Thursday, June 13, 2024

Far-right gains in European Union deal stunning defeats to France’s Macron and Germany’s Scholz

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Supporters of French far-right National Rally react at the party election night headquarters, Sunday, June 9, 2024 in Paris. First projected results from France put far-right National Rally party well ahead in EU elections, according to French opinion poll institutes. (AP Photo/Lewis Joly)
(AP Photo/Lewis Joly)

BRUSSELS (AP) — Far-right parties made such big gains at the European Union parliamentary elections that they dealt stunning defeats to two of the bloc’s most important leaders: French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz.

In France, the National Rally party of Marine Le Pen dominated the polls to such an extent that Macron immediately dissolved the national parliament and called for new elections, a massive political risk since his party could suffer more losses, hobbling the rest of his presidential term that ends in 2027.

In Germany, Scholz suffered such an ignominious fate that his long-established Social Democratic party fell behind the extreme-right Alternative for Germany, which surged into second place.

Adding insult to injury, the National Rally’s lead candidate, Jordan Bardella, all of 28 years old, immediately took on a presidential tone with his victory speech in Paris, opening with “My dear compatriots” and adding “the French people have given their verdict, and it’s final.”

Macron acknowledged the thud of defeat. “I’ve heard your message, your concerns, and I won’t leave them unanswered,” he said, adding that calling a snap election only underscored his democratic credentials.

The four-day polls in the 27 EU countries were the world’s second-biggest exercise in democracy, behind India’s recent election. At the end, the rise of the far right was even more stunning than many analysts predicted. The French National Rally stood at just over 30% or about twice as much as Macron’s pro-European centrist Renew party that is projected to reach around 15%.

In Germany, the most populous nation in the 27-member bloc, projections indicated that the AfD overcame a string of scandals involving its top candidate to rise 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%.

Overall across the EU, two mainstream and pro-European groups, the Christian Democrats and the Socialists, remained the dominant forces. 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.

For decades, the European Union, which has its roots in the defeat of Nazi Germany and fascist Italy, confined the hard right to the political fringes. With its strong showing in these elections, the far right could now become a major player in policies ranging from migration to security and climate.

The Greens were predicted to fall from 20% to 12% in Germany, a traditional bulwark for environmentalists, with more losses expected in France and several other EU nations. Their defeat could well have an impact on the EU’s overall climate change policies, still the most progressive across the globe.

The center-right Christian Democratic bloc of EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, which already weakened its green credentials ahead of the polls, dominated in Germany with almost 30%, easily beating Scholz’s Social Democrats, who fell to 14%, even behind the AfD.

“What you have already set as a trend is all the better – strongest force, stable, in difficult times and by a distance,” von der Leyen told her German supporters by video link from Brussels.

As well as France, the hard right, which focused its campaign on migration and crime, was expected to make significant gains in Italy, where Premier Giorgia Meloni was tipped to consolidate her power.

Voting will continue in Italy until late in the evening and many of the 27 member states have not yet released any projections. Nonetheless, data already released confirmed earlier predictions: the EU’s massive exercise in democracy is expected to shift the bloc to the right and redirect its future.

With the center losing seats to hard right parties, the EU could find it harder to pass legislation and decision-making could at times be paralyzed in the world’s biggest trading bloc.

EU lawmakers, who serve a five-year term in the 720-seat Parliament, have a say in issues from financial rules to climate and agriculture policy. They approve the EU budget, which bankrolls priorities including infrastructure projects, farm subsidies and aid delivered to Ukraine. And they hold a veto over appointments to the powerful EU commission.

These 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 fueled by the biggest land conflict in Europe since the Second World War. But political campaigning often focuses on issues of concern in individual countries rather than on broader European interests.

The voting marathon began in the Netherlands on Thursday, where an unofficial exit poll suggested that the anti-migrant hard right party of Geert Wilders would make important gains, even though a coalition of pro-European parties has probably pushed it into second place.

