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European Parliament: round-up from national capitals

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This weekend’s European parliamentary elections are the sum of 28 national contests, many of them highly charged races that will have major political repercussions domestically and will themselves reverberate across Europe. Here are the highlights from the FT’s European network.

The numbers in brackets indicate change from the 2014 European Parliament elections

France: Le Pen beats Macron in rematch

Emmanuel Macron casts his vote

France’s far-right National Rally narrowly beat Emmanuel Macron’s centrist La République en Marche party in a blow for the president in his first electoral test since coming to power two years ago.

Marine Le Pen’s party, which won in 2014, took 24 per cent of the vote just ahead of LREM on 22 per cent. The conservative Republicans plummeted to just 8 per cent while the socialists slumped to just over 6 per cent.

Although there were 34 party lists vying for votes in France, the contest quickly became a two-way battle between Mr Macron and Ms Le Pen.

France vote breakdown

European Parliament projections

Rassemblement National, far right: 23 per cent (-2)

La Republique en Marche, centrist: 22 per cent (+22)

Europe ecologie les Verts, green: 13 per cent (+4)

The Republicans, centre right: 8 per cent (-12)

France Insoumise, far left: 6 per cent (-3) and 6 seats (+2)

Socialist party + Place Publique, centre left: 7 per cent (-7)

Mr Macron and his supporters will seek to take comfort from the fact that the far-right National Rally tends to do better in European elections than in national ones. Its preliminary score of 24.2 per cent was slightly below its result in 2014, when it emerged as the largest French party with 24.9 per cent.

A beaming Ms Le Pen called on other parties to join with the RN to mount a united opposition to Mr Macron and said that the president should “at the minimum” dissolve the National Assembly and introduce a more representative national election system. “A big movement for a future government is born tonight,” she said.

This year Ms Le Pen — who lost to Mr Macron in the second round of the French presidential election in 2017 — also took advantage of the anti-government gilets jaunes protests over the past six months to turn the election into a national referendum on Mr Macron’s performance.

Instead of shirking the challenge, Mr Macron entered the political fray in support of his faltering European election leader Nathalie Loiseau. It was a calculated risk by Mr Macron, who has framed the elections as an existential struggle between pro-EU politicians such as himself and nationalists who want to weaken Europe.

Italy: Salvini’s League overtakes Five Star

Matteo Salvini’s hard-right League took over as Italy’s most popular party, winning between 27 and 30 per cent of the vote according to exit polls.

The result marks the transformation of the League from a one-time fringe northern separatist movement polling in low single digits into a pan-Italian nationalist anti-migration party that has come to dominate Italy’s political right.

Italy

Exit polls

League, far right 27-30 per cent (+21-24)

Five Star, anti-establishment: 20-23 per cent (-1)

Democratic Party, centre left: 21.5-24.5 per cent (-20)

Forza Italia, centre right: 9-11 per cent (-8)

At the same time, Mr Salvini’s coalition partner, the anti-establishment Five Star Movement haemorrhaged support, falling into third place behind the centre-left Democratic Party (PD), according to an exit poll conducted by Quorum YouTrend.

The Five Star Movement was forecast to win 20-23 per cent of the vote, putting it behind the PD on 21.5 to 24.5 of the vote, sharply lower than the 33 per cent the Five Star Movement won in general elections last year that made it Italy’s largest party.

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The result also throws open the question over the future of Italy’s coalition between the League and Five Star, with Mr Salvini’s strong showing expected to see him force a rebalancing in the government. In recent weeks relations between the two had become increasingly acrimonious, with senior figures on both sides questioning if the coalition could continue.

The exit polls indicated that Mr Salvini would confirm his place as the pivot of any future rightwing Italian government. Former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia party, Italy’s member of the centre right European People’s Party in the European Parliament, was predicted to win just 9-11 per cent of the vote.

Germany: ‘bitter result’ for SPD as Greens surge

Germany’s Social Democrats suffered their worst result in a national election since the second world war, as the Greens pushed them into third place for the first time and cemented their status as the rising force in German politics.

The results of the European elections were also a big disappointment for Angela Merkel’s ruling Christian Democratic Union. Together with its Bavarian sister party the Christian Social Union, its share of the vote slumped by nearly 7 points to 29 per cent, a historic low, according to European Parliament projections. The Greens surged to 21 per cent.

