Blow for Macron as Le Pen tops EU election in France

Marine Le Pen’s National Rally received 23.31 percent of the European elections in France. (AFP)
Updated 27 May 2019

Blow for Macron as Le Pen tops EU election in France

  • Marine Le Pen’s National Rally received 23.31 percent of the European elections in France
  • Emmanuel Macron’s centrist alliance trailed with 22.41 percent

PARIS: The far-right National Rally party led by Marine Le Pen finished top in European elections in France, final results showed Monday, dealing a symbolic blow, but not a knock-out punch, to pro-EU President Emmanuel Macron.
Le Pen’s National Rally (RN) received 23.31 percent of the vote, with Macron’s centrist alliance trailing with 22.41 percent.
The two groups will have the same number of seats in the European Parliament, 23, after Britain’s expected departure from the EU.
Le Pen, who lost out to Macron in a bitter presidential contest in 2017, called for the head of state to dissolve the parliament and call new elections, a proposal that was immediately rejected by the government.
“It is up to the president of the republic to draw conclusions, he who put his presidential credit on the line in this vote in making it a referendum on his policies and even his personality,” Le Pen said in a brief speech late Sunday.
But despite triumphalist comments from RN figures, the final results were a mixed picture for the 50-year-old Le Pen: her party ended up losing ground since European elections in 2014 when it finished top with 24.9 percent.
In a first reaction after exit polls were released late on Sunday, an aide to Macron called them “respectable.” Leading allies of the 41-year-old president sounded satisfied that the margin of defeat looked like it would be slender.
A second-place finish for the ruling Republic on the Move (LREM) party was a disappointment for Macron after he put his reputation on the line by campaigning, but it is a symbolic setback that aides said would have no bearing on his policies.
“The catastrophe that some people predicted for Macron has not taken place and the RN has a significant score, but not a spectacular one when you compare it to five years ago,” analyst Zaki Laidi from the Cevipof political institute said.
An aide to Macron, speaking to AFP on condition of anonymity, said that there would be “no change of line” and that he would intensify his planned reforms which include tax cuts for the middle classes and controversial changes to the pension and unemployment benefits system.
Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said the results confirmed the “redrawing” of French politics, which was evident in the presidential election in 2017 when France’s traditional parties were eclipsed by Macron’s new centrist movement and the far-right.
“The time is for action because the French people will judge us ultimately on one thing: results,” Philippe said in a televised statement on Sunday.
He also said the government had “received a message about the ecological emergency” after France’s main green party, EELV, looked set to finish third, with around 13 percent of the vote compared with 8.9 percent in 2014.
Macron had made no secret of the significance he attached to the results, telling regional French newspapers last week that the EU elections were the most important for four decades as the union faced an “existential threat.”
He is a leading champion of further EU integration and is keen for further advances to link the economies, militaries and political systems of the bloc, which numbers 28 member states including Britain.
At home, the former investment banker started his five-year term as an energetic pro-business reformer intent on cutting unemployment and making France more entrepreneurial.
But for six months he has faced so-called “yellow vest” protesters who have blocked roads and demonstrated to denounce him as a “president of the rich” who has ignored the plight of the working poor and rural France.
Macron has since announced major tax cuts for the middle classes and a rise in the minimum wage.
His influence and Le Pen’s in the European parliament will now depend on whether they can make alliances.
Le Pen has previously called for the formation of a “supergroup” of euroskeptic parties, but the hard-right ruling party in Poland — PiS — has shunned her because of her pro-Russian views, while Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban remains aloof.
“The gains for our allies in Europe and the emergence of new forces across the continent ... open the way for the formation of a powerful group in the European parliament,” the RN’s top campaigner, 23-year-old Jordan Bardella, told supporters on Sunday.
Macron meanwhile is in alliance with the ALDE centrist and liberal grouping which is seen as finishing third in the parliament behind the conservative PPE formation and the center-left Socialists and Democrats (S&D).
But the French president, who redrew French politics in 2017, is still hoping to forge a new broader alliance of pro-European which would bring together so-called “progressives.”
“At the European level, the president is still maneuvering to form a large progressive alliance, a force that will be essential in the new parliament,” an aide said on condition of anonymity.


