What a Euros ’24! But I’m Not Talking Football…

14 mins. to read
What a Euros ’24! But I’m Not Talking Football…
European Elections Night 2024

The Earthquake That Never Happened

No, this is not about the football tournament which begins today – there are hacks elsewhere who pontificate on that much more competently than I could. This is about the elections for the European Parliament across 27 European states which concluded last Sunday (09 June).

The sub-headline in the Independent on Tuesday morning was “Europe’s far right has humiliated the European establishment”. Well, we were expecting the “populists”, the “far-right” and the “hard-right” (all inadequate soubriquets in my view) to make advances in the first European election in which Britain did not participate since direct popular elections to the Strasbourg stroke Brussels Parliament were inaugurated in June 1979.

In fact, the results were much more nuanced than the Independent proclaimed and speak of more than just European voters’ disaffection with mass illegal immigration – which is clearly widely resented.

The reality is that the European People’s Party (EPP) – the alliance of centrist and centre-right political parties – is still overwhelmingly the largest political bloc in the European Parliament with 189 out of 720 seats. The President of the EU Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, hails from this centre-right grouping and is very likely to be awarded another five-year term in due course. She describes the EPP as Europe’s “anchor of stability”. The Socialists and Democrats (S&D) now count for 135 seats and the Liberals for 80. The two “right-wing” blocs in the European Parliament are the Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) in fourth place with 73 seats (up four) and Identity and Democracy (ID) in fifth place with 58 seats (up nine).

So, the first take-away is: Nothing much is going to change in Brussels for now – despite the angry voices and the banner headlines about “the march of the right”. The centre-right, the centre-left plus the liberals still constitute a majority in the European Parliament.

The EPP, to which the British Conservative Party was attached in the dim distant days before Brexit, is not only well represented but is also united. The so-called “far-right”, in contrast, is highly fragmented. Indeed, if the term “far-right” has any meaning at all, it refers to a bunch of heterogenous pugilists who often fall out with one another.

France’s Rassemblement National (RN) has fallen out big time with Germany’s Alternative für Deutschland (AfD). Naturally, the French right have never forgotten the wartime Nazi occupation – yet a minority of the AfD people sound like Nazi apologists. They don’t even want to sit next to one another in that august chamber anymore. AfD will have to sit next to Viktor Orbán’s Fidesz Party (down by 13 seats).

We should therefore not assume, as much of mainstream media does, that all political groupings of the so-called “far-right” are one thing, nor that they all see eye-to-eye. Although it is true that they all want to cut migration, they are all opposed to “gender nonsense” and they are all sceptical of the net zero carbon by 2050 agenda. But the fact that the right is fragmented means that the centrist bloc has all the more influence.

However, seen from Russia, the surge in votes for right-wing parties which are often lukewarm over support for Ukraine, is welcome. Ex-president Dmitri Medvedev posted on X that the results reflected France and Germany’s “inept” Ukraine policy.

The Fallout In France

“The rise of nationalists and demagogues is a danger for our nation and also for Europe”.

So proclaimed President Macron on Sunday evening just as the polls closed. The “right-wing” Rassemblement National (National Rally or RN – formerly the National Front) had won 31.4 percent of the national vote in France while President Macron’s Renaissance had polled not even half that with 14.6 percent.

And then, right on live TV, he dissolved the Assemblée National and declared legislative elections which, as is the French way, will take place over two rounds on Sunday, 30 June and Sunday, 06 July. Thus, France will almost certainly have a new government in time for the Paris 2024 Olympics opening ceremony on Friday, 26 July.

The UK general election being on Thursday, 04 July, there will be a lot of election results for politics buffs to digest that week. By last Monday morning, France was in the grip of election fever. One must admire a nation which can pull off an election in just three weeks as against six weeks here. High-speed trains, anybody?

But why did Emmanuel Macron fire the election starting pistol so precipitously? For me, there are parallels with Rishi Sunak’s charge into the Valley of Death which so many Tories now resent. Does he really think he can win, even if he devoutly believes he deserves to win? The same question could be asked of Mr Sunak.

Both are technocrats who interrogate spreadsheets for much of the day; and both are without deep political roots or allegiances who were accelerated into office without the years of glad-handing and place-holding that traditional French and British politicians were once expected to endure. (The contrast with seasoned Joe Biden could not be starker). Macron was born in 1977 and Sunak in 1980 – the first in Amiens, and the second in Southampton: both historically important provincial cities in economic decline. Both gentlemen are immensely clever, and yet lack emotional intelligence. Both men will be swept from the political stage soon – though Mr Sunak’s exit stage-left is imminent. One looks forward to seeing them sermonising and back-slapping together at Davos, come the end of the decade.

More sophisticated outlets of the French media, such as Le Point, consider that Macron has made a high-risk gamble for reasons that are hard to discern. True, the opposition had been threatening to pass a no-confidence motion in the autumn to oppose an expected €25 billion of public spending cuts but that might have been winnable.

