German, French far-right gains offer signs of shifting tone in EU Parliament vote

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BRUSSELS — The far-right was seen scoring big gains in Germany and France in Sunday’s EU election, opinion polls showed, joining the Netherlands in offering the first signs that an expected rightwards shift in the European Parliament is under way.

In France, Marine Le Pen’s far-right National Rally party won around 32% of the votes, a 10 point increase on the last EU election in 2019 and some 17 points ahead of President Emmanuel Macron’s party, according to the first exit polls.

More mainstream conservatives were also forecast to do well across Europe, with early estimates for both groups in line with an expected broader shift in the European Parliament which covers a bloc of 450 million citizens.

All this means the new European Parliament is likely to be cooler on policies to address climate change while eager to support measures to limit immigration to the EU.

The parliament could also be more fragmented, which would make adopting any measure trickier and slower as the EU confronts challenges including a hostile Russia and increased industrial rivalry from China and the United States.

Early exit polls showed that parties grouped in the centre-right European People’s Party (EPP) were projected to remain the largest bloc across five countries, including Germany and Greece.

That would put the EPP’s candidate to head the European Commission, incumbent Ursula von der Leyen of Germany, in pole position for a second term.

Congratulating her party colleagues in Germany via video link, von der Leyen said she was optimistic that the EPP would emulate the election victory scored by its German conservative members.

“We still have more waiting to do in Brussels because polls are still open in several member states, but that makes the trend you are setting all the more welcome,” she said.

“It’s a great result, and now we need to follow up on it around Europe, and I’m confident we will.”

In Germany, the far-right Alternative for Germany took second place behind the opposition conservatives with 16.5% of the vote, up from 11% in 2019, according to an exit poll published by public broadcaster ARD.

Meanwhile, in Austria, the far-right Freedom Party is the likely winner of the ballot, according to a poll based on surveys carried out over the past week and published as voting there closed on Sunday evening.

In the Netherlands, which voted on Thursday, exit polls showed nationalist Geert Wilders’ anti-immigration party was set to win seven of the 29 Dutch seats in the EU assembly, just one short of the combined seats of a Socialist Democrat-Greens alliance.

Right turn

Voting began on Thursday in the Netherlands and in other countries on Friday and Saturday, but the bulk of EU votes were cast on Sunday, with France, Germany, Poland and Spain opening their polls and Italy holding a second day of voting.

The European Parliament votes legislation that is key for citizens and businesses in the 27-nation EU.

“I don’t always agree with the decisions that Europe takes,” 89-year-old retiree Paule Richard said after voting in Paris. “But I still hope that there will be a reckoning in all European countries, so that Europe can be a unified bloc and look in the same direction.”

For many years, voters across the bloc have complained that EU decision-making is complex, distant and disconnected from daily realities, which explains often low turnout in EU elections.

“People don’t know who really has the power, between the Commission and Parliament,” another French voter, Emmanuel, said in a northern Paris polling station. “And it’s true that it raises questions and breeds mistrust which today might not exist if things were clearer,” the 34-year old programmer said.

Many voters have been hit by the cost of living, have concerns about migration and the cost of the green transition and are disturbed by geopolitical tensions, including war in Ukraine.

Hard and far-right parties have seized on this and offered the electorate an alternative.

“Whoever believes that we need a change of course and that things can be done much better in Brussels has only one alternative, which is Vox,” the leading candidate for the far-right Spanish party, Jorge Buxade, said after voting in Madrid.

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