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10 June 2024

Macron calls snap election after far right gains rattle EU’s traditional powers

10 June 2024

Far-right parties have rattled the traditional powers in the European Union with major gains in parliamentary seats, dealing an especially humiliating defeat to French President Emmanuel Macron, who called snap legislative elections.

Some ballots in the vote for the European Parliament are still being counted, but the outcome shows the 27-nation bloc’s parliamentary membership has clearly shifted to the right.

Italian Premier Giorgia Meloni more than doubled her party’s seats in the assembly. And despite being hounded by a scandal involving candidates, the Alternative for Germany (AfD) extreme right party still rallied enough seats to sweep past the slumping Social Democrats of Chancellor Olaf Scholz.

Sensing a threat from the far right, the Christian Democrats of EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen had already shifted further to the right on migration and climate ahead of the elections — and were rewarded by remaining by far the biggest group in the 720-seat European Parliament and de facto brokers of the ever-expanding powers of the legislature.

But the surge by nationalist and populist parties across Europe will make it much harder for the assembly to approve legislation on issues ranging from climate change to agriculture policy for the next five years.

Undoubtedly however, the star on a stunning electoral night was the National Rally party of Marine Le Pen, which dominated the French polls to such an extent that Mr Macron immediately dissolved the national parliament and called for new elections to start later this month.

This is a massive political risk since his party could suffer more losses, hobbling the rest of his presidential term which comes to an end in 2027.

Ms Le Pen was delighted to accept the challenge.

“We’re ready to turn the country around, ready to defend the interests of the French, ready to put an end to mass immigration,” she said, echoing the rallying cry of so many far-right leaders in other countries who were celebrating substantial wins.

Her National Rally won over 30% or about twice as much as Mr Macron’s pro-European centrist Renew party, which is projected to reach less than 15%.

Mr Macron acknowledged the scale of the defeat, saying: “I’ve heard your message, your concerns, and I won’t leave them unanswered.”

He added that calling a snap election only underlines his democratic credentials.

In Germany, the EU’s most populous nation, projections indicated that voters had not been dissuaded by the AfD’s scandals as it rose to 16.5%, up from 11% in 2019. In comparison, the combined result for the three parties in the German governing coalition barely topped 30%.

Mr Scholz’s governing Social Democratic party was humiliated as AfD surged into second place.

“After all the prophecies of doom, after the barrage of the last few weeks, we are the second-strongest force,” a jubilant AfD leader Alice Weidel said.

Overall, across the EU, two mainstream and pro-European groups, the Christian Democrats and the Socialists, remained dominant in the voting that concluded on Sunday.

The gains of the far right came at the expense of the Greens, who were expected to lose about 20 seats and fall back to sixth position in the legislature. Mr Macron’s pro-business Renew group also suffered big losses.

After having flirted during campaigning with the idea of working with a political group further right, Ms von der Leyen offered to build a coalition with the Social Democrats, which mostly held its ground in the elections, and the pro-business Liberals.

“We are by far the strongest party, We are the anchor of stability,” Ms von der Leyen said.

Reflecting on the rise of the far-right and good showing of the far-left, she added that the result brings “great stability for the parties in the centre. We all have interest in stability and we all want a strong and effective Europe”.

In the legislature, provisional results showed that the Christian Democrats would have 189 seats, up 13, the Social Democrats 135, down four, and the pro-business Renew group 83, down 19. The Greens slumped to 53, down by 18.

Germany, traditionally a stronghold for environmentalists, exemplified the humbling of the Greens, who were predicted to fall from 20% to 12%. With further losses expected in France and elsewhere, the Greens’ defeat could well have an impact on the EU’s climate change policies, which are still the most progressive across the globe.

Senior party members in the EU’s parliament were due to hold talks on Monday to see what alliances might be established. Key to the future working of the assembly will be whether the far right unites in a strong enough bloc to challenge the main pro-European groups.

The elections come at a testing time for voter confidence in a bloc of some 450 million people. Over the last five years, the EU has been shaken by the coronavirus pandemic, an economic slump and an energy crisis fuelled by Russia’s war in Ukraine. But campaigning often focused on issues in individual countries rather than on broader European interests.

Since the last EU election in 2019, populist or far-right parties now lead governments in three nations – Hungary, Slovakia and Italy – and are part of ruling coalitions in others including Sweden, Finland and, soon, the Netherlands.

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