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EUROPEAN POLITICS

France’s Macron and Germany’s Scholz trounced by far right in EU elections

France’s Macron and Germany’s Scholz trounced by far right in EU elections
Olaf Scholz, Germany's chancellor, during a press conference with Emmanuel Macron, France's president, at the Chancellery in Berlin, Germany, on Monday, May 9, 2022. Scholz and Macron reaffirmed their commitment to support Ukraine while strengthening the European Union and announced a special summit to discuss bids by Western Balkan countries to join the bloc. Photographer: Stefanie Loos/Bloomberg

As the bloc’s biggest economies contend with an uneasy grasp on power at home, the outcome highlights how elusive it is for Europe to find clear leadership to drive the EU’s top policies.

French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz suffered massive defeats in the European Parliament elections on Sunday, as far-right parties made gains that could sway the bloc to take a harder line on migration and upset ambitious actions to protect the climate.   

Despite the defeats on the national level, centre-left and centre-right parties across Europe were set to preserve their majority in the European Union-wide ballot, which determines the make-up of the bloc’s legislative assembly. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen’s European People’s Party was projected to finish first, getting 181 seats. 

In France, Marine le Pen’s National Rally won with 32% of the vote — in line with expectations — while Macron’s Renaissance party trailed with 15%, according to a poll published by Ifop. In Germany, Scholz’s Social Democrats crashed to their worst-ever result, falling behind both the opposition conservatives and far-right Alternative for Germany.  

As the bloc’s biggest economies contend with an uneasy grasp on power at home, the outcome highlights how elusive it is for Europe to find clear leadership to drive the EU’s top policies. 

The centre-right EPP group was set to win, according to the first projection for the formation of the European Parliament, giving it and the alliance of Socialists and Democrats, together with Liberals a combined 398 seats out of 720. The far-right European Conservatives and Reformists, along with the Identity and Democracy grouping, will have 133 seats together. The Greens were slated to drop to 53 seats from 71. 

The projection is based on national estimates from 11 countries and pre-election polls for the rest.

Those results mean the bloc’s top jobs, including the presidents of the European Commission and the European Council, are likely to be dished out among leaders from the mainstream parties. That could confer a degree of continuity on key policies at a time of immense geopolitical uncertainty with Russia’s war on Ukraine raging to the east and China becoming ever more assertive. 

The EU is also confronting challenges including how to maintain fiscal sustainability while investing in a greener future, boosting the competitiveness of European manufacturing and strengthening defence capabilities amid the prospect of Donald Trump’s return to the US presidency, which could affect everything from trade to environment policy.

About 360 million people were eligible to vote for the 720 legislators who will serve in the EU assembly for the next five years. A majority of the 27 member nations held their ballots on Sunday, with results due to trickle in throughout the evening. 

In Germany, the conservative CDU/CSU alliance was on course for a comfortable win with 30%, with the AfD second at 16% and the SPD with 14%, according to projections from public broadcaster ARD. The other two parties in Scholz’s ruling alliance — the Greens and the Free Democrats — also fared badly, getting 12% and 5% respectively.

CDU General-Secretary Carsten Linnemann questioned whether Scholz retains the authority to lead the country and blamed the ruling coalition’s policies for the rise of the AfD.

Alice Weidel, a co-leader of the AfD, said one reason for the party’s success was that voters had become more critical of both the EU and the euro, especially in Germany’s eastern regions where the party was the strongest force.

“After a rough start to the election campaign, we went into the final stages extremely effectively,” Weidel said in an interview with public broadcaster ARD.

But in-fighting between the various far-right parties is likely to hamper them forming a uniform faction at the EU level.

The Alternative for Germany was expelled from its pan-European political group Identity and Democracy after its lead candidate Maximilian Krah said that not all members of the Nazi SS paramilitary organization were criminals. That was after Krah already had to step away from campaigning amid a spying affair scandal. 

In the Netherlands, Dutch conservative Geert Wilders notched significant gains on Thursday, though fell short of winning the most Dutch seats in the European Parliament. That victory was claimed by a coalition of left-wing parties.

At stake are critical issues that need to be decided during the next parliamentary term, including how to make European industries more competitive, how to boost the bloc’s defence capabilities and how to compete with China. Future spending for Ukraine could also face the parliament’s approval. DM

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