STRASBOURG, May 25 (Xinhua) -- As widely predicted, Eurosceptic parties made strong gains in the European Parliament (EP) elections as estimates were released Sunday evening.
Exit polls published late Sunday showed significant progress for Eurosceptic and far-right parties in France, Britain, Denmark and Hungary. There was also a strong showing for the far-left Syriza party in Greece which campaigned on an anti-austerity ticket.
A provisional estimate put the participation rate at 43.1 percent, compared with 43 percent in 2009.
An EP spokesperson announced that "the long term trend of the decline in turnout has been reversed." However, the best that can be said is that the participation rate seems merely to have stabilised.
The most stunning result was in France, one of the founder members and second largest economy in the European Union (EU), where the far-right Front National (FN) came first with 25 percent of the vote, beating the two establishment parties, centre-right UMP and centre-left Socialists, into second and third positions, respectively.
The UMP won 20.3 percent of the vote, but the Socialist Party of President Francois Hollande had a dreadful night, posting just 14.7 percent.
The result should give the FN two more seats in the EP, raising its total to 25. The Socialists look set to lose one seat leaving them with 13.
Hailing her victory, FN leader Marine Le Pen, who campaigned on the slogan "Brussels No, France Yes", said: "I thank the French people, (they) have clearly said they want to take the reins of their destiny in their own hands and not submit to laws they didn't vote for."
French Prime Minister Manuel Valls could not hide the disappointment of the current government, calling the French result "a shock, even an earthquake."
The results look to represent a major loss for the centre-right EPP group in the next Parliament. Although still the largest party, with a projected 211 seats, this would be 63 seats fewer than it previously held. The Socialist group will stay roughly unchanged at 193 seats.