Marine Le Pen’s far-right party edged just ahead of the centrist alliance of President Emmanuel Macron in exit polls as French voters led what pollsters expected to be a nationalist surge in an EU parliament election on Sunday, Trend reports citing Reuters.
The defeat was narrow - just one seat - but a bitter one for those who hope the French leader can inspire Europeans to embrace the Union as an answer rather than part of the problem in the face of what for many is nerve-wracking social change.
However, a first official projection of all 751 seats by the European Parliament indicated that losses for the pro-EU center may have been no worse than expected, with the Greens and liberals also gaining at the expense of the center-right and center-left.
Brussels officials and pro-EU party leaders also took heart from a substantial increase in turnout - the first in the 40-year history of direct elections to the Parliament.
It was about 50%, up from 43% in 2014 - hardly massive, but an end to the declines that have fueled talk of a “democratic deficit” that undermines the legitimacy of EU lawmaking.
Dropping about 40 seats each, the conservative European People’s Party and Socialists & Democrats lost the majority they formed in a “grand coalition” with the EPP on top, according to the projection.
The elections have consisted of four days of ballots across the 28-nation bloc. A clearer picture of the legislature will come once the final polls close - in Italy at 2100 GMT.
The far-right League of Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini stands a chance of pipping Chancellor Angela Merkel’s German conservatives as the party with the largest number of seats in the chamber.
Another contender will be the new Brexit Party of veteran British anti-EU campaigner Nigel Farage, set to top the vote in the country that was supposed to have left the bloc two months ago.