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Fringe Parties Make Gains In EU Elections

EU flags are reflected at the entrance of the Berlaymont building of the EU Commission in Brussels
Fringe parties on both the left and right of the political spectrum look set to nearly double their seats in the European Parliament, boosting the likelihood of more pro-Russian voices in the chamber.

Far-left and far-right parties have garnered up to 160 out of 751 seats in the new parliament, up from 98 in 2009, according to preliminary results in the parliamentary election released on May 25.

While mainstream parties still will have a sufficient majority to pass legislation, the increasing number of European parliamentarians from fringe parties appears set to create a platform for more support for Russian President Vladimir Putin in the very heart of Brussels.

Should they manage to form political groups – which is likely both on the right and the left – they will also benefit from political funding from the European Parliament, up to more than 1 million euro a year.

The preliminary results shows that Euro-skeptic parties on the far-right finished on top in countries such as Denmark, France and the United Kingdom, while the far-left won in crisis-stricken Greece.

In France, Marine Le Pen's National Front could possibly capture up to 25 seats, compared to three seats from five years ago, a development likely to send shockwaves far beyond Paris.

Le Pen, who has spoken admiringly of Putin, was in a jubilant mood as the preliminary results were announced.

" But the French have started today the first step of this long and necessary walk towards liberty, which will allow them to rediscover their sovereignty, free them from constraints of austerity, establish their abused identity, and to finally rediscover themselves as those who come first in their own country," Le Pen said.

UKIP Gains

In Britain, the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) is estimated to finish ahead of both the Conservatives and Labour, and might triple its seats from the eight it currently holds.

The party’s leader, Nigel Farage, wants to withdraw Britain from the EU and has also stated that the EU has blood on its hands after the crisis in Ukraine. On election night, he once again slammed the West’s shortcomings in the east.
(PHOTOS: From The Political Fringes To The European Parliament)

Reflecting a position held by several parties on the far right and the far left, Farage also said that the EU had needlessly provoked Moscow over recent events.

"I believe that the EU directly played a role in toppling, maybe a corrupt, but a democratic elected government in Ukraine, and frankly if you poke the Russian bear with a stick don't be surprised when it reacts," Farage said.

The main center-right group, the European People's Party (EPP), is set to capture the most seats with 212, compared to 185 for the main center-left fraction, the Socialists and Democrats.

The result is, however, disappointing for the EPP, which had 275 MEPs in the previous chamber.

The result will also place a question mark over whether the EPP's top candidate, the former Prime Minister of Luxembourg, Jean-Claude Juncker, can become the next president of the European Commission.

Ahead of the May 22-25 election, the main parties presented their top candidates in the belief that the party that garners the most votes will nominate the top EU bureaucrat. But it is unclear whether Juncker can get a majority in the new chamber and whether the heads of government in the EU member states are willing to sanction such a move.

Months of horse-trading between the various EU institutions might now ensue before the EU's top brass is named. Juncker was nonetheless in confident mood.

"I feel fully entitled to become the next president of the European Commission. This was not the only issue when the Europeans went to the polls today but it is a particular issue, provoking some interest, as far as I am concerned, so I am very happy about this result," Juncker said.

Voter turnout was 43.1 percent, up from 43 percent in 2009, reversing a trend of declining participation since 1979, according to a preliminary estimate.
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    Rikard Jozwiak

    Rikard Jozwiak is the Europe editor for RFE/RL in Prague, focusing on coverage of the European Union and NATO. He previously worked as RFE/RL’s Brussels correspondent, covering numerous international summits, European elections, and international court rulings. He has reported from most European capitals, as well as Central Asia.