(Bloomberg) -- French President Emmanuel Macron suffered a narrow defeat to Marine Le Pen’s nationalist movement in Sunday’s European parliamentary elections.
Macron’s Republic on The Move had 21.9% of the vote compared with 24.1% for the anti-European National Rally with 90% of ballots counted . The Greens rose to third with 13.1%, the conservative Republicans got 8% and the Socialists 6.4%. In the last EU vote in 2014 Le Pen beat the conservatives by 4 percentage points with Macron’s Socialist predecessor Francois Hollande trailing in third.
The result is a setback for 41-year-old Macron in his battle for legitimacy as he tries to persuade the rest of the European Union to pursue tighter integration. Still, the narrow defeat most likely won’t derail his domestic agenda as the government prepares for a major overhaul of the pension system. Polls in Germany showed Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats came first, although with fewer seats than last time.
“I greet this result with humility,” said Prime Minister Edouard Philippe, who will keep his job according to the president’s office. "When you come second in an election, you can’t call it a victory."
Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said that Macron’s party had performed well when you look at how incumbents have performed in past EU elections and that it gives the government an incentive to continue with its reforms.
Macron’s team said that the projections show the ruling party is maintaining its electoral base from the 2017 presidential election and so the result shouldn’t be interpreted as a punishment.
Jordan Bardella, who headed the electoral list for Le Pen’s National Rally, said the president and his policies had been rejected by voters.
“The French people have this evening inflicted a clear sanction as well as a lesson in humility on the French president, who chose to bring all of his authority to the campaign," he said. "The French president turned this election into a referendum. He and his politics have been rejected.”
Turnout was up around 10 percentage points from 2014 and the increase was particularly marked in regions where Le Pen’s party has gained ground in the past years.
The best performance was made by the environmentalist party, EELV, which rose 4 percentage points compared with 2014. Yannick Jadot, the party chief, called it a “green wave.”
(Updates with latest tally in second paragraph. A previous version of this story corrected the projections for Macron and Le Pen.)
--With assistance from Zoe Schneeweiss.
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