International
Pierre Andrieu/AFP/Getty images

Far right gains in European Parliament vote

Anti–European Union faction also gained, a combination one prime minister called a political ‘earthquake’

Far-right and anti-European Union parties made sweeping gains in European Parliament elections Sunday — triggering what one prime minister called a political "earthquake" by those who want to slash the powers of the EU or abolish it altogether.

Voters in 21 of the EU's 28 nations went to the polls Sunday, choosing lawmakers for the bloc's 751-seat legislature. The other seven countries in the bloc had already voted in a process that began Thursday in Britain and the Netherlands.

One of the most significant winners was France's far-right, anti-immigrant National Front party, which was the outright winner in France — with 26 percent support, or 4.1 million votes. The National Front, like other far-right parties across Europe, promotes anti-immigrant and often anti-Semitic policies.

"The sovereign people have spoken ... acclaiming they want to take back the reins of their destiny," party leader Marine Le Pen said in a statement. She called the results "the first step in a long march to liberty."

She also called for the French National Assembly to be dissolved on the basis of the results.

"What else can the president do after such a rejection?” she said. "It is unacceptable that the assembly should be so unrepresentative of the French people."

French Prime Minister Manuel Valls, in a televised speech, called the National Front win "more than a news alert ... It is a shock, an earthquake."

French President François Hollande's office announced he would hold urgent talks first thing Monday with top government ministers in what French media called a crisis meeting.

Estimated voter turnout, 43.1 percent, was narrowly up from the last European Parliament election's in 2009, reversing years of decline, and now, all of Europe will have to deal with the fallout of the elections, analysts and politicians said.

Pro-European parties "have to take very seriously what is behind the vote," of the so-called Euroskeptics, said Martin Schulz of the Socialist group in the European Parliament.

To the Euroskeptics, Brussels epitomizes bureaucratic inefficiency and infringes on national sovereignty at a time when the financial crisis has left 23.5 percent of European youth unemployed. Richer northern nations have ended up footing the bill while being unable to manage their currencies or key policies themselves, Euroskeptics say.

That said, Guy Verhofstadt, leader of the liberal caucus in the European Parliament, pointed out that even after the vote, two-thirds of the European lawmakers would be "people who are in favor of the European Union."

Despite the anti-EU gains, established pro-EU parties were forecast to remain the biggest groups in the parliament. The conservative caucus, known as EPP, was forecast to win 211 seats, down from 274 but enough to remain the body's biggest group.

Doru Frantescu, policy director of independent Brussels-based VoteWatch Europe, said Europe's mainstream political parties still won enough seats to muster a majority on issues where they concur.

"The problem comes when the left, the Socialists and EPP will not agree on issues," Frantescu said.

In the incoming European Parliament, he said, fringe parties will be able to exert more pressure on key topics, ranging from how liberal to make the internal European market for services to the proper mix of energy sources to which clauses should be scrapped in a proposed trade and investment agreement with the United States. 

Widespread dissatisfaction

France's National Front was not the only party benefiting from widespread disillusionment with the EU.

Nigel Farage, leader of the UK's fiercely anti-EU U.K. Independence Party, looked set to score a historic victory over Conservatives and Labour.

"I don't just want Britain to leave the European Union," Farage said. "I want Europe to leave the European Union."

Official results, with Scotland and Northern Ireland left to declare, had the UKIP with about 27 percent of the vote — some 10 points higher than in 2009 — and with 23 seats. David Cameron's Conservatives and Labour each won 18 seats.

The anti-immigration and anti-EU Danish People's Party won in Denmark, snaring 26.7 percent of the vote and four of the country's 13 seats. 

Exit polls in Sweden showed the Feminist Initiative Party entering the EU parliament for the first time, backed by 7 percent of Swedes. The Green Party surged to 17.1 percent, from 11 percent in 2009, and the far-right Sweden Democrats won 7 percent, compared with 3.3 percent in 2009.

Greece's left-wing opposition Syriza party succeeded in capturing 26.6 percent of the Greek vote on its anti-austerity platform, and the country's extreme right Golden Dawn was third with 9.4 percent. Golden Dawn — a former neo-Nazi organization whose leader and members are to face trial on charges including murder, arson and extortion — will send three representatives to the European parliament.

Austria's far-right Freedom Party advanced to take 20 percent of the vote, after an anti-immigrant campaign that called for halving Vienna's EU contributions and demanded a referendum on the EU's crucial bailout fund.

The right-wing anti-immigration party in the Netherlands, Gurt Wilders' Freedom Party, however, fell flat, winning just 12.2 percent of the vote and just three seats, compared with 17 percent in 2009.

In Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives claimed victory with 35.3 percent of the vote, despite strong gains for the center-left Social Democrats. A new anti-EU party, the Alternative for Germany will make its debut in the parliament, after polling 7 percent.

Al Jazeera and wire services

Find Al Jazeera America on your TV

Get email updates from Al Jazeera America

Sign up for our weekly newsletter

Get email updates from Al Jazeera America

Sign up for our weekly newsletter