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Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

A long-awaited test for Europe’s far right begins today with European parliamentary elections, which will send a medley of nationalists to Brussels and a message to mainstream parties all over the continent.

Why it matters: Emmanuel Macron, France’s fiercely pro-EU president, has portrayed it as a referendum on the European project. His nationalist foes agree — but their ambition is to weaken the EU from the inside.

  • All 28 European Union members will elect representatives to the EU's 751-seat parliament between today and Sunday.

The far-right is growing in strength, but it’s hardly a unified force. Things tend to get messy when nationalists, campaigning on “sovereignty,” attempt to join hands across borders.

  • Immigration, for example, is the signature issue for both Matteo Salvini, the Italian leader of a new far-right bloc, and Hungary’s authoritarian prime minister, Viktor Orbán.
  • Salvini, Italy's interior minister, wants the rest of the EU to share the migrant burden that has fallen heavily on Italy. He'll never get Orbán, who has vowed to keep immigrants out, to sign up to that.
  • Salvini has cobbled together a far-right coalition that’s expected to take about 10% of the new parliament. But it doesn’t include Orbán, Poland’s populist ruling party, or the Brexit Party — which is taking British politics by storm.

The big mainstream blocs — the center-left Social Democrats and the center-right European People’s Party — are likely to lose their long-held combined majority. That means a shift in Brussels’ balance of power.

  • Macron hoped to gather enough seats and sway to position his party as the “kingmaker," says Celia Belin of the Brookings Institution.
  • He’s short on allies, though, and now in a desperate fight simply to top Marine Le Pen’s far-right National Rally. Losing to Le Pen would be a major setback for his ambitions, both for the EU and for France.

What to watch: Turnout is often low in these elections, but the consequences can be significant.

  • Markus Schomer, Chief Economist at PineBridge Investments, tells Axios’ Dion Rabouin the 2014 vote was the “catalyst” for Brexit because the U.K. Independence Party triumphed over Britain's Conservative government, which in turn offered a referendum on EU membership.
  • “My worry is something could happen in these elections that lights the fuse for another Brexit-like event a few years from now," he says.

The big picture: Since 2014, Brussels has largely remained insulated from the political upheaval around the continent, says Erik Brattberg of the Carnegie Endowment. Not any longer.

Go deeper: Populism smothers Europe's mainstream conservatives

Go deeper

Updated 15 hours ago - Sports

The potential GOAT of chess faces intriguing challenger

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The World Chess Championship between Norway's Magnus Carlsen and Russia's Ian Nepomniachtchi began on Friday, 1,094 days after Carlsen won his fourth consecutive title.

Why it matters: During the long, COVID-fueled layoff, chess entered a new era, and with the championship finally here, the age-old game is ready for its close-up.

Department of Interior proposes raising cost of drilling on public lands

A horizontal drilling rig and a pump jack sit on federal land in Lea County, New Mexico. Photo: Callaghan O'Hare/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Oil and gas companies should pay more to drill on federal lands and waters, the Department of the Interior argued in a report released Friday, saying that the current rates were "outdated."

Driving the news: The Department of Interior report said that the federal government's oil and gas leasing and permitting program "fails to provide a fair return to taxpayers, even before factoring in the resulting climate-related costs that must be borne by taxpayers."

16 hours ago - Health

U.S. to restrict air travel from 8 countries over new COVID variant concerns

A COVID-19 vaccine is administered. Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images

The U.S. will impose new air travel restrictions in response to the Omicron variant, a new COVID strain first detected in South Africa, President Biden announced Friday.

The big picture: Air travel from South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique and Malawi will be restricted starting on Monday.