EU worried about far-right push in French elections

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European Union ministers meeting yesterday (23 April) in Luxembourg said they were concerned over the rise of French nationalist party in Sunday’s presidential elections.

Luxembourg Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn blamed incumbent French President Nicolas Sarkozy for the success of far-right candidate Marine Le Pen in France‘s elections.

"If I were the president of the [French] Republic, I would ask myself why one out of five people in France are now voting for the National Front," Asselborn said before the start of an EU foreign ministers meeting in Luxembourg.

Socialist candidate François Hollande pipped Sarkozy in Sunday's 10-candidate first round by 28.6% to 27.2%, but National Front leader Le Pen stole the show, surging to 17.9%, the biggest tally a far-right candidate has ever managed.

Her performance mirrored advances across the continent by anti-establishment Eurosceptic populists from Amsterdam and Vienna to Helsinki as the eurozone's grinding debt crisis deepens anger over government spending cuts and unemployment.

"If you repeat everyday that we must change Schengen, that we have to have a tough immigration policy, that we have to talk about French exceptionalism, that is grist to the mill of the National Front," Asselborn said.

"The National Front is about no euro and no Europe, and no euro and no Europe is bad for France and for Europe, we need to stop this logic," Asselborn, a socialist, added.

The unpopular Sarkozy now faces a difficult balancing act to attract both the far-right and centrist voters he needs to stay in office.

Returning to the campaign trail yesterday (23 April), Sarkozy hammered home promises to toughen border controls, tighten security on the streets and keep industrial jobs in France - signature issues for Le Pen at a time of anger over immigration, violent crime and unemployment running at a 12-year high.

"National Front voters must be respected," Sarkozy told reporters as he left his campaign headquarters in Paris. "They voiced their view. It was a vote of suffering, a crisis vote. Why insult them? I have heard Mr Hollande criticising them."

After five turbulent years leading the world's fifth largest economy, Sarkozy could go the way of 10 other eurozone leaders swept from office since the start of the current financial crisis in late 2009.

Hollande has vowed to change the direction of Europe by tempering austerity measures with higher taxes on the rich and more social spending. Polls published on Sunday predicted he would win the run-off with between 53% and 56% of votes.

But the strong showing of Le Pen, the gravel-voiced 43-year-old daughter of National Front founder Jean-Marie Le Pen, offered Sarkozy a glimmer of hope by suggesting there are more votes up for grabs on the right than had been thought.

"Marine Le Pen's breakthrough throws the second round wide open," read the front page of right-leaning Le Figaro, while left-wing Liberation read: "Hollande leads. Le Pen the killjoy".

Positions: 

Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt said he was "concerned" by attitudes not just "against an open society, but also an open Europe," and noted that they are present "not only on the far right, but also the far left."

The fact that Le Pen secured 18% of the vote in the first round of the French presidential elections "has to give us food for thought," Austrian Foreign Minister Michael Spindelegger said.

The second round between Sarkozy and the socialist candidate Francois Hollande, who came out on top in Sunday‘s poll by a close margin, is now "wide open," Spindelegger added.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague declined to comment about the results. "French elections are entirely a matter for the people of France, not for a British politician."

Timeline: 
  • 6 May: Second round of French Presidential election
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