If the RN wins the legislative elections with the largest representation in the Assemblée National, then Macron will have to appoint the RN leader as prime minister. This is where things become opaque – even by French standards. The nominee for RN prime minister would not be Marine Le Pen who has already run for Président de la République three times and will almost certainly make a fourth bid in 2027. She is the prospective presidential candidate but is not the acting head of the party. Rather, it would be Jordan Bardella, a fresh-faced 28-year old TikTok-er whom Le Pen has appointed as party chief.

It should be noted that the RN is a clan, controlled by the Le Pen family since the 1980s. Le Pen pèreJean-Marie Le Pen, still with us, aged 95 – made it into the second round of the French presidential election of 2002. It is therefore of interest that Monsieur Bardella is in a relationship with Marine Le Pen’s niece. It is a matter of Cosa Nostra. Keep it in the family.

The current prime minister of France, Gabriel Attal, is comparatively ancient, aged 35 years old (though he looks about seventeen). At least Monsieur Attal is a political ally of his president and head of state. But it is perfectly possible for a French president to appoint a prime minister who is a political opponent. Remember that under the constitution of the Fifth Republic, inaugurated by General Charles de Gaulle in 1959, the President is an elected monarch and can rule the Republic by decree, if necessary. When a President appoints a prime minister of another political colour, that is called “cohabitation”. It has happened numerous times before, most notably under the long reign of François Mitterrand (president 1981-1995).

Thus, the political chatter goes, subtle Macron will invite an ingénu to become prime minister in the strong expectation that he will fail; and that, thereafter, the mojo will spring back to the sensible centre-right (and thence to Macron’s 2027 successor, who might well be Monsieur Attal). That will stymie a Marine Le Pen victory in 2027. All this seems like a high-risk strategy to me. If the next French government fails, it will be France that suffers.

The other hypothesis is based on a strange quirk in the constitution of the Fifth Republic. If President Macron were to serve to the end of his second term in 2027, he would be barred for standing from a third term. But – supposedly – if he were to resign from office before 2027, he could legally stand again for a third term. Remember that De Gaulle, who wrote the 1958 constitution, agreed with Napoleon that constitutions should be intentionally vague. And, by the way, De Gaulle resigned the presidency in 1969 because he felt he could not govern.

Some commentators in France have put the surprise decision on Sunday down to a temper tantrum – a throwing of constitutional toys out of the presidential pram. The mayor of Beziers, Robert Menard, explained to an interviewer, that “Macron’s narcissism is stronger than his political logic”.

On Tuesday (11 June), the French political elite was shaken by a proposal of marriage from France’s centre-right Republican Party to the RN. President Macron said that the Republican leader, Eric Ciotti, was making a “pact with the devil”. After an emergency meeting of the Republican party’s executive committee, however, Monsieur Ciotti was booted out. So, the marriage is off – for now at least. The Republicans have often been considered an analogue to Britain’s Tories. (Past Republican presidents include Jaques Chirac and Nicolas Sarkozy).

Again, this echoes the political evolution of the UK, where some commentators anticipate that, after a general election defeat, the Tory Party will fall prey to a reverse takeover by Reform UK. How that might be engineered depends on Reform’ performance in the 4 July general election – but it is conceivable. (Although, as Petronella Wyatt wrote yesterday, Margaret Thatcher would have despised Nigel Farage. Many traditional Tories would not buy it).

Meanwhile the French left, which has always been divided between moderate socialists and hard-line Marxists, is attempting to coalesce. The Communists, Greens and Socialists are now getting into bed, with Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s La France Insoumise (France Unbowed). A further player joined this coalition on Wednesday – the New Anti-Capitalist Party (NPA), which has expressed solidarity with Hamas.

Overall, there is little hope that after 7 July France will emerge as a stable, cohesive nation at ease with itself. A sell-off in French government bonds has already dragged down European indices. There are even fears of a Truss-style financial wobble.

Germany: The “Traffic Lights Coalition” Looks Sickly

The three parties that have formed Germany’s coalition government since December 2021 – the Social Democratic Party led by Olaf Scholz, the Greens and the Freedom Party – all retreated, while the AfD advanced in the German poll last weekend. Chancellor Scholz’s SPD came third overall behind the Christian Democrats (CDU – Angela Merkel’s party) and the AfD. It is significant that the CDU has regained popularity by relaxing its stance on net zero and adopting a more robust stance towards immigration. The Chancellor has, thus far, resisted calls to dissolve the Bundestag and to go to the country like President Macron. But Herr Scholz, who has a personal approval rating of minus 51 percent, is wounded.

The AfD came second with 15.9 percent of the vote, despite – or perhaps because of – its highly controversial recent policy to strip non-ethnic Germans of their citizenship. On Monday, AfD announced that one name on its list – that of Maximilian Krah – would not be heading to Brussels because he told an Italian newspaper that not all of the elite Nazi SS unit were criminals.


Viktor Orbán’s Fidesz fell back in Hungary where a new centre-right and explicitly anti-Orban party, Tisza, won almost 30 percent of the vote. Fidesz finished with 45 percent (down 8 points) – the first time since 2004 that it has won less than half of the national vote. Given Orbán’s grip over Hungary’s media, this is a significant result. An anti-corruption party set up by a former Fidesz member came in second. Orbán is often cited as Vladimir Putin’s best friend in the EU.

