Far right make significant gains across Europe in elections

French president Emmanuel Macron calls snap parliamentary election after heavy loss to far right

Far right and conservative nationalist parties have made significant gains across Europe in the EU elections, but the political centre is expected to hold on to its majority in the European Parliament.

Ultra-conservative and far right parties are on course to top the polls in several EU countries such as France, Italy and Austria, while coming second in others in a backlash against mainstream political parties driven in part by anti-immigrant sentiment.

French president Emmanuel Macron called a snap parliamentary election after his centrist coalition was heavily defeated by Marine Le Pen’s National Rally. In a campaign that the far right party pitched as a vote on Mr Macron’s record, exit polls showed National Rally winning twice as many seats as the French leader’s group, securing nearly a third of the vote.

Overall the predicted shift towards hardline right wing parties in the European elections was borne out by exit polls and early results on Sunday night.

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However, the centre right European People’s Party (EPP), which includes Fine Gael MEPs, will remain the largest group in the parliament, winning several extra seats. The centrist Renew group, which includes Mr Macron’s party, could lose up to a fifth of its seats. The centre left Socialists and Democrats (S&D), who make up the current majority in parliament with the EPP and Renew, were expected to maintain their support levels.

Polls indicated the far right Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) would finish as the second biggest party there despite a rocky campaign full of controversy. In Austria the far right Freedom Party is expected to top the poll and double its seats. Geert Wilders’s Freedom Party was also on course to gain several seats in the Netherlands.

A projection of the make-up of the next European Parliament, based on exit polls and other data before official results became available, showed the EPP, S&D and Renew returning enough seats to comfortably retain their majority.

There is speculation the two EU parliamentary groupings representing hard right and far right parties will seek to reorganise over the coming weeks to try to form one large bloc to wield more influence in the next parliament.

After a record success five years ago the European Greens suffered heavy losses, particularly in the party’s heartland of Germany, where it is expected to finish behind the centre right Christian Democratic Union, AfD and chancellor Olaf Scholz’s Social Democratic Party.

European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen will now try to build a majority of MEPs to support her for a second term if she is backed to remain in the top EU job as expected by national leaders.

About 360 million Europeans were eligible to vote in the elections, with turnout provisionally put at 51 per cent.

Jack Power

Jack Power

Jack Power is acting Europe Correspondent of The Irish Times