373 million voters in 27 EU coutries head to the polls

This morning's top world news, in a nutshell - Saturday, 8th June 2024.

Almost 400 million eligible voters in 27 EU countries are heading to the polls to choose the next 720 members of the European Parliament to a five-year term.

EU lawmakers can vote on a wide range of legislation covering banking rules, climate, agriculture, fisheries, security and justice, and the stakes are high. They also vote on the EU budget, which is crucial to the implementation of European policies, including the aid delivered to Ukraine.

The number of lawmakers elected in each country depends on the size of the population. It ranges from six for Malta, Luxembourg and Cyprus to 96 for Germany. Voters in the Czech Republic will elect 21 members of the European Parliament, while 14 seats are up for grabs in Ireland. At stake: who takes the helm at the European institutions in Brussels, including the Commission and the Council, determining the political course of the European Union over the next five years.

Commission president Ursula von der Leyen was accosted by pro-Palestine demonstrators – their hands daubed red – who drowned out her campaign speech at a rally in Portugal. Later, the centre-right wing European People’s Party (EPP) leading candidate ended her electoral campaign in Munich at a rally organised by the German Christian-democrats (CDU) and its Bavarian branch (CSU). “Over the past weeks, we have fought together and campaigned as a team,” she said on X, tagged to a picture of herself standing next to her one-party rival rival Manfred Weber, EPP chairman.

Previously, Friday afternoon, von der Leyen was in neighbouring Austria where she met with Karl Nehammer, Austrian Chancellor and chairperson of the Austrian People’s Party, to “talk about the political situation in Europe and Austria before important elections on Sunday”.

Ireland, Czech Republic vote

Voters in Ireland and the Czech Republic, two countries where immigration was a key issue on the campaign trail, took to the polls on Friday, the second day of the balloting for the European Parliament. Final results will not be released until Sunday night, once voting is completed in every country.

On Friday, polling stations opened (and closed) in Ireland while Czechs will have from 8 am to 2 pm today to cast their votes. Ballot boxes will be opened in Ireland from 9 am where we’ll be expected to know more about the outcome of the elections. Media reports suggest that turnout in Ireland is also likely to be confirmed at the 2019 figure of 50 per cent – with the country’s usual late evening surge to the polls

Voter turnout remains key in Czechia, where notoriously few head to the ballots during EU elections. Initial data released two hours after polls opened was discouraging: Prague alone was reported to have turnout higher than 10 per cent.

An exit poll on Thursday, after the elections kicked off in the Netherlands, confirmed that Geert Wilders’ far-right PVV party would likely make big gains although a coalition of pro-European parties pushed the PVV into second place amid a bigger turnout than at the previous EU elections, Wilders’ party looked to have made the biggest gains of the night.

‘EU is alive’ – Timmermans

The day after the exit polls, the Dutch Labour-Green alliance sent a message to the rest of Europe: in the Netherlands there was “the highest turnout” at the European elections “since the fall of the Berlin Wall, a great result. Europe is alive”, said Frans Timmermans. Commenting on the numbers that see the pro-European ticket formed with the Spitzenkandidat Bas Eickhout ahead of Geert Wilders’ far-right, he said, “If we add up all the seats of the pro-European parties, we tell the rest of Europe that has yet to vote: it is by no means a given that the radical right will win these elections.”

S&D President congratulates Dutch Labour/Green alliance

The President of the Socialists and Democrats (S&D) group in the European Parliament, Iratxe García, has congratulated the Dutch Labour/Green alliance for pipping Geert Wilders to a preliminary victory in the Dutch exit polls. “The message to Europe and to the far right is loud and clear! We are ready to build a new course to protect our progressive values and a strong social and green,” García said on social media platform X.

The final results will be confirmed on Sunday evening, but the early estimation suggests the left-leaning alliance has clinched eight of the Netherlands’ 31 seats in the European Parliament, while Geert Wilders’ far-right Party for Freedom (PVV) has secured seven.