Casting his vote in the Flanders region, Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo, whose country holds the EU’s rotating presidency until the end of the month, warned that Europe was “more under pressure than ever.”

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. Polls give the populists an advantage in France, Belgium, Austria and Italy.

“Right is good,” Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, who leads a stridently nationalist and anti-migrant government, told reporters after casting his ballot. “To go right is always good. Go right!”

After the election comes a period of horse-trading, as political parties reconsider in their places in the continent-wide alliances that run the European legislature.

The biggest political group — the center-right European People’s Party (EPP) — has moved further right during the present elections on issues like security, climate and migration.

Among the most watched questions is whether the Brothers of Italy — the governing party of populist Meloni, which has neo-fascist roots — stays in the more hard-line European Conservatives and Reformists group or becomes part of a new hard right group that could form the wake of the elections. Meloni also has the option to work with the EPP.

A more worrying scenario for pro-European parties would be if the ECR joins forces with Le Pen’s Identity and Democracy group to consolidate hard-right influence.

The second biggest group — the center-left Socialists and Democrats — and the Greens refuse to align themselves with the ECR.

Questions also remain over what group Orbán’s ruling Fidesz party might join. It was previously part of the EPP but was forced out in 2021 due to conflicts over its interests and values. The far-right Alternative for Germany was kicked out of the Identity and Democracy group following a string of scandals surrounding its two lead candidates for the European Parliament.

The election also ushers in a period of uncertainty as new leaders are chosen for the European institutions. While lawmakers are jostling over places in alliances, governments will be competing to secure top EU jobs for their national officials.

Chief among them is the presidency of the powerful executive branch, the European Commission, which proposes laws and watches to ensure they are respected. The commission also controls the EU’s purse strings, manages trade and is Europe’s competition watchdog.

Other plum posts are those of European Council president, who chairs summits of presidents and prime ministers, and EU foreign policy chief, the bloc’s top diplomat.

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Associated Press journalists Sylvain Plazy in Brussels and Geir Moulson in Berlin contributed to this report.

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See AP’s coverage of global elections in 2024 here.

Alice Weidel, center, and Tino Chrupalla, center rught, both AfD federal chairmen, cheer at the AfD party headquarters during the forecast for the European elections, in Berlin, Sunday June 9, 2024. (Joerg Carstensen/dpa via AP)
(Joerg Carstensen/dpa via AP)

A woman exits a voting cabin after casting her vote in European and local elections in Baleni, Romania, Sunday, June 9, 2024. Tens of millions across the European Union were voting in EU parliamentary elections on Sunday in a massive exercise of democracy that is expected to shift the bloc to the right and redirect its future. (AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda)
(AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda)

An elderly man casts his ballot in a mobile ballot box during European Parliamentary elections, in Budapest, Hungary, Sunday, June 9, 2024. (AP Photo/Denes Erdos)
(AP Photo/Denes Erdos)

Traditional Hungarian horse-herdsman, so-called csikos, Janos Garai, casts his vote at a polling station during the European Parliament and local elections, in Hortobagy, Hungary, Sunday, June 9, 2024. Voters across the European Union are going to the polls on the final day of voting for the European parliamentary elections to choose their representatives for the next five-year term. (Zsolt Czegledi/MTI via AP)
(Zsolt Czegledi/MTI via AP)

People vote in European and local elections in Baleni, Romania, Sunday, June 9, 2024. Voters across the European Union are going to the polls on the final day of voting for the European parliamentary elections to choose their representatives for the next five-year term. (AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda)
(AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda)

Social Democrats party leader Magdalena Andersson casts her vote, during the European Parliament elections, at Skuru sports hall in Nacka, Stockholm, Sweden, Sunday June 9, 2024. Polling stations have opened across Europe as voters from 20 countries cast ballots in elections that are expected to shift the European Union’s parliament to the right and could reshape the future direction of the world’s biggest trading bloc. (Oscar Olsson /TT News Agency via AP)
(Oscar Olsson /TT News Agency via AP)

