Tuesday, June 18, 2024

Europe’s destiny

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Two days after India completed its mammoth seven-phase elections over two and a half months to elect 543 members of the Lok Sabha in 28 states and Union Territories, Europe went to the polls, completing in four days (June 6-9) elections to 720 seats among 27 member-countries. The two elections are not strictly comparable since the exercise in India was for a national Parliament whereas the European Union (EU) elections were for a supra-national Parliament that decides pan-European, not national, laws. But the results of the European Parliament elections are no less consequential. The EU is the world’s second-largest economy, so the EU Parliament has a powerful voice in critical global issues, among them climate change, trade standards, immigration laws, and support for Ukraine and Gaza. Also, the choices of EU voters are a barometer of the popularity of national parties.

Unlike the Indian elections, which threw up a downside surprise for the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, the results from the EU Parliament ran on expected lines. Right and far-right parties gained significantly in the three countries with the largest number of Members of the European Parliament (MEPs). In Germany, which has the highest number of MEPs at 86, Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s Social Democratic Party came in third, behind the Conservative alliance of the Christian Democratic Union and Christian Social Union, and the extreme-right Alternative for Germany (AfD). In France, with the second-highest number of MEPs at 81, the biggest gainers were Marine Le Pen’s Eurosceptic, xenophobic Identity and Democracy Party, with 58 seats, nine more than in 2019 and 30 per cent of the vote, double of Emmanuel Macron’s Renaissance Party. This poor showing prompted President Macron to dissolve Parliament and call for snap elections in the next 30 days. In Italy, with 76 MEPs, Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni’s Brothers of Italy gained 14 seats, placing her in a strong position as Italy readies to host the G7 on June 13. Maverick right-winger Viktor Orban’s Fidesz Party in Hungary also won 44 per cent of the vote but this result was considered a setback since he dropped 11 per cent of the vote to an emerging centrist challenger, Tisza. These results, too, are significant because Hungary is due to take over the six-month presidency of the Council of the EU in July.

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Much of the gain from the far-right has come at the cost of the Greens, which lost 19 seats, and the liberal Renew, which lost 22 seats. On the whole, however, the liberal-conservative centre has managed to hold. EU Commissioner Ursula von der Leyen’s European People’s Party remains the biggest grouping in the European Parliament with 184 seats, a gain of eight over 2019. The Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats (S&D), a pan-European party of socialists, with 139 seats is the second-strongest bloc, and there are 99 non-aligned seats, a gain of 37. The right-wing parties are by no means a united bloc — Ms Meloni’s party is at odds with the AfD for its stated neo-Nazi sympathies, for example. But their stronger showing suggests that polarisation in Europe has deepened. This development, when combined with the prospect of Donald Trump’s return to the White House in November, is deeply concerning for the future of global stability and peace.

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