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EUROPEAN ELECTIONS

Soul-searching for France’s main parties after disastrous EU poll results

Photo: AFP

French President François Hollande is holding an emergency meeting Monday following his Socialist Party’s humiliating defeat in the European elections, while the opposition UMP was also left to mull the latest victory by far-right National Front.

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Candidates from Hollande’s ruling Socialist Party (PS) won just 13.88% of French votes in Sunday’s poll, a historic low for the political party in a EU parliamentary ballot, coming on the heels of an already humiliating loss in municipal elections in March.

The National Front (FN) party’s overwhelming victory has only added salt to the ruling party’s wounds. The anti-immigration and anti-euro party claimed more than a quarter of all ballots cast in France.

French Prime Minister Manuel Valls said in a televised speech on Sunday that the far-right victory was “a shock, an earthquake” to the establishment, and “a dark moment for France and for Europe.”

The surging FN currently counts three seats in the European Parliament, but is now expected to increase its presence by around 20 seats.

France’s main opposition Union for a Popular Movement (UMP) party came in second with 20.66% support, according to preliminary results published by France’s Interior Ministry.

While finishing ahead of the ruling Socialists, the election marked the first time in history that the conservative group failed to claim more votes than the FN in a national poll.

What lessons?

National Front leader Marine Le Pen, in a jubilant victory speech at her party’s headquarters on Sunday, called on Hollande to dissolve France’s own parliament and organise new elections.

Branding the FN “France’s first party,” she repeated long-standing calls for a complete overhaul of existing voting rules and adopting a proportional representation system.

Calls for change also came from within the president’s camp, with French MP Julien Dray urging Hollande to seek stronger alliances with France’s scattered left-wing political parties.

In a statement released toward the end of a gruelling night, Hollande admitted that “lessons would have to be learned” from Sunday’s vote. The French president also called for an emergency meeting of all cabinet ministers dealing with European affairs – including PM Valls and Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius – at the Elysée presidential palace on Monday.

However, statements by Valls suggested the urgent meeting would produce few changes in the government’s current policies.

Questioned about some of the potential changes on French RTL radio, Valls said he would seek to speed up existing plans to lower income taxes for France’s lowest earners. “This tax system weighs too heavily on the lower and middle classes,” Valls said.

Foreign Minister Fabius, speaking on France 2 television on Sunday night, warned about confusing the results of the European ballot with France’s domestic problems, excluding the dissolution of the lower-house National Assembly, as Le Pen demanded.

UMP faces tough questions

The pro-EU, conservative UMP party also convened a special meeting this week to discuss what its leaders admitted was a poor showing.

Former prime minister François Fillon has noted that the UMP’s loss to the far-right had “damaged its credibility” as well as its “honour.”

The UMP won the most votes in only three of France’s eight EU voting regions, losing out to the FN in all the other constituencies.

Recent allegations that a PR company close to party chief Jean-François Copé billed the UMP for presidential campaign events that did not take place has added fuel to infighting for the party’s leadership.

The main opposition party had also appeared divided ahead of the European election with some members expressing doubts over their allegiance to the European Union.

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