In the European elections, the center holds, but the far right still sows chaos

Going to the polls in 27 countries, voters largely supported centrists in European Parliament elections, but far-right parties made serious inroads in France and Germany.

Partial results made public on Sunday evening showed that centrist political groups were poised to lose some seats but still maintain a clear majority of more than 400 seats in the 720-seat assembly.

Even so, the result seemed destined to strengthen the far right as a disruptive force and destabilize the bloc's traditional establishment.

The vote indicated that the prevailing winds had cooled for part of Europe's political establishment and underlined that the momentum of far-right forces over the past decade had yet to reach its peak.

In France, the vote triggered a political earthquake. Immediately after the results were announced, President Emmanuel Macron announced on national television that he would dissolve the country's National Assembly and call new legislative elections.

“The rise of nationalists and demagogues is a danger to our nation and to Europe,” he warned.

The result could put Marine Le Pen, Macron's main rival, in her strongest position to challenge the French mainstream in a presidential election in three years. Macron will then have to step aside due to term limits.

The far-right Alternative for Germany, or AfD, party, officially labeled by German authorities as a “suspected” extremist group, also performed well.

Projections gave the party around 16% of the vote. The result placed the AfD behind the traditional conservative Christian Democratic Union, but ahead of Chancellor Olaf Scholz's Social Democrats, making it the country's second-ranking party.

Groups in the European Parliament that have a nationalist and anti-immigration agenda will now likely control around 130 seats, a better result than in the last election in 2019.

Right-wing parties now govern alone or as part of coalitions in seven of the 27 European Union countries. They have gained traction across the continent as voters have become more focused on nationalism and identity, often tied to migration and some of the same culture war politics related to gender and LGBTQ issues that have gained traction in the U.S. .

The far right's strong showing is also likely to carry over to the United States, where it can be expected to bolster like-minded political forces loyal to former President Donald J. Trump as he seeks to return to office.

Other factors contributing to the rise of the right include lingering anger over Covid-era policies, as well as inflation rising in the wake of the pandemic and as a result of the war in Ukraine, which has pushed Europe to abandon energy cheap Russian.

The elections have highlighted the real weaknesses of the governments of France and Germany, the main EU member countries. Traditionally, little can happen in the bloc without their leadership.

“With Trump possibly on the horizon and a major war in Europe, there is a serious question as to how Europe will be able to respond to these threats in light of the weakness of France and Germany at home,” said Mujtaba Rahman, director for Europe at Eurasia Group Consulting.

European Union leaders have already watered down environmental policies and overhauled the bloc's migration policies to address the concerns of traditional conservatives and voters further to the right. But the electoral success of more radical right-wing parties could lead to even tighter borders and a reduction in the EU's climate ambitions.

Despite the far-right's gains, the main conservative group in the European Parliament, the European People's Party, was set to maintain first place and make significant gains, with 189 seats, 13 more than in the last election. But the other two centrist parties suffered losses, eroding the political center at the European level.

The Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats would have come second with 135 seats, losing four. And the Renew group, a liberal political group, was on the verge of losing one in five seats, ending up with 83.

Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission and member of the European Conservatives, celebrated her party's victory and made an open appeal to other centrists to work with her to ensure “a strong and effective Europe”.

“We are an anchor of stability,” von der Leyen told reporters at the European Parliament in Brussels late Sunday evening. “The result,” she said, “brings with it a great responsibility for the center parties. We can disagree on individual points, but we all have an interest in stability.”

The biggest losers of the election appear to be the Greens, who have seen their support plummet by a quarter compared to five years ago. However, the Greens, with their 53 seats, could play an important role by strengthening centrist majorities as an alternative to far-right parties.

Final data from all 27 EU countries is expected to be made public early Monday morning.

The results appeared to largely maintain the balance of power in the European Parliament, which approves legislation, the bloc's budget and its top leaders, including the president of the powerful European Commission, the EU's executive branch.

The first test for the weaker centrist majority will be the approval of the new president of the European Commission, expected in July.

Ms von der Leyen, who was approved for her post five years ago by a narrow margin of just nine votes and is likely to be nominated again, will have to lobby hard to secure her nomination.

Having narrowly avoided the need to bring radical right parties behind it, a scenario that would have alienated centrists, it will now likely face calls for more moderate political commitments on climate in particular from socialists and liberals he will need to get the votes. secure a second mandate at the helm of the Commission.

His agreement with potential centrist partners on migration and Ukraine will make the process smoother.

Approving the European Commission president requires a simple majority vote, but this happens in secret, a factor that has led to the attrition of supposed supporters in the past.

Aurelien Breeden contributed a report from Paris.

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