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- Our Town
After anti-EU parties surge, what's ahead?
By John-Thor Dahlburg, The Associated Press
BRUSSELS - Europe's voters have spoken, and the result "is a shock, an earthquake," France's prime minister said.
Official but still partial returns from the 28-nation European Parliament elections show an unprecedented surge by Euroskeptics and outright anti-EU politicians. The likely upshot is that the trade bloc will find it more difficult to agree on a range of issues, including how much to liberalize its internal market in services, what to include in a proposed trade agreement with the United States and how to strike the balance between different energy sources.
By winning a larger share of seats in the European Parliament, more of Europe's outsiders also have a better platform to influence politics in their home countries.
"European politics will be different from today on," said Doru Frantescu, policy director and co-founder of VoteWatch Europe, an independent Brussels-based organization that tracked opinion polls in the run-up to the elections that finished Sunday.
Mainstream parties may hang on to more than 70 per cent of the seats in the EU's 751-member parliament, Frantescu said as returns were still being tallied. So when the transnational legislature's two biggest blocs — the conservatives and the Socialists — concur, they still should get their way.
But when they don't, foes of the EU as it now exists will have more votes and access to the parliament's internal machinery to demand that their views be considered.
Frantescu predicted the trade bloc, now present in many areas of Europeans' lives, will also interpret the election outcome as meaning it must refocus its efforts to stimulate Europe's sluggish economy and reduce joblessness.
"The signal sent by the electorate is that clearly it wants the European Union to be more effective, it wants it to deliver more results to the citizens, it wants it to solve economic issues and unemployment," Frantescu said. "These are the reasons for which people have turned toward the far left, toward the far right, toward Euroskeptics in general."
In a statement early Monday, Jose Manuel Barroso, president of the European Commission, the EU's executive arm, appeared to agree.
"This is the moment to come together and to define the union's way forward," Barroso said. "The concerns of those who voted in protest or did not vote are best addressed through decisive political action for growth and jobs, and through a truly democratic debate."
Dutch politician Geert Wilders and his anti-EU and anti-immigrant Party for Freedom were not among the big election winners. But Wilders said one effect of a jump in voter support for skeptics and parties hostile to the EU had been woefully underestimated: the fallout it would have on European national politics.
"What would (Prime Minister David) Cameron in the United Kingdom do if (anti-EU politician Nigel) Farage would get one out of three votes? He would change his policies," Wilders told reporters.
In France, the anti-EU, far-right National Front party led by Marine Le Pen got one in four votes, the best showing by any of the country's parties, incomplete but official returns showed Sunday. Socialist Prime Minister Manual Valls went on television to say the verdict of voters showed it was important for his government to push through the spending cuts and tax cuts it has been promising.
"There is not a single minute to lose," Valls said.
"I owe you the truth," he told the French. "We need to show courage because France must reform. For too long, left and right together, we have avoided deeply addressing things."
Independent observers like Janis Emmanouilidis, director of studies at the European Policy Center think-tank , have predicted one undeniable fact will blunt the impact of the anti-EU surge: the sheer variety of groups that will be represented in the parliament that divides its time between Brussels and Strasbourg in France.
They include left and right, parties that want the EU reformed and others that want it abolished, respectable figures from academia and others from groups accused of being racists or neo-Nazis.
The Sweden Democrats, an extreme-right and nationalist party, won two seats in the European Parliament, and leader Jimmie Akesson said its critical stance toward the EU helped it attract votes.
"I think it is good that criticism toward the EU is growing all over Europe," he said. But he wouldn't comment on whether he will co-operate with France's National Front. "It is one of the parties we are trying to gain an understanding of."
In Poland, marginal anti-EU politician Janusz Korwin-Mikke was elected to the parliament after declaring that it corrupts politicians and should be turned into a brothel.