It is still a staggering performance for Wilders, who previously had only one lawmaker representing his party in the European Parliament, and who romped home to a surprise victory in last November’s general election in the Netherlands. His party has since struck a coalition deal with fellow right-leaning and centrist parties.

Far-right parties are frontrunners

Since the last EU election in 2019, populist, far-right and extremist parties have taken over governments in three EU nations, are part of governing coalitions in several others, and appear to have surging public support across the continent. Far-right parties in France, Belgium, Austria and Italy are frontrunners in the EU elections.

Immigration has risen up Ireland’s political agenda, with independent candidates calling for tighter controls expected to win many votes. Ireland does not have a large far-right party capable of consolidating anti-immigrant sentiment. The immigration issue is eroding support for left-of-centre Sinn Fein, the party once linked to the Irish Republican Army, which had been on track to become Ireland’s most popular party. The 83-year-old Irish President, Michael D. Higgins, who has been in office since 2011, voted in the European Elections this morning, together with his wife Sabrina. Widely popular in Ireland, he was re-elected for a second term in 2018, winning 56 per cent of the vote in the first round of the presidential election.

‘No to immigration and the green madness’ – Babis

In the Czech election campaign, the far-right and far-left were united over the condemnation of the EU’s plans to tackle immigration and climate change, as well as their strong opposition against military support for Ukraine. Former populist prime Minister Andrej Babis and his centrist ANO (Yes) movement campaigned under the headline “No to immigration and the green madness”. Babis espouses a strong anti-migrant rhetoric, which unites him with another anti-migration champion, Viktor Orban, the Hungarian prime minister.

ANO led the polls ahead of the centre-right Together coalition, which consists of the conservative Civic Democratic Party of Prime Minister Petr Fiala, Christian Democrats and the liberal-conservative TOP 09 party. Two other government parties, the Pirate Party and STAN, a group of mayors and independent candidates, are also expected to win seats.

The Freedom and Direct Democracy party, the main anti-migrant force and a local ally of French far-right leader Marine Le Pen and her National Rally party that won two seats in 2019, is looking to repeat that result if not improve it. Enough, a far-left coalition, is also expected to win at least a seat.

On Thursday, French President Emmanuel Macron warned that the EU risked being brought to a standstill if far-right parties have a big representation at the Parliament. The lead candidate for France’s National Rally, Jordan Bardella, was quick to fire back at Macron, urging French voters to choose his party to block the EU’s “harmful policies, such as punitive ecology against our farmers or migratory submersion”.

Poland’s President Andrzej Duda delivered an address to the nation Thursday evening in which he argued that the elections are important because they will help determine whether Poland and other nations can maintain their national sovereignty. Duda, a close ally of the former ruling national conservative Law and Justice party, opposes closer federalisation of the bloc.

Euronews last Super Poll of the season

In line with polls from the get-go of this year’s EU elections, the next European Parliament will shift to the right, according to the last Euronews Super Polls conducted in eight representative EU countries.

Despite robust growth, the far-right is not expected to dominate the next legislative term, while conservatives and Christian democrats should win a clear majority in the overall vote. No surprises are predicted in France, where the National Rally of Marine Le Pen is expected to make large gains, and in Italy, where Giorgia Meloni’s right party Fratelli d’Italia is set to win big.

On the other hand, Germany and Spain will be centre-right European People’s Party (EPP) strongholds in this election, according to the poll. Spanish socialists led by revenant prime minister Pedro Sanchez are expected to perform well with a slow but steady growth of German social democrats of Chancellor Olaf Scholz.

Man assaults Danish Prime Minister in Copenhagen

Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen was attacked and punched last evening in Copenhagen by a man who was later arrested, according to the Danish news agency Ritzau. The incident reportedly took place at the market. Frederiksen “said she was shocked” by what happened.

Mette Frederiksen, 46, has led the Danish Social Democratic Party, at the head of a centre-left coalition since June 2019. The prime minister has led the election campaign on various occasions with the leading candidate of the Social Democrats for the EU, Christel Schaldemose, in view of the European elections on Sunday. However, Christel Schaldemose makes it known, as Ritzau reports, that Frederiksen’s presence at the Kultorvet this evening was not linked to her electoral campaign.

