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EU satisfied with poor showing of far-right Le Pen

Germany, the European Union presidency holder, welcomed poor results of far-right Jean-Marie Le Pen in the first round of French elections on Monday.

"I'm quite satisfied that the more radical groups, like Le Pen, have fallen behind very clearly," German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said on arrival at an EU foreign ministers meeting.

In Sunday's voting Nicolas Sarkozy and Segolene Royal, the center-right and socialist candidates, respectively, advanced to the May 6 runoff for France's presidency.

They shut out 10 other hopefuls, including Le Pen, who had sought to repeat his shockingly strong showing of in the 2002 elections. He finished a weak fourth this time, with 10.5 percent of the vote.

Steinmeier would not comment further on the French elections.

EU capitals are waiting for a new French president and government to see what can be salvaged of the draft constitution that French and Dutch voters rejected in national referendums in 2005.

The charter, whose fate has been in doubt since then, provides for a bill of rights, an EU president and foreign minister and faster decision-making to give the 27-member bloc a more assertive global role and prevent bureaucratic gridlock.

European Socialists welcomed Royal's strong showing.

"This is a personal victory for Segolene Royal and for the Parti Socialiste. She has silenced the doubters," said Poul Nyrup Rasmussen, president of the Party of European Socialists.

"The French people opted for a straight choice between left and right. A straight choice between social democracy and liberal-conservatism, between a social Europe and a solely free-market Europe," he said.

He called on all forces of the left to staunchly back Royal in the presidential runoff. "All voters who reject conservatism must turn out for Segolene on May 6," Nyrup Rasmussen said.

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