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Far-Right, Green Parties Break 40-Year Centrist Majority In EU Parliament

May 27, 2019
Originally published on May 27, 2019 6:00 pm
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MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

The elections for the EU Parliament are over. The results are in, and the dust is settling. There was not a massive far-right populist wave as many had predicted, though populist wins did cause - call it a strong ripple. And the coalition of mainstream centrist parties lost the majority after dominating the European Union for the last 40 years. NPR's Eleanor Beardsley is in Paris, and she begins our coverage.

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: In France, the European Parliament election was also about President Emmanuel Macron. The fervently pro-EU leader invested hugely and personally in the campaign. So when Marine Le Pen's National Rally narrowly beat Macron's party, she used her victory speech to press for change at home.

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MARINE LE PEN: (Speaking French).

BEARDSLEY: Le Pen demanded that Macron dissolve the French National Assembly to reflect the new reality. The elections for the EU Parliament had implications for domestic politics in many countries. In Britain, where the Brexit Party added 24 seats while the mainstream Tories and Labour were pummeled, Nigel Farage called the vote a mandate for a hard Brexit now.

Turnout was more than 50% across the EU, the biggest in 25 years. At this polling station in Paris, 30-year-old physiotherapist Jean Baptiste Perche (ph) said he felt a sense of duty.

JEAN BAPTISTE PERCHE: You can't judge what's going on in Europe if you don't vote, so I think it's important.

BEARDSLEY: Green parties made huge gains, and environmentalists are now the third largest bloc in the Parliament.

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MATTEO SALVINI: (Speaking Italian).

BEARDSLEY: As expected, Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini's right-wing League came in first place in Italy. The populist darling aims to bring Europe's far-right together.

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SALVINI: (Speaking Italian).

BEARDSLEY: "The vote shows the rules must change," he said. "A new Europe is born, one that is tired of the elites being in power and of finance and multinationals." But European Union expert Douglas Webber doesn't believe the disparate Euroskeptic parties will be able to come together to make big change. He says they don't agree about relations with Russia, free markets or even about migration.

DOUGLAS WEBBER: For example, Italy would like other member states to take more of the refugees that are currently in Italy. But governments, such as that of Mr. Orban in Hungary, of course, are opposed to this.

BEARDSLEY: Webber says the new parliament, now more fragmented, will have to build new coalitions and alliances to govern. Eleanor Beardsley, NPR News, Paris. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.