European Elections 2019: The Story Across the Continent
Across 28 countries, some 500 million Europeans elected 751 Members of the European Parliament. Arnold le Goeuil reports on some surprise twists.
At the end of May, the second-largest democratic contest in the world took place amid a difficult context – the rise of Euroscepticism and Brexit. The European Elections were supposed to be a triumph for Far Right parties across the continent but, the results have been more nuanced.
If in Italy, eastern Europe or in the UK their success is unambiguous, in Germany, Netherlands, Spain or Denmark they actually failed to make gains. Italy’s Liga, Europe’s second-largest Far Right party, and the French Rassemblement National did not really make gains either.
The biggest winners may well have been the Greens who, from Germany to France, from the UK to Austria, made gains with the centre-left vote and even became the first party on the left in France and in Germany. Here is an analysis of some of the results.
There was no surprise in Germany: Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU-CSU) remain the largest party with 28% of the vote, although this was the lowest vote share ever in the history of the party. The centre-left SPD was crushed, with 15%, and in third place – something which has never happened before at any national election, including for the Bundestag.
The AfD polled 11%, relatively low compared to other Far Right parties.
It seems that the SPD is paying a heavy price for its Great Coalition with Merkel’s CDU. The SDP’s voters have probably gone to the Greens, who did exceptionally well (20%), thus reflecting a wider electoral increase for Greens across Europe. The AfD polled 11%, relatively low compared to other Far Right parties especially in Italy, France and in the UK. Germany seems to have stuck to its image: the last major country resisting Euroscepticism and still somewhat stable. For now.
France offered surprises with its election results – not because the far right RN came first with 24% and Macron’s LREM (centrist/centre-right) came just behind with 23%, but because voters defied what opinion polls recently suggested.
Les Républicains (LR), former President Nicolas Sarkozy’s party, was predicted to come in third with 15%. But, whether it’s the rise in turnout of young generations or an increasing LREM vote in older ones, the party crashed and came fourth with 8%, just ahead of the left-wing La France Insoumise and the centre-left Socialist Party, which both received 6.5%.
Even though the left is divided and obviously unable to stand as an alternative to Macron, the Greens surprised everybody, achieving 13% of the vote
Even though the left is divided and obviously unable to stand as an alternative to Macron, the Greens surprised everybody, achieving 13% of the vote and third place, some distance ahead of LR. As for Macron, this election gives him no momentum. He wanted Nathalie Loiseau’s LREM list to win the election, but it’s not a defeat either. With 23%, Macron is just behind the RN, despite the Gilets Jaunes crisis and his unpopularity.
These elections were a test for the ruling coalition in Italy formed of Far Right Liga and the populist Five Star Movement (M5S). If Matteo Salvini’s Liga was projected to be the first party, the difference in terms of votes between his party and the M5S was going to be an indicator of how long the coalition can survive. With 34% for Salvini and only 17% for the M5S, it seems the difference is too high.
There is a huge risk that the M5S could be replaced in the long-term by Liga. However, the centre-left is somehow coming back with 22% of the vote.
There were a few surprises across Europe and the Netherlands was one of them. While polls suggested right-wing Forum voor Democratie could win the election, the Dutch actually voted for the European Socialist leader’s party.
The Dutch actually voted for the European Socialist leader’s party.
Frans Timmermans’ PvdA surprised everybody and topped the polls with 18%, before PM Rutte’s VVD (15%) and his junior partner in the ruling coalition CDA (12%). Right-wing FvD came a long way behind with only 10%. Thierry Baudet’s party replaced Geert Wilders’ Far Right party VVD as the main Eurosceptic vote. Netherlands could play an important role in the next European Parliament and Commission as Frans Timmermans could have a shot at becoming European Commission President if the ALDE group supports him or Mark Rutte.
Austria’s ruling coalition formed of the centre-right OVP and far right FPO collapsed just days before the election in the aftