Far-right gains in EU election deal stunning defeats to France’s Macron, Germany’s Scholz and Spain’s socialist PM

Far-right gains in EU election deal stunning defeats to France’s Macron, Germany’s Scholz and Spain’s socialist PM
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Spain's Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez speaks to media after voting during the European Parliament election, in Madrid, Spain, June 9, 2024. (REUTERS)
Far-right gains in EU election deal stunning defeats to France’s Macron, Germany’s Scholz and Spain’s socialist PM
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German Chancellor Olaf Scholz (R) of the Social Democratic Party poses with Elisabeth and Valentin Jahn with their baby Benedikt after voting for the European Parliament Elections at a polling station in Potsdam, eastern Germany, on June 9, 2024. (AFP)
Far-right gains in EU election deal stunning defeats to France’s Macron, Germany’s Scholz and Spain’s socialist PM
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Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni arrives to vote for the European Parliament elections, in Rome, Saturday, June 8, 2024. (LaPresse via AP)
Far-right gains in EU election deal stunning defeats to France’s Macron, Germany’s Scholz and Spain’s socialist PM
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Assessors count votes at a polling station, after the European Parliament elections in Palma de Mallorca on June 9, 2024. (AFP)
Far-right gains in EU election deal stunning defeats to France’s Macron, Germany’s Scholz and Spain’s socialist PM
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French President Emmanuel Macron speaks through a screen at the far-right National Rally (Rassemblement National - RN) party headquarters after the polls closed during the European Parliament elections, in Paris, on June 9, 2024. (REUTERS)
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Updated 10 June 2024
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Far-right gains in EU election deal stunning defeats to France’s Macron, Germany’s Scholz and Spain’s socialist PM

Far-right gains in EU election deal stunning defeats to France’s Macron, Germany’s Scholz and Spain’s socialist PM
  • Italy’s PM Meloni solidifies top spot in EU vote -exit poll
  • Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk stayes undefeated

BRUSSELS: Voting has ended to elect the European Union’s regional lawmakers for the next five-year term after the last remaining polls closed in Italy, as surging far-right parties dealt a body blow to two of the bloc’s most important leaders: French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz.

In Spain, the center-right People’s Party (PP) came out on top, garnering 22 seats out of the 61 allocated to the country, and dealing a blow to the Socialist-led government of Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez.
In Italy, Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni’s arch-conservative Brothers of Italy group won the most votes in the weekend EU parliamentary election, exit polls said, confirming its status as the country's  most popular party.

Official results were expected any moment after Italian polling stations closed at 11 p.m. local time (2100GMT), officially ending a marathon election spanning four days across 27 bloc member countries.
An initial projection provided by the European Union indicated far-right parties have made big gains at the European Parliament.
In France, the National Rally party of Marine Le Pen dominated the polls to such an extent that Macron immediately dissolved the national parliament and called for new elections, a massive political risk since his party could suffer more losses, hobbling the rest of his presidential term that ends in 2027.
Le Pen was delighted to accept the challenge. “We’re ready to turn the country around, ready to defend the interests of the French, ready to put an end to mass immigration,” she said, echoing the rallying cry of so many far-right leaders in other countries who were celebrating substantial wins.
Macron acknowledged the thud of defeat. “I’ve heard your message, your concerns, and I won’t leave them unanswered,” he said, adding that calling a snap election only underscored his democratic credentials.
In Germany, the most populous nation in the 27-member bloc, projections indicated that the AfD overcame a string of scandals involving its top candidate to rise to 16.5 percent, up from 11 percent in 2019. In comparison, the combined result for the three parties in the German governing coalition barely topped 30 percent.
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. At the end, the rise of the far right was even more stunning than many analysts predicted.
The French National Rally crystalized it as it stood at over 30 percent or about twice as much as Macron’s pro-European centrist Renew party that is projected to reach around 15 percent.
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.

Germany, traditionally a stronghold for environmentalists, exemplified the humbling of the Greens, who were predicted to fall from 20 percent to 12 percent. 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 center-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 percent, easily beating Scholz’s Social Democrats, who fell to 14 percent, even behind the AfD.
“What you have already set as a trend is all the better – strongest force, stable, in difficult times and by a distance,” von der Leyen told her German supporters by video link from Brussels.

