Francois Hollande
Francois Hollande Reuters

The record number of voters who supported the National Front's candidate Marine Le Pen on the first ballot of the presidential election in France has triggered off a blame game in Europe.

Le Pen supports a French exit from the EU. The European Commission reacted by calling on the region's leaders to ignore temporary gains by nationalists and populists and proceed onwards.

Luxembourg Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn, a socialist, claimed that the rhetoric employed by incumbent French President Nicolas Sarkozy had legitimized Marine Le Pen and accounted for her success.

Speaking at an EU foreign ministers meeting, Asselborn attacked : "If I were the president of the [French] Republic, I would ask myself why one out of five people in France are now voting for the National Front...If you repeat everyday that we must change Schengen, that we have to have a tough immigration policy, that we have to talk about French exceptionalism, that is grist to the mill of the National Front."

As he is prospecting for the votes of National Front supporters, at this stage of the electoral game Asselborn's opinion does not cut much ice with Nicholas Sarkozy, who called for respecting National Front voters rather than dismissing them as populists

"This is a vote of crisis," Sarkozy said. "Political leaders, not just in France, but around the world, must see this rise of a vote of crisis. I don't like the word populist."

"A Europe that doesn't defend its citizens is finished, a Europe that doesn't defend its borders is finished, a Europe that opens its markets without reciprocity is finished,"

Sarkozy's opponent in the second round has used the National Front vote as justification for his stance that the EU's austerity policy must be modified and he too expressed sympathy for National Front voters: "It's this austerity everywhere that brings desperation to people and leads them to vote for the far-right,"

The echoes of the election in France, the fall of the Dutch government and a major protest march against austerity in Prague, have reached the architect of the austerity policy, Angela Merkel, who remains convinced that sovereign debt reduction is the key to economic recovery. One of her  debt reduction is the best route to economic health.

Merkel has campaigned for Sarkozy, whose score on the first round could be seen as a repudiation of the austerity policy. The Germans are holding firm and Peter Altmaier warned Francois Hollande that by repudiating the recently accepted policy and promising to renegotiate it,"he would isolate France in Europe and that can't be in anyone's interest."

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