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Macron’s Liberals vow to race Meloni’s hard-right ECR for influential third place in EU Parliament

French President Emmanuel Macron, left, is welcomed by Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni during a G7 world leaders summit at Borgo Egnazia, Italy, Thursday, June 13, 2024.
French President Emmanuel Macron, left, is welcomed by Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni during a G7 world leaders summit at Borgo Egnazia, Italy, Thursday, June 13, 2024. Copyright Luca Bruno/Copyright 2024 The AP. All rights reserved
Copyright Luca Bruno/Copyright 2024 The AP. All rights reserved
By Mared Gwyn Jonesvideo by Vincenzo Genovese
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A post-election push for new members sees the rival groups neck and neck in the race to become the third biggest force in the hemicycle.

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The European political group of French President Emmanuel Macron has vowed to challenge Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni's hard-right European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) for the influential third-place position in the newly-configured European Parliament.

Meloni’s ECR welcomed six new members from the nationalist Alliance for the Union of Romanians (AUR) yesterday, bumping their seat number up to 83 and edging three seats ahead of Macron’s Renew Europe group to claim third place.

But on Thursday, Renew Europe welcomed one new lawmaker from the French-speaking Belgian party, Les Engagés, closing in on ECR at 81 seats. The Renew Europe president, Valérie Hayer, told reporters that the group was just "getting the ball rolling" in terms of accepting new members.

Sandro Gozi - who was along with Hayer one of Renew Europe's trio of lead candidates in the European elections - told Euronews that the "marathon" for third place had "just started."

"The point is that we want to win the race of values, of ideas and of policy issues," Gozi said.

Renew was hoping to edge ahead of ECR in the coming days by welcoming the five lawmakers elected to represent the European federalist Volt party. But that decision will be put to a vote among Volt members, with early indications they could instead opt for the Greens group.

It comes as an embattled Macron and his centrist Renaissance party prepare for tough legislative elections in France, abruptly convened after the surging far-right National Rally (RN) clinched some 31% of the vote in June's European elections, twice as much as Renaissance.

Macron's gamble is seen as a watershed moment in fending off a far-right surge in an EU country that has until now kept populist forces out of government.

It also follows a G7 gathering in Italy where palpable tensions emerged between Meloni and Macron over a communiqué language on the right to abortion. The Italian premier's hard-right Brothers of Italy (FdI) party scored a solid victory in the European ballot, consolidating Meloni's domestic grip on power.

Centrists say ECR should not have say in top jobs

According to one EU official, Meloni expressed exasperation during Monday's gathering of EU leaders over the exclusion of ECR leaders in negotiations for the EU's top jobs.

Both Meloni and Czech prime minister Petr Fiala represent the ECR in the European Council, but were not involved in the top job talks like their Renew counterparts.

Top jobs are traditionally handed out to candidates representing the political groups that emerge strongest after the European elections.

Renew's Sandro Gozi firmly told Euronews that the ECR will not be included in the negotiations as they are not part of the pro-European "alliance" that clung on to its majority in the ballot.

"I think that the distribution of top jobs is based on political alliance... which is being shaped between the EPP, the Socialists and Renew," Gozi said. "The top jobs will be based on this alliance, and not on other groups which do not belong to this alliance."

Also rattled by the three centrist forces' close-knit talks was Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, who said following Monday evening's talks that the "will of the European people was ignored today in Brussels."

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"They don't care about reality," Orbán wrote in a statement on X. "We shouldn't be naive: they will continue to support migration and send even more money and weapons to the Russia-Ukraine war."

Orbán's allies have in the past hinted they could join Meloni's ECR faction in a bid to wield more power in the European Parliament. But that prospect has now all but disappeared after Romania's Hungary-sceptic AUR party was welcomed on Wednesday.

Fidesz had long warned that they could not sit together with the AUR, which has historically been critical of the Hungarian Székely autonomy movement in Transylvania on the rights of ethnic Romanians.

Fidesz's parliamentary group leader Máté Kocsis said in a statement on Wednesday that the party would "never share a faction" with AUR, "known for its extreme anti-Hungarian stance."

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"This is non-negotiable!" Kocsis added, effectively closing the door on a possible far-right grouping that would bring together Meloni's 22 EU lawmakers together with Orbán's 11.

While new joiners could see Renew increase its seat share over the coming days, the group does face a difficult choice over the possible expulsion of the Dutch People's Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD).

Hayer has vowed that VVD's decision to enter a coalition government with Geert Wilders' far-right Party for Freedom (PVV) in the Netherlands would come with consequences, with a vote on their possible expulsion from Renew originally expected the day after the European elections.

But the VVD's four newly elected lawmakers are currently still counted among Renew's 81 seats. It makes Hayer's task as president particularly delicate, with her domestic party fighting the party of Wilders' European ally Marine Le Pen in the French legislative elections.

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