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European elections: Far-right gains, center holds, Ukraine-skeptics flounder

by Nate Ostiller June 10, 2024 6:43 PM 7 min read
French President Emmanuel Macron enters a polling booth before casting his ballot in the European Parliament election at a polling station in Le Touquet, France, on June 9, 2024. (Hannah McKay / POOL / AFP via Getty Images)
by Nate Ostiller June 10, 2024 6:43 PM 7 min read
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Last week's European Parliament elections toppled the French government, shifted European legislation to the right, yet kept mainstream bureaucrats at the steering wheel.

The center-right European People's Party (EPP) remained the largest party in the 720-seated European Parliament, projected to have secured around 185 seats.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, a member of the EPP, was unequivocal in her assessment of the results.

"We won the European elections," von der Leyen said as the results were still being tallied on June 9.

"This election has given us two messages. First, there remains a majority in the center for a strong Europe, and that is crucial for stability. In other words, the center is holding."

President of the centre-right European People's Party (EPP) Manfred Weber applauds European Commission President and EPP lead candidate Ursula von der Leyen (R) as she waves after delivering a speech after the European Parliament election in Brussels on June 9, 2024. (John Thys/AFP via Getty Images)

Centrist parties retained a majority of votes following European Parliament elections that concluded on June 9.

The three mainstream parties – European People's Party, center-left Socialists and Democrats, and the liberal Renew Europe – will receive over 400 seats, allowing them to form a majority and nominate the European Commission.

Yet, the far-right made significant gains, particularly in Belgium, Germany and France, where the results have rocked the domestic political scene.

Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo announced his resignation after a right-wing surge in both the national and European elections, while French President Emmanuel Macron calling snap parliament elections following a bitter loss.

A map showing the preliminary results of the European Parliament elections held between June 6 and June 9, 2024. (Lisa Kukharska/The Kyiv Independent)

French 'earthquake'

In France, the far-right National Rally emerged as the projected winner, prompting Macron to unexpectedly call for snap parliament elections to be held at the end of June.

Macron explained that he wanted to give the French people "the choice of our parliamentary future through the vote." Macron's party, Renaissance, came second in European elections, gaining less than half of the National Rally vote, with 15% and 31% accordingly.

Macron's decision came as a surprise. His party, leading an unstable yet workable minority government, wouldn't require to compete in elections until 2027, if not for the president's decree to dissolve the parliament.

Marine Le Pen, National Rally's parliamentary leader and former chair, said that her party was "ready to take over power if the French give us their trust in the upcoming national elections."

Reaction to the news that Emmanuel Macron, president of France, called snap parliament elections following a far-right victory in the European elections, in Paris, France, June 9, 2024. (Daniel Dorko / Hans Lucas / Hans Lucas via AFP via Getty Images)

Le Pen has had a mixed track record on Russia, having repeatedly supported Russia and President Vladimir Putin before the beginning of the full-scale invasion of Ukraine. She also made a number of controversial statements about Russia and Ukraine, such as the assertion that the illegal annexation of Crimea was justified.

While Le Pen has claimed that she had changed her mind on Russia since 2022, she has not publicly altered her position on Crimea since the beginning of the full-scale war. At a hearing in May 2023, Le Pen characterized the illegal annexation, which is widely condemned across the EU, as a "reattachment."

Why European elections matter for Ukraine
Starting on June 6, citizens of the European Union will head to the voting booths to elect the bloc’s 720-member European Parliament. The election, held between June 6 and June 9 and often downplayed as irrelevant by voters, will have a major impact on EU domestic and foreign policy, among

Jordan Bardella, the National Rally's leader, has largely opted to lean on anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim sentiment, leaving foreign policy issues out of his party's campaign.

Unlike the single-list proportional representation system used to elect Members of the European Parliament (MEPs), the French parliament is elected via a two-round system in single-member constituencies. In the French system, a candidate must get over 50% to win the election, with the French president placing a bet that far-right candidates won't be able to get.

