PARIS - France was reeling from a political earthquake Monday after the far-right National Front (FN) topped the polls in European elections by winning the backing of just over one in four voters.
With 80 per cent of ballots counted following Sunday's vote, the Interior Ministry announced that the anti-immigration, anti-EU party led by Marine Le Pen had secured 26 per cent of the vote, guaranteeing them around a third of France's 74 seats in the European Parliament.
Riding twin waves of Euroscepticism fuelled by a belief that Brussels is responsible for the country's current economic woes and furious disillusionment with its political establishment, the FN beat the centre-right Union for a Popular Movement (UMP) into second place (20.6 per cent).
President Francois Hollande's Socialist Party was left languishing in third with a humiliating tally of just 13.8 per cent.
Prime Minister Manuel Valls said the stinging reverse demonstrated the need to accelerate political and economic reforms while Hollande summoned his ministers for crisis talks on the setback first thing on Monday morning.
"Lessons have to be learned," a Hollande aide acknowledged. "We have to find a way of convincing the French people that we can change Europe without leaving Europe." The result is the highest score ever obtained in a nationwide election by the National Front (FN) and follows breakthrough gains made by the once pariah party in municipal elections earlier in the year.
As FN leaders celebrated their triumph by demanding the dissolution of the National Assembly, senior Socialist minister Segolene Royal acknowledged that the far right's success represented "a shock on a global scale." Marine Le Pen, 45, has been credited with significantly broadening the appeal of a party founded by her father Jean-Marie Le Pen and long tainted by association with his multiple convictions for inciting racism and denying the holocaust.
She said voters had demonstrated their desire to "reclaim the reins of their own destiny." "Our people demand only one type of politics - a politics of the French, for the French and with the French," she said.
"They have said they no longer want to be ruled from outside, to have to submit to laws they did not vote for or to obey (EU) commissioners who are not subject to the legitimacy of universal suffrage."