If anyone still thought that European elections were a thing of the past because the European Parliament doesn’t have much say anyway, they were proven wrong on Sunday evening. The polling stations in France had been closed for barely an hour when French President Emmanuel Macron appeared in front of the cameras to dissolve the National Assembly and call for new elections on June 30 and July 7.

Macron was reacting to the massive loss of votes by his government coalition and the spectacular election victory of the “Rassemblement National”. Marine Le Pen’s right-wing extremist party, with its young, dynamic lead candidate Jordan Bardella, won 31.5 percent of the vote, a record result – and more than twice as many votes as Macron’s coalition called “Besoin d’europe”, which received a pitiful 15 percent. “Besoin d’Europe” translates as “We need Europe”.

But French voters are clearly of the opinion that they no longer need Europe. Even to the right of the Rassemblement National is the “Reconquête” of Éric Zemmour and Marine Le Pen’s niece Marion Maréchal-Le Pen, which won another five percent of the vote. Macron justified his decision to call new elections by saying that almost 40 percent of voters had voted for the extreme right. He could not pretend that nothing had happened. The rise of demagogues and nationalists is a danger for “our country, but also for Europe.”

If you add to that the nine percent that the left-wing, Eurosceptic and vulgarly anti-Israel “Indomitable France” was able to achieve, then almost half of the French voted for parties that actually want to abolish the Europe we know.

It is more than doubtful whether Macron’s gamble of mobilizing something like a republican bloc against the right through new elections will work. After seven years in office, the former beacon of hope no longer inspires enthusiasm among the French. All polls indicate that after the election he could be forced to offer the office of prime minister to the Rassemblement National, which will then be the strongest party. This ennoblement could finally pave the way for Marine Le Pen to the Élysée Palace in 2027.

After Brexit, an anti-European, anti-German, Putin-friendly President Le Pen would probably be a blow from which the European Union would never recover. Since Sunday evening, this doomsday scenario has become somewhat more likely. But you don’t even have to look to France to learn the horror.

Right-wing populist and anti-European parties have gained ground almost everywhere on the continent, and in Austria the FPÖ became the strongest party. And if the CDU, which, despite the favorable conditions due to the poor performance of the traffic light government, only gained a mere percentage point, seriously presents itself as the election winner here, then it is living in fantasy land.

Despite or because of the absurd antics surrounding its top candidates, the AfD has gained at least three percentage points. With 14.2 percent, it is behind the SPD (14.6) but clearly ahead of the fallen Greens (12.8) and is the strongest party in eastern Germany. The AfD could probably put up a skeleton in a Wehrmacht uniform as its top candidate at the moment and would still gain.

The fact that the party’s objectively disastrous election campaign evidently had little negative impact on the result is another indication that voters who are already determined to oppose the system are not deterred by pariah candidates. In addition to the AfD, Wagenknecht’s Putinist club “BSW” achieved 5.3 percent straight away.

The potential of voters who are hardly receptive to rational arguments is also growing in Germany from election to election. We are therefore not that far removed from the French situation here. At the latest after the upcoming state elections in Saxony, Thuringia and Brandenburg in the autumn, we will once again hear ritually warning, helpless voices calling for the defense of democracy.

This – saving democracy and Europe – is basically a great idea, but we should think carefully about how to do it right. As far as Europe is concerned, it would probably be helpful if the election of the President of the Commission did not happen again as a result of a huge shady deal in the European Council, like last time, when Emmanuel Macron suddenly conjured up Ursula von der Leyen from a hat, to the surprise of everyone involved.

The current Commission President is now faced with a dilemma. Given the majority situation, she must now convince the Social Democrats, Greens and Liberals to vote for her without losing conservative votes. Or she must get elected with the help of Giorgia Meloni’s Fratelli d’Italia and pretend that the post-fascists are a completely normal conservative party. And first of all, she needs a federal government that will even propose her. Ursula von der Leyen will therefore have to prove herself to be extremely ideologically flexible in order to remain in office. This is unlikely to increase her credibility.

But questions of electoral tactics and personnel will ultimately not be decisive in countering the continent-wide anti-European trend to the far right. In almost all opinion polls, it is the same issues that concern the citizens of Europe and make them vote the way they do:

It is the fear of the consequences of excessive immigration, especially from Islamic countries, it is the fear of economic decline and rising crime, it is the desire for national-protectionist answers to global challenges – and it is the lack of understanding of the fact that in Ukraine, Europe’s freedom must also be defended against Putin’s regime.

A policy that seriously wants to combat right-wing nationalist tendencies in Europe cannot indulge in empty speeches; it must finally find answers to these fears and questions. It must regulate certain things and at least provide a plausible explanation for why it cannot regulate others.

At a time when Europe is facing challenges from outside and from within like never before, it needs at least one great European to show the way to make Europe fit for the future. Someone like Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, Helmut Schmidt, Jacques Delors, François Mitterrand, Helmut Kohl or even Margaret Thatcher.

At a time when the British Prime Minister is long out of the picture and the French President is in danger of being absent, this would be a task for the German Chancellor. It’s a shame that the Chancellor hasn’t noticed this yet.