The traditional centrist leaders of Europe have been assailed from the nationalist, anti-immigration far-right and environmental activist left in last night’s polarised EU elections. The continent-wide poll will force pro-European moderates into forging new alliances.
Right now, the main issue uniting those occupying Europe’s centre ground is their refusal to work with far-right groups whose ranks are made up of nationalist parties led by the likes of Matteo Salvini, who has been likened to Donald Trump for his far-right views, in Italy and Marine Le Pen, who faced controversy after saying Nazis were ‘humane’, in France.
Salvini’s Lega party (the League) won majority in a shock result in Italy, with the leader saying: ‘A new Europe is born’. He has turned himself into a figurehead of the nationalist far-right movement in Europe.
Italian Deputy Prime Minister and Interior Minister Salvini’s party got 33.6 per cent of the votes in the country (Picture: AFP) Salvini told RAI state television that his League, Marine Le Pen’s National Rally and Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party together should control 90 seats and that other populist parties could bring the number to at least 150.
Salvini said: ‘Not only is the League the first party in Italy, but Marine Le Pen is first in France, Nigel Farage is first in Great Britain. ‘Therefore, Italy, France and England: the sign of a Europe that is changing, that is fed up.’
With most votes counted across the continent of a half billion people, Salvini’s hardline League party emerged as the largest in Italy, while Ms Le Pen inflicted a painful defeat on pro-European French president Emmanuel Macron. The parties celebrated landmark triumphs as European election results emerged on Sunday night and into Monday morning from four days of voting for the 751-seat European Parliament.
French far-right Rassemblement National (RN) President and member of Parliament Le Pen’s party secured 23.5 per cent of the vote, one per cent over Macron’s LaREM+MoDem party.
Group leader, Manfred Weber, said that ‘from now on those who want to have a strong European Union have to join forces’. He insisted his group would not cooperate ‘with any party that doesn’t believe in the future of the European Union’.
The party of longtime German chancellor Angela Merkel, a European Union stalwart, also lost ground, although it was the Greens and not the far-right Alternative for Germany that made big gains in her country. Negotiations will start on Monday between groups in the parliament that sits in Brussels and Strasbourg to find a coalition with a workable majority. On Tuesday night, European leaders shuttle into Brussels to discuss carving up the bloc’s top jobs for the next five years (but Brexit could happen before British MEPs take their seats).
Perhaps sensing that the 28-nation EU was at a historic tipping point, voters went to the ballot boxes in force, with the turnout of 50.95% the highest in 20 years. Nigel Farage’s the Brexit Party ruled the UK elections with 31.7 per cent.
Despite making gains, the vote was hardly the watershed anticipated by Europe’s far-right populists, who have vowed to dilute the European Union from within in favour of national sovereignty. Pro-EU parties still were expected to win about two-thirds of the legislature’s seats, according to the projections released by the parliament and based on the results rolling in overnight.
Greece’s governing party called early national elections after losing ground. President Emmanuel Macron secured a kingmaker role that could determine the next five years of EU politics despite his party suffering a defeat. German Chancellor Angela Merkel and her Christian Democratic Union Party finished third in and was humiliated by the Greens/Alliance 90.
Riding a wave of popular protests in recent months calling for urgent action to tackle climate change, Greens were forecast to increase their holding in the EU parliament from 52 to 70 seats, making the group potential kingmakers in negotiations to form a new majority grouping.
Frans Timmermans of the Socialists and Democrats group, another of the traditional European powerhouses, said he wants to work together with other progressive parties to convince voters that Europe can benefit them – a message deliberately opposed to populist and nationalist claims that the bloc is a cumbersome, meddlesome waste of money.
Timmermans, a candidate to become the next president of the EU’s executive commission, said he wants to ‘try and build a programme that addresses the aspirations the dreams and also sometimes the fears’ of Europeans.