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European neighbors cast a wary eye on France after far-right party’s election lead

BERLIN (news agencies) — After France’s far-right National Rally surged into the lead in the first round of legislative elections, some European neighbors on Monday cast a wary eye on the latest country to veer to the right on the continent.

The French result comes after the European Parliament elections last month strengthened hard-right parties overall, though their performance varied from country to country.

It also comes as Hungary, led by Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, long known as a Euroskeptic, took over the European Union’s presidency for the coming six months.

Pro-European politicians fear a further weakening of unity in the 27-nation bloc, which is already experiencing anti-European sentiment in many regions, triggered by issues such as inflation, migration, and Russia’s brutal war on Ukraine that has brought in millions of refugees looking for shelter.

A National Rally victory in the run-off elections could have serious consequences not only for France, but also for Europe. The far-right party is not only very critical of the European Union and pursues a “France First” policy, it also wants to move away from the strong partnership of France and Germany, the EU’s two biggest economies, which together have long been viewed as the motor of European integration.

German and Polish leaders said Monday it was too early to judge the election result before Sunday’s second ballot in France, but some still warned of a shift to the right.

Poland’s Prime Minister Donald Tusk, a former European Union Council head, said that “the French lesson is not finished yet, we still have the runoff,” but also warned that the result was worrisome.

“This trend is really dangerous,” the Polish prime minister told reporters on Monday, adding that the election result was “a very clear sign of what is going on, not only in France but also in some other countries of Western Europe.”

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said Monday in Berlin that “it cannot leave anyone cold when (…) a party is far ahead that sees Europe as the problem and not the solution,” though she stressed that “in a democracy, elections are of course in the hands of the voters,” German news agency dpa reported.

A spokesman for German Chancellor Olaf Scholz declined to comment on the result when asked by reporters in Berlin.

“It will come as no surprise here that we will not be commenting in more detail before the second round of voting,” Steffen Hebestreit said, adding that “we work closely and trustingly with France, our most important partner in Europe. And we want it to stay that way.”

According to results released early Monday in France, the far-right party, which has already dealt a major blow to President Emmanuel Macron’s centrists, could be on the brink of power.

While German government officials refrained from commenting, the party leader of Scholz’s Social Democrats, Saskia Esken, called on democratic forces in France to form an alliance against the far-right National Rally.

“Those who are on the other side must now come together and think together: what are the right answers,” Esken said on German public radio rrb24-Inforadio.

Referring to the French and other European peoples’ concerns about issues such as inflation, war and migration, Esken also said that “we must now be clear: What policy is actually necessary to give people security again?”

Germany, traditionally the closest partner of France in the EU, has seen a surge of the far right Alternative for Germany party, or AfD, in recent years as well.

In the European election last month , the far-right AfD surged, while the country’s unpopular governing parties sank to feeble results. In September, the AfD is expected to make strong gains in three state elections in eastern Germany.

Adding to the woes of centrist European governments, on Sunday Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán announced plans to form a new alliance with Austria’s far-right Freedom Party and the main Czech opposition party. The new grouping hopes to attract other partners and become the biggest right-wing bloc in the European Parliament.

Orbán, whose country took over the leadership of the European Union on Monday, in recent years has appeared to relish opportunities to block, water down or delay key EU decisions, routinely going against the grain of most other leaders on issues like the war in Ukraine, relations with Russia and China, and efforts to defend democracy and the rule of law.

The EU presidency rotates among its member countries, and while the post holds little real power, it does allow countries to put their priorities high on Europe’s agenda.

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