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Europe's elections: Will the 'earthquake' leave damage?

By Jim Boulden, CNN
updated 7:26 AM EDT, Wed May 28, 2014

Click through CNN's interactive map to discover the protest parties of Europe.

STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • CNN's Jim Boulden looks at the rise of fringe parties in the crucial European election
  • Mainstream parties must now respond to the success of protest parties, he says
  • Centrist parties need to act if they want to thwart the rise of fringe parties

Editor's note: Jim Boulden is a correspondent for CNN's international programming based in London, where he covers a wide range of business and news stories. Follow him on Twitter.

London (CNN) -- We hear of tremors that shake, rattle and roll, but really cause no damage. Then there are the big quakes that hit offshore and cause a scare, but nothing more.

So, will the "earthquake" of the fringe parties coming in first in France, the United Kingdom, Greece and others be a tremor, or will there be damage?

That now depends on whether these parties can translate their momentum into seats in their national parties. In many countries the fringe parties already have seats. In Greece, Syriza should not even be called a fringe party, though they do occupy a space in the European parliament on the far left.

I'm thinking more about UKIP. Call them populist, call them fringe -- the UK's other parties must respond.

EU elections: A far-right gains
Europe decides

For the first time in more than a century, a third party In the UK has come in front in a national election.

UKIP has already had the desired effect of changing the national debate in Britain. Both Labour and the ruling Conservatives have for the past few years had to defend their policies on Europe and immigration. The Conservatives have had to move closer to UKIP's anti-EU and strong anti-immigration stance.

All this before a single ballot was cast. Now, UKIP will the largest number of MEPs from Britain.

But unlike many other fringe parties in Europe, UKIP does not have one single seat in Westminster, the national parliament.

Westminster is controlled by the three main parties, with a smattering of seats going to regional parties from the far reaches of the UK, and just one to the Green Party.

UKIP would have to create a massive earthquake to pick up even one seat during next year's general election. But if you believe all the buzz from the elections, UKIP is about to form the next government.

This reminds me of five years ago when the "Rise of the Right" in Europe was the screaming headline after the last EU Parliament election. Then most people forgot all about the EU Parliament, only for it to rise up the agenda when parliamentary expenses are criticized.

The difference this time is perhaps, that the parties have gained more seats. They have the momentum. France's National Front has gone from 6% to 25% of the vote. UKIP has gone from 16% to 27%.

Geert Wilders' PVV, in the Netherlands, appear to have lost votes, but not seats. They are predicted to retain their four seats. In Hungary, the Jobbik party remained steady with three seats, but has become the second biggest Hungarian party in the parliament.

It should also be noted that the far, far right British party, the BNP, lost both of their MEPs and will have none in the new parliament.

So, what about the left? In Greece, Syriza has gone from one seat to six. It has already polled well in national elections. Its leader Alexis Tsipras had put himself up at the next president of the European Commission, and, it must be said, has made himself a credible candidate to be a future prime minister of Greece.

Now, it will be up to the centrist parties, in the European Parliament and in national parliaments to cobble together coalitions if they want to thwart the rise of fringe parties.

But they cannot ignore the reasons these other parties continue to gain in popularity; austerity, unemployment, slow growth, immigration. You may or may not support these party's views, but they are tapping into a growing resentment in Europe.

The new parliament will have more powers than its predecessors, but it remains to be seen if it also have a bigger voice.

Opinion: France shaken by Le Pen 'earthquake'
Interactive: Protest parties shake up European elections
Read more: Greece turns left

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