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May 28, 2017

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Europe suffers euroskeptic hangover

BRUSSELS -- Europe reeled Monday after euroskeptic and far-right parties delivered a stinging rebuke to Brussels with France's National Front (FN) and Britain's UKIP leading the pack of anti-EU parties.

"Earthquake" in Europe, read headlines, summing up a day of trauma for establishment parties and an accepted consensus that the European Union offers the best future for all.

A dismayed French Prime Minister Manuel Valls said he could not understand the "massive abstention" of Socialist voters that left his party a distant third with just 14 percent of the vote to a rampant National Front which topped Sunday's poll with 25 percent.

In response, pro-European Union parties must offer disillusioned voters the real prospect of jobs and growth, Valls said, refusing to step down after just weeks in office.

"I am convinced that Europe can be re-oriented to increase support for growth and employment, which it hasn't done in years," Valls said.

"Certainly there is a message across Europe of disillusionment with Europe and the EU has got to hear that loud and clear," said Foreign Secretary William Hague in Britain, where Nigel Farage's UK Independence Party scored a stunning victory with 27 percent of the vote.

"This is just about the most extraordinary result in British politics for over 100 years," Farage said, promising more to come. "The penny has really dropped."

European Commission head Jose Manuel Barroso put the best gloss on the outcome, stressing that combined, the pro-EU camp of the centre-right, centre-left and Liberals would still have "a very solid and workable majority in the European Parliament."

"Standing together as Europeans is indispensable for Europe to shape a global order where we can defend our values and interests," Barroso said, adding that decisive action to provide growth and jobs would be the best answer to current concerns.

Analysts said it was clear that voters came out to support anti-euro and anti-immigration parties who had tapped into growing voter frustration after years in the economic doldrums pushed unemployment to record highs while governments cut spending to balance the public finances at Brussels' behest.

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