Scholz suffered such an ignominious fate that his long-established Social Democratic party fell behind the extreme-right Alternative for Germany, which surged into second place. “After all the prophecies of doom, after the barrage of the last few weeks, we are the second-strongest force,” a jubilant AfD leader Alice Weidel said.

The four-day polls in the 27 EU countries were the world’s second-biggest exercise in democracy, behind India’s recent election.

Tino Chrupalla and Alice Weidel, co-leaders of the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) political party, celebrate at the party’s gathering in Berlin following the release of initial results in European parliamentary elections.

Tino Chrupalla and Alice Weidel, co-leaders of the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) political party, celebrate at the party’s gathering in Berlin following the release of initial results in European parliamentary elections.Credit: Getty

Overall across the EU, two mainstream and pro-European groups, the Christian Democrats and the Socialists, remained the dominant forces. The gains of the far right came at the expense of the Greens, who were expected to lose about 20 seats and fall back to sixth position in the legislature. Macron’s pro-business Renew group also lost big.

For decades, the European Union, which has its roots in the defeat of Nazi Germany and fascist Italy, confined the hard right to the political fringes. With its strong showing in these elections, the far right could now become a major player in policies ranging from migration to security and climate.

To stave that off, von der Leyen offered to build a coalition with the Social Democrats and the pro-business Liberals. Since the Christian Democrats won seats while the two others lost, von der Leyen can do so from a position of strength.

“We are by far the strongest party, We are the anchor of stability,” von der Leyen regaled. Reflecting on the rise of the far-right and a good showing of the far-left, von der Leyen added that “the result comes with great stability for the parties in the centre. We all have interest in stability and we all want a strong and effective Europe.”

In the legislature, provisional results showed that the Christian Democrats would have 189 seats, up 13, the Social Democrats 135, down 4 and the pro-business Renew group 83, down 19. The Greens slumped to 53, down 18.

Germany, traditionally a stronghold for environmentalists, exemplified the humbling of the Greens, who were predicted to fall from 20 per cent to 12 per cent. With further losses expected in France and elsewhere, the defeat of the Greens could well have an impact on the EU’s overall climate change policies, still the most progressive across the globe.

The centre-right Christian Democratic bloc of EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, which already weakened its green credentials ahead of the polls, dominated in Germany with almost 30 per cent, easily beating Scholz’s Social Democrats, who fell to 14 per cent, even behind the AfD.

The electoral shift to the right could make it harder for the EU to pass legislation, and decision-making could at times be paralysed in the world’s biggest trading bloc.

EU lawmakers, who serve a five-year term, have a say in issues from financial rules to climate and agriculture policy. They approve the EU budget, which bankrolls priorities including infrastructure projects, farm subsidies and aid delivered to Ukraine. And they hold a veto over appointments to the powerful EU commission.

The elections come at a testing time for voter confidence in a bloc of some 450 million people. Over the last five years, the EU has been shaken by the coronavirus pandemic, an economic slump and an energy crisis fueled by the biggest land conflict in Europe since World War II. But political campaigning often focuses on issues of concern in individual countries rather than on broader European interests.

Since the last EU election in 2019, populist or far-right parties now lead governments in three nations — Hungary, Slovakia and Italy — and are part of ruling coalitions in others including Sweden, Finland and, soon, the Netherlands. Polls give the populists an advantage in France, Belgium, Austria and Italy.

“Right is good,” Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, who leads a stridently nationalist and anti-migrant government, told reporters after casting his ballot. “To go right is always good. Go right!”

AP, Reuters