Who holds the center in Europe?

Who holds the center in Europe?

“The center held!” Ursula von der Leyen declared with relief on the night of the European Parliament elections. Indeed, the European People’s Party, the Socialists and Democrats, Renew Europe, and other centrist groups, maintained their majority in the EP. Far-right parties – scattered among different parliamentary groupings – made some gains on their 2019 results, for a grand total of about 25 percent of seats. However, their influence is disproportionately large, as, in some countries which play a leading role in shaping EU policy, centrist parties suffered a serious blow. In France, the first-place finish of Marine Le Pen’s extreme-right National Rally prompted President Emmanuel Macron to call snap parliamentary elections for June 30. In Germany, the extreme-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) came second, gaining more votes than the three parties in Olaf Scholz’s coalition government. So, despite the strong presence of centrist forces in the EP, the increased influenced of extreme-right parties in the domestic politics of some member-states may determine the Union’s policies on a number of major issues, such as support for Ukraine, immigration, the climate crisis, relations with other countries and, consequently, the direction of the EU project. 

The questioning of the center is not limited to Europe. In the United States, polls show Donald Trump ahead of President Joe Biden, just a few months short of elections. A return to power by Trump would worsen all the problems that the world faces. In the EU, Trump’s high regard of Vladimir Putin would encourage the pro-Russian, anti-Western lobby in member-states, undermining the support that the US, the EU, NATO, and others, have shown to Ukraine. The major support package for Ukraine that was announced at the G7 summit in Italy last week will therefore depend on developments in the EU and US. (Worth noting is the fact that Georgia Meloni, hostess of the G7 summit, was the only one of the European leaders present who made gains in the EP election, and her extreme-right government is vocally in favor of supporting Ukraine.)

Most European citizens who voted expressed support for centrist parties. There was no serious reason for these citizens’ faith in Europe to be shaken. However, if Macron loses his bet in the snap election, his party’s defeat in the Euro-elections will be transformed from an insignificant historical detail into a major problem for France and, of course, Europe. Germany is not headed for early elections, but it is possible that the results of May 9 could affect its EU policy. This might happen in the case of other countries, too. 

With two wars on its borders, with the climate crisis, with the United States so unpredictable, the EU needs an effective strategy and a concerted effort, at both the national and collective levels. Without a center, there can be no strategy. Without support from voters, the center cannot hold.

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