In Poland, Donald Tusk’s moderate Civic Platform finished first with 37.1 percent. Mr Tusk was, of course, a former leader of the European People’s Party in the European Parliament and was President of the European Council. Civic’s rival, the Law & Justice Party, which held power until last December, polled 36.2 percent, losing six seats. A new “hard-right” grouping, Confederation, won 12 percent of the poll.

The “far-right” Freedom Party topped the poll in Austria for the first time. Austria’s Freedom Party (confusingly, there are several parties across Europe which go by that name), like nearly all right-wing parties, does not want Austria to leave the EU; but it wants the EU budget to be slashed by half and for many powers wielded in Brussels to be devolved back to national capitals. The party is expected to win Austria’s general election which will take place on 29 September.

Northern Lights

A group of Viking right-wingers, The Sweden Democrats, already in the governing coalition, fell 2 points to 13.2 percent of the Swedish vote. They came fourth behind the Social Democrats, the Moderates and the Greens. And in sober Denmark the right-wing party, the Denmark Democrats came fifth with just 7.4 percent of the vote. The left has remained in power in Denmark under Social Democrat Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen by adopting robust anti-immigration policies. Denmark repatriates all illegal immigrants whenever possible. One wonders if the new prospective Labour government in the UK will take note.

Italy: The “Right-Wing” Becomes Respectable

Georgia Meloni’s Fratelli d’Italia came top in the European elections in Italy with 28.8 percent of the vote – largely at the expense of the “far-right” Lega, led by Matteo Salvini. After 12 months in office, Georgia looks like a respectable member of the European establishment. Even Frau von der Leyen is vowing to work with her party in the European Parliament. Commentators expect Italy’s influence to grow in Brussels henceforth. The Fratelli will sit alongside Poland’s Law and Justice Party.

When Georgia Meloni first came to power in October 2022, commentators, not least at the BBC, talked about Italy’s “lurch to the far right” – Le Fratelli allegedly has roots back to Mussolini’s fascists. It is certainly true that Meloni, like many others, is concerned about the waves of migrants landing on Europe’s southern shores but her economic policy is essentially centre-right and she has sought to foster cordial and pragmatic relations with Brussels. Judging by the body language at the G-7 summit in Bari yesterday, she seems to enjoy a particularly warm friendship with Mr Sunak.


In the Netherlands, Geert Wilders’ Freedom Party (PVV), which is often said to be anti-Islam, came second with 17.7 percent of the vote. PVV will have six seats in the new parliament. The Labour-Green coalition polled most votes with 21.6 percent.

Belgian prime minister Alexander de Croo resigned after losing to Flemish nationalist parties. Vlaams Belang (VB – “Flemish Interest”) took 14.5 percent of the vote. De Croo will remain as caretaker leader until a new federal government can be formed (which may take some time).


In Spain, the conservative Partido Popular triumphed over the ruling Socialists with 34.2 percent of the vote. A new right-wing party called The Party’s Over won three seats in the European Parliament. Another Spanish nationalist party, Vox, won 9.6 percent of the vote increasing its seats from four to six. Vox opposes any further transfer of sovereignty to Brussels but, once again, does not advocate leaving the bloc.

Chega, a nationalist party which is aligned with France’s RN, won 9.8 percent of the vote in Portugal, thus gaining two seats in the European Parliament.

Meanwhile, Back In Blighty…

Brexit is the ghost at the feast of the UK general election of 2024. Neither main party wants to mention it but they both see it in their peripheral vision.

The irony is that having spent five years of aggravation leaving the European Union – supposedly because Britain was “different” – UK politics has taken on a fundamentally European complexion. There are uncanny parallels right now between British and French politics. And indeed, in our economic challenges – principally limp growth.

It is quite possible that future historians will judge that it was Brexit that finally destroyed the Tory Party, which was the “natural party of government” for nearly 200 years. When David Cameron called the Brexit referendum in February 2016 he opened Pandora’s Box. It was a fantastically high-risk tactic which I called out in one of my early pieces in these pages. I was not alone in thinking that it might blow up in his face.

Not even a political genius (and Mr Farage is not one) can control the consequences of lost consensus. As for Labour, Sir Keir Starmer and David Lammy will find that the friendly Social Democratic European Union of fond memory no longer exists.

Comments (3)

  • Bob Mackintosh says:

    Possibly Brexit has had more influence on European politics than you acknowledge Victor? (at least “acknowledge by omission”, in this present blog). I voted leave, but it was not with the wish that it should be permanent, but just until the European environment returned to a more European market flavour, as of yore.

  • Nichoals Lewis says:

    Another excellent read and puts a different perspective of the EU elections than I originally thought from just letting a few headlines inform me.

  • Pierre says:

    Please note for further reference that in France / French it is “Assemblée Nationale”, not “Assemblée National”.
    (national is an adjective and adapt to the gender of Assemblée, which is feminine : une assemblée)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *