News / Politics & Economics

European elections: the Big turn to the right, Europe keeps the bar in the middle

June 2024
By Giampiero Gramaglia

Big shocks in Germany and France, with the advances of extreme right-wing parties and the defeats of the ruling parties, especially the Social Democrats and President Emmanuel Macron’s Renaissance, who dissolved the Assemblée nationale and called immediate general elections. In the major EU countries, only in Italy and Poland do the ruling forces win.

But, in the European Parliament, relatively little shifts: the Group of the European People’s Party remains the largest in the Assembly and increases its seats. The Socialist Party group compensates in Italy, Spain, France and elsewhere for the German defeat: it loses a few seats, but remains second. And the Liberals, who have suffered the greatest haemorrhage due to the French collapse, are still third, although they have dropped from over a hundred to around 80 MEPs. The Greens, the fourth Europeanist force in the Strasbourg Assembly, are in almost free fall.

Voter turnout is around 50% – Italy is below average -, on similar values to 2019 (50.7 per cent): the figures are not yet final, but they are already very reliable. Results and participation are unequivocal indicators: Europeans are generally dissatisfied with their governments and the Union and listen to populist recipes on the economy and immigration. For Politico, the Union is ‘veering to the right’ and experiencing its own ‘Trump moment’: the vote ‘reshapes the European political landscape’. The Washington Post’s analysis is pessimistic: ‘A right-wing Europe is here to stay’.

The election campaign was highly polarised almost everywhere, full of tension and violence: the wounding of Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico, the attack on Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen, death threats against Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk, one dead and injured in clashes in Germany. The outcome is a vote from which practically only in Italy and Poland do governments emerge consolidated. Elsewhere, where they are in government, sovereignists and Euro-sceptics are doing badly, from Hungary to Slovakia.

In this jumble of often contradictory results from country to country, the growth of right-wing parties, critical of the Union or resolutely opposed to integration, does not translate into the ability to offer majority alternatives in Europe. But the set-up of the Strasbourg Assembly is still not entirely clear: there are a hundred or so MEPs without a certain location, including the Germans of the AfD, the Italians of the M5S, and the Hungarians of the party of Prime Minister Viktor Orban. When, and if, they find a place, the balance of power between the groups may shift.

An earthquake in Germany and France

The German and French figures are impressive. In Germany, the centrist Cdu/Csu, reaches 33% and has more than twice as many votes as the neo-Nazi AfD, second ahead of the social-democratic Spd, which is stuck below 15%. The Greens drop to 12%. The forces that make up the current majority – Spd, Greens and Liberals – garner less than one vote in three. Nobody is calling for the resignation of Chancellor Olaf Scholz, but the government is clearly weakened.

In France, Marine Le Pen’s Rassemblement National, led at the polls by Jordan Barella, reaches 31.5% and is the leading party: it has more than twice as many votes as Macron’s Renaissance, under 15%. Macron immediately draws the consequences from the vote: he dissolves the Assemblée and calls elections for 30 June, with a runoff on 7 July. The president is betting on the ‘esprit républicain’ that has so far always relegated the extreme right to the opposition and marginalised it: at the ballot, there is a majority of voters that bars the way for the Rassemblement National.

It remains to be seen whether this phenomenon will occur this time as well, because the dissatisfaction expressed by the voters is very strong and affects economic-environmental and immigration policies, as well as perhaps Macron’s attitude towards the wars in Ukraine and the Middle East. And, in any case, the composition of the Assemblée is likely to be fragmented, in a France that does not like coalitions. For Politico, the right wing benefits from the fact that ‘France hates Paris’. For Macron, the country ‘needs a clear majority to act with serenity and concord’: he is not sure he will find it in the hastily called vote.

In Spain, the result of the policies is essentially repeated: the Populars ahead, the Socialists behind (but capable of alliances), Vox on the far right on the rise. In Poland, Tusk’s Civic Coalition (Ko) overtakes the conservatives of Law and Justice.

In the other countries, the results are varied, always influenced by national factors: the European vote remains, essentially, a patchwork of national referenda on the popularity of the government. In Belgium, where European and political elections are combined, Liberal Prime Minister Alexander De Croo resigned in tears: his party was defeated, in Flanders in the North the separatist right-wing extremists won, in the South, in Wallonia, centrists and socialists were ahead. The linguistic rift between Flemish and French-speakers intersects with the political ridge.

Substantial stability in the European Parliament

In contrast to the national earthquakes, there is substantial stability at the European level: the majority, which in 2019 gave the popular German Ursula von der Leyen the investiture for the presidency of the European Commission, is above 400 seats out of 720 – the majority threshold is 361 -, independent of what will be the placement of the hundred or so currently unplaced MEPs.

The seat allocations, which rise from 705 to 720, are not yet final: the EPP is now allocated 184, more than the current ones; the Socialists 139, less than the current ones – gains and losses are minimal. The Liberals, on the other hand, drop sharply, from 102 to 82 seats; the Greens even more sharply, from 72 to 52. The group of euro-critical leftists is rather stable, just under 40 seats.

The advance of the right-wing parties does not translate, in the first instance, into major reinforcements of their groups: the conservatives of ECR rise from 67 to 73, where Fratelli d’Italia largely compensates for the Poles’ backwardness; the xenophobic sovereignists of Identità e democrazia even drop from 59 to 58, but only because they are discounting the expulsion from their ranks of the neo-Nazis of AfD.

In the European Parliament, the majority consisting of Populars, Socialists and Liberals is in many ways the only viable one: if the EPP looked to the right, the 361 seats would not be reached; and the same would be true if the EPP and Liberals opened up to the Conservatives. The socialists rule out collaborating with conservatives and sovereignists. The Greens make support for the pro-European coalition conditional on commitments on the Green Deal.

Manfred Weber, CDU, German, leader of the Popular Party, proposes a new pro-European alliance and raises the candidature of von der Leyen for a second term (the nomination is, however, up to the heads of state and government). Pedro Marques, Portuguese ‘number two’ of the Socialists, says that ‘the important thing is to shape a programme for the Commission’ that finds the coalition in agreement.

The European Parliament of the last parliamentary term left a substantial number of measures unapproved: of the 119 proposals under discussion in Brussels, only 52 have already been debated and voted on by the Strasbourg Assembly and ‘handed over’ to the Council of Ministers. On the economic front, the ECB has just given its viaticum to the new legislature by lowering the cost of money by 0.25%. But President Christine Lagarde gave no assurances on the next steps: ‘We are not committed to a particular trajectory,’ she said, ‘we will decide on a case-by-case basis’.