What we learned from the European elections across Europe

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What we learned from the European elections across Europe
Several hundred people demonstrate on Republique square in central Paris against the victory of French far-right party Rassemblement National (RN) in the European elections. Photo: Arnaud FINISTRE / AFP

Here are five takeaways from the European elections which saw Europe's centrist political groups emerge relatively unscathed, the far right make gains and the French president pushed to take a huge gamble.


Far right ahead

Europe's far-right parties were winners in many places, coming out on top in France, Italy and Austria, while Germany's AfD came second - but still ahead of Chancellor Olaf Scholz's SPD party - and the hard-right also did well in the Netherlands.

But experts warned against reading too much into their success.

"The far right did well but not excellent - let's not forget these are second order elections," said Francesco Nicoli, a visiting fellow at Bruegel think tank.


"We cannot say that this is a very, very significant push as things stand," Christine Verger, vice chair of Jacques Delors think tank said. "There may be movements within the political groups. We don't know where some MEPs will end up."

A big question being raised is whether two main far-right groups in the parliament -- Identity and Democracy (ID) and the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) -- can unite, creating a supergroup.

Verger dismissed that notion out of hand.

"I absolutely do not believe in a unification, it is out of the question for ID and ECR to merge," she told AFP.

The ECR includes Italian far-right prime minister Giorgia Meloni, whose Brothers of Italy party came top in the elections.

As to the far right's likely impact on lawmaking in the European Parliament, experts appeared sanguine.

"The rising number of far right MEPs will likely have only a limited impact on the EU," predicted expert Marta Lorimer. "They do not form a blocking minority."

Weaker Macron

The biggest single loser of the elections was Emmanuel Macron after his centrist party received a drubbing by France's Rassemblement National (National Rally) led by Marine Le Pen.

The French president responded by swiftly dissolving France's national parliament and calling for snap elections.

"France remains a large country with a president who has a lot of power," Verger said.

As the head of a major EU member state, Macron will remain an important player on the European stage.


But she said the poor election performance of his Renaissance party would see it "lose some influence" within the Renew grouping that it belongs to, and the parliament in general.

Return of Von der Leyen

Analysts agreed it was a pretty good night for European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, who hopes to secure a second five-year mandate after the vote.

She will need the support of the EU's 27 leaders and the new parliament - and in the latter respect the data suggests von der Leyen can breathe a sigh of relief.

Her party, the European People's Party (EPP), remains the parliament's biggest grouping and experts predicted she would be able to get the extra votes she needs.

Based on preliminary results, Nicoli said she could rely on the support of the Socialists and Democrats "with a choice between liberals, ECR and Greens as junior partner" - and could deal with 20 defections or more in each scenario.


"I think the elections could have been worse for her."

Wilting Greens

It was a disappointing night for the Greens political group, which is on course to lose around 20 EU lawmakers - in a result that came as little surprise.

"Greens are the clear losers, and so is Macron, but again these were trends clearly evident before," Nicoli said.

European concerns about security and the cost of living following the outbreak of war in Ukraine in 2022, and other issues including migration, displaced the environement as a voter concern.

"The Greens have not been very well placed to answer those demands," Nicoli added.

And all across Europe, right-wing opponents have successfully channelled discontent into anger at the EU's environmental push of recent years.

But Greens' EU lawmaker Bas Eickhout saw the results as a "mixed bag" - and "a bit more nuanced than just saying it's a big loss".

He pointed to the Greens' success in the Netherlands and Spain as well as smaller countries in the north and Baltics, including Denmark and Lithuania.

Higher turnout

Around 360 million people could vote in the elections and in welcome news, turnout was the highest in 20 years at around 51 percent, according to provisional EU data.

"The good news for democracy is that the turnout looks likely to be above half of the electorate, although that is still below participation rates for national elections, and very low in countries such as Slovakia and Lithuania," said Heather Grabbe, a senior fellow at Bruegel.



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