Protest Parties Surge in Greece, France in Early EU Votes

Protest parties surged in Greece and France in European Parliament elections, in a sign of the anti-European mood across the economic divide opened up by the sovereign debt crisis.

Voters in Greece, the first crisis victim, handed first place to Syriza, the party which argues the bailouts weren’t generous enough, according to a NERIT TV exit poll that gave it as much as 30 percent support. In France, the anti-immigration National Front led with 25 percent, estimates by TNS Sofres, Ipsos and Ifop showed.

“The sovereign people have declared that they are taking their destiny back into their own hands,” Marine Le Pen, head of the National Front, told a rally in suburban Paris broadcast on France 2 television. It is time for “politics of the French, for the French, with the French.”

Initial returns in the 28-nation election indicated swelling support for political groups that blame the European Union for economic injustice -- symbolized by a bloc-wide 10.5 percent unemployment rate -- and say its leaders are letting immigration get out of hand. National returns will be released throughout the evening, with the first EU-wide projections due after 11 p.m. in Brussels.

National Impact

Early results were broadly in line with projections by PollWatch 2014, a non-partisan forecasting group, that fringe parties would combine for 30 percent in the new parliament, up from 20 percent now. While that outcome is unlikely to upset EU lawmaking, it will rattle national leaders such as Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras.

As the strongest party in Greece, with between 26 percent and 30 percent support in exit polls, Syriza could pressure the Samaras government, which has a two-seat majority in the national parliament. While Samaras has presided over Greece’s return to capital markets, the debt crisis and a six-year recession have seared a country where more than half of young people are out of work.

The breakthrough by France’s National Front dealt a further blow to President Francois Hollande, the least popular leader in France’s modern history. The National Front has cashed in on economic discontent, with jobless claims at a record of more than 3 million and an economy that has barely grown in two years.

Le Pen called on Hollande to dissolve the French national parliament and hold new elections, saying that he had little choice after such “a humiliation.”

‘Acid Rain’

Jean-Luc Melenchon, leader of the Left Front, said the result was a “volcanic eruption” accompanied by “lots of acid rain.”

“It’s a disaster,” he said on France 2. “I feel sorry for my country tonight.”

The protest wave rippled into Germany, the largest contributor to 496 billion euros ($676 billion) in aid pledges to rescue the euro. The anti-euro Alternative for Germany party was set to win its first seats in any election with 7 percent of the German vote, ARD television projections showed.

“It’s springtime in Germany,” AfD leader Bernd Lucke told chanting supporters in Berlin. “Some flowers are blooming and others are wilting.”

German support dipped for Chancellor Angela Merkel, the dominant figure in European debt-crisis diplomacy. Her Christian Democratic Union-led bloc took 35.5 percent, down from 41.5 percent in last year’s national election, according to ARD.

UKIP Gains

In the U.K., Prime Minister David Cameron is bracing for a surge by the U.K. Independence Party, which wants to yank Britain out of the EU.

Pro-EU forces will remain strong enough to control the business of the 751-member assembly, which has growing powers over EU-wide legislation. Banking union was the highlight of the last five-year term; energy independence, emission reductions, and broadband networks will be the keynotes of the next five years.

The vote will also influence the appointment of the next president of the European Commission, the EU’s executive arm.

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