Virus pain easing in Spain, Italy; UK braces for bleak days

Updated 06 April 2020

Virus pain easing in Spain, Italy; UK braces for bleak days

  • The two countries, Italy and Spain, that have suffered more virus deaths than anywhere else in Europe are starting to see their crisis ease
  • Britain’s outbreak was headed in the opposite direction as the country reported more than 600 deaths Sunday

MADRID: A week ago, emergency rooms and intensive care wards in Spain and Italy were overflowing with woozy, coughing coronavirus patients and literally buzzing with breathing machines.
So many died that Barcelona crematories have a waiting list of up to two years, forcing some people to bury loved ones temporarily in cemeteries with the expectation of exhuming them for cremation later on.
But now the two countries that have suffered more virus deaths than anywhere else in Europe are starting to see their crisis ease, while Britain, where the prime minister has been hospitalized, seems headed in the opposite direction.
Between them, Italy and Spain saw nearly 30,000 deaths and 265,000 confirmed infections in the pandemic. They, and other European countries that locked down weeks ago and ramped up testing, are now seeing the benefits.
Britain’s outbreak was headed in the opposite direction as the country reported more than 600 deaths Sunday, surpassing Italy’s daily increase for the second day in a row.
“I think that we are just a week away from the surge of this,” the deputy chief executive of Britain’s NHS Providers, Saffron Cordery, told Sky News.
In Spain, deaths and new infections dropped again on Monday. The health ministry reported 637 new fatalities, the lowest toll in 13 days, for a total of over 13,000 dead. New recorded infections were the lowest in two weeks.
Emergency rooms in the hard-hit Madrid region of 6.6 million were returning almost to normal a week after scenes of patients sleeping on floors and in chairs.
Patients awaiting treatment in Madrid-area ERs went down Monday to 390 cases, one-tenth of the arrivals last week, the regional government said. The number of people being treated for coronavirus in intensive care stabilized at about 1,500 for five straight days.
Transport, Mobility and Urban Affairs Minister José Luis Ábalos said the figures show Spain is entering “a new phase of the battle.”
“This new phase does not mean we can let down our guard. We are assessing the measures that we will need to adopt,” Ábalos said.
At the San Carlos Clinic Hospital in Madrid, nearly 15% of the hospital’s 1,400-strong staff contracted the coronavirus, in line with the national average,
“Our priority at the moment is to bring health workers back to work,” said Dr. Julio Mayol, the facility’s medical director.
Still, there are fears for a new outbreak as Spanish authorities begin talking about loosening the grip on mandatory confinement, and the strain on hospitalizations will still be seen for another week while that in intensive care units for another two weeks, Mayol said.
Italy still has, by far, the world’s highest coronavirus death toll — almost 16,000 — but the pressure on northern Italy’s ICUs has eased so much that Lombardy is no longer airlifting patients to other regions.
In the northern city of Bergamo, one of Europe’s virus epicenters, hospital staff were still pulling long, difficult shifts even if the numbers of new patients had eased a bit.
“There has been no reduction in the work,” said Maria Berardelli, a nursing coordinator at Pope John XXIII hospital. “There have been fewer admissions to the emergency room, but our intensive care units are still full, so the activity hasn’t been reduced.”
In a public housing project in the city of Seville, 90-year-old Manuela Jiménez has been confined to her home for more than 20 days. She speaks to neighbors from her window as they deliver food and says she has never seen anything like it, despite having lived through the Spanish Civil War and Second World War.
“Back then my mother would lock me up and I would stay calm but now, look, there is my neighbor and I can’t see her”, says Jiménez.
Illness has been compounded by shocking economic pain as all the world’s largest economies have ground to a halt, including in Italy and Spain. In France, which slightly trails its two neighbors to the south in deaths and infections, the government shut the country down two days after Italy — and has also seen a slight easing.
The UK initially resisted taking some of the tough measures seen in other European countries, which banned large events, shut schools and closed their borders to slow the spread of the COVID-19 illness.
The government’s first advice was that people should wash their hands frequently. As the number of cases soared, the response escalated to include the closure of schools, bars, restaurants and non-essential shops and a nationwide order for everyone but key workers to stay home.
Now, Austria and the Czech Republic are openly discussing how to ease some of the crippling restrictions. Austria’s chancellor said the plan is to let small shops and garden centers reopen next week, with limits on the number of customers inside, and the rest on May 1. The Czech government is proposing an end to the ban on travel abroad as of April 14 and the reopening of small stores.