China hawk von der Leyen confident of new term as Europe lurches right

However, the key takeaway for those watching China policy was that European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen’s centre-right European People’s Party (EPP) remained the bloc’s largest parliamentary group.

The EPP won 189 seats – an increase of seven on five years earlier – in the world’s second largest democratic process after India’s mammoth general election. Second was the Socialist and Democratic Group (S&D), which slipped to 135 seats from 154 in 2019.

The right-wing European Conservatives and Reformists won 72 seats, up from 62 five years earlier.

The far-right Identity and Democracy (ID) actually lost seats, falling to 58 seats from 72, partly because AfD was expelled from the group after its lead candidate Maximilian Krah, told an Italian newspaper that members of the Nazi SS were not necessarily criminals.

“The biggest winners of this election are the two families of the radical right,” said Pawel Zerka at the European Council on Foreign Relations.

“Collectively, including non-affiliated parties like AfD and [Hungary’s] Fidesz, they seem close to surpassing the one-third seat threshold, enabling them to obstruct legislation.”

The EPP’s success will bolster the hawkish von der Leyen’s already strong chances of securing a second stint at the top of the European Commission, where she has vowed to continue with her quest to de-risk ties with China.

Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni’s far-right party was Italy’s biggest winner in the European Parliament election on Sunday. Photo: EPA

In an address to the parliament’s hemicycle, packed with media just before midnight in Brussels, the German said she was confident of securing a second mandate, which will need to be backed by the leaders of the bloc’s 27 member states, then confirmed in a parliamentary vote.

Amid concerns that she would work with the far-right, von der Leyen announced plans to immediately begin negotiating with the centrist S&D and Renew to cobble together the votes needed and to “build a strong Europe”.

Macron has been lobbying strongly against von der Leyen’s reappointment in Brussels, but with his party on the back foot and anticipated to endure tough parliamentary elections on June 30, he may find his influence slightly diminished when leaders discuss her candidacy next week.

In a sign of the turmoil in his centrist camp, lead candidate Valerie Hayer did not show up in the parliament to take questions from the press, even as all other political groups did.

Conversely, the French leader has been a strong backer of the commission’s tough trade and competition stance towards Beijing, including a blockbuster probe into subsidies in China’s electric vehicle sector, the results of which are due this week.

Members of French far-right party Reconquete react to President Emmanuel Macron’s televised announcement of a June 30 general election on Sunday. Photo: AFP

On Sunday night in an address to media gathered in the European Parliament’s hemicycle, EPP President Manfred Weber urged Scholz and Macron to back von der Leyen for another term in the commission.

“I now expect Olaf Scholz to make clear that he supports the winner of the election, namely Ursula von der Leyen,” Weber told public broadcaster ZDF.

“And the same is true for Emmanuel Macron, as president of France, but above all as the strongest politician in the Liberal party family in Europe.”

Some of China’s biggest critics in the parliament were re-elected for another term, including French socialist Raphael Glucksmann, who led the chamber’s push for a forced labour ban, and Miriam Lexmann, a Slovak Christian Democrat who was sanctioned by Beijing in 2021.

Bart Groothuis, the former top cybersecurity official for the Dutch government, retained his seat, having spent much of the last term going after Chinese companies’ involvement in Europe’s critical infrastructure.

Bernd Lange, the head of the parliament’s trade committee who has called for balanced commercial relations with Beijing, won re-election in Germany. The commissioner for trade Valdis Dombrovskis, who has said he would be interested in another term on that portfolio, topped polls in Latvia.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz casts his ballot for the European elections at a polling station in Potsdam on Sunday. Photo: EPA

Other hawkish voices, including Greens Markéta Gregorová and Anna Cavazzini, retained their seats on what was an otherwise dreadful night for their party.

Several Green members of the hardline Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China were unseated, while Green Reinhard Buetikofer – the parliament’s dominant voice on Beijing relations – has retired.

The electoral futures of some of China’s biggest defenders in the parliament were not clear as of midnight on Sunday in Brussels.

In Ireland, independent candidate Clare Daly was running in seventh place in the Dublin constituency after first preferences were counted, with four MEPs to be elected.

There was still an outside chance that the incumbent lawmaker, who frequently defends Beijing’s policies, would be re-elected on vote transfers in Ireland’s proportional representation system. Her frequent collaborator Mick Wallace’s seat was also hanging in the balance.

The AfD candidate Krah, another China-friendly member, was re-elected despite a series of scandals that plagued his campaign. He has been investigated by German authorities for his links to China, while his former assistant Jian Guo was arrested on charges of spying for Chinese intelligence services.
In Hungary, the Fidesz party of Prime Minister Viktor Orban – seen as China’s closest ally in the EU – endured a tough election. With two-thirds of the votes counted, it was running at 44 per cent of the vote, down from 52 per cent in 2019.


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