 percent of the vote.

Le Pen was demonstrably assertive after the results were announced. "We can be self-confident. The coalition of those who lost faith in France has shown that it doesn't want to be ruled from the outside anymore," the leader of the National Front said, alluding to the EU's influence on French politics, which she thinks is too large. "Our people demand French politics, by the French and for the French."

Le Pen immediately called for domestic consequences. She said that President Francois Hollande had no choice but to suspend the French parliament: "It's not acceptable that the National Assembly is so unrepresentative of the population."

Socialists and members of the UMP were shocked by the results. French Prime Minister Manuel Valls called the outcome "a shock, an earthquake." Segolene Royal, Socialist presidential candidate in 2007, said the result was a "shock of global proportions," adding that it showed how much euro-skepticism among the French had increased. Ever since her fellow countrymen voted against the European Constitutional Treaty nine years ago, their mistrust of the EU has risen, according to Royal.

Frankreich Front National election poster. (Photo: PIERRE ANDRIEU/AFP/Getty Images)
No to Brussels, yes to France- that seemed to be a popular opinion among French votersImage: Pierre Andrieu/AFP/Getty Images

Jean-Francois Cope, leader of the UMP, interpreted the results as a rejection of Socialist policies. He said the FN's triumph was an "expression of tremendous anger with President Hollande's policies." He did admit, however, that the outcome was a "big disappointment" for his party as well.

The anti-establishment party

There are several factors that led to the FN's success, French newspaper "Liberation" wrote in an editorial: the question of national identity, Brussels' perceived interference, the fear of foreigners and immigrants and the effects of the euro. But most of all, the party benefited from the weakness of the two large parties.

"The FN draws its strength, like a tumor, from the unpopular policies of the Socialist government and the president," the newspaper said in its commentary. "It also profited from a hesitant right, which teeters between a Republican course and extremist temptation, and which has been rocked by scandal."

As an anti-establishment party, the FN is especially successful among young people. The party received 30 percent of the ballots cast by voters younger than 35, according to polling institute Ipsos-Steria. The number of French older than 60 who voted for the FN is comparatively low: only one fifth of them chose the nationalist party.

The FN is especially successful among those groups that used to be squarely in the Socialist camp: 43 percent of blue-collar workers and 38 percent of office workers voted for the FN. Just how dramatic the increase is among this group is illustrated by a comparison to the Socialists: they only managed to pick up 8 percent of the blue-collar vote and 16 percent of the office worker vote.

More than 130 euro-skeptic representatives

The new European parliament will have 751 representatives in total. With 212 seats, the conservative European People's Party (EPP) will be the strongest faction, according to recent projections. They'll be followed by the Socialists with 185 seats, Liberals with 71 seats, Greens with 55 seats and the radical Left with 45 seats.

Marine Le Pen and Geert Wilders. (Photo: EPA/VALERIE KUYPERS)
Le Pen and Wilders could become partners in the new European ParliamentImage: picture-alliance/dpa

Marine Le Pen will use the coming weeks to negotiate possible coalitions. After the successes of rightwing populist or extremist parties acrossx Europe, there will be numerous forces in parliament that are ideologically close to the National Front. Le Pen will likely also talk to the euro-skeptic parties, which will have more than 130 seats in the new parliament.

The British UKIP party, which calls for Great Britain to leave the EU, garnered roughly 30 percent of the vote. That should be enough to get at least four seats in Strasbourg. With the "Dansk Folkeparti" (Danish People's Party), Denmark also saw a rightwing populist party become the strongest political force. It got around 27.5 percent of the vote and will send 23 representatives to Strasbourg.

In Greece, the rightwing radical party "Golden Dawn" got 9.3 percent of the vote and will be the third-strongest group from the country, sending three representatives to the parliament. In Austria, the rightwing populist FPÖ garnered 20 percent of the vote, which means it will likely get four seats - double the number it had before.

In Finland, the rightwing populist "Finns Party" gained almost 13 percent of the vote, which gives it two seats in the new parliament. Geert Wilders xenophobic "Partij voor de Vrijheid" (Party for Freedom) got only 12.2 percent of the Dutch vote. This surprisingly low number means that they will only get three seats in parliament. The Hungarian rightwing party "Jobbik" (Movement for a Better Hungary) will also send three representatives, according to election forecasts.

Marine Le Pen will now likely try to set up a parliamentary faction with representatives from these parties and a few splinter groups. The minimum number of seats required to be classified as an offiical parliamentary group in Strasbourg is 25, so she should succeed in that endeavor. Lead by Le Pen and her National Front, the European Union is now drifting further to the right.

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