Katharina Moser, dressed in traditional Black Forest attire. with red Bollenhut hat, casts her ballot for the European Parliament elections at the polling stationm in Gutach im Breisgau, Germany, Sunday, June 9, 2024. (Silas Stein/dpa via AP)
(Silas Stein/dpa via AP)

Count staff sort ballots at Nemo Rangers GAA club for the local and European Parliament elections, in Cork, Ireland, Sunday June 9, 2024. (Jonathan Brady/PA via AP)
(Jonathan Brady/PA via AP)

Nuns look at ballot papers at a polling station in Pamplona, northern Spain, on Sunday, June 9, 2024. Pivotal elections for the European Union parliament reach their climax Sunday as the last 27 nations go to the polls and results are announced in a vote that boils down to a continent-wide battle between eurosceptic populists and proponents of closer EU unity. (AP Photo/Alvaro Barrientos)
(AP Photo/Alvaro Barrientos)

A view of ballots in a box during the European Parliament elections, Sunday, June 9, 2024 in Paris. Polling stations opened across Europe on Sunday as voters from 20 countries cast ballots in elections that are expected to shift the European Union’s parliament to the right and could reshape the future direction of the world’s biggest trading bloc. (AP Photo/Lewis Joly)
(AP Photo/Lewis Joly)

Drag queen Bernat Bodes, known as Pitita, left, takes a break from her duties as president of a polling station during the European Parliament elections in Barcelona, Spain, Sunday, June 9, 2024. Polling stations have opened across Europe as voters from 20 countries cast ballots in elections that are expected to shift the European Union’s parliament to the right and could reshape the future direction of the world’s biggest trading bloc. (AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti)
(AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti)

French President Emmanuel Macron and his wife Brigitte Macron enter a voting booth during the European election, Sunday, June 9, 2024 in Le Touquet-Paris-Plage, northern France. Polling stations opened across Europe on Sunday as voters from 20 countries cast ballots in elections that are expected to shift the European Union’s parliament to the right and could reshape the future direction of the world’s biggest trading bloc. (Hannah McKay/Pool via AP)
(Hannah McKay/Pool via AP)

A monk from the Sint-Sixtus Abbey opens the curtain to a voting booth after casting his vote in Vleteren, Belgium, Sunday, June 9, 2024. Polling stations opened across Europe on Sunday as voters from 20 countries cast ballots in elections that are expected to shift the European Union’s parliament to the right and could reshape the future direction of the world’s biggest trading bloc. (AP Photo/Geert Vanden Wijngaert)
(AP Photo/Geert Vanden Wijngaert)

Ursula von der Leyen, left, President of the European Commission, walks to a ballot box outside a polling station in the Hanover region with her husband Heiko to cast her vote in the European Parliament elections, in Burgdorf, Germany on Sunday, June 9, 2024. (Julian Stratenschulte/dpa via AP)
(Julian Stratenschulte/dpa via AP)

French President Emmanuel Macron votes during the European election, in Le Touquet-Paris-Plage, northern France, Sunday, June 9, 2024. Polling stations opened across Europe on Sunday as voters from 20 countries cast ballots in elections that are expected to shift the European Union’s parliament to the right and could reshape the future direction of the world’s biggest trading bloc. (Hannah McKay/Pool via AP)
(Hannah McKay/Pool via AP)

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz casts his ballot for the European Parliament elections, in Potsdam, Germany, Sunday, June 9, 2024. Tens of millions across the European Union were voting in EU parliamentary elections on Sunday in a massive exercise of democracy that is expected to shift the bloc to the right and redirect its future. (Kay Nietfeld/dpa via AP)
(Kay Nietfeld/dpa via AP)

Greece’s Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis casts his ballot during the European Elections in Athens, Sunday, June 9, 2024. Polling stations opened across Europe on Sunday as voters from 20 countries cast ballots in elections that are expected to shift the European Union’s parliament to the right and could reshape the future direction of the world’s biggest trading bloc. (AP Photo/Yorgos Karahalis)
(AP Photo/Yorgos Karahalis)

