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Leader comment: EU moves after gains for the Right

14 June 2024

COMMENT on the state of politics in the European Union after last weekend’s elections to the Strasbourg Parliament has focused on the dramatic events in France. Most commentators’ eyes turned to Paris, but not because of the poor showing of President Macron’s Renaissance party against Marine Le Pen’s hard-Right National Rally party, which won twice as many votes. A result of this kind had been expected. What shocked was M. Macron’s response of calling a snap election at the end of the month. The outcome may be that the Republic’s next Prime Minister is not just of a different party, but a far-Right Eurosceptic; and the apple cart has since been upset, too, among the Gaullist Republicans, whose leader, Éric Ciotti, talked of an alliance with National Rally. But this was greeted with disgust by other party members, who spoke of treachery.

The rest of Europe is not in the unbreakable grip of its extremes. The centre Right topped the polls in Greece, Poland, and Spain, and in Germany, too: the far-Right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party came second to the mainstream CDU, while the Chancellor’s social-democratic SDP followed just behind. Support for the war in Ukraine goes against many Germans’ instincts, and the carrot of Russian energy will have have helped to win voters for the AfD and the far-Left BSW. While the Italian Prime Minister, Giorgia Meloni, and her populist right-wing Brothers of Italy (Fdl) party strengthened their hold on power, the centre-Left Democratic Party (PD) did unexpectedly well. In the Netherlands, the anti-immigration Freedom Party (PVV), led by Geert Wilders, made further gains, but Green-Left parties won the most seats, and the centre-Right made a good showing. In Hungary, Viktor Orbán’s far-Right Fidesz won, but Peter Magyar’s centre-Right Tisza will have nearly as many MEPs as Fidesz, and is described as a new force in opposition. In Austria, the far-Right Freedom Party (FPÖ), led by Herbert Kickl, gained first place, and, as in Germany, this represents a degree of threat to unity over President Putin and Ukraine.

Altogether, then, it is clear that, across the bloc, immigration and European federalism are the kind of issues that are on voters’ minds, and concerns about energy and appeasing Russia have succeeded in making themselves felt. Without dominating the European Parliament, the far Right may follow where Nigel Farage has led in prompting other parties to make policy changes — or, as accords more generally with Continental voting systems, readjust their alliances. Electoral outcomes in the Brexit UK, of course, are unlikely to affect any of this; but the same is not true of the United States, where a presidential victory for Donald Trump, with his admiration for the Russian strongman, could move a great deal more than goalposts in Europe.

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