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Elections

Le Pen victory shakes France's political class

France's president holds an emergency meeting after the far-right National Front triumphs in EU elections. Party leader Marine Le Pen celebrates victory for the 'sovereign people of France.'

Socialist President Francois Hollande urgently met with his ministers Monday after the anti-immigration National Front (FN) party swept to victory in the EU parliamentary elections.

The FN won almost a quarter of the vote and will take 24 of France's 74 European Parliament seats, on a turnout of just over 43 percent. The center-right UMP, supposedly the main opposition party, came in second with 20.8 percent while Hollande's Socialists won just under 14 percent in their worst ever score at a European election.

Le Pen promptly described the vote as support for her motto "France for the French." The result was the highest score ever obtained in a nationwide election by the FN, following breakthrough gains in local elections earlier in the year.

Moving into the mainstream

Marine Le Pen getting out of a car. (Photo: AP Photo/Jacques Brinon)

Marine Le Pen is the big winner of the EU elections in France

The victory shook mainstream parties on the left and right in a country struggling with high unemployment and economic stagnation. Manuel Valls, the Socialist prime minister, called the results "a shock, an earthquake." Jean-Francois Cope, the UMP leader, spoke of a "great disappointment."

Members of government swiftly brushed aside Le Pen's calls for rapid resignations and for Hollande to dissolve the National Assembly.

The National Front currently has only two deputies and struggles to make an impact in the assembly. But since Marine Le Pen, 45, took over from her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, in 2011, the once-pariah party has been winning in its battle to be accepted as part of the mainstream.

Its bigger presence in the European Parliament will add clout to Le Pen's drive for greater acceptance on her intended route to the presidency.

Charming the working class

The FN's resurgence has been attributed to the appeal of its stance against immigration and Europe at a time of record high unemployment and falling living standards for many working and middle class voters.

Observers noted that the FN won its best scores Sunday among the working class, unemployed and low-paid employees, but that a large majority of those same categories also abstained.

Less than a quarter of under-35s voted compared with 60 percent of the over-60s, according to the Ipsos polling agency. The FN has also benefited from widespread disillusionment with the mainstream parties.

Manuel Valls walking up a pair of stairs. (Photo: REUTERS/Philippe Wojazer)

Prime Minister Valls calls for quick reforms

Sunday's result left those parties with major challenges before the 2017 presidential elections.UMP leader Cope, who claimed victory in a contested party leadership election, may well find it hard to keep his job.

Hollande in trouble

Even before the result, President Hollande had broken polling records under France's Fifth Republic as the country's most unpopular president. He reshuffled the cabinet in March after poor local-election results, appointing Manuel Valls as prime minister.

Despite the latest blow, Valls said the results demonstrated the need to accelerate political and economic reforms.

"We have to go faster in reforming France, because there is not one minute to lose," he said.

The FN victory led an anti-EU breakthrough by parties across Europe, with eurosceptic parties set to win around 140 seats in the 751-seat European Parliament.

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