Right expand in Germany, Italy

In Germany, the controversial far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) gained 15 seats, while the center-right Conservative Christian Union-Christian Social Union (CDU/CSU) placed first, slightly short of 30. German Chancellor Olaf Scholz's Social Democratic Party (SPD) came third.

Tino Chrupalla (L) and Alice Weidel (C), co-leaders of the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) political party, and AfD candidate Rene Aust speak to supporters as they celebrate at election evening gathering following the release of initial election results on June 9, 2024 in Berlin, Germany. (Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni's party, right-wing Brothers of Italy (FdI), won the most votes in Italy's European Parliament elections. Meloni has been publicly supportive of Ukraine.

Meloni's coalition partner League party, said to be further to the right and headed by Kremlin-friendly Matteo Salvini, saw its support tumble.

Despite ruling Italy together, the League and FdI are in different parliamentary groups in the European Parliament.

The European Parliament's far-right Identity and Democracy group, which includes Salvini's League, National Rally, and, until recently, the AfD, is projected to increase its representation to 58 seats.

In total, the far-right Identity and Democracy, nationalist Conservatives and Reformists, and the unaligned pro-Russian populist groups can account for over 200 seats.

Students shout during a demonstration to protest against the rise of far right parties, in front of the Henri IV high school in Paris, on June 10, 2024, a day after the European Parliament elections. (Julien de Rosa/AFP via Getty Images)

However, the Conservatives and Reformists group, while sharing some policies with the more radical groups,  has publicly supported Ukraine and the union's sanctions policy.

Pawel Zerka, a Senior Policy Fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR), said that the main takeaway of the election results was the "European Parliament's move to the right."

At the same time, Zerka said that "radical right parties did less well than previously feared."

Rikard Jozwiak, Europe Editor for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), said the results were "good for Ukraine and for EU enlargement in general."

Ukraine-skeptic candidates flounder elsewhere

There were other signs of weakness among parties and candidates seen as more skeptical of support for Ukraine.

In Slovakia, the liberal pro-EU party Progressive Slovakia came in first place, ahead of Prime Minister Robert Fico's ruling Smer party. Fico and Smer came to power on a populist platform in September 2023 and promised to end military aid to Ukraine.

In Poland, Prime Minister Donald Tusk's ruling Civic Coalition notched a narrow win against the conservative Law and Justice party (PiS), projected to gain 37.1% of the vote to PiS's 36.2%. The far-right Confederation party was projected to get only 12.1%.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban's right-wing party, Fidesz, retained its majority but saw its worst showing in decades.

Election staff count ballots for the 2024 European Parliament election at the Bayeux Town Hall counting center, one of 11 in the city, on June 9, 2024, in Bayeux, Normandy, France. (Artur Widak/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Fidesz gained 44% of the vote in a 10% decrease from the 2019 elections, as the opposition Tisza party, led by Peter Magyar, received 30% of the votes, enough to send seven delegates to the European Parliament.

In Ireland, one of the most outspoken Ukraine-skeptic candidates, Clare Daly, was trailing in the preliminary vote counts, ranking in seventh place as of the afternoon of June 10. Mick Wallace, her political partner and another Ukraine-skeptic lawmaker, is also fighting for reelection, but counts for his district have yet to be announced.

Wallace and Daly are both on the far-left of the political spectrum but have nonetheless regularly defended Russia, refused to support resolutions condemning the full-scale invasion, and voting against sanctions.

In a statement explaining her decision not to vote for a resolution to condemn the full-scale war, Daly said in June 2022 that she opposed the "illegal aggression of Russia" but said she "disagree(d) with a one-sided narrative that excuses the Western role in what is now happening."

Daly also called for a ceasefire and said she would not support "the flooding of Ukraine with weapons."

In an interview with the Irish Independent released earlier in June, Wallace said that he and Daly "condemned the invasion from day one" but then went on to repeat Russian talking points, saying that it is a "U.S.-NATO proxy war" and claimed that "NATO going into Ukraine" provoked Russia.

The final results of the elections in Ireland may take several more days.

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