Von der Leyen ‘confident’ she will be re-appointed

Ursula von der Leyen, the lead candidate for the European People’s Party (EPP), thinks she has the necessary political backing to be re-appointed president of the European Commission. “I’m confident that I have the support of many leaders. They know me and they know my experience,” von der Leyen told a group of journalists while campaigning in Porto, according to Agencia EFE.

The selection of the Commission president, the bloc’s most powerful position, is two-fold: first, leaders in the European Council pick a name taking into account the results of the elections. Then, the name is put to a confirmation vote in the European Parliament, where at least 361 endorsements will be required.

While von der Leyen is widely expected to receive the Council’s blessing, her path in the Parliament appears trickier. Her overture to Giorgia Meloni has infuriated progressives, who threaten to vote her down if she moves further to the right.

In the interview, von der Leyen says she will work “from the centre” and talk with political groups that meet her three basic criteria: being pro-European, being pro-Ukraine, and being a defender of the rule of law. According to the incumbent, Meloni meets the three.

“Those on the extreme left and the extreme right are trying to divide us and we won’t let them succeed. The centre must prevail,” von der Leyen told the media pool.

Finns vote abroad

Of the 263,000 Finns living abroad, 15,071 cast their votes overseas from Finnish diplomatic and consular missions across 86 countries. Brussels, Stockholm, and London were the busiest polling stations, but the countries with the highest increase in participation were Australia (79 per cent), the Netherlands (32 per cent), and Norway (29 per cent). Advance voting from abroad was possible from May 29 to June 1. Results will be announced on Sunday evening.

Fewer female MEPs if the far-right surges?

Wilders’ far-right party, the PVV, failed to win more than one seat in the 2019 European Parliament elections. Now it could win eight. Fearing a similar rise across the EU, women’s lobby groups are concerned that men could dominate key decision-making committees during the next mandate, Euronews reported. 

So far, the EU institution is the most equal parliament in the bloc, with 280 women out of 705 MEPs – but lobby groups fear this could change in the next legislature if more far-right politicians are elected.

Israel ‘disgusted’ at inclusion on new UN human rights blacklist

The upcoming inclusion of Israel on a UN list of countries and armed forces determined to be failing to protect children in war prompted a furious Israeli response yesterday.

The annual “Children and Armed Conflict” report from UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is not due to be published until June 18, but Israel’s UN ambassador, Gilad Erdan, spoke out after receiving private notification of the inclusion. “I am utterly shocked and disgusted by this shameful decision,” Erdan said in a statement.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu posted on his X social media account that the UN “put itself today on history’s blacklist when it adopted the absurd claims of Hamas. The IDF is the most moral military in the world and no ‘flat earth’ decision by the UN secretary-general can change that,” he wrote, referring to the Israel Defense Forces. The Palestinian envoy to the United Nations, Riyad Mansour, said adding Israel to the “list of shame” would not restore the lives of children killed or left permanently disabled in Israeli military attacks. “But it is an important step in the right direction towards ending the double standards and the culture of impunity Israel has enjoyed for far too long and that left our children vulnerable,” he said on X. A diplomatic source told AFP that Hamas and another Palestinian militant group, Islamic Jihad, would also appear on the list.

Eleven bodies of migrants recovered off the coast of Libya

The bodies of eleven migrants were spotted off the coast of Libya by the Seabird aircraft, of Seawatch, and were then recovered by the ship Geo Barents, of Doctors Without Borders, which was in the area after having rescued two boats. The Geo Barents was assigned the port of Gonova, more than 600 nautical miles from the site of the intervention, where it is now heading with 165 people and the eleven corpses on board. Seawatch said it “tried to contact a Libyan patrol boat, in English and Arabic via radio, to retrieve them but with no response. The Italian Coast Guard allowed us to go and recover the bodies.” It took four hours to get to the point where they were, another four or five hours to recover the bodies.

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