PARIS (AFP) - France's Socialist government was hit by a fresh aftershock on Monday after a triumph for the far-right National Front (FN) in European elections was widely interpreted as a seismic shift in the country's political landscape.
As he met top ministers to assess a vote in which the Socialists polled a record low of less than 14 per cent of the votes cast and one in four voters backed the FN, President Francois Hollande was hit by another stinging rebuke from the country's disgruntled electorate.
A poll released on Monday revealed that only 11 per cent of voters think he would be a good presidential candidate for the Socialists in 2017.
With his authority crumbling, Mr Hollande also faces the prospect of renewed rumblings within the ruling party where a significant minority of deputies blame the government's attempts to comply with the rules of the euro single currency for turning voters against the party and the European Union.
Sunday's vote marked the first time that the anti-immigration, anti-EU FN had topped a nationwide French poll.
Final results gave the party led by Ms Marine Le Pen just under 25 per cent of the vote on a turnout of just over 43 per cent.
That guaranteed them 24 of France's 74 seats in the 751-member European Parliament.
The FN's success was also bad news for the Union for a Popular Movement (UMP) of former president Nicolas Sarkozy, which was beaten into second place with 20.8 per cent of the vote and 20 seats. The Socialists polled a humiliating score of just under 14 per cent.
Prime Minister Manuel Valls said the stinging reverse demonstrated the need for the EU to put more emphasis on policies to bolster growth and jobs across the bloc.
But Mr Valls, who was appointed after the Socialists suffered a similar rout in municipal elections in March, also insisted that the administration would stick to its programme of economic reform and its commitment to meeting budget deficit targets set by the EU.
"Our only mission is to continue our work to repair the country. If we don't do this, we would not live up to our responsibilities," Mr Valls said, warning that France could become "ungovernable" if the government embarked on a radical change of direction.
Socialist ministers brushed aside FN demands for national elections in response to Sunday's vote, and aides said there were no plans for Mr Hollande to address the nation.
UNEASE AMONG ARABS, JEWS
Ms Marine Le Pen, 45, has been credited with significantly broadening the appeal of a party founded by her father Jean-Marie Le Pen and long tainted by association with his multiple convictions for inciting racism and denying the holocaust.
She said after Sunday's vote that the French people had demonstrated they no longer wanted to be ruled from Brussels.
"Our people demand only one type of politics - a politics of the French, for the French and with the French," she said.
Such language and the FN's current momentum generates unease among France's large immigrant population, which is mostly drawn from former colonies in Arab north Africa, and has also been cited as a factor in a recent upturn in Jewish emigration to Israel.
"It is worrying. We don't know where the country is going," Ms Nonda, a Moroccan-born local council official in the Paris suburb of Chatou who did not want her surname to be used.
"People have lost all confidence in the other parties but there is also racism behind all that," she added.
"They say unemployment is the fault of immigrants but it's not true. Immigrants do the jobs the French don't want to do."
The FN's score was significantly better than the support of just under 18 per cent that Ms Le Pen secured in the first round of the 2012 presidential election and suggests she has a real chance of progressing to the final two-candidate run-off in 2017.
Political analysts continue to consider the prospect of an FN president as unlikely but many see French politics being transformed into a three-party system in which Le Pen's party could wield considerable influence.
Ms Le Pen has ruled out an alliance with the UMP, which is divided over how to react to being outflanked on the right but has nevertheless adopted many of the FN's themes on immigration and the EU.
The far right party's resurgence over the last few years has been attributed to the appeal of its core messages at a time of record unemployment and falling living standards for many working and middle class voters.
But the FN has also benefited hugely with widespread disillusionment with the mainstream parties.
Both the UMP and the Socialists have been beset by a series of scandals over alleged corruption or cronyism which have exacerbated anger over their failure to solve France's problems.