Five key figures in the European elections

Brussels (AFP) –


As the clock counts down to the European Parliament elections that start Thursday, here are five key figures in the battle, from arch-eurosceptic Nigel Farage to French President Emmanuel Macron.

- Farage, veteran eurosceptic -

Nicknamed "Mr Brexit" by his friend Donald Trump, veteran eurosceptic Nigel Farage, 55, has been an MEP since 1999, first for the UK Independence Party (UKIP), then as an independent and latterly for his new Brexit Party.

Farage was for many years at the vanguard of the campaign for Britain to leave the EU. During his two decades in the European Parliament that position has moved from the fringe to the heart of government policy.

He left UKIP and founded the Brexit Party in protest at the government's failure to deliver Brexit. Now, despite the fact it only came into being in January, the party is way ahead in opinion polls, on course to win more European seats than any other party in the UK.

Such a result would be yet another slap in the face for the two main British parties, Conservative and Labour, from a man they have struggled to contain or counter.

- Salvini, Italian populist -

The populist strongman of the Italian government deputy PM Matteo Salvini aims to unite a nationalist group in the European Parliament with his French "friend" Marine Le Pen.

The 46-year-old Milanese entered the European Parliament in 2004 and left in 2018 after coming to power in Italy.

His populist government angered most of its European partners by closing its ports to refugee arrivals. And it locked horns with the European Commission over a national budget that broke EU rules, before eventually reaching a compromise.

Equipped with a strong team of young social media specialists, Salvini's party is predicted to get around 30 percent of votes in Italy.

- Orban's populist wave -

With poll ratings of 57 percent for his party Fidesz, Viktor Orban, the Hungarian prime minister since 2010, is about to strengthen his grip on his country and his status as a key figure of the European far right.

Suspended by the centre-right European People's Party grouping because of his attacks on Brussels, Orban does not want to leave the EU, which pays Hungary substantial sums in structural funds.

Instead he intends to try to reconstruct the European right, boosting contacts with Salvini, Austria's Freedom Party and the PiS of Poland.

- Europe's defender Macron -

French President Emmanuel Macron came to power in 2017 on a pro-European platform and has consistently called for a "revival of Europe", positioning himself as the number one opponent of the populists.

In France, his La Republique En Marche (LREM) party is neck and neck with Marine Le Pen's far-right National Rally (RN).

Macron hopes to reshuffle the centrists at the European Parliament, calling for "building a great coalition of progressives" against "those who want to destroy Europe through nationalism".

His party is expected to join forces with the Liberal ALDE group to play a pivotal role in the parliament and in the job sharing of the European institutions.

Macron wants a common eurozone budget and a European finance minister and less dependence on the United States for defence and is in favour of a strong and coherent "European identity".

- Sanchez, the socialist hope -

After winning snap national elections at the end of April, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez is the only social democrat in power in a major EU country and should emerge stronger from Sunday's European poll.

His PSOE party is predicted to get around 30 percent of the vote and wants to take the opportunity to increase Madrid's influence on the EU stage, particularly after Britain quits the bloc, leaving Spain as its fourth largest economy.