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The U.K. will go to polls after far-right makes gains in other parts of Europe

LAUREN FRAYER, HOST:

In Europe, far-right parties made gains in continent-wide elections last weekend. But...

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

URSULA VON DER LEYEN: The center is holding.

FRAYER: That's European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, emphasizing that mainstream governing coalitions will keep control of the European Parliament. But they are rattled, perhaps nowhere more so than in France, where President Emmanuel Macron dropped a bombshell snap election starting later this month. Meanwhile, the U.S.'s biggest ally across the Atlantic, Britain, is looking ahead to its own elections next month. Mujtaba Rahman is managing director for Europe at the Eurasia Group, a risk analysis firm, and he joins me now from Brussels. Welcome to the program.

MUJTABA RAHMAN: Thank you for having me, Lauren.

FRAYER: So France is where the far-right did best. Is President Macron making a gamble by calling these elections now?

RAHMAN: He is, because there is a very substantial risk that the far-right will deliver a majority, and Marine Le Pen's national rally will ultimately form a government led by Jordan Bardella, the designate prime minister that Le Pen would have to run this government.

FRAYER: Her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen - he was fined by French courts for calling the Holocaust a detail of history. The party now has a new generation of leaders. Tell us about them. Are they different?

RAHMAN: I think Le Pen remains the de facto leader of the national rally. Jordan Bardella is also dating one of Marine Le Pen's nieces. This is a family business, and the head of that business, the CEO, is Marine Le Pen.

FRAYER: So if this Le Pen extended family were to control France's parliament through their party, what changes could we expect in France?

RAHMAN: Never before in the context of this constitution, the Fifth Republic, have you had two leaders in the presidency and in the Matignon - so that's prime minister - with such ideological, opposed views on more or less everything, I think we will be in for very, very volatile and very, very uncertain times.

FRAYER: The U.K. is preparing to hold elections next month - on July 4, as it happens. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak's ruling conservatives are badly trailing in the polls. Why would he call an election now?

RAHMAN: For Sunak maybe the sentence was this is as good as it's going to get. There's a major concern about the trajectory of the economic outlook. I don't think Sunak himself believes he can win. This is really about damage limitation.

FRAYER: There are some pretty startling statistics about the U.K. The U.N. says there are more children living in poverty in Britain than in almost any other developed country. Britain is in the worst cost of living crisis since World War II. I mean, what has happened here in the past 14 years under Conservative Party rule?

RAHMAN: In the first instance, there was a tremendous amount of austerity, which was done on the heels of the Greek financial crisis and a belief that capital markets wanted to see debt levels falling. That obviously starved public services. Of course, then Brexit has been a major distraction. So the country and voters - and you see this reflected in the opinion polls - are now crying out for change and Labor is likely to deliver a very high majority on the Fourth of July.

FRAYER: A Labor leader hasn't won an election in nearly 20 years. What changes would they implement?

RAHMAN: A much more coherent economic policy. I think the Labor Party, once they form a government, will also rationalize and improve relations with the EU.

FRAYER: That's Mujtaba Rahman from the Eurasia Group. Thank you so much for speaking with us today.

RAHMAN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Lauren Frayer
Lauren Frayer covers India for NPR News. In June 2018, she opened a new NPR bureau in India's biggest city, its financial center, and the heart of Bollywood—Mumbai.