BERLIN: Co-leaders of the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party Alice Weidel (center) and Tino Chrupalla (right) cheer after first exit polls of the European Parliament elections on June 9, 2024. – AFP photos
BERLIN: Co-leaders of the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party Alice Weidel (center) and Tino Chrupalla (right) cheer after first exit polls of the European Parliament elections on June 9, 2024. – AFP photos

Far-right surges in EU Parliament

Elections offer mixed picture, as support for centrists holds in some countries

BRUSSELS: Gains by the far-right in voting for the European Parliament on Sunday prompted are adding uncertainty to Europe’s future political direction. While the center, liberal and Socialist parties were set to retain a majority in the 720-seat parliament, the vote dealt a domestic blow to the leaders of both France and Germany, raising questions about how the European Union’s major powers can drive policy in the bloc.

Making a risky gamble to try to reestablish his authority, a bruised French President Emmanuel Macron called a parliamentary election, with the first round on June 30. Like Macron, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz also endured a painful night where his Social Democrats scored their worst result ever, suffering at the hands of the mainstream conservatives and hard-right Alternative for Germany (AfD). Meanwhile, Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni saw her position strengthened by her arch-conservative Brothers of Italy group winning the most votes, exit polls showed.

A rightwards shift inside the European Parliament may make it tougher to pass new legislation that might be needed to respond to security challenges, the impact of climate change or industrial competition from China and the United States.

However, exactly how much clout the euro-skeptic nationalist parties will wield will depend on their ability to overcome their differences and work together. They are currently split between two different families, and some parties and lawmakers for now lie outside these groupings.

‘Anchor of stability’

The center-right European People’s Party (EPP) will be the biggest political family in the new legislature with 186 lawmakers, results have shown so far. In Poland, Prime Minister Donald Tusk’s centrist Civic Coalition, a member of the EPP, was set to win the European vote. In Spain as well, the center-right People’s Party, also part of the EPP, came out on top, outperforming Socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez.

Such results were good news for EPP member Ursula von der Leyen who seeks a second five-year term at the helm of the powerful EU executive arm. And she was quick to present herself as a shield against extremes. “No majority can be formed without the EPP and together ... We will build a bastion against the extremes from the left and from the right,” she told supporters at the EPP’s election night event in Brussels. She added, later in the evening: “But it is also true that extremes and on the left and the right have gained support and this is why the result comes with great responsibility for the parties in the center.”

Von der Leyen may still need support from some right-wing nationalists, such as Meloni’s Brothers of Italy to secure a parliamentary majority, giving Meloni and her European Conservative and Reformists (ECR) allies more leverage — which could upset other potential allies.

Voters’ worries

The center-left Socialists and Democrats are poised to be the second biggest political family, even as they lost four lawmakers to end up with 135, results have shown so far. Political observers attribute the shift to the right to the rise in the cost of living, concerns about migration and the cost of the green transition as well as the war in Ukraine — worries that nationalist and populist parties have seized on. “I think a lot of people felt that Europe is doing things not with people, but just doing it on top of people,” Greens’ lead candidate Bas Eickhout told Reuters in an interview, asked why the far right was doing so well. “And I think here we need to come up with a credible answer, otherwise, we’re only getting further to the far right,” he said, after the Greens and liberals lost ground in the election.

According to AFP numbers Monday, Eurosceptic nationalist groups ECR and Identity and Democracy (ID) and hard-right lawmakers not yet affiliated to an EU political family from Germany’s AfD secured together 231 seats, a gain of 51.

Pro-European center-right, center-left, liberal and Green parties will retain a majority of 489 seats, according to AFP. Europe’s Green parties in particular suffered heavy losses, subsiding to 53 deputies from 71 in the outgoing parliament.

The European Parliament co-decides with the intergovernmental European Council on laws governing the 27-nation bloc of 450 million people.

AFP gave the ECR four more deputies than in the last parliament for a total of 73 and the far-right ID group nine more seats for a total of 58. The number of non-affiliated deputies who may choose to join other groups, including the euro-sceptics, jumped by 38 to 100, AFP numbers show.

In Austria, the count of votes cast in polling stations on Sunday plus a projection for postal ballots confirmed the far-right Freedom Party won but by a smaller margin than had been forecast, national broadcaster ORF said.

In the Netherlands, Geert Wilders’ far-right party was second behind a Left-Green alliance, falling short of expectations. The Freedom party took 17 percent of the vote, while the Left-Green alliance, led by the former EU Commission vice-president Frans Timmermans, was on 21 percent. — Agencies

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