From left, Ricarda Lang, Federal Chairperson of Bündnis 90/Die Grünen, Terry Reintke, the Greens’ lead candidate for the 2024 European elections, and Omid Nouripour, Federal Chairperson of Bündnis 90/Die Grünen, react to the first projections at the Greens’ election party in the Columbiahalle, in Berlin, Sunday June 9, 2024. (Christoph Soeder/dpa via AP)
(Christoph Soeder/dpa via AP)

Far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) top candidate for the European Parliament elections Maximilian Krah casts his vote for the European Parliament and local elections at a polling station in Dresden, Germany, Sunday, June 9, 2024. Voters across the European Union are going to the polls on the final day of voting for the European parliamentary elections to choose their representatives for the next five-year term. (Robert Michael/dpa via AP)
(Robert Michael/dpa via AP)

French far-right leader Marine Le Pen casts her ballot to vote for the European election, Sunday, June 9, 2024 in Henin-Beaumont, northern France. Polling stations opened across Europe on Sunday as voters from 20 countries cast ballots in elections that are expected to shift the European Union’s parliament to the right and could reshape the future direction of the world’s biggest trading bloc. (AP Photo/Aurelien Morissard)
(AP Photo/Aurelien Morissard)

Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk, who leads a centrist, pro-EU party, votes in the election for the European Parliament, in Warsaw, Poland, on Sunday June 9, 2024. Polling stations have opened across Europe as voters from 20 countries cast ballots in elections that are expected to shift the European Union’s parliament to the right and could reshape the future direction of the world’s biggest trading bloc. (AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski)
(AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski)

People queue to vote for the European Parliament elections, Sunday, June 9, 2024 in Paris. Polling stations opened across Europe on Sunday as voters from 20 countries cast ballots in elections that are expected to shift the European Union’s parliament to the right and could reshape the future direction of the world’s biggest trading bloc. (AP Photo/Lewis Joly)
(AP Photo/Lewis Joly)

A woman casts her ballot for the European elections in a polling station in Frankfurt, Germany, Sunday, June 9, 2024. (AP Photo/Michael Probst)
(AP Photo/Michael Probst)

A man shows his voting card in a voting station during the European election, Sunday, June 9, 2024 in Paris. Polling stations opened across Europe on Sunday as voters from 20 countries cast ballots in elections that are expected to shift the European Union’s parliament to the right and could reshape the future direction of the world’s biggest trading bloc. (AP Photo/Lewis Joly)
(AP Photo/Lewis Joly)

A woman prepares to cast her ballot for the European Parliament election, at the Aalborg Congress and Culture Center, in Aalborg, Denmark, Sunday, June 9, 2024. Polling stations have opened across Europe as voters from 20 countries cast ballots in elections that are expected to shift the European Union’s parliament to the right and could reshape the future direction of the world’s biggest trading bloc. (Henning Bagger /Ritzau Scanpix via AP)
(Henning Bagger /Ritzau Scanpix via AP)

Women talk before entering a polling station in Milan, Italy, Sunday, June 9, 2024. Tens of millions across the European Union were voting in EU parliamentary elections on Sunday in a massive exercise of democracy that is expected to shift the bloc to the right and redirect its future. (AP Photo/Luca Bruno)
(AP Photo/Luca Bruno)

Ambulance workers fill their ballots during the European Parliament election in Tallinn, Estonia, Sunday, June 9, 2024. Polling stations opened across Europe on Sunday as voters from 20 countries cast ballots in elections that are expected to shift the European Union’s parliament to the right and could reshape the future direction of the world’s biggest trading bloc. (AP Photo/Sergei Grits)
(AP Photo/Sergei Grits)

French far-right National Rally lead candidate Jordan Bardella delivers a speech at the party election night headquarters, Sunday, June 9, 2024 in Paris. First projected results from France put far-right National Rally party well ahead in EU elections, according to French opinion poll institutes. (AP Photo/Lewis Joly)
(AP Photo/Lewis Joly)

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