PARIS, June 8 (Reuters) - Daniel Cohn-Bendit, one-time anarchist turned leader of a green coalition, has lost none of his famous ability to shake up French politics.
In a remarkable result, Cohn-Bendit's environmental party came third in Sunday's European parliamentary election in France, just behind the main opposition Socialist party, which suffered one of the worst ballot-box meltdowns in its history.
"June 7 is the D-Day of ecology politics," Cohn-Bendit told supporters after results showed his party had won 16.28 percent of the vote against 16.48 percent for the Socialists.
President Nicolas Sarkozy's ruling UMP party was the official winner on Sunday, taking a commanding 27.87 percent which underlined its utter dominance on the right of the political spectrum in France.
But it was the impish Cohn-Bendit, a German national once expelled by General Charles de Gaulle for his active role in France's 1968 student uprising, who dominated the headlines.
Putting his score in perspective, the Greens candidate in the 2007 presidential election, Dominique Voynet, won just 1.57 percent of the vote, prompting analysts to say ecology was a spent force in France.
Cohn-Bendit's group, which included a crusading anti-corruption magistrate and an anti-establishment farmer, is bound to shunt environmental issues high up the political agenda now, with no leading party able to ignore its electoral appeal.
"The voters wanted to pass on a message; a real concern for the future of our planet and a protest against the Socialist party for the way we are working today," said Jean-Marie Le Guen, a veteran Socialist parliamentarian.
IMMEDIATE FALL OUT
One of the first victims of result is likely to be Claude Allegre, a former Socialist minister who Sarkozy had lined up to join the cabinet this month as part of his drive to draw in talent from different political persuasions.
Allegre is famous for questioning the existence of global warming and his promotion would raise howls of protest.
"If the president nominates Claude Allegre after this result, then it would be seen as a real act of contempt for all the voters," said Corinne Lepage, a centrist politician.
The result represented a very personal triumph for Cohn-Bendit, once dubbed "Danny the Red" for his distinctive mop of red hair and leftist politics, but who has long since morphed into "Danny the Green", the radical ecologist.
Whereas other opposition parties turned their campaign into an ill-judged anti-Sarkozy rant, Cohn-Bendit focused exclusively on European issues, flooring his rivals in the process.
His biggest scalp was centrist leader Francois Bayrou, who came a distant fourth in Sunday's vote, dealing a potentially fatal blow to his chances of staging a credible challenge to Sarkozy in the 2012 presidential election.
Cohn-Bendit trounced Bayrou in a bruising debate last Thursday that has been repeatedly re-played on television, landing a memorable putdown that will likely dog the ambitious centrist for the rest of his political career.
"My friend, I tell you that you will never be the president of the republic because you are too petty," he said in typically irreverent fashion, using the informal "tu" form to address Bayrou, who sounded pompous replying with the formal "vous".
However, Cohn-Bendit's success at the European election will not necessarily transform the Greens into a major force on the national French scene, where the UMP and Socialists dominate.
Cohn-Bendit, who is not French despite being born here, made clear his goal was the EU assembly, not power in Paris.
"Why do you want to reduce me to the level of a small, provincial player?" he told Reuters in an interview last month. "Me, I want to act on the European stage, that's where things are happening," he said.
The French Greens will try to jump on his coat tails, but their leaders lack his flair to leverage this result, giving opposition parties the time to regroup.
Some opponents also said he had received an unfair, one-off boost following the screening on prime time state television on Friday of a hugely successful film called "Home" that chronicled the dangers of global warming.
"It was scandalous," thundered far-right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen, whose National Front took just 6.3 percent of the vote.
But Green supporters said environment issues thrown up by the film were here to stay, adding that "Home" had simply opened people's eyes to the threat posed to the planet.
"There is a sensitivity to ecology in France. It is possible that a film like Home activated, or reactivated, this sensitivity," Cohn-Bendit said on Monday. (For more EU election coverage, double click on [ID:nEUVOTE]) (For the Cohn-Bendit interview, double click on [ID:nLD706063]) (By Jon Hemming)
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