Italy’s PM Meloni solidifies top spot in EU vote — exit poll

As well as France, the hard right, which focused its campaign on migration and crime, was expected to make significant gains in Italy, where Premier Giorgia Meloni was tipped to consolidate her power.

An exit poll for state broadcaster RAI said Brothers of Italy won between 26-30 percent of the vote, with the center-left opposition Democratic Party (PD) coming second with 21-25 percent
The other main opposition party, the 5-Star Movement, was seen on 10-14 percent, while Forza Italia, founded by the late Silvio Berlusconi, was in fourth place on 8.5-10.5 percent, potentially beating its old ally, the far-right League, which was on 8-10 percent.
Brothers of Italy won just 6.4 percent of the vote in the last EU ballot in 2019, but jumped ahead of all other parties in 2022 national elections, when it took 26 percent, with Italians seeing Meloni as a no-nonsense, straight-talking leader.
Her party traces its roots back to a neo-fascist group and her 2022 victory set the tone for far-right gains across Europe, including in the June 6-9 EU ballot, which has seen the continent swing sharply right.
Meloni governs in Rome with the center-right Forza Italia and the League, presenting this as a model for the next EU government in Brussels, where Commission President Ursula von der Leyen will need to build consensus to secure a second term.
If confirmed, the PD result would represent a good score for its leader Elly Schlein, who took charge of the party in 2023 and has struggled to impose her will on the old guard. The PD won 19 percent in 2022 and Schlein was anxious to improve on that.
The one disappointment for all parties this weekend was the turnout, which was expected to come in at around or even beneath 50 percent — a record low in a country that has had historically strong voter participation.

Spain’s right wing wins

In Spain, Prime Minister Sanchez’s Socialists, spearheaded by Energy Minister Teresa Ribera, earned 20 seats after a campaign in which the opposition honed in on private corruption allegations against the premier’s wife and an amnesty law for Catalan pro-independence leaders passed just one week before the election.
With 99.7 percent of the vote counted, far-right Vox finished third with six lawmakers, up from the four it had in the previous legislature.
Still, in terms of vote share, support for Vox dipped to 9.6 percent from 12.4 percent in the July 2023 general election. The far-right party is struggling to break a vote ceiling of 14 percent, making it an outlier compared to its peers in other EU countries.
Alvise Perez, a far-right social media influencer running against what he describes as universal corruption, managed to obtain three seats with a campaign mostly conducted through the messaging app Telegram.
The combined right won nearly 50 percent, while the left followed with 43 percent.
The leftist vote was split between Sumar — the junior partner in the government coalition — that won three seats and hard-left Podemos, led by former Equality Minister Irene Montero, which got two.

Poland's Tusk holds on

Bucking the trend was former EU leader and current Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk, who overcame Law and Justice, the national conservative party that governed Poland from 2015-23 and drove it ever further to the right. A poll showed Tusk’s party won with 38 percent, compared to 34 percent for his bitter nemesis.
“Of these large, ambitious countries, of the EU leaders, Poland has shown that democracy, honesty and Europe triumph here,” Tusk told his supporters. “I am so moved.”
He declared, “We showed that we are a light of hope for Europe.”
EU lawmakers, who serve a five-year term in the 720-seat Parliament, 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.
These 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 the Second World War. 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!”


Ambani nuptials spotlight India’s multibillion-dollar wedding industry

Ambani nuptials spotlight India’s multibillion-dollar wedding industry
Updated 3 sec ago
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Ambani nuptials spotlight India’s multibillion-dollar wedding industry

Ambani nuptials spotlight India’s multibillion-dollar wedding industry
  • Groom is the youngest son of Asia’s richest man Mukesh Ambani
  • Lavish pre-wedding celebrations around the world started in March

NEW DELHI: After four months of lavish events spotlighting India’s multibillion-dollar wedding industry, the nuptials of the son of Asia’s richest man reached their final stage on Friday, with global A-listers and elites arriving in Mumbai for the most extravagant of billionaire celebrations.

The celebrations that built up to the wedding of Mukesh Ambani’s youngest son, 29-year-old Anant Ambani, to Radhika Merchant, daughter of a pharmaceutical tycoon, saw the family and hundreds of its guests serenaded by the likes of Andrea Bocelli, Rihanna, and Justin Bieber, sailing up the coast of Italy on a luxury cruise, watching a 5,500-drone light show in Cannes, and participating in a jungle-themed safari party in India’s Gujarat.

