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5 key takeaways after far right surges in European Parliament elections

1 week ago 24

Debated in over 24 languages among 373 million potential voters, the European Union’s parliamentary elections are a gargantuan democratic exercise that will set the continent’s political tone for the next five years. Incoming lawmakers will veto and shape laws (although they cannot initiate them), set the E.U.’s budget and approve the selection of the European Commission’s chief — a role currently held by Ursula von der Leyen.

Projected results from Sunday show a strong showing for the far right in some countries — though not enough to win command of the parliament itself — while many incumbent centrist and Green parties stumbled. It appears that von der Leyen has a strong path to securing reapproval for her role, arguably the most influential in Europe. Here are the key takeaways so far.

A win for France’s far right prompts Macron to call a snap election

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French President Emmanuel Macron called snap elections after an exit poll showed a surge for the French far right in the European elections June 9. (Video: Reuters)

Marine Le Pen’s far-right National Rally triumphed in France with over 30 percent of the vote — more than double the vote won by French President Emmanuel Macron’s centrist Renaissance party.

Before the final votes were tallied, Macron surprised the country by dissolving parliament to hold snap legislative elections, in a gambit to mobilize voters in a national election. “The rise of nationalists, of demagogues, is a danger for our nation, but also for our Europe, for France’s place in Europe and in the world,” he said, framing himself as the guarantor of France — and Europe’s — liberal tradition.

But the gamble is a risk. Irrespective of the results, Macron will remain president for another three years, but his party — the largest in France’s National Assembly — could lose crucial seats to the National Rally, the second-largest party. If Macron loses, he would effectively cede control over much domestic policy for the rest of his term.

Many far-right parties surged at the expense of centrists

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French President Emmanuel Macron called for a surprise early election, after far-right parties surged in the European Parliament elections on June 9. (Video: Naomi Schanen/The Washington Post)

The results in France mirrored a broader theme playing out in several European countries: far-right parties notching up wins as centrists suffered.

Two groups with far-right parties in the European Parliament, the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) and Identity and Democracy (ID), are projected to win 13 more seats between them, bringing their total to over 130 seats.

Among the ECR’s winners was its president, Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni — whose far-right Brothers of Italy party surged to first place in the country, solidifying Meloni as a rising conservative star on the world stage. In Austria, the far-right Freedom Party was also forecast to finish first. (This momentum wasn’t shared across Europe, however: In Poland and Hungary, nationalist parties ranked first but lost seats compared with the 2019 vote.)

Meanwhile, in Germany, Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s ruling center-left Social Democrats party was slated to finish third, behind the far-right Alternative for Germany, which was expected to come in second place to win a record 15 seats. Renew Europe — one of the three largest European parliamentary groupings and composed of pro-E.U. centrists including Macron’s Renaissance party — was projected to lose 23 seats.

“The far right has siphoned off voters, certainly in France, Germany and Italy, and some Scandinavian countries, who would have historically voted for left parties,” Catherine Fieschi, a political analyst and fellow at the Robert Schuman Center of the European University Institute in Florence, told The Washington Post, noting that it wasn’t just centrist parties that were suffering. “Part of the story of the right is the failure of the left in some of these countries.”

European aid to Ukraine seems unaffected for now

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Europe’s foreign and military policies are mainly directed by its 27 member states, meaning the results of this election are unlikely to have an immediate impact on the bloc’s support for Ukraine — which amounts to over $150 billion so far, according to the European Council. Joint decisions over sanctions and military aid are largely directed by individual states, where the funding for the bulk of humanitarian assistance also comes from.

However, the surge of far-right politicians — many of whom are skeptical of providing unconditional support and are sympathetic to Russia — could be a harbinger of brewing fatigue with the war. Recent polls by the European Commission’s Eurobarometer shows that while the majority of Europeans support continuing to send military and financial aid to Ukraine, support is not as high as it was earlier in the war.

The far right is divided on the issue, too. Meloni — for example — has positioned herself as a staunch opponent of Russian influence in Europe, reportedly playing a key role in influencing skeptical E.U. leaders to support aid to Ukraine behind the scenes. By contrast, Le Pen’s National Rally party in France has been plagued by historic links to Moscow, and a win in the upcoming snap elections could threaten France’s staunch support for Ukraine.

Although Le Pen’s party is less vocal than it once was on advocating closer ties with Russia, it has withheld support for Ukraine in key votes. She has previously vowed to limit French military cooperation with NATO and resist “subjection to an American protectorate.”

Last year, The Post reported on how the Kremlin was working to promote political discord in France and undermine support for Ukraine through unnamed political players. In the run-up to these elections, The Post reported that Kremlin documents and interviews with European intelligence officials showed an ambitious Russian operation to sow division and bolster pro-Moscow candidates across the continent.

A blow for a ‘Green’ Europe

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Across the continent, Green Party politicians ceded seats after a strong showing in 2019. Their disappointment comes as surveys showed the salience of climate change is diminishing among European voters, compared with other concerns such as the economy.

According to the E.U.’s projection, the Greens’ grouping is projected to lose around 20 seats in total. In Germany — where the Greens form part of Scholz’s ruling coalition — the party was projected to lose around half of its seats.

The previous European Parliament passed a blockbuster package of environmental regulations intended to curb emissions by 2030. These laws will be difficult to undo completely, but incoming lawmakers may be able to weaken them. The new parliament will be tasked with follow-up negotiations that set emissions targets for 2040.

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