Five takeaways from the European parliament elections

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Good morning. “The constructive, pro-European centre has held,” European parliament president Roberta Metsola said last night as election results trickled in. Indeed, despite a surge in votes for far-right parties, the two main centrist groups increased their aggregate share of the chamber.

Today, we bring you the five main takeaways from election night, and a dispatch from Belgium’s federal election that took place simultaneously.

Meloni, Le Pen and AfD surge

Far-right parties had their best-ever European parliament election with major gains in France, Germany and Italy, and collectively won almost a quarter of the chamber’s seats.

Marine Le Pen’s Rassemblement National scored the most striking victory, winning 30 of the country’s 81 seats, and more than double the votes of President Emmanuel Macron’s Renew party. That political massacre prompted Macron to call a snap election.

Elsewhere, Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni’s Brothers of Italy won 24 seats and increased her share of the national vote, and the Alternative for Germany (AfD) came second in Germany and snapped up 15 seats. Far-right parties topped the polls in Austria and Hungary, too.

The far right also made important gains in Spain after the shock appearance of a new party led by a social media influencer and in Cyprus the far-right ELAM party clinched its first-ever seat in the parliament.

Liberal strife

As well as the big blow in France, the liberal Renew group lost heavily in Germany and Spain, declining overall from 102 to 80 seats. It held on to third place thanks to increased support in countries such as Slovakia.

Today, its leaders are expected to discuss whether the Dutch VVD should be expelled given its support for a coalition in the Netherlands which includes the far right, a decision that pits party ethics versus a desire not to lose even more seats in parliament.

Mixed bag for von der Leyen

Ursula von der Leyen’s bid for a second five-year term as the EU’s most powerful official remains on track — but is by no means a certainty.

The European People’s party (EPP), of which she was the official lead candidate, won handsomely — its sixth victory on the bounce — and increased its number of seats. Party officials immediately declared she was the only legitimate candidate to lead the European Commission through to 2029.

But there’s nervousness over her traditional coalition’s size. The EPP, the Socialists & Democrats and Renew will hold some 403 seats. That gives her around 10 per cent leeway to win the 361 votes for a majority. Historically, the minimum defection rate in the secret ballot is 10 per cent, meaning she may need more friends.

Greens lose big

The upswing that the Greens enjoyed on the back of environmental enthusiasm was shortlived. Green parties secured 52 seats, the same result in the 2014 elections, and much less than the 71 they won in 2019.

Their heaviest losses were in the biggest member states and where they are in government, notably Germany, where they have been part of a coalition government proposing unpopular legislation such as an effective gas boiler ban.

Climate activists are deeply concerned. “European parties in the political centre carry a heavy responsibility to build a coalition without political forces that weaken Europe’s capacity to act for stable and ambitious climate policies,” said Vincent Hurkens of the climate think-tank E3G.

Unchanged turnout

Some 51 per cent of EU citizens voted across the continent — only a tiny bit more than in the last election, when 50.7 per cent cast votes. It’s also much less than the 71 per cent predicted by the last Eurobarometer survey.

Chart du jour: Take a seat

Click here for more charts on last night’s vote.

How will the elections change the EU? Join me and colleagues in Paris, Rome and elsewhere for a subscriber-exclusive webinar on June 12 and put your questions to our panel. Register for your subscriber pass now. Your pass also gives you access to a recording of the event.

Another election

Across town from the European parliament, Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo conceded his defeat in the country’s national elections, write Laura Dubois and Daria Mosolova.

Context: In parallel with the European parliament, Belgians yesterday also elected their federal and regional assemblies. To form a federal government, regional parties, which often don’t speak the same language, have to form a nationwide coalition.

Pollsters had predicted Vlaams Belang, the Dutch-speaking far-right party campaigning for the independence of Flanders, wouldcome in first and significantly complicate talks, given they want to break their country apart.

But VB in the end came in second, earning 20 of 150 parliamentary seats, and failing to overtake their less radical rivals, N-VA, who won 24 seats.

The liberal Reform Movement (MR) also had 20 seats, followed by the Socialist party (PS), which lost four seats, down to 16.

De Croo’s liberal Open Vld were among the biggest losers, earning 7 seats. “This is not the outcome we had hoped for,” a dejected De Croo told his supporters last night.

The politician, who has headed a seven-party coalition since 2019, hinted that he would not return in the next government. “We have lost this election,” he said. “Tomorrow, I will be resigning as prime minister . . . I will prepare everything for a proper transfer of the current files to a successor.”

But De Croo could hang around as caretaker for quite some time. Belgium has a record for lengthy coalition talks, and it’s possible there will be a new European Commission before the next Belgian government.

What to watch today

  1. Ursula von der Leyen holds a speech in Berlin following a meeting with her Christian Democrat party.

  2. German Chancellor Olaf Scholz hosts Chilean President Gabriel Boric.

Now read these

  • Nothing to show for: French football is on the verge of crisis, as the league operator struggles to find a broadcaster for the coming seasons.

  • ‘Stupid’ government: The chief of Germany’s Deutsche Börse has hit out at Chancellor Scholz for not doing enough to fix Germany’s economic woes.

  • Ideological battle: Italy’s Giorgia Meloni says solar panels are a “threat to food sovereignty” and is restricting their use on farmland. But farmers disagree.

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