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Right-Wing Leaders In Europe Hail United Kingdom's Vote To Leave EU

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: And I'm Eleanor Beardsley in Paris, where news of the Brexit early this morning brought shock and near despair from the political class. A stricken-looking President Francois Hollande called it a terrible blow. In the streets, many Parisians, such Isabelle Monnier, said they weren't so surprised that Britain voted to leave, but they were anxious about what the British vote means for the future of the European Union.

ISABELLE MONNIER: If it works for them, it can give the model to other countries to leave the euro, too.

BEARDSLEY: It wasn't long before a jubilant Marine Le Pen, head of France's far-right National Front Party, held a press conference to crow about the British leave victory.


MARINE LE PEN: (Speaking French).

BEARDSLEY: "The British people have brought the European people and the world a striking lesson in democracy," she said. Le Pen praised the Brits for never ceding to fear and called the new momentum unstoppable. Le Pen has long advocated that France leave the EU, but that vision was always seen as extremist. Not anymore, says James Shields, who teaches French politics at Aston University in Britain.

JAMES SHIELDS: This is a gift for anti-EU populist parties because it legitimizes one of their core policies - opposition to the EU. No country has ever left the EU. With the Brexit vote, the policy of exiting suddenly gains a new respectability.

BEARDSLEY: In the last years, as the European Union has faced huge challenges - the euro debt crisis, the influx of refugees - far-right parties have been gaining ground. Their numbers have swelled in the Netherlands, Austria, Finland, Sweden, Hungary, Greece, all the way across the continent. Today, the anti-Muslim far-right Dutch leader Geert Wilders repeated calls for a referendum for the Netherlands. So there's talk of Frexit, Nexit, and let's not forget Swexit. Kent Ekeroth is a member of the far-right Sweden Democrats. NPR reached him on the phone in Stockholm.

KENT EKEROTH: For us, it's a huge, huge day. I mean, 23 of June - it's probably the most important date for decades.

BEARDSLEY: Ekeroth believes Europeans will now begin waking up to an institution that he says disrespects democracy. We still love Europe, he says. It's the European Union we can't stand. Eleanor Beardsley, NPR News, Paris. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Eleanor Beardsley began reporting from France for NPR in 2004 as a freelance journalist, following all aspects of French society, politics, economics, culture and gastronomy. Since then, she has steadily worked her way to becoming an integral part of the NPR Europe reporting team.

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