Shock waves spread across Europe, while Austria gloats

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The Independent Online

Jean-Marie Le Pen's electoral success caused shock and disbelief in most European capitals. But there was a touch of schadenfreude in Austria, which has been on the receiving end of French warnings about the far right.

The president of the European Parliament, Pat Cox, called Mr Le Pen's breakthrough "a wake-up call to the French democratic process". In Britain, the Prime Minister's spokesman said Tony Blair trusted the French people to "reject extremism of any kind".

Josep Piqué, the Spanish Foreign Minister, said he was not only worried by Mr Le Pen's racist and xenophobic remarks, but also his demands – such as the abolition of the European Commission and the recreation of EU trade barriers – "which run completely counter to the construction of Europe".

In Austria, the Kronen Zeitung reminded its readers that France was among the EU countries that imposed sanctions on Austria in 2000 after the far-right Freedom Party joined a government coalition. "Austrians remember the times when the mass media of Paris fell all over themselves calling Austria a hopeless Nazi-land," said the newspaper's columnist, Ernst Trost.

Joschka Fischer, the German Foreign Minister, said: "The share of the vote that the ultra-right received is alarming." Asked whether it would have consequences for European policies, Mr Fischer added: "It's too early to tell. We have to wait to see the results of the run-off election."

Sweden's Social Democrat Prime Minister, Goran Persson, said: "I hope that all democratic powers will unite against right-wing extremism and xenophobia."

The response from Silvio Berlusconi's right-wing Italian government was more nuanced. Maurizio Gasparri, the Telecommunications Minister and member of the neo-fascist National Alliance, told the daily Corriere della Sera he "would have voted for Chirac and not Le Pen. Le Pen collected protest votes but he is not an alternative. I think the cause of this result is the collapse of the left, which is heading for a eurodisaster – because wherever it rules it cannot find a synthesis: it's a ghost," Mr Gasparri said.

Leszek Miller, the Polish Social Democrat Prime Minister, said Mr Le Pen's strong result posed a threat to the enlargement of the European Union. "The slogan of Le Pen's campaign was 'First France and the French', and Le Pen did nothing to hide his scepticism towards an open Europe, a tolerant Europe, and in his rhetoric he constantly underlined his hatred of foreigners," Mr Miller said.

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