European elections: Nationalist parties make gains in France and Italy, but far right wave fails elsewhere

AfD in Germany was neck and neck for second place with the centre left, while Vox made gains in Spain

The political fallout from the latest set of European elections was most immediate and dramatic in France, where President Emmanuel Macron reacted to a surge in support for the far right over his centre coalition by calling a snap parliamentary election.

There, the victory for the far right, anti-immigrant National Rally was indisputable. Marine Le Pen’s party is on course to take 30 seats, with exit polls indicating it captured 30 per cent of the vote, twice the support of Macron’s centrist coalition, which will lose several seats.

In a remarkable political gamble, Macron responded to the significant defeat by raising the stakes and dissolving parliament, opting to take on the far right in national parliamentary elections.

Interestingly, while exit polls indicated the far right Alternative for Germany (AfD) would be the second-largest party in Germany on 16.5 per cent, provisional results put them in neck and neck with the centre left.

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The Christian Democratic Union topped the German poll on 30 per cent. Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s Social Democratic Party ended up tied with AfD, with early results showing both winning about 14 per cent of the vote. The Greens lost a significant number of seats in Germany, a traditional heartland for the party, dropping from 25 to about 17 MEPs.

In Belgium too, the far right party Vlaams Belang underperformed, having been on 25 per cent in polls in the northern Flanders region where it contests elections. Early results in the European elections show it only secured 14 per cent of the vote.

In the aftermath of a poor showing in the European, federal and regional elections for his liberal party at the weekend, Belgian federal prime minister Alexander De Croo announced he would take full responsibility, another likely casualty of the elections.

While the surge of the far right might not have been as large as some polls predicted, the more extreme right side of the European Parliament still made significant gains.

Nationalist and ultra conservative parties topped the polls in France, Italy, Austria and Hungary, and polled well in Germany, Spain, Slovakia and elsewhere. Provisional results from 23 of the 27 EU countries on Sunday night and exit polls or data from others shows far right and hard right parties won about 160 seats, up from 130 in the last parliament.

One of the most keenly watched races was in Hungary, where Peter Magyar, a former government insider turned opposition lighting rod, was taking on Viktor Orban’s populist Fidesz.

Magyar has emerged as the first serious threat to the Hungarian prime minister in years, galvanising large antigovernment protests in Budapest. Support for Orban’s party slipped to 43 per cent, which should translate into a loss of two of its previous 12 seats. Magyar’s Tisza, which is expected to join the EPP, won 30 per cent of the vote.

The far right Freedom Party of Austria topped the poll there with more than a quarter of the vote, narrowly ahead of the centre right Austrian People’s Party and the Social Democratic Party of Austria.

The centre right People’s Party was the big winner in the Spanish elections, where provisional results indicate it will take 22 seats, two more than Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez’s Socialist Workers’ Party. Far right party Vox finished third in the election with six seats, an increase of two MEPs.

Giorgia Meloni’s ultra conservative party Fratelli d’Italia (Brothers of Italy) won the election in Italy as expected, according to exit polls. Taking an estimated 27 per cent of the vote, the Italian prime minister’s party will more than double its current number of seats to about 23.

Her success came at the expense of her coalition partner Matteo Salvini’s far right League, which topped the poll five years ago. Exit polls show the League will lose two thirds of its 23 seats. The centre left Democratic Party took 23 per cent of the vote to finish as the second-largest party in Italy, according to the exit poll.

Exit polls also pointed to Polish prime minister Donald Tusk’s centre right Civic Coalition (EPP) edging out the hard right conservative Law and Justice party, which his pro-EU coalition ousted from power after general elections last year.

The far right Republika party finished third in Slovakia, where the election campaign was overshadowed by the attempted assassination of prime minister Robert Fico. There the liberal opposition party Progressive Slovakia won, securing 27 per cent of the vote and about six seats, with Fico’s populist Smer party coming in second on 24 per cent.

A whistle-stop tour of the early results in some of the other countries shows Green Left won a bigger share of the vote in Denmark than the governing party of the Social Democrats. In Romania the Social Democratic Party took 13 of the available 33 seats on 53 per cent of the vote. The far right Alliance for the Union of Romanians finished well back in second place on 15 per cent.

Centre-right New Democracy won the election in Greece, where left wing party Syriza came in second. Greek Solution, a far-right party, finished in fourth place. The liberal National Coalition Party topped the poll in Finland, while conservative party Isamaa won in Estonia, and the centre right Croatian Democratic Union secured the most votes in Croatia.