PARIS (AP) — France’s Socialist government won’t resign and will press forward with tax cuts and other reforms despite a record victory for the French far right in European parliament elections, the prime minister said Monday.
President Francois Hollande held an urgent meeting of government ministers Monday morning to forge a response to its drubbing by the anti-EU, anti-immigration National Front party that has shaken France’s political landscape.
“Our country has for a long time been in an identity crisis, a crisis about France’s place in Europe, Europe’s place in our country,” Valls told RTL radio Monday morning.
Ministers did not speak to reporters on the way out of the meeting with Hollande, whose office had no immediate comment.
“We need another orientation for Europe” to combat the rise of populism, Valls added, without elaborating. He remained loyal to the idea of European union, which arose from past wars that ripped the continent apart.
The policy of greater European unity “is noble. I think Europe remains a magnificent project,” he said.
Valls stopped short of announcing major policy changes, but said the election result shows the need to push through with tax and spending cuts that he contends will boost the economy. The Socialists harvested their lowest score ever in a European Parliament election.
The prime minister brushed off questions about whether to dissolve parliament, saying the Socialist government’s five-year term that began in 2012 “must go to the end.”
The fallout could be uncomfortable for a country that has been a pillar of the European Union and prides itself as a beacon of human rights. Foreign Minister Frank-Water Steinmeier of Germany, the EU’s strongest economy, called the National Front’s success “a bad signal.”
The National Front was founded by Jean-Marie Le Pen, a man who has been repeatedly convicted for racism or anti-Semitism.
His daughter, Marine, now leads the party and has softened its image. She won over disillusioned voters from right and left with a populist message that blames European bureaucracy and immigration for high prices and France’s declining global influence.
Beneath Le Pen’s broad smile and persuasive rhetoric, her party has hard edges. Her father, a European Parliament member, reportedly suggested this month that an outbreak of the Ebola virus could help keep France from being “submerged” in immigration.
The party increasingly targets France’s large Muslim minority. One National Front mayor elected in March sought to block the construction of a new mosque. Another new National Front mayor wants to bar Middle Eastern sandwich shops.
At the European level, the party wants to withdraw France from the euro and eventually dismantle the EU from within.
The European Parliament’s website said Monday that the National Front captured 25.4 percent of the vote, giving it 22 of France’s 74 allotted seats in the body. The conservative party of former President Nicolas Sarkozy won 21 percent, and the Socialists trailed at 14.5 percent.
Eds: David Rising in Berlin and Angela Charlton in Paris contributed to this report.