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European elections : EU Parliament lurches Far-Right

Jun 10, 2024 | Studies & Reports

European Centre for Counterterrorism and Intelligence Studies, Germany & Netherlands – ECCI

EU Parliament lurches right, but center holds

DW –  Edited by: Ben Knight – Dramatic gains for far-right parties in France and Germany failed to overturn the centrist working majority in the European Parliament, the EU’s lower house, as results poured in on Sunday night, putting Ursula von der Leyen on track to stay president of the European Commission until 2029.”We won the European elections. We are by far the strongest party. We are the anchor of stability,” the German conservative declared to journalists assembled in the European Parliament in Brussels as projections rolled in. “The center is holding.”

According to provisional projections from all 27 EU countries, her center-right European People’s Party (EPP) group has won 184 of the 720 seats. In second place came the slightly weakened center-left Socialists and Democrats (S&D) group, with 139 lawmakers, followed by the drastically pared-back liberal Renew group, with 80 seats.”We will build a bastion against the extremes from the left and from the right,” 65-year-old von der Leyen told EPP supporters at a separate event earlier in the night, in a nod to the center-left and liberal runners-up she will need to work with to continue to push her agenda forward.

After weeks of speculation about a far-right landslide, a series of stunning individual results for France’s National Rally, the Freedom Party of Austria and the Alternative for Germany did not quite translate into an immediate shake-up of the EU political landscape. But with more far-right members in the legislature than ever before, their voices will have to be heeded in the future.

Bombshell in Paris

After four days of voting by almost 180 million people in 27 countries, the big shock of the night came from Paris where President Emmanuel Macron called a snap parliamentary election before the final official tally was out.

His centrist pro-European party Renaissance scored just 15%, crushed by the far-right National Rally, which netted more than 30% of French votes cast.”I’ve decided to give you back the choice of our parliamentary future through the vote. I am therefore dissolving the National Assembly,” Macron said in an address to the nation. “Far-right parties … are progressing everywhere in the continent. It is a situation to which I cannot resign myself.

The move is a huge gamble for Macron, who apparently wants to regain control of the country. French voters will now head to the polls again on June 30 and July 7, just weeks before the Paris Olympics are due to kick off. Macron’s own position is technically secure for now, as he was reelected as president in 2022, fending off National Rally candidate Marine Le Pen.

Far right jubilant, but divided — for now

In Paris, Le Pen immediately welcomed Macron’s announcement. “We are ready to exercise power if the French give us their trust in these elections,” she said. “We’re ready to transform the country, to defend the interests of the French, to stop mass migration.”

Le Pen is expected to contest the 2027 French presidential polls again, though 28-year-old member of the European Parliament Jordan Bardella now presides over the National Rally.There was cause for celebration in both the hard-right parliamentary groups, the national-conservative ECR and the far-right ID, though increases were more modest than their members may have hoped. They took a projected 73 and 58 seats, respectively.

On top of those come a projected 15 European parliament members for Germany’s far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD), which brushed off a series of scandals to emerge as the second biggest force in Germany behind von der Leyen’s Christian Democrats.

But the AfD remains politically homeless in Brussels: The party was ejected from the ID group last month after its lead candidate, Maximilian Krah, was engulfed by allegations that he spread Russian influence, that his parliamentary aide conducted espionage for China and by controversial comments he made about Nazi SS troops that riled ally Le Pen, among others.Whether the intensely divided far right can form a broad coalition to maximize its influence will be one of the most closely watched issues in the weeks to come.

“The biggest winners of this election are the two families of the radical right,” analyst Pawel Zerka of the think tank European Council on Foreign Relations commented in a statement to DW. “Collectively, including non-affiliated parties like the AfD and [Hungarian] Fidesz, they seem close to surpassing the one-third seat threshold, enabling them to obstruct EP legislation.”

Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni has been pushing for this approach in recent weeks. Her Brothers of Italy party emerged on top in Rome, as did the Freedom Party in Vienna.In Warsaw, Polish ex-prime minister and Law and Justice leader Mateusz Morawiecki told DW his party wouldn’t support von der Leyen’s bid to return as European Commission president as things stand right now.

Greens take a drubbing

In Germany, Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s Social Democratic Party (SPD) came third, scoring its worst-ever EU election result. One of the junior partners in Scholz’s federal coalition government, the Greens, also suffered a heavy defeat, losing nine of their 25 seats in the EU legislature.Across the EU, Green parties were not able to sustain the “Green wave” of record-breaking seats they achieved in 2019. Altogether, they look set to lose 19 seats, retaining 52.

European Greens co-leader Bas Eickhout expressed hope that his party could still form a part of the majority coalition in parliament. “The only reliable, stable democratic coalition possible is with the Greens,” he told journalists, warning that the future of the EU’s flagship climate policies was at stake. On Sunday, the runner-up center-left S&D group showed willingness to work with von der Leyen for a second term as head of the EU executive branch. “It is clear that for us, we are open to strong cooperation with all democratic forces in this parliament,” said the group’s lead candidate, Nicolas Schmit.

Von der Leyen has been accused by her political opponents, including the S&D, of courting right-wing forces in a bid to shore up support during her campaign. The Left group in the European Parliament is projected to have lost one seat but held onto 36, according to a provisional count.

What’s next?

For Zerka of the European Council on Foreign Relations, “the key lesson of tonight is that the European Parliament election can matter a lot for national politics in the EU member states.”He pointed to Macron’s snap election announcement and the sudden resignation of Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo, whose Dutch-speaking liberal party Open VlD fared badly in the EU polls compared to hard-line Flemish separatist forces.  In the weeks to come, von der Leyen will seek to have a majority of EU lawmakers confirm her for a second term as European Commission president. Her chances of doing so look stronger after Sunday, but reappointment won’t be straightforward.

This campaign season was marked by online disinformation warnings and a spate of violent attacks against politicians across the spectrum, including an assassination attempt against Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico.Voting in all 27 EU countries closed at 11 p.m. CET on Sunday. The projections provided by the European Parliament are subject to revision, pending final counts.But they set the scene for intense weeks of political horse-trading and alliance-building before the first sitting of the new legislature in mid-July.


European Centre for Counterterrorism and Intelligence Studies, Germany & Netherlands – ECCI

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