Far right surges in EU vote, topping polls in Germany, France, Austria

French President Emmanuel Macron calls snap election after National Rally doubles vote share of centrist Renaissance.

French far-right Rassemblement National (RN) party leader Marine Le Pen (L) addresses militants as party President Jordan Bardella listens after French President announced he is calling for new general elections on June 30
Marine Le Pen's National Rally has delivered a crushing defeat to French President Emmanuel Macron's centrist Renaissance [Jilien De Rosa/AFP]

Far-right parties have made significant gains in the European Union parliamentary elections, delivering humiliating defeats to the parties of German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, French President Emmanuel Macron and Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer.

While mainstream parties kept control of the 705-member European Parliament on Sunday, the 27-member bloc swung palpably to the right in a sign of the durability of anti-establishment sentiment on the continent.

In France, Marine Le Pen’s National Rally delivered such a crushing defeat to Macron’s centrist Renaissance that the French leader called snap legislative elections, a risky manoeuvre which could inflict further losses on his party and hobble the remaining three years of his presidential term.

National Rally was projected to win about 33 percent of the vote and 31 seats in the incoming European Parliament – more than double the tally of the Macron ticket’s 15 percent.

“We’re ready to turn the country around, ready to defend the interests of the French, ready to put an end to mass immigration,” Le Pen said.

Macron acknowledged the scale of the defeat.

“I’ve heard your message, your concerns, and I won’t leave them unanswered … France needs a clear majority to act in serenity and harmony,” Macron said, adding that calling a snap election demonstrated his commitment to democratic ideals.

In Germany, the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) took second place, underscoring the party’s strength ahead of next year’s federal election.

The Eurosceptic party was projected to secure more than 16 percent of the vote, its best-ever showing and a higher share of the tally than all three parties in Scholz’s coalition.

The conservative alliance of the Christian Democratic Union and the Christian Social Union, which are in opposition at the federal level, topped the poll with about 30 percent of the vote.

Germany’s Greens were the biggest losers on Sunday, falling by 8.5 percentage points to 12 percent, punished by voters for the cost of policies to reduce CO2 emissions – in line with expectations for environmental parties across Europe.

Scholz’s Social Democratic Party (SPD) and the third coalition partner, the pro-business Free Democratic Party (FDP), were projected to win about 14 percent and 5 percent of the vote, respectively, down from 15.8 percent and 5.4 percent in the previous election.

The AfD’s strong showing comes as Germany’s party landscape undergoes its biggest upheaval in decades, with new populist parties competing to fill the vacuum left by the decline of mainstream parties that dominated the post-reunification era.

The shift looks set to make it much harder for established parties to form viable coalitions and has been blamed for a coarsening of the political climate, including instances of violence against politicians and activists.

The AfD’s gains come despite a series of scandals and controversies, including their lead candidate declaring that the SS, the Nazis’ main paramilitary force, were “not all criminals”.

“We’ve done well because people have become more anti-European,” the AfD’s co-leader Alice Weidel said on Sunday.

“People are annoyed by so much bureaucracy from Brussels,” she added, giving a plan ultimately to ban CO2-emitting cars as an example.

In Austria, the far-right Freedom Party gained nearly 26 percent of the vote, topping a nationwide ballot for the first time.

The governing conservative People’s Party (OeVP) picked up more than 24 percent of the vote, followed by the Social Democrats with about 23 percent and the Greens at nearly 11.

Chancellor Nehammer pledged to address voters’ concerns ahead of national elections, due later in the year, including cracking down on undocumented migration.

Meanwhile, Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni saw her position bolstered after her right-wing populist Brothers of Italy more than doubled its seats in parliament.

The far right also performed well in the Netherlands, with Geert Wilders’s anti-immigration Party for Freedom projected to win six seats, just two seats shy of the total picked up by centre-left and green parties.

Left-wing and green parties had a better showing in the Scandinavian countries, with far-right and populist parties in Sweden, Denmark and Finland seeing their vote shares decline.

Hungarian Prime Minister Orban’s nationalist Fidesz lost significant ground [Marton Monus/Reuters]

In Hungary, Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s nationalist Fidesz won the most votes but lost significant ground compared with the 2019 elections.

Fidesz had 44 percent of the vote with nearly 90 percent of votes counted, down from 52 percent.

Still, Orban claimed victory in a speech to supporters at a party event on Sunday night.

“Today, we defeated the old opposition, the new opposition, and no matter what the opposition will be called the next time, we will defeat them again and again,” he said.

Orban’s main challenger, Peter Magyar’s Tisza party, picked up about 30 percent of the vote.

Overall, mainstream and pro-European groups remained the dominant forces, with centre-right and centre-left parties on track to secure a slimmed-down majority in the 705-member parliament.

The European People’s Party (EPP) was on track to be the biggest grouping with a projected 189 deputies, bolstered by centre-right victories in Spain and Poland, followed by the centre-left Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats with 135 seats.

The European Conservatives and Reformists group, which includes the Brothers of Italy, was projected to win 72 seats, followed by the far-right Identity and Democracy with 58.

Green and liberal, pro-European parties suffered the heaviest losses, with Greens-European Free Alliance and Renew Europe losing more than 40 seats.

von der Leyen
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said the election results showed the “centre is holding”.[Piroschka van de Wouw/Reuters]

Ursula von der Leyen, the president of the European Commission, said the results showed that the “centre is holding”.

“We won the European elections. This election has given us two messages,” von der Leyen said.

“First, there remains a majority in the centre for a strong Europe, and that is crucial for stability. In other words, the centre is holding. But it is also true that the extremes on the left and on the right have gained support, and this is why the result comes with great responsibility for the parties in the centre.”

Reporting from Berlin, Al Jazeera’s Step Vaessen said Eurosceptic parties would form a large bloc in the next parliament.

“With this very large bloc of far-right parties, there can be an influence on climate policies, for example … Also, [the EU’s] agriculture policies… and migration policies, which is a very important issue here in Germany and in the Netherlands,” she said.

However, Vaessen noted that the far-right parties are not united.

“They have a lot of divisions among themselves and they have been trying to reach out to each other. We’ve seen [France’s] Marine Le Pen, for example, reaching out to Giorgia Meloni in Italy,” she said.

“But after tonight, we will have to see how these groups will be formed and what kind of influence they will have.”

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies