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Europe Votes Against the Ukraine War

In Sunday’s elections, the continent’s national-conservative parties took an important step forward, breaking out of their narrow focus on immigration.

AfD Leaders after 2024 EU Elections
Credit: Sean Gallup/Getty Images

Just before voters delivered a stunning rebuke to the parties of the Establishment in the June 9 European Parliament elections, internal pollsters for the Alternative für Deutschland (Alternative for Germany) reported that the Ukraine war was the top concern for German voters. Twenty-six percent of respondents said that “securing peace” was their number one concern, followed by social security (at 23 percent) and immigration at 17 percent, according to an AfD internal document.

Germany’s peace parties—the AfD and the left-wing Sahra Wagenknecht Alliance—won 16 percent and 6 percent of the vote respectively, while the governing Social Democrats polled just 14 percent, while the Greens—now the most vociferous supporter of the Ukraine War—fell to 12 percent from 20.5 percent in the 2019 elections.


France’s President Emmanuel Macron, the European leader most anxious to send troops to Ukraine, suffered a surprise humiliation. His party polled less than 15 percent of the vote, while the right-wing National Rally gained 31 percent. Unlike Germany, where the peace parties were the biggest winners, the French right has fudged its position on the Ukraine War. But the repudiation of Europe’s leader most willing to commit Western troops is a gauge of antiwar sentiment.

Sunday’s vote was a protest, but not yet a revolution. Western Europe’s national-conservative parties have broken out of the one-issue, anti-immigration mold, but they are not yet ready to govern their respective countries. In Eastern Europe, Hungary, Slovakia, and Serbia comprise an antiwar bloc, probably to be joined by the Czech Republic after the October 2025 elections.

Nonetheless, the political earthquake that shook Europe on Sunday could have far-reaching consequences before the end of this year.

The next milestone for Europe’s national conservatives comes in September, with provincial elections in three German states—Saxony, Brandenburg, and Thuringia—where the AfD has a decisive lead. Germany’s Establishment parties declare that they will not form a coalition with the AfD under any circumstances, but a possible AfD plurality in three German states might break the blockade.

Mainstream commentators dismiss the national conservative upsurge in Europe as a knee-jerk response to immigration, but the data indicates otherwise: Sunday’s electoral earthquake was a response to voter concern about the danger that the Ukraine war will escalate into a European conflict. 


Europe’s Parliament has limited powers, and Germany’s Ursula van der Leyen, a politician of the Establishment, will retain a majority despite the populist upsurge. More important than the European Parliament as such is the tectonic shift in national politics in Europe’s two largest countries, Germany and France. 

Only 30 percent of Germans voted for the Social Democrats, Greens, or Free Democrats, the parties that form the governing coalition. The worst performer was the Green Party with 12 percent of the vote, down from nearly 20 percent in the 2019 European Parliament elections. The Social Democrats, once Germany’s largest party, had only 14 percent. A new party formed by Sara Wagenknecht—the wife of the former left-wing SPD leader Oskar LaFontaine—took 6 percent. The small Free Democratic Party came in at just 5 percent, right at the threshold for parliamentary representation.

If these numbers hold until Germany’s next national election in October 2025, there is no political arithmetic by which the Establishment parties could form a parliamentary majority. The Christian Democrats, led by the former Blackrock executive Friedrich Merz, take a more hawkish position on Ukraine than the governing Social Democrats, who have refused to send “trainers” to Ukraine or to allow Germany’s Taurus cruise missile to strike targets inside Russia. But a CDU/CSU coalition with the Greens would have only 42 percent of parliament. The Free Democrats may not cross the 5 percent mark and drop out of the Bundestag. It is theoretically possible for the battered mainstream parties to form a government with a bare majority, but the country would for all purposes be ungovernable. 

