Why the EU parliament vote is just the first stage in a political shake-up

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Good morning. The European Commission will today tell member states that Ukraine and Moldova have met the conditions to start formal accession talks. But that doesn’t mean Hungary will agree.

Today, our election team hears from a European parliament veteran about the impending fight set to follow the EU election results, and I report on the blunt messages from the D-Day anniversary regarding support for Ukraine.

Have a good weekend.

Party people

Voting is under way in the European parliament elections. But its political groups will continue to shape-shift until well after Sunday night’s results, write Andy Bounds and Alice Hancock.

Context: Citizens across Europe are electing a new parliament, which will have a say in approving the next EU leadership and future policy in contested areas including enlargement, competitiveness, immigration and climate.

The Netherlands kicked off the vote yesterday, with exit polls indicating the far-right Freedom party jumped from one seat to seven, although the combined Labour/Green ticket came first with eight, down one from 2019. 

But even after all votes are counted, the political landscape will be far from clear.

Centrist groups are likely to hold a slim majority, while the far-right advances and the Greens fall back. But the key is what “core” will vote for a new European Commission president, with Ursula von der Leyen the favourite candidate, says Klaus Welle, former secretary-general of the parliament between 2009 and 2022.

Welle, who previously ran the centre-right European People’s party (EPP), told the Financial Times that several national parties would look for a new European family to sit with. A big question is whether the hard-right European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) and the far-right Identity and Democracy (ID) groups could join forces to wield real clout.

Welle believes they are “unstable creations”. France’s Marine Le Pen, whose Rassemblement National dominates ID, “would like to move into a more respectable political environment” and has reached out to Italian premier Giorgia Meloni’s party, Brothers of Italy, which sits with the ECR.

Welle suggests von der Leyen’s EPP should work with the ECR, while shunning those further right. “If those that are constructive on the right are told they are excluded, that could land up with a [single] block on the right which I think we would all regret,” he said.

Another one to watch is the liberal Renew group, which Welle deems a “fragile construction”. Its president, Valérie Hayer of France’s En Marche, wants to expel the Dutch VVD for joining a Freedom party-led government in the Netherlands. “Hayer has said En Marche cannot sit in one group with VVD. Then does En Marche have to find something new?” Welle asks.

After the deck of European parties has been reshuffled, von der Leyen will have to woo enough “frenemies” to win a simple majority for a second term. While she is likely to be able to count on the support of the mainstream centrist parties, all eyes will be on the Greens and the ECR.

Chart du jour: Musical chairs

Polls predict that a right-of-centre majority could emerge in the European parliament for the first time. Click here for the full interactive chart — and five things to look out for when the results start appearing.

History’s echoes

Eighty years after American, British and allied troops landed in Europe to fight a revanchist dictator, US President Joe Biden made clear the US had lost none of its readiness to do it again.

Context: Leaders gathered in Normandy yesterday to mark the 80th anniversary of the D-Day landings that ultimately liberated western Europe from Nazi Germany. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, whose country was invaded by Russia in February 2022, was also present.

“Ukraine has been invaded by a tyrant bent on domination . . . To surrender to bullies, to bow down to dictators, is simply unthinkable,” Biden said in a speech. “We would be forgetting what happened here on these hallowed beaches.”

D-Day, the largest-ever naval assault in history, was a “powerful illustration of how alliances, real alliances make us stronger”, Biden said. “A lesson that I pray we Americans never forget.”

The underlying warning was stark. His rival in November’s election, former president Donald Trump, has vowed not to defend European allies who don’t spend enough on their militaries, and his long-standing isolationist rhetoric has spooked EU leaders who worry that he will break the transatlantic bonds forged in the second world war.

“Isolationism was not the answer 80 years ago and it is not the answer today,” Biden said.

Zelenskyy, who shared a moving moment with a D-Day veteran during yesterday’s ceremony, will today discuss Europe’s current war with French President Emmanuel Macron, who is set to outline France’s future military commitments to Kyiv.

Macron said last night this would include Mirage fighter jets.

What to watch today

  1. French President Emmanuel Macron hosts Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

  2. Voting in Ireland and the Czech Republic for the European parliamentary elections.

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