Germany

European Parliament preliminary result

CDU, centre right: 29 per cent (- 7)

Greens: 21 per cent (+10)

SPD, centre left: 16 per cent (-11)

AfD, far right: 11 per cent (+ 3)

Die Linke, far left: 5 per cent

FDP, liberal: 5 per cent (+2)

But the SPD was the big loser, its vote share plummeting by nearly 12 percentage points to 15 per cent. Projections based on exit polls suggested it had also suffered a stunning upset in the northern city state of Bremen and was at risk of losing control of a city it has ruled for the past 73 years.

The SPD is now expected to come under mounting pressure from the grass roots to pull out of the governing “grand coalition”, with internal critics arguing that it has little prospect of recovery as long as it serves as junior partner to the CDU in Berlin. However, most party leaders along with a majority of members of parliament are committed to staying the course, at least for now.

The far-right Alternative for Germany climbed to 10.8 per cent, up nearly 4 percentage points on its result in 2014. But it was nearly 2 points down on its result in the 2017 Bundestag election, an indication that a string of party funding scandals and controversies over its ties to rightwing extremists could be taking its toll.

The CDU and CSU combined vote share of 29 per cent was bad news for Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, the woman who succeeded Ms Merkel to become leader of the CDU last December and is in pole position to replace her as chancellor when her fourth and final term comes to an end in 2021.

Spain: Socialists win, Popular party holds on to second

Spain’s socialists expanded gains

The socialists of Spanish prime minister Pedro Sánchez expanded on gains they made in a general election last month, when they emerged as the biggest party in the 350-seat parliament. But the socialists fell short in key local races also held on Sunday.

Mr Sánchez’s PSOE increased its share in the European elections to 32.8 per cent from 23.0 per cent in 2014, according to the interior ministry. The PSOE will have 20 seats in the new European Parliament, up from 14.

“We have shown that we are the largest political force in Spain by far. The Spanish people share the ideas we are posing,” Mr Sánchez said after the polls. “This is an enormous responsibility, to construct a social democratic and progressive future after years of austerity and crisis.”

The PSOE’s traditional rival, the centre-right Peoples Party (PP) slid from 26 per cent in 2015 to 20 per cent.

The liberal Ciudadanos won 12 per cent but fell well short of its ambition to displace the PP as the second biggest party. Spain’s new far-right Vox party entered the European Parliament for the first time, with three seats, but took only 6.2 per cent of the vote, a sharp drop from the 10.3 per cent it received in the general election.

However, Mr Sánchez’s European victory did not extend to closely watched local elections. Final results showed a rightwing coalition of the PP, Ciudadanos and Vox forming a majority in both the Madrid region and Madrid city hall.

“There will be a PP for many years, for many decades,” said a euphoric Pablo Casado, who was sharply criticised for leading his party to its worst results ever in the general election after pushing it sharply to the right. “We’ve begun our comeback. And we’re beginning at kilometre zero.”

“It was a bad result for the PP but not as bad as it at first seemed,” said Juan Rodríguez Teruel, a politics professor at the University of Valencia.

One of the biggest surprises of the night was the success of Catalan separatist parties.

A party led by Carles Puigdemont, a former Catalan president who fled to Brussels to avoid trial after a failed secession bid in 2017, is on track to take two European seats, setting up a potential fight over his parliamentary immunity.

And in Barcelona, the pro-independence Republican Catalan Left won by a thin margin over current mayor Ada Colau’s leftwing coalition.

Poland: Law and Justice still on top

Jaroslaw Kaczynski’s party took the lead in Poland

In Poland, the ruling Law and Justice party came out on top in a hard-fought election that all sides are hoping to use as a stepping stone to crucial national parliamentary elections this autumn.

According European Parliament estimates, Jaroslaw Kaczynski’s conservative nationalist grouping won 42.4 per cent of the vote. European Coalition — an alliance of five parties built around the centre-right Civic Platform — came second with 39.1 per cent.

