Le Pen’s far-right party wins first round of French elections

This morning's top world news, in a nutshell - Monday, 1st July 2024.

Three weeks after trouncing its rivals in low-turnout European polls, Le Pen’s National Rally (RN) confirmed its status as France’s leading political force in a first round of legislative elections marked by the highest turnout in three decades.


According to France 24, Le Pen’s camp secured a clear victory, albeit not a decisive one, meaning the vote’s ultimate outcome remains uncertain ahead of a second round of voting on July 7. Macron, whose decision to call the snap election had stunned friends and foes alike, has urged voters to rally against the far right next Sunday.


RN and its allies on the right took 33.2 per cent of the first-round vote, ahead of the left-wing New Popular Front (NFP) on 28.1 per cent, according to projections by pollsters Ipsos-Talan. Macron’s Ensemble alliance trailed in third place with 21 per cent, followed by the conservative Les Républicains and their partners on 10 per cent.


Based on those figures, the far-right camp would go on to win between 230 and 280 seats in the National Assembly, the pollsters added, leaving it short of the 289 seats required to win an absolute majority.


Such predictions are extremely difficult, owing to the two rounds of voting and a record number of three-way runoff races. The final result will depend on days of frantic horse-trading as parties work to make alliances in some constituencies or pull out of others.


Addressing jubilant supporters in her northern constituency, where she won an outright victory in the first round, Le Pen called on voters to push her party over the line and give it an “absolute majority” of seats in the National Assembly, France’s lower house of parliament, which wields greater powers than the Senate.


In such a scenario, Macron would be expected to name the party’s 28-year-old poster boy Jordan Bardella as prime minister in an awkward power-sharing system, known as “cohabitation”, that would weaken him both at home and on the world stage.

Euroskeptic Hungary takes over EU’s rotating presidency

Today, Monday, July 1, Hungary, led by right-wing nationalist and EU skeptic prime minister Viktor Orban, takes over the bloc’s rotating presidency of the EU Council until the end of the year.


Orban, is the first head of the rotating EU Council presidency to have publicly attacked and demeaned the EU’s own institutions.


In his speeches and interviews at home, he has repeatedly claimed that the EU threatens Hungarian sovereignty, is destroying its middle class and attacking the country’s agricultural sector. That’s why he said he had to go to Brussels and “shake up the power structures there”.


Over the past year, Hungary has used its veto to block the decisions of other member states at the EU level. Still, despite the fundamental skepticism his country has exhibited toward the EU, Hungarian Minister for European Affairs Janos Boka has said Budapest will be an “honest broker” when it takes over the rotating EU Council presidency for the next six months.


From July 1 to December 31, Hungary will lead meetings of the council, determine the agenda and, as second legislative chamber, head negotiations with the European Parliament.


Never in the history of the EU has a council presidency had as many conflicts of interests as Hungary – against which procedures under Article 7 of the EU treaties are currently ongoing due to the fundamental threat the Orban government poses to rule of law in the country.


The European Commission has initiated numerous procedures for treaty non-compliance over violations of legal norms. The European Court of Justice recently levelled heavy fines against Budapest for failing to correctly apply EU asylum and migration laws. Orban called the decision “outrageous”, and said he would refuse to accept it. Heads of state and government who don’t agree, he said, must be “sent packing”.


Now, the defendant will change seats and take over the council presidency for the next six months with the obligation to be an impartial mediator. But many observers in Brussels are doubtful this can ever be the case.
An especially touchy matter is the tug-of-war between Orban and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen over financial aid for Hungary.


Although Budapest rejects the EU and its current rule of law norms, it has nevertheless demanded payments from the bloc’s Covid-19 recovery fund and the Cohesion Fund.


In all, the EU has frozen €30 billion in funding for Hungary due to a very real threat of corruption in Budapest, as well as the fact that Brussels says courts in Hungary are no longer independent. Even though part of that money was recently released in order to purchase Orban’s support for further political and military assistance for war-torn Ukraine, this is still the first time a country heading the rotating presidency has ever faced penalties under “rule of law mechanisms”.


Hungary’s European Affairs Minister Boka has given Ukraine absolutely no reason to hope for progress in accession negotiations that Kyiv and Brussels kicked off on June 25. None of the 35 scheduled negotiations will begin during Hungary’s turn in the driver’s seat, and Budapest is already blocking financial aid to Kyiv whenever it can.


Currently, Hungary is refusing to release around €6.5 billion in EU funds for military aid, and the Orban government has not said whether it will make use of its veto power during its six months in charge. That, too, would be a first for an “honest broker” tasked with finding political compromise.


Orban, who has maintained good economic ties with Russia despite EU sanctions, pitched himself as the only person fighting for peace in the run-up to EU parliamentary elections in early June.


“We won’t allow ourselves to be dragged into any wars, won’t allow illegal immigrants to be forced upon us, and won’t even consider allowing our children to be indoctrinated,” he said during a speech in March.


Western Balkan states hoping to join the EU, on the other hand, can hope new life will being breathed into their own accession negotiations.


“The presidency has set itself the goal of ensuring that some of that enthusiasm spills over to the Western Balkans so that they can all come a step closer to membership,” said Boka in Brussels. It can be assumed that a new chapter of negotiations will be opened with Serbia, for instance. Hungary and Serbia share reservations about the EU’s Ukraine policy and tend to be more receptive to Russia’s demands.


In the eyes of the European Commission, Serbia has distanced itself from accession rather than coming closer due to its increasingly authoritarian arc.


Budapest also hopes to complete as many rounds of negotiations as possible with Montenegro before 2025. North Macedonia and Albania, too, will see progress if things go according to plan.


