Giorgia Meloni could be EU kingmaker as Italy goes to polls | European parliamentary elections 2024

Italians cast their ballots on Saturday as Italy became the first key player to vote in the European parliamentary elections, which could lead to far-right leader, Giorgia Meloni, acting as kingmaker.

Far-right parties are expected to make gains in the elections, as most countries, including EU heavyweights France and Germany, go to the polls on Sunday. Projected results are expected late on Sunday evening.

While an increase in support for the far right is expected, with such parties expected to win a quarter of seats, the centrist mainstream is still forecast to emerge as the main force in the EU parliament.

Meloni, who was elected on a platform largely focused on immigration, shared a social media video message on Saturday in which she said her priorities were to “defend Europe’s borders against illegal immigration (and) protect the real economy and jobs”.

Italy, which will hold 76 of the 720 seats in the new parliament, could play a crucial role deciding the balance of power in the bloc. With polls suggesting Meloni’s Brothers of Italy party may gain 27% of the vote – up from just 6.4% in the 2019 EU elections – Italy’s prime minister could decide the political fate of the European Commission chief, Ursula von der Leyen, and whether she receives sufficient backing to secure a second term.

The question of whether von der Leyen’s European People’s Party (EPP) will agree to work with the far right is likely to prove decisive after the vote: von der Leyen has suggested she is willing for the EPP to collaborate with far-right lawmakers, provided they are pro-EU and not what she describes as “puppets” of Vladimir Putin.

The EU Commission chief has explicitly ruled out working with the French far-right leader Marine Le Pen, whose National Rally (RN) party is also topping the polls in the EU race, or with Germany’s AfD, over this issue. Hungary’s ruling populist Fidesz party is opposed to aiding Kyiv, with the prime minister, Viktor Orbán, widely regarded as the EU’s most pro-Russian leader.

But von der Leyen appears to be more relaxed about working with Meloni and some fellow members of the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) group. “I’ve been working very well with Giorgia Meloni”, who is “clearly pro-European”, she has said.

Underlining the pivotal role Meloni may come to play in the bloc’s arrangement of power, the Italian leader has been courted by Le Pen, who aims to form a rightwing supergroup in the parliament, but also the centre-right von der Leyen.

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Socialists, liberals and greens, who are concerned that Meloni could demand a dilution of EU climate measures in exchange for support for the EU Commission president, have threatened to oppose von der Leyen’s reappointment if she makes any deals with the far right.

Slovakia also went to the polls on Saturday, following an assassination attempt last month on its premier, Robert Fico. Fico’s leftwing populist Smer-SD party, which opposes sending EU arms to Ukraine, appears to have drawn support after the incident.

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