The groom’s father, chairman of Reliance Industries — the largest private sector corporation in India — is the world’s 10th richest man.

The display of his wealth through the wedding has set a new benchmark for the sector worth some $130 billion, according to last month’s report by the global investment banking firm Jefferies.

The Indian wedding industry is the country’s second-largest, after food and grocery.

“The Indian wedding industry is one of the largest and most lucrative markets globally. India hosts around 10 million weddings each year, with varying scales and budgets,” Simran S. Kohli, wedding planner and founder of Love Me Knot Weddings, told Arab News.

“The Ambani wedding is a prime example of just how extravagant and grand one can be.”

With the swathes of business billionaires, world leaders and top Bollywood and Hollywood stars attending, and the amount of international media attention focused on all the nuptial events, it is also an example of how the legendary allure and grandeur of Indian weddings never fades.

“How everyone looks forward to being a part of Indian weddings, the involvement of international celebrities, performers, and guests reflects the global influence and reach of the Indian wedding industry now,” Kohli said.

“Indian weddings can push the boundaries of creativity and extravagance.”

With dignitaries and celebrities from all over the world flocking to Mumbai to attend the four-day ceremony, parts of the city have been sealed.

“Mumbai is closed for almost three days now where the wedding is happening. There are VIP restrictions,” said Suneer Jain, director of Oh Vow Weddings.

“Ambani’s wedding reminds you of the grand Mughal weddings where thousands of horses and elephants used to participate. Now, the elephants have been replaced by artists. The Ambanis have set a different standard in weddings by inviting lots of international artists to come and perform.”

While the celebration has been reported to cost $600 million, from the artist lineup alone, Jain estimated it could be much more.

“This wedding is a showoff and it’s showing to the people how important they are and how well connected they are, how powerful they are. It’s a demonstration of wealth,” he said.

“The spending in Ambani’s wedding would be much more than what we can think about. Engaging an international artist is not only about the fee, it’s also about their comfort, their hospitality, doing everything for their team. It involves huge costs in many other aspects also.”

It has raised the bar so high that it will not be easy for the next celebrity weddings to cross it and organize nuptials on an even bigger scale.

It is a matter of Indian family prestige to do so.

“It is a lifetime event. We earn for only two things in life: for getting our own home and for weddings,” Jain told Arab News.

“When people see Ambani’s wedding, (it is assumed that) the next super wedding would be at a much higher scale … It gives you a clear picture that no one wants to do a normal wedding, but everyone wants to do a grand wedding.”

Everyone also wants to attend weddings in India, as they are an intrinsic part of its culture and play a major role in boosting other sectors such as entertainment, fashion, design, and travel.

“There is a person who is creating entertainment, there is a person who is doing labor work, there is a person who is doing floral work, there is a person who is working for fabric treatment. There is a person who is working on the structure, there is a transporter, manager, designer, sound engineer, artist. A lot of people get jobs out of it,” said Rajat Tyagi, director of Weddings Flowers Decor India.

An Indian wedding is never a cheap affair. A “good decent function” organized by Tyagi’s company at a local venue starts at about $45,000.

“As Indians, a society, we are bright, we are vivid, we are diverse, and we are vocal. We are not bland … If we have a taste, why not flaunt it,” he said.

“Even if you go to a village, the poorest of the poorest women are wearing makeup … It’s like we are made this way, our upbringing is that way. We love to show off.”

The display pulled off by the Ambani family was for Tyagi not only a record-breaking event, but also proof of India’s growth.

“At the end of the day, Mukesh Ambani is also an Indian entrepreneur, so India is not just a country of snake charmers. Now it has people who have the potential to bring such international artists and spend so much,” he said.

“It shows the potential of the Indian wedding industry. It shows the potential of Indians globally.”


Russia says it is not preparing to attack NATO

Russia says it is not preparing to attack NATO
Updated 47 min 28 sec ago
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Russia says it is not preparing to attack NATO

Russia says it is not preparing to attack NATO
  • Zakharova said NATO was trying to “justify its existence and strengthen Washington’s control over European satellites“

MOSCOW: Russia said on Friday it was not planning to attack NATO and it was the alliance that was aggravating tensions.
Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova was referring to a NATO Summit declaration that said: “Russia remains the most significant and direct threat to Allies’ security.”
Zakharova said NATO was trying to “justify its existence and strengthen Washington’s control over European satellites.”
Western leaders have repeatedly said that President Vladimir Putin will order his military to go further and attack NATO countries in central and eastern Europe if he is not stopped in Ukraine.


