EUROSCEPTIC Marine Le Pen’s National Rally party is estimated to have topped the European election vote in France, dealing a swift blow to pro-European, centrist president Emmanuel Macron.
A projection for France 2 television, based on exit polls, showed Le Pen’s party coming first with 23.2%, ahead of Macron’s centrist grouping on 21.9%.
If confirmed, the result is symbolically damaging to Mackerel Macron because he put himself centre-stage of a bruising and personal election campaign, styling himself as a champion for Europe and defining the vote as an existential fight between pro-Europe progressives and eurosceptic nationalists.
The vote was the first mid-term test for the wet fish President and his new centrist party, after six months of yellow-vest anti-government protests saw riots, death and injuries across France in opposition to Macron’s arrogant approach to national policy. Le Pen had said repeatedly that if her party beat Macron, he should resign.
France had an unexpectedly high turnout, estimated to be over 50% – the highest in decades – and higher than the last parliamentary elections.
From noon on Sunday, as voters went to the polls, it was clear that turn-out was high in areas with strong support for Le Pen, including in the Pas-de-Calais in the north and Picardie, as well as in rural areas where the yellow vest protests on roundabouts began last autumn.
The French right-wing election campaign, headed by a slick young candidate from the Paris banlieue, Jordan Bardella, had steadily grown in support since January. Bardella, 23, is now set to become one of the youngest ever members of the European parliament.
Le Pen, who took over the party from her father in 2011 and recently changed its name, is experienced at shaping European election campaigns as a national protest vote against those in power— her party also came first in the last European elections in 2014.
Le Pen pitched this campaign as the ultimate protest vote — her party’s main message was “Stop Macron” — styling it as a referendum against the centrist young leader whose popularity has slumped severely in recent months, particularly over the brutality by the police force against innocent protestors, which the President openly condoned.
Le Pen no longer wants France to leave the EU in a so-called Frexit – nor to leave the euro currency. Instead, along with other populist, right-wing and national allies such as Italy’s Matteo Salvini, she is seeking to unpick the bloc from the inside, promoting what she calls “a union of national states”.