European elections: Centre ‘holding’ in face of far-right parties, says von der Leyen

Election results: European Commission president says ‘we are the anchor of stability’, with European People’s Party projected to take 189 seats

European election results: Ursula von der Leyen, European Commission President and EPP lead candidate, after the vote for the European Parliament election in Brussels. Photogaph: John Thys/AFP via Getty Images

European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen has said the early results of the European elections showed the centre was “holding”, in the face of threats from the political extremes.

While far-right parties have made significant gains in several European countries, the current governing majority of the centre-right European People’s Party (EPP), centre-left Socialists and Democrats (S&D) and centrist Renew will remain intact.

An initial projection based on early voting results from 17 countries, as well as exit polls and other data from the 10 other countries, shows the EPP will take 189 of the available 720 seats in the European Parliament. The S&D are projected to maintain their existing levels of support on 135 seats, while Renew will lose about a fifth of its MEPs, down from 102 to 80 seats.

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The European Greens will also lose a significant portion of its seats, falling from 71 to 52 seats. Hard right and far right parties, which are splintered between groupings, are expected to take north of 160 seats in the new parliament.

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Speaking on Sunday night, Ms von der Leyen said her EPP group, which includes Fine Gael, had won the election.

“We are the anchor of stability and voters recognise our leadership during the last five years,” she said. “There remains a majority in the centre for a strong Europe ... In other words, the centre is holding. It is also true that the extremes on the left and the right have gained support,” she said.

Ms von der Leyen said she would “immediately” start the process of building a coalition of MEPs needed to back her for a second term as commission president, if she is nominated by the 27 national leaders as expected.

Late on Sunday night in the Dublin European constituency, Fianna Fáil’s Barry Andrews looks poised to win the first seat after finishing just ahead of Fine Gael’s Regina Doherty.

In France, president Emmanuel Macron called for new parliamentary elections on Sunday evening, after his camp heavily lost to the far-right National Rally party in the country’s EU election.

The far-right Freedom Party of Austria are projected to top the poll there and gain a number of seats, with exit polls showing them finishing ahead of the centre-right Austrian People’s Party and the centre left Social Democratic Party of Austria.

The centre right People’s Party was the big winner in the Spanish elections, with exit polls showing it was likely to overtake prime minister Pedro Sánchez’s Socialist Workers’ Party as the biggest party.

In Greece, the centre-right New Democracy will remain the largest party, with an exit poll showing it on support levels of 30 per cent. Left wing party Syriza are on course to finish as runners up, with around 16 per cent of the vote. Greek Solution, a far-right party, is expected to finish in fifth place, with exit polls show it winning about 8 per cent of votes.

Polish prime minister Donald Tusk’s centre right Civic Coalition (EPP) was predicted to edge out the conservative Law and Justice party, who his pro-EU coalition ousted from power after general elections last year.

Geert Wilders’ far-right Party for Freedom will gain several seats in the Netherlands, where support for centre parties appears to have held up well, according to exit polls.

Croatian Democratic Union, who sit with the EPP, are set to top the poll in Croatia, with an exit poll putting support for the party on 33 per cent. In Malta, parties that sit in the EPP and the S&D groups are predicted to each win three of the six available seats. The far right Alliance for Uniting Romanians (AUR) was on course to come second in Romania, based on exit poll data.

Geert Wilders’s anti-migrant party is believed to have made gains in Holland. Photograph: Peter Dejong/AP

Since the last EU election in 2019, populist or far-right parties now lead governments in three nations – Hungary, Slovakia and Italy – and are part of the ruling coalition in others.

The elections come at a testing time for voter confidence in a bloc of 450 million people. Over the past five years, the EU has been shaken by the coronavirus pandemic, an economic slump and an energy crisis fuelled by the biggest land conflict in Europe since the second World War.

EU politicians have a say on legislation ranging from financial rules to climate or agriculture policy. They also approve the EU budget, which apart from funding the bloc’s political priorities bankrolls things like infrastructure projects, farm subsidies or aid delivered to Ukraine.

But despite their important role, political campaigning often focuses on issues of concern in individual countries rather than on broader European interests. Voters routinely use their ballots to protest against the policies of their national governments.

The EPP has campaigned for Ursula von der Leyen to be granted a second term as commission president but nothing guarantees that she will be returned even if they win. National leaders will decide who is nominated, even though the parliament must approve any nominee. – Additional reporting agencies