Far right’s election gains rattle traditional EU powers

Raf Casert, Lorne Cook and Samuel Petrequin |

Exit polls point to the European People’s Party gaining five seats to field 181 deputies.
Exit polls point to the European People’s Party gaining five seats to field 181 deputies.

Far-right parties have rattled the traditional powers in the EU 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 parliament membership has clearly shifted to the right. 

Italian Premier Giorgia Meloni more than doubled her party’s seats in the assembly. 

A Romanian voter
Europeans from the EU’s 27 member countries have voted in elections for the bloc’s parliament. (AP PHOTO)

And despite being hounded by a scandal involving candidates, the Alternative for Germany extreme right party still rallied enough seats to sweep past the slumping Social Democrats of Chancellor Olaf Scholz.

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.

Undoubtedly however, the star on a stunning electoral night was the National Rally party of Marine Le Pen, which dominated the French polls to such an extent that Macron immediately dissolved the national parliament and called for new elections to start later in June. 

It was a massive political risk since his party could suffer more losses, hobbling the rest of his presidential term that ends in 2027. 

Le Pen was delighted to accept the challenge. 

“We’re ready to turn the country around, ready to defend the interests of the French, ready to put an end to mass immigration,” she said, echoing the rallying cry of so many far-right leaders in other countries who were celebrating substantial wins.

Her National Rally won more than 30 per cent or about twice as much as Macron’s pro-European centrist Renew party that is projected to reach less than 15 per cent.

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.

In Germany, the EU’s most populous nation, projections indicated that voters had not been dissuaded by the AfD’s scandals as it rose to 16.5 per cent, up from 11 per cent in 2019. 

Scholz’s governing Social Democratic party was humiliated as the Alternative for Germany surged into second place. 

Ursula von der Leyen
European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen’s Christian Democrats maintained its dominance. (AP PHOTO)

Overall across the EU, two mainstream and pro-European groups, the Christian Democrats and the Socialists, remained dominant in the voting that concluded on Sunday. 

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. Macron’s pro-business Renew group also lost big. 

“We are by far the strongest party, we are the anchor of stability,” von der Leyen said of the Christian Democrats. 

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 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 18.