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

Elections to the European Parliament clearly show a shift to the far right.

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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.

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.

Giorgia Meloni
Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni’s party more than doubled its seats in the European assembly (LaPresse via AP)

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.

Marine Le Pen
French far-right leader Marine Le Pen was delighted to accept Mr Macron’s challenge (AP)

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.

The AfD top team celebrates
The AfD under Alice Weidel hailed their gains (dpa via AP)

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.

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.

A child peers out from behind a voting curtain with the EU flag on it
Sunday marked the final day of polling (AP)

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.

A damaged poster of Olaf Scholz
It was a dreadful night fo the party of German Chancellor Olaf Scholz (AP)

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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