Both countries could be looking at further formal governmental meetings in order to move accession talks forward. Boka has said such meetings will not take place with Ukraine over the next six months.


Orban has a long list grievances when it comes to European Commission President von der Leyen, whom he has also described as “weak.”


“The past five years were probably the worst five years in the history of the EU,” Orban grumbled recently and he will be expected to work closely with the European Commission over the next six months.


Orban and Ursula von der Leyen have been equally critical of one another in Brussels. Von der Leyen has been equally dismissive of the Hungarian leader and his right-wing nationalist friends in the EU. “They want to trample on our values and they want to destroy our Europe,” she warned before the EU parliamentary elections in early June.


The European Parliament raised doubts about Hungary’s fitness to take over the council presidency as early as last year. And harsh criticism of Hungary can often be heard issuing from the body, above all over Hungary’s democratic backsliding. One can only imagine what kind of verbal exchanges Orban and von der Leyen will engage in when speaking before lawmakers.


“We will survive Hungary,” said one anonymous EU diplomat. Work can then begin in earnest in the first half of 2025, when Poland takes over the rotating presidency and the new European Commission is in place.


Luckily, said the diplomat, Warsaw once again has an EU-friendly government at the helm and not Orban’s kindred spirits from the right-wing nationalist PiS.


Orban announces new far-right European alliance


Hungarian, Czech and Austrian parties have created the Patriots for Europe grouping, which aims to secure more influence for right-leaning and far-right parties in the new European Parliament.


Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban announced plans for a new alliance of European populist parties, during a news conference in Austria on Sunday.


Dubbed Patriots for Europe, the group brings together Orban’s right-wing populist Fidesz party, Austria’s far-right Freedom Party of Austria (FPÖ) and the Czech Republic’s centrist group of ex-premier Andrej Babis. Currently, there are seven political alliances at the European Union level that represent the political parties of the 27 member states elected to the European Parliament. The groups are organised by political affiliation rather than nationality. Some parties don’t belong to any group.


Speaking a day before Hungary assumes the rotating six-month EU presidency, Orban told reporters in Vienna that Patriots for Europe aims to become the “largest group of right-wing forces in Europe”.


“A new era begins here, and the first, perhaps decisive moment of this new era is the creation of a new European political faction that will change European politics,” he said.


The Hungarian leader promised the alliance would fight for “peace, security and development” instead of “war, migration and stagnation” brought by what he termed the “Brussels elite”. He said that “starting immediately, all political forces that want to join in our political and positive reform effort are very welcome.”


The new alliance will need the support of parties from four other European Union states before it can be recognised as a group in the European Parliament.


The three men didn’t answer questions from reporters but the FPÖ said a news conference would be held in Brussels or Strasbourg soon with other parties joining the alliance.


Orban’s Fidesz party was until 2021 a member of the center-right European People’s Party, the largest group in the European Parliament. The Czech and Austrian parties have also quit other alliances to create the Patriots for Europe.


Patriots for Europe includes Austria’s far-right Freedom Party (FPÖ), which won the country’s election for the European Parliament.


Patriots for Europe’s manifesto, signed by the three party leaders, criticized what it said are plans for “a European central state” and pledges “to prioritize sovereignty over federalism, freedom over diktats, and peace.”


The three leaders said another key priority for the alliance would be the fight against illegal immigration, which has long been a pressing concern for them.


The European Parliament elections in early June strengthened hard-right parties overall, though their performances varied from country to country.


The nationalist parties capitalised on voter disquiet over spiraling prices, migration and the cost of the green transition.


Until now, the parties have been spread across two groups in the EU legislature, but through the new alliance, they hope to translate their seat gains into more influence in EU policy decisions. Far-right politicians, including Orban and Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, complained that, despite their increased support, they were snubbed in negotiations to decide the top leadership positions in Brussels following the June 6-9th vote.


The new European Parliament must now vote to approve the top leadership positions before the nominees can take up their roles.


The creation of the new alliance has sparked speculation about which other populist parties could now join. Among the possibilities is the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD), which was recently expelled from the right-wing European Identity and Democracy (ID) group. Meloni’s right-wing populist Brothers of Italy party is currently a member of the European Conservatives and Reformists Party.


UEFA EURO 2024

Spain will be taking on hosts Germany in a high-tension quarter-final on Saturday, while England will be facing revelation Switzerland on Saturday.


England turn the match on its head

England’s hopes to bring home a trophy after nearly 60 years were about to be shattered again as the team stayed down 1-0 almost till the end of the game in Gelsenkirchen. One goal by Slovakia’s Ivan Schranz seemed enough to knock the Three Lions out early in the competition.


It seemed all over till Jude Bellingham found an astonishing overhead kick that rolled past Slovakia’s goalkeeper to level the game 1-1 in the 98th minute. Less than sixty seconds into extra time, Harry Kane nodded in the final 2-1 for England.


Spain crush Georgia 4-1

Spain recovered from conceding an early own-goal to beat Georgia 4-1 for a spot in the Euro 2024 quarterfinals, ending one of the tournament’s most compelling underdog stories.


Goals from midfielders Rodri and Fabián Ruiz brought Spain back into the game after Robin Le Normand’s own-goal in the 18th minute had given Georgia a shock lead. Nico Williams and Dani OImo took the game out of Georgia’s reach with two more goals late in the game as heavy rain fell.


Spain will play host nation Germany in the quarterfinals on Friday in Stuttgart.


Today’s matches: France v Begium 6pm) and Portugal v Slovenia (9pm).
Copa America: Group B: Jamaica v V enezuela 0-3; Mexico v Ecuador 0-0.

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