AFP - French President Nicolas Sarkozy's rightwing UMP party romped home Sunday in EU parliamentary ballots, leaving the opposition Socialists trailing in a vote marked by voter apathy, estimates said.
Mirroring victories for conservative parties in much of Europe, the UMP took around 28 percent of the vote, while the Socialists were second with 17, just ahead of greens Europe-Ecologie at 14 percent, according to polling agencies.
The centrist Modem party of Francois Bayrou, the "third man" in France's last presidential vote, took just 9 percent, far less than expected and potentially damaging for his ambition to run against Sarkozy in 2012.
Turnout among France's 44 million voters, who will send 72 deputies to the European Parliament, was around 40 percent.
Outside the main parties, the far-left New Anti-capitalist Party of Olivier Besancenot took five percent, and another far-left group led by dissident Socialist Jean-Luc Melenchon took around six percent.
Jean-Marie Le Pen's xenophobic National Front took seven percent.
The campaign was a mostly lacklustre affair, with the most heated moment coming last Thursday when an ugly debate erupted among political chieftains who traded bitter insults during a televised debate.
Bayrou accused Green flag-bearer Daniel Cohn-Bendit, who as "Danny the Red" was a radical student leader in May 1968, of defending paedophilia and being a friend of Sarkozy.
Cohn-Bendit retorted: "You'll never be president, because you're pathetic."