BRUSSELS — After four days of voting in a sprawling election with nearly 400 million eligible voters spread across 28 countries, fringe political groups pugnaciously hostile to the European Union scored dramatic gains in voting for the European Parliament and delivered a blow to the bruised but still dominant mainstream parties.
Official results in the election will not be available until late Sunday or early Monday, but in a setback for champions of greater European unity, exit polls and preliminary results indicated that parties strongly opposed to the European Union performed well in several countries, including France, Greece, Britain, and Denmark.
In France, according to official figures announced early Monday, the National Front, the country’s largest far-right party, won 26 percent of the vote to defeat both the governing Socialists and the Union for a Popular Movement, a center-right party.
Greece’s radical left-wing Syriza coalition looked set to beat the party of Prime Minister Antonis Samaras, while Golden Dawn, a neo-Nazi outfit that Greek authorities tried in vain to outlaw, also picked up seats.
Prime Minister Manuel Valls of France, a Socialist, likened the results to an earthquake, while Jean-Pierre Bel, the president of the French Senate, denounced them as a “real trauma.” Henri Malosse, the president of the European Economic and Social Committee, a Brussels grouping of trade unions and employers, warned that “this may be the last European election if Europe does not change.”
But Nigel Farage, leader of the United Kingdom Independence Party, cheered the outcome and said it would help those in Britain and elsewhere who want to slash the European Union’s powers and return decision-making to individual states.
“The real effect of these elections, with big Euroskeptic gains in many countries, will be less what happens in Brussels and more what happens within the member states,” he told reporters in Brussels via a video link. “I think the day when we have more referendums on EU membership and membership of the euro will have come much, much closer with these results tonight.”
After more than three decades of falling turnout, however, this year’s election managed, barely, to halt the downward spiral, with a parliamentary official saying preliminary results showed 43.1 percent of eligible voters had cast their ballots — compared with 43 percent in 2009.
Mainstream center-right and center-left blocs will continue to dominate the assembly, with the center-right European People’s Party expected to emerge with 212 seats in the 751-member legislature.
But fringe forces will gain a larger platform to promote their hostility to the bureaucracy in Brussels and to immigrants in their home countries.
Leaders of some of the mainstream parliamentary parties held out hope that voters’ drift to extremist parties could be reversed.
“This is a bad day for the European Union when the party with such an openly racist, xenophobic, and anti-Semitic program gets 25 or 24 percent of the vote in France,” Martin Schulz, the current president of the European Parliament and the Socialist contender to run the EU’s main policy-making body, told a news conference early Monday.