Nigeria school collapse kills several students, traps others

Nigeria school collapse kills several students, traps others
Updated 12 July 2024
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Nigeria school collapse kills several students, traps others

Nigeria school collapse kills several students, traps others
  • Parents desperately looked for their children at the Saint Academy in Jos North district
  • It was not immediately clear what caused the collapse

JOS, Nigeria: A school in central Nigeria collapsed on Friday, killing several students and trapping others who were heard crying out for help under the rubble, a rescue agency and witnesses said.
Parents desperately looked for their children at the Saint Academy in Jos North district of Plateau State after the building fell in on students taking their exams, an AFP correspondent at the site said.
“A two-story building housing Saint Academy... in Busa Buji in Jos North Local Government Area of Plateau State collapsed this morning killing several students,” the National Emergency Management Agency said in a statement.
“NEMA and other critical stakeholders are presently carrying out Search and Rescue operations,” it said.
Officials did not give a precise toll, but a resident at the scene Chika Obioha told AFP he estimated eight people died at the site and dozens more had been injured.
“Everyone is helping out to see if we can rescue more people,” he said.
It was not immediately clear what caused the collapse but residents said it came after three days of heavy rains in Plateau.
Building collapses are fairly common in Africa’s most populous nation because of lax enforcement of building standards, negligence and use of low quality materials.


France seeks government as PM vows to ‘guard against’ extremes

France seeks government as PM vows to ‘guard against’ extremes
Updated 12 July 2024
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France seeks government as PM vows to ‘guard against’ extremes

France seeks government as PM vows to ‘guard against’ extremes
  • Voters from different camps joined forces in the second round to shut the far-right National Rally (RN) out of power in a “republican front“
  • Macron has rejected LFI demands they should be tasked with forming the next government

PARIS: France’s political parties scrambled Friday to break a parliamentary deadlock brought on by an inconclusive snap election, as the outgoing prime minister vowed to prevent any government with far-right or hard-left members.
A runoff Sunday left the National Assembly without any overall majority, but a broad alliance of Socialists, Communists, Greens and the hard-left France Unbowed (LFI) won the most seats, with 193 in the 577-strong lower chamber.
Voters from different camps joined forces in the second round to shut the far-right National Rally (RN) out of power in a “republican front,” allowing President Emmanuel Macron’s followers to claim second place with 164 seats and leaving the far right in third at 143.
With each of the three blocs controlling roughly one-third of the chamber, political leaders are admitting it may be a long slog to find a government able to survive a no-confidence vote.
Macron has rejected LFI demands they should be tasked with forming the next government, appearing to rule out a role for either LFI — the largest player in the New Popular Front (NFP) left alliance — or the far-right RN in any new coalition.
Prime Minister Gabriel Attal echoed that stance Friday saying that he would seek “to guard against any government” that included RN or LFI ministers.
In a document outlining his bid to take the leadership of the Macron-allied “Renaissance” parliamentary group, Attal acknowledged it had “narrowly escaped extinction” in the vote.
As party group leader, Attal said he would “completely revise our methods and our organization.”
Attal, the only candidate to take over the Renaissance parliamentary leadership, said he hoped to “contribute to the emergence of a majority concerning projects and ideas” in the future parliament.
Renaissance deputies are to elect their new leader on Saturday. If voted in, Attal said he would rename the formation “Together for the Republic.”
The document, seen by AFP, made no mention of Macron, with reports suggesting that Attal is distancing himself from his former mentor, blaming Macron’s decision to dissolve parliament and call the election for the political quagmire.
Under the French constitution Macron, who has just under three years left of his second presidential term, will appoint the next prime minister.
The nominee must be able to garner enough support to negotiate the first hurdle, a confidence vote in the National Assembly.
There is, meanwhile, a good chance that the current government remains in place until after the Paris Olympic Games which open on July 26, according to political observers.
The leftist NFP, which had initially promised to suggest a candidate for prime minister to Macron by the end of the week, on Friday acknowledged that it probably wouldn’t be able to.
“I’d rather not set a deadline,” said LFI coordinator Manuel Bompard, telling the TF1 broadcaster that “more time may be needed for discussions.”
Green party boss Marine Tondelier said the problem was that “everybody claims that they are the biggest group” which she said showed that vote size was perhaps not “the most important criterion.”
A source within the Socialist party who declined to be named said the LFI had put forward four names, including that of firebrand Jean-Luc Melenchon who is unacceptable to all other parties, and controversial even among LFI members.
The Socialists themselves are pushing for their party’s boss, Olivier Faure, who they say would be acceptable as prime minister to a broad range of deputies from the left to center-right.
“Faure or Melenchon? That’s the real question,” remarked a Socialist official who declined to be named.
The head of the RN, Marine Le Pen, has already threatened that her deputies would reject any government that included LFI or Green ministers.
The RN’s vice president Sebastien Chenu meanwhile said that he saw “no satisfactory solution” to the current standoff “except a kind of technocratic government without political affiliation.”