That’s why September’s regional elections may be a turning point in German politics. In Saxony, the largest East German state, the AfD came in first in the European Parliament elections with 31.8 percent of the vote, with the Christian Democrats in second place at 21.8 percent. In Thuringia, the AfD has 30 percent and the Sahra Wagenknecht Alliance has 16 percent, vs. just 20 percent for the Christian Democrats and 7 percent for the SPD. It also leads with 25 percent of the vote in Brandenburg. It is quite possible that the AfD and Wagenknecht's party may have enough votes to govern one or more of these three states. It is more likely that one of the major parties will have to break the blockade and form a governing coalition with the AfD.

The AfD’s success at the polls on Sunday is all the more remarkable after months of vilification by Germany’s mainstream press and security agencies. The country’s equivalent of the FBI, the Federal Office for Protection of the Constitution, labeled the AfD a “right-wing extremist organization” earlier this year. The AfD sued the government agency, but lost the case in a May 13 court ruling. The AfD’s lead candidate for European Parliament, Maximilian Krah (interviewed in this publication last October), has taken more criticism than any political figure not named Donald Trump. On April 23, an employee in Krah’s parliamentary office was arrested for alleged spying for China; subsequently Bild-Zeitung revealed that the alleged spy, a naturalized German of Chinese origin, was a longstanding informant of Germany’s security services.

Der Spiegel, Germany’s top newsweekly, entitled an April 26 cover story on the AfD, “High Treason,” alleging—without proof—payments from Moscow and Beijing. “The AfD presents itself as patriotic,” Spiegel declared, “but possible payments from Russia and an alleged Chinese spy expose them as traitors to their country.”

The harrowing of the AfD followed the familiar script of Trump’s Russiagate, amplified through the echo chamber of the German media for a month before the election. Nonetheless the AfD did better in Sunday’s election than its leadership expected. Most important, as many young Germans voted for AfD as for the Christian Democrats. That 30 percent of the youth vote, according to exit polls, reflects deep disaffection among young Germans. They don’t want to go to war over Ukraine. They confront aggressive immigrant gangs in their daily lives. And they grumble about the Euro 3,000 per month Bürgergeld, or welfare payment, that their government hands out to a family of four, more than a typical university graduate takes home after taxes. Three-quarters of Bürgergeld recipients are foreigners. 

“Why is there such a negative reaction from some about AfD?” tweeted Elon Musk June 9. “They keep saying ‘far right,’ but the policies of AfD that I’ve read about don’t sound extremist. Maybe I’m missing something.” The AfD’s offense isn’t right-wing extremism, but its promotion of German sovereignty in place of an Atlanticist agenda.

In an August 2023 exchange with Tucker Carlson, Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orbán observed that Germany’s failure to remonstrate with the United States over the bombing of the Nord Stream gas pipeline was “in actual fact, proof of a lack of sovereignty.” The Hungarian prime minister was speaking with precision: The American Deep State has inordinate influence in Germany’s security services, media, think tanks and other institutions of public life. The United States has only 38,000 troops in the country, down from 200,000 at the peak of the Cold War, but the virtual occupation remains in place. 

AfD policies can’t be pigeon-holed into pro- or anti-Western categories. Its leaders agree with Hungary’s Orbán about the futility of the Ukraine war. Like Orbán, the AfD has expressed staunch support for Israel throughout the Gaza conflict. It is open to trade and investment with China—but so is Social Democratic Chancellor Olaf Scholz, who took a dozen German CEOs to Beijing in mid-April.

Most AfD leaders are former Christian Democrats who identify with the party of the late Helmut Kohl, the underrated Chancellor who presided over the country’s reunification. Under Angela Merkel’s 16-year-reign, the CDU drifted to the left, supporting the “We can do it” mass immigration of 2016 and shuttering Germany’s nuclear energy industry to appease the Greens.

The AfD wants to be the party that the Christian Democrats should have been. Some of its top leaders concede that it doesn’t yet have the depth of leadership to govern. “It’s a marathon, not a sprint,” one AfD leader told me. Its likely election victories in the three states voting in September, however, will give the AfD its first chance to wield power at the state level. AfD leaders hope this will prepare the party to govern at the national level.