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Far-Right Parties Made Big Gains In European Parliamentary Elections


Yesterday was election day across the European Union. On the ballot were all the seats in the European Parliament, which meets in Brussels and governs the E.U. The results of Sunday's vote are sending many new members, who are skeptical or even outright hostile, to the idea of a united Europe. Of 741 seats, a substantial minority, about 140, will go to far-right and so-called Eurosceptic parties. NPR's Eleanor Beardsley reports from France where a far-right party made a strong showing.

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: In France, the far-right National Front party got 26 percent of the vote - it's best score ever. The party's charismatic leader, Marine Le Pen, crowed over the victory at her party headquarters just outside of Paris.

MARINE LE PEN: (Through translator) The sovereign people have spoken, and they want to take back the reins of their destiny. Our people demand policies of, for and by the French people. They will no longer be ruled by outside commissars who aren't legitimately elected.

BEARDSLEY: Le Pen has made no secret of her desire to undo the European Union from within. The party wants out of the Euro currency. It wants to close European borders to immigration and put an end to E.U.-U.S. free-trade talks. The blow to the E.U. by founding member France is especially harsh. Though far-right parties in Denmark, Hungary, Austria and the U.K. made similar gains on similar themes. Nigel Farage, head of the U.K. Independence Party, has said he would not only take Britain out of the E.U., he wants to take Europe out of the E.U. Political scientist, Christophe Devoogd, a lecturer at Sciences PO University, says economics is the first reason the Eurosceptic parties did so well.

CHRISTOPHE DEVOOGD: You have - not everywhere, but in many countries, high unemployment and little growth since many years. So you have the kind of despair that turns into anger.

BEARDSLEY: French president Francois Hollande called an emergency meeting of his cabinet Monday morning. His prime minister, Manuel Valls, described the situation as cataclysmic.

MANUEL VALLS: (Through translator) This is grave for France and Europe. We are in a crisis of anger and a crisis of confidence. Europe has been judged as too far from people's daily expectations. It has disappointed. All of our government must respond immediately with growth and jobs.

BEARDSLEY: Valls announced he would lower taxes to take pressure off the middle and working classes. The inroads made by the anti-E.U. and radical parties have stoked concern they could hold the European Parliament hostage. Devoogd says there may be more wrangling over divisive issues in the Parliament. But he says talk of holding it hostage is a bit exaggerated.

DEVOOGD: You have clear rise of the, what we call, the Populist parties. But still, the true Euro parties are still a clear - a very clear majority.

BEARDSLEY: Devoogd says the real problems will be trying to govern at the national level with the far-right flexing its new power. In France, Marine Le Pen has already called on President Hollande to dissolve the Parliament and hold new legislative elections. Eleanor Beardsley, NPR News, Paris.

INSKEEP: It's NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.