2nd LD Writethru: Far-right party tops EU election in France: exit polls

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PARIS, May 26 (Xinhua) -- With a rhetoric hostile to the European Union, France's far-right National Rally (RN) topped the country's EU ballots on Sunday, adding more pressure to President Emmanuel Macron's the Republic on the Move party (LREM), already struggling to cope with slump public support and defuse social strains.

Exit polls put the Eurosceptic RN at the first place with up to 24.2 percent of the votes, ahead of the ruling party that collected up 22.4 percent.

Almost unchanged from 2014 EU ballot's 24.85, the anti-Europe party's score will pave the way for up to 26 far-rightists to sit in the European parliament.

The party, led by Marine Le Pen, would get two more seats than the ruling camp which would have between 20 and 24 representatives in of France's 74 seats in the European institution, according to polls.

Echoing the big gains in Germany, France's Green party's list had made an unexpected performance and snatched the third place out of a record 34 lists with 12.7 percent of the votes.

Dominating the country's political mainstream for decades, the right and left parties were lagged behind. Their share of votes was put at 8.5 percent and 6.2 percent respectively, figures released by Elabe pollster showed.

Shortly after the results release, Jordan Bardella, a major figure in the RN list, called the populists' score "a huge honor".

Sunday's vote, he said, was a "lesson of humility to the President of the Republic". "It is him and his policy that are rejected," he told cheering supporters.

In the ruling camp, disappointment reigned but would not trigger any change in the government's course.

"When we finish second, we can not say we have won... The far-right is consolidating its position and many of our compatriots feel that the time has come for extreme solutions. This message is strong and we have received it," Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said.

"The time is up for action because the French will judge us on one thing: the results, we got some, but not enough," he added.

Regretting a defeat, ex-European affairs minister Nathalie Loiseau, who had led the ruling party's list for the European elections stressed "the fight is not over".

"We will conduct it in the European Parliament, to prevent nationalists from weakening France and blocking progress the French people expect," Loiseau said.

"Our list will send over 20 MEPs to Strasbourg and we will be, by far, the most numerous national delegation in the new centrist group that is being formed," she added.

As nationalism has spread into European neighbors, Macron has cast the European elections as a battle between his progressive ideas and what he sees as promotion of nationalist or anti-EU agendas that could, according to him, put France's interests and that of the European bloc on edge.

Breaking with his predecessors, he had thrown himself into the party's campaign to re-energize supporters and court undecided people in an election traditionally marked by low turnout.

"The National Rally had taking advantage from the national disenchantment that had made the defeat of the President Macron. However, we can not speak about a punishment vote," he told BFMTV news channel.

Some analysts say a narrow margin separating the two parties may play down the blow for Macron.

"It's the extent of the margin separating the two lists that will tell us if we are facing a disavowal of President Emmanuel Macron's policy or we are just witnessing an electoral competition," Erwan Lestrohan, an analyst at BVA pollster told Xinhua in a recent interview.

But, "will that create trouble for Macron? For the moment it's difficult to make a direct link between the European elections and the perception of the national situation. They do not indicate anything tangible on domestic affairs as people do not vote in European poll as they do in national one," he said. Enditem

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