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Early estimates suggest shift to far right as EU elections near end

People vote in European and local elections in Baleni, Romania (Vadim Ghirda/AP)
People vote in European and local elections in Baleni, Romania (Vadim Ghirda/AP)

The first major estimates coming out of the European Union parliamentary elections suggest that the far right will make gains in the legislature, buoyed by results in France and Germany, leaving the Greens to take the hardest hit.

The party of Marine Le Pen dominated the polls in France, with her National Rally party standing at just over 30% or about twice as much as President Emmanuel Macron’s pro-European centrist party that is projected to reach around 15%.

In Germany, the most populous nation in the 27-member bloc, projections indicated that the extreme right Alternative for Germany (AfD) overcame a string of scandals involving its top candidate to rise to 16.5% from 11% in 2019 and become the second biggest party.

People stand on the outside esplanade during a voting night event at the European Parliament in Brussels
People stand on the outside esplanade during a voting event at the European Parliament in Brussels (Virginia Mayo/AP)

In comparison, the combined result for the three parties in the German governing coalition barely topped 30%.

“After all the prophecies of doom, after the barrage of the last few weeks, we are the second strongest force,” said AfD leader Alice Weidel.

The European Union, which has its roots in the defeat of Nazi Germany and fascist Italy, kept the hard right to the fringes of politics for decades.

With its strong showing in these elections, the far right could now become a major player in policies ranging from migration to security and climate.

In sharp contrast, the Greens were predicted to fall from 20% to 12% in Germany, a traditional bulwark for environmentalists, with more losses expected in France and several other EU nations.

Their defeat could well have an impact on the EU’s overall climate change policies that still stand out as the most progressive across the globe.

The centre-right Christian Democratic bloc of EU Commission president Ursula von der Leyen, which already weakened its green credentials ahead of the polls, dominated in Germany with almost 30%, beating the Social Democratic party of Chancellor Olaf Scholz, which fell to 14%, even behind the AfD.

“What you have already set as a trend is all the better – strongest force, stable, in difficult times and by a distance,” Ms von der Leyen told her German supporters by video link from Brussels.

Helpers work on the postal ballots for the European elections in a hall of the fair sound in Frankfurt, Germany
Helpers work on the postal ballots for the European elections in Frankfurt, Germany (Michael Probst/AP)

As well as France, the hard right, which focused its campaign on migration and crime, was expected to make significant gains in Italy, where Premier Giorgia Meloni was tipped to consolidate her power.

Voting will continue in Italy until late in the evening and many of the 27 member states have not yet released any projections.

Nonetheless, data already released confirmed earlier predictions: the EU’s massive exercise in democracy is expected to shift the bloc to the right and redirect its future.

The war in Ukraine, migration, and the impact of climate policy on farmers weighed on voters’ minds as they cast ballots to elect 720 members of the European Parliament for the next five-year term.

With the centre losing seats to hard right parties, the EU could find it harder to pass legislation and decision-making could at times be paralysed in the world’s biggest trading bloc.

“I do hope that we will manage to avoid a shift to the right and that Europe will somehow remain united,” voter Laura Simon said in Berlin.

EU legislators have a say in issues from financial rules to climate and agriculture policy.

They approve the EU budget, which bankrolls priorities including infrastructure projects, farm subsidies and aid delivered to Ukraine.

And they hold a veto over appointments to the powerful EU commission.

These elections come at a testing time for voter confidence in a bloc of some 450 million people.

A woman exits a voting booth in Paris, France
A woman exits a voting booth in Paris, France (Michel Euler/AP)

Over the last five years, the EU has been shaken by the coronavirus pandemic, an economic slump and an energy crisis fuelled by the biggest land conflict in Europe since the Second World War.

But political campaigning often focuses on issues of concern in individual countries rather than on broader European interests.

Sunday’s voting marathon winds up a four-day election cycle that began in the Netherlands on Thursday.

An unofficial exit poll there suggested that Mr Wilders’ anti-migrant hard right party would make important gains in the Netherlands, even though a coalition of pro-European parties has probably pushed it into second place.

Casting his vote in the Flanders region, Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo, whose country holds the EU’s rotating presidency until the end of the month, warned that Europe is “at a crossroads” and “more under pressure than ever”.

Since the last EU election in 2019, populist or far-right parties now lead governments in three nations – Hungary, Slovakia and Italy – and are part of ruling coalitions in others including Sweden, Finland and, soon, the Netherlands.

Polls give the populists an advantage in France, Belgium, Austria and Italy.

The first official results will be published after the last polling stations in the 27 EU nations close in Italy at 11pm (2100 GMT), but a clear picture of what the new assembly might look like will only emerge on Monday.