June 14th, 2024

German and Dutch exit polls suggest a shift to the hard right as voting in EU elections nears an end


By Lorne Cook, Raf Casert And Samuel Petrequin, The Associated Press on June 9, 2024.

Commuters wait at a bus stop as an election poster depicting Greece's Kyriakos Mitsotakis reads "Steadily closer to Europe" in Athens, Greece, Friday, June 7, 2024. The European Election will take place on June 9. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)

BRUSSELS (AP) – The first major exit polls coming out of the European Union parliamentary elections Sundaysuggest that the hard right will rise in the legislature despite a series of scandals in Germany, the bloc’s biggest nation.

The exit poll in Germany indicated that the Alternative for Germany, or AfD, rose to 16.5%, while the governing coalition led by Social Democratic Chancellor Olaf Scholz lost, falling to 14%. It comes on the heels of major gains for the far right in the Netherlands, where the party of Geert Wilders is in a neck-and-neck race with a Socialist-Green alliance.

Even though polling will continue in Italy until late in the evening and many of the 27 member states have not yet released any projections, the indications confirmed what earlier surveys and analysists had predicted: 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 are some of the issues weighing on voters’ minds as they cast ballots to elect 720 members of the European Parliament.

Surveys suggest that mainstream and pro-European parties will retain their majority in parliament, but they will lose seats to hard right parties like those led by Italian Premier Giorgia Meloni, Hungarian leader Viktor Orbán, Geert Wilders in the Netherlands and Marine Le Pen in France.

That would make it harder for Europe to pass legislation and could at times paralyze decision-making 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 lawmakers 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. Over the last five years, the EU has been shaken by the coronavirus pandemic, an economic slump and an energy crisis fueled 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 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.

“Right is good,” Hungarian Prime Minister Orbán, who leads a stridently nationalist and anti-migrant government, told reporters after casting his ballot. “To go right is always good. Go right!”

After the election comes a period of horse-trading, as political parties reconsider in their places in the continent-wide alliances that run the European legislature.

The biggest political group – the center-right European People’s Party (EPP) – has moved further right during the present elections on issues like security, climate and migration.

Among the most watched questions is whether the Brothers of Italy – the governing party of populist Meloni, which has neo-fascist roots – stays in the more hard-line European Conservatives and Reformists group or becomes part of a new hard right group that could form the wake of the elections. Meloni also has the option to work with the EPP.

A more worrying scenario for pro-European parties would be if the ECR joins forces with Le Pen’s Identity and Democracy group to consolidate hard-right influence.

The second biggest group – the center-left Socialists and Democrats – and the Greens refuse to align themselves with the ECR.

Questions also remain over what group Orbán’s ruling Fidesz party might join. It was previously part of the EPP but was forced out in 2021 due to conflicts over its interests and values. The far-right Alternative for Germany was kicked out of the Identity and Democracy group following a string of scandals surrounding its two lead candidates for the European Parliament.

The election also ushers in a period of uncertainty as new leaders are chosen for the European institutions. While lawmakers are jostling over places in alliances, governments will be competing to secure top EU jobs for their national officials.

Chief among them is the presidency of the powerful executive branch, the European Commission, which proposes laws and watches to ensure they are respected. The commission also controls the EU’s purse strings, manages trade and is Europe’s competition watchdog.

Other plum posts are those of European Council president, who chairs summits of presidents and prime ministers, and EU foreign policy chief, the bloc’s top diplomat.

Unofficial estimates are due to trickle in from 1615 GMT. The first official results will be published after the last polling stations in the 27 EU nations close in Italy at 11 p.m. (2100 GMT), but a clear picture of what the new assembly might look like will only emerge on Monday.

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Associated Press journalists Sylvain Plazy in Brussels and Geir Moulson in Berlin contributed to this report.

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See AP’s coverage of global elections in 2024 here.

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