European Parliament Elections: Key Takeaways

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Voters in the 27 European Union member states sent a stern warning to mainstream political powers, wreaking havoc on French and, to a lesser degree, German politics and rewarding hard-line nationalist parties in a number of countries.

Even so, the radical right-wing wave dreaded by the European political establishment did not fully materialize; the center of European Union politics held.

Here are the most important trends emerging from the elections.

The mainstream center-right group, the European People’s Party, performed strongly and finished first, not only maintaining its dominance in the European Parliament but adding a few seats to boot. It was a sign that its strategy over the past two years, to integrate more right-leaning policies in order to stop voters from abandoning for further-right rivals, delivered.

The political group spearhead over the past five years, the Green Deal, one of the world’s most ambitious climate change policies; but more recently watered down some of the policies adopted at E.U. level, heeding pressure from important constituents in the rural vote. It also led a significant tightening of the European Union’s migration policy, going some, but not all the way, in assuaging concerns of voters who want to put a quick stop to irregular migration.

The conservatives’ thunder was stolen by a blockbuster performance by Marine Le Pen’s ultranationalist National Rally in France. They scored twice the support of President Emmanuel Macron’s Renaissance party, prompting him to dissolve the National Assembly and call for snap legislative elections.

The Alternative for Germany, or AfD, an ultranationalist party that has been designated a “suspected” extremist group by the German authorities, soared to second place in the polls there, although trailing far behind the winner, the conservatives. It trumped Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s Social Democrats, leaving him further weakened as he continues to struggle at the head of a shaky coalition.

The center-right’s strong performance was not replicated in the two other major European Parliament centrist groups. The Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats, traditionally the second-biggest power in the house, maintained its strength and, more or less, the number of its seats. But the Liberals lost big, weakening the informal centrist coalition of pro-European Union powers that generally underpins the passage of legislation in the European Parliament, despite their differences.

Together, the three will control more than 400 seats in the new Parliament, which will be inaugurated on July 16. That seems a comfortable majority, but discipline in political group voting can at times be weak, and tactical alliances may be necessary down the line to ensure laws are passed. The first test of the new, weaker parliamentary majority, will be the confirmation of the European Commission president, the bloc’s top official, penciled in for July 18.

From a policy perspective, the electoral resilience of the centrist powers will translate into some continuity, particularly in preserving the European Union’s support of Ukraine.

The Greens were the night’s biggest losers: having performed well in 2019 and emerged as an important progressive power in the Parliament, they lost a quarter of their seats in the new elections.

This was largely foreseen: Voters switched out of the environmentally focused party for two key reasons. Environmentally minded voters found that the Green agenda had been, to a high degree, integrated in other bigger mainstream parties. In a way, the Greens had lost their unique selling point.

But other voters felt that the green agenda in Europe has gone too far, hurting farmers and more broadly rural voters.

Even so, the Greens could emerge as a reserve pool of support for the three centrists, despite their diminished seats.

The conservatives had, before the elections, floated the idea of roping in the European Conservatives and Reformists, a further right-wing group dominated by Italy’s prime minister, Giorgia Meloni. This would have been a big no-no for the conservatives’ other centrist allies, especially those on the left and center left who view the group and Ms. Meloni as radicals in mainstream clothes.

With the centrist majority holding, the need to turn to Ms. Meloni and the members of European Parliament she controls, seems to have mostly evaporated for now. While the conservatives may still need to partner with this group in Parliament on a tactical basis, it appears unlikely that they will need to rely on them.

That said, Ms. Meloni remains a key European Union member state leader, with an outsize presence that has influenced the political landscape and already pulled many policies her way. She performed very well at home, quite unlike the leaders of the other major E.U. countries, reasserting her dominance.

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