Poland

European Parliament estimates

Law and Justice (32.8 per cent, 19 seats)

Civic Platform (32.1 per cent, 19 seats)

Democratic Left Alliance (9 per cent, 5 seats)

Spring, a new leftwing party founded by Robert Biedron, an openly gay atheist who backs the separation of Church and State, came third with 6.6 per cent, while Konfederacja, a new coalition of nationalist and far-right groups won 6.1 per cent.

The result is a boost for Law and Justice ahead of the autumn elections, and follows a campaign that has increasingly become a battle over identity, with fights over the Catholic Church and LGBT rights among the most prominent issues in final weeks of the campaign.

Mr Kaczynski hailed the exit poll numbers, but warned his supporters that the party still had work to do. “We should remember that the crucial battle for the future of our motherland is in the autumn and we have to win that too, with even higher [support] than now. It’s a huge challenge,” he told supporters at an event in central Warsaw.

Austria: Far-right suffers, a bit, after scandal as Kurz triumphs

Sebastian Kurz has survived the scandal surrounding his former vice-chancellor

Austria’s ruling conservative People’s party was on track to make strong gains despite a scandal that brought down its coalition government with the far-right Freedom party.

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The Austrian People’s party of Chancellor Sebastian Kurz was expected to win 34.5 per cent, according to European Parliament projections, up 7 points. The strong gains will bolster Mr Kurz on the eve of a confidence vote in his government in parliament on Monday.

Austria

European Parliament projections

ÖVP centre right: 34.5 per cent (+7)

SPÖ centre left: 23.5 per cent (=)

FPÖ far right: 18 per cent (-2)

Greens: 14 per cent (-1)

Neos liberals: 8 per cent (+*)

The Freedom party lost ground, down 2.2 percentage points at 17.5 per cent, but the damage was less severe then anticipated. Earlier polling had indicated a far greater drop in support as the result of explosive revelations last weekend, from a filmed sting operation, implicating the party’s leadership in political graft and attempts to covertly solicit Russian political funding. The party’s ministers were ejected from cabinet, causing the collapse of the ruling coalition.

The Freedom Party’s lead European candidate, Harald Vilimsky, hailed his party’s resilience as a “sensation” after what he said was an “insidious manoeuvre” against the populist right. In the past two days, the party has aggressively attacked the sting operation against its leader, Hans Christian Strache, as an establishment plot.

The results suggest that Austrian voters are not inclined to punish Mr Kurz for his decision to team up with the far-right in 2017. Austria will hold snap elections later this year.

Hungary: Orban comes out top again

The victory of Hungarian Premier Viktor Orban’s party, Fidesz, was not in question on Sunday, only the margin. It won 52.3 per cent.

“This is a record victory,” Mr Orban told party supporters in Budapest after the results were announced.

Mr Orban, whose party was suspended in April from the centre-right European People’s party, campaigned on an anti-migration agenda. Mr Orban launched his campaign by saying that he hoped “anti-migration parties” took control of the European institutions and that the EPP would look for allies to the right of the party.

Hungary

Exit polls

Fidesz, centre right: 52 per cent (+1)

Democratic Coalition, centre left: 16 per cent (+5)

Jobbik, far right: 6.5 per cent: (-8)

Momentum, liberal: 10 per cent (+10)

“It’s the beginning of a new era against migration. We will make sure Hungary remains Hungarian and Europe remains European . . . For us, in Brussels, Hungary will be first.”

Though he may be satisfied with the results for his party domestically, he may need to find a new place for his party if it is ejected from the EPP this autumn. Mr Orban did not speak about his intentions for Fidesz’s future alignment.

“We have the whole night to analyse the results,” he said.

The leftwing Democratic Coalition won approximately 16 per cent of the vote, but the real surprise was the strong third place win for the progressive, pro-European party Momentum, which got almost 10 per cent of the votes.

Founded in 2017 as a protest against Budapest’s bid to host the 2024 Olympic Games, the party gained a lot of traction during December 2018 protests against a new labour law, and now has the wind in its sails as it eyes October local elections.

Ben Hall in London, Guy Chazan and Tobias Buck in Berlin, Victor Mallet in Paris, Valerie Hopkins in Budapest, James Shotter in Warsaw, Ian Mount in Madrid, Miles Johnson in Rome and Sam Jones in Vienna

Via Financial Times

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