Biden faces more pressure from Democrats to abandon re-election bid

Biden faces more pressure from Democrats to abandon re-election bid
Updated 12 July 2024
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Biden faces more pressure from Democrats to abandon re-election bid

Biden faces more pressure from Democrats to abandon re-election bid
  • It was unclear whether Biden’s performance would convince doubters in his party that he is their best bet to defeat Republican Donald Trump
  • At least 17 congressional Democrats so far have called for him to drop out

WASHINGTON: President Joe Biden faced more calls from fellow Democrats to abandon his re-election bid on Friday, following a news conference in which he delivered nuanced responses but occasionally stumbled over his words.
It was unclear whether Biden’s performance would convince doubters in his party that he is their best bet to defeat Republican Donald Trump in the Nov. 5 election and serve another four-year term in the White House.
At least 17 congressional Democrats so far have called for him to drop out and allow the party to pick another standard-bearer, including some who announced their positions after the news conference on Thursday night.
Democrats are worried that Biden’s low public approval ratings and growing concerns that he is too old for the job could cause them to lose seats in the House and Senate, leaving them with no grip on power in Washington should Trump win the White House.
But Biden made clear that he did not plan to step aside.
“If I show up at the convention and everybody says they want someone else, that’s the democratic process,” Biden said, before shifting to the stage whisper he often uses for emphasis to add, “It’s not gonna happen.”
Biden perhaps did not reassure those who were spooked by his poor presidential debate performance against Trump on June 27.
At one point, he referred to his vice president, Kamala Harris, as “Vice President Trump.” That came just hours after he introduced Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky as “President Putin” at the NATO summit, drawing gasps from those in the room.
Biden occasionally garbled his responses at the news conference, yet he also delivered detailed assessments of global issues, including Ukraine’s war with Russia and the Israel-Gaza conflict, that served as a reminder of his decades of experience on the world stage.
Some Democrats were not reassured.
“We must put forward the strongest candidate possible to confront the threat posed by Trump’s promised MAGA authoritarianism. I no longer believe that is Joe Biden,” said Representative Jim Himes of Connecticut, who called on the president to end his campaign after the news conference.
But one influential party figure, Representative James Clyburn of South Carolina, reiterated his support on Friday morning.
“I am all in. I’m riding with Biden no matter which direction he goes,” he said on NBC’s “Today” program.
A senior campaign official who spoke on condition of anonymity called the performance the “worst of all worlds. Not good. But not bad enough to make him change his mind ... It’ll give some enough cover to back him publicly, only to say he’s not up for it privately.”
Fundraiser Dmitri Melhorn said other donors told him they saw a strong performance from the president. “This is the person who can beat Trump. The mistakes are baked in and the upside is strong,” he told Reuters.
Biden will hold a rally on Friday in Detroit, where his campaign says he will focus on the “dangers” of Trump’s agenda.
The Michigan city is also headquarters of the United Auto Workers labor union, whose leaders endorsed Biden but now are assessing their options, three sources told Reuters.
With most US voters firmly divided into ideological camps, opinion polls show the race remains close.
An NBC/PBS poll released on Friday found Biden leading Trump 50 percent to 48 percent, a slight increase from his position before the debate. Biden fared slightly worse than Trump when third-party candidates were included in the questioning.
A Reuters/Ipsos poll released last week found Biden and Trump tied at 40 percent each. But some nonpartisan analysts have warned that Biden is losing ground in the handful of competitive states that will determine the outcome of the election.