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Europe decides – how will election shape continent’s changing politics? | World News


Pic: AP


Decision time for Europe. By the end of this weekend, there will be a new shape to the European Parliament and a new velocity to the continent’s politics.

Voting in the European elections actually started on Thursday, when polling stations opened in the Netherlands, but it comes to an end on Sunday and we will start to see how parliament has been reformed.

For Europe, this could be a crucial election. Firstly, it will paint a picture of the new parliament, deciding how much power and influence remains with the familiar parties from the centre-right and centre-left, and how much moves to populist, nationalist and far-right politicians.

We’re likely to see strong performances from a range of these self-styled anti-establishment groups.

Rassemblement National, the party shaped by Marine Le Pen and now led by the youthful Jordan Bardella, will probably win the poll in France, while the very far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) could be the second biggest party in Germany.

Marine Le Pen and Jordan Bardella at a National Rally event ahead of the European Parliament elections. Pic: AP
Image:
Marine Le Pen and Jordan Bardella at a National Rally event ahead of the elections. Pic: AP

Giorgia Meloni’s Brothers of Italy, a party that has its roots in fascism, will probably win in that country, while far-right parties are hoping to prosper in nations as varied as Belgium, Latvia, the Netherlands and Denmark.

In Hungary, Viktor Orban and his allies continue to decry the EU for being too powerful and expansive.

These radical parties won’t win the election – it’s very likely parties from the political middle-ground of centre-right or centre-left will get the most votes.

But their dominant position is likely to be eroded.

So, the second thing about this election is that it will tell a story of the priorities of Europe’s people.

The past couple of years have seen a steady decline in the power and status of many mainstream politicians, and a hunt for alternative leaders.

Giorgia Meloni, prime minister of Italy and leader of Fratelli di Italia, at a rally for the European Parliament elections. Pic: AP
Image:
Giorgia Meloni at a rally for the European Parliament elections. Pic: AP

Very few of these people want to leave the EU – they want to change it from within.

And, if they do well in this election, this could be the point when those muscles are flexed.

Already there are questions about whether Bardella and Meloni will work together – and that is certainly a possibility.

They share similar policies in some areas, after all.

But there is a stumbling block to that. MEPs from different countries come together in parliament as part of different trans-national groups – effectively cross-border parties.

Read more:
Why battle between EU’s big guns matters for the UK
German city mourns crime that stoking election divisions

Pic: AP
Image:
Pic: AP

Bardella’s RN party is allied to the far-right ID political group. Meloni is part of the slightly more central ECR. On paper, that might not look important – in reality, it could be a profound difference.

Because these political groupings are seen as a big deal within European Parliament and Meloni, who has repeatedly tried to distance herself from extremism, won’t want to be part of the ID group.

Instead, Meloni seems much more likely to strike a deal with the sitting president, Ursula von der Leyen, than she is to go into partnership with Bardella.

File pic: AP
Image:
Ursula von der Leyen. Pic: AP

But there’s another layer to this. Von der Leyen’s future as president depends on these new MEPs endorsing her for a second term, and that’s not guaranteed.

The more members there are from the far-right and far-left, the fewer friends she will have, while frosty relations between France and Germany have seen French MEPs threatening to block her.

The politicking will not stop once the votes have been counted.

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This is the second biggest election in the world, behind only India’s general election, with more than 370 million people eligible to cast a vote, spread through the European Union’s 27 member states.

Their votes will decide the look of a parliament containing more than 700 members (MEPs), charged with making laws that apply to the whole union.

Parliament also has to approve the EU’s budget, which currently stands at around £160bn, and also greenlight the nomination of the EU’s leading administrators – including the hugely powerful president of the European Commission.

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