The Irish Times view on the new European Parliament: a shift to the right

Old taboos about voting for parties with fascist associations are breaking down

It was a good day for the nationalist and ultraconservative right in the European Parliament elections. But, to the relief of mainstream parties, perhaps not as good as they expected or hoped for – no landslide, and some significant setbacks.

The populist right made significant gains in France, Austria, Cyprus, Spain, Greece and the Netherlands. In Italy, prime minister Giorgia Meloni’s hard-right Brothers of Italy is on top, with 26 to 31 per cent of the vote. But the new right’s Hungarian champion, Viktor Orbán, faced a real challenge and his Polish allies, Law and Justice, failed to shake the majority of Donald Tusk’s government. In the Belgian general election the Flemish independence-supporting Vlaams Belang also failed in its bid to top the poll in its community.

The German chancellor’s Social Democrats were crushed by the centre-right Christian Democrats and the far-right Alternative for Germany. But although the latter expanded its vote on 2019, it underperformed its recent polls.

Although the hard right will take up to a quarter of seats, up from the 5 per cent they won 15 years ago, the centre-right-left alliance that has for years controlled the parliament looks to have retained a comfortable if depleted majority. With counting still continuing, observers predict the centre-right European People’s Party (including Fine Gael) is on track to win 189 seats, leaving the Socialists and Democrats in second place with 135 seats. The liberal Renew group (Fianna Fáil) on 83, lost heavily but is holding on to third place.

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With 361 votes required for a majority, and if Europe’s leaders decide as expected to give Commission president Ursula von der Leyen a second term, her approval looks assured, despite some anticipated defections.

In France, president Emmanuel Macron’s shock decision to call a general election in the face of massive gains by Marine Le Pen’s National Rally reflects a perhaps naive belief that the electorate can be shocked by its own irresponsibility into returning to the fold.

The election has been seen in France and elsewhere – though not, apparently, in Ireland – as a chance for voters to vent frustration with their countries’ leaderships in a relatively low-stakes contest. Macron’s gamble is that they might feel differently about voting in difficult times to elect a party that has never been near government.

The election has significantly shifted the dial of European politics to the right. Ominously, old taboos about voting for parties with fascist associations are breaking down. So, unfortunately, is some parties’ refusal to do deals with them. The result is that by 2025, 10 of the EU’s 27 states, including France, could be governed by coalitions that include or are supported by populist or far-right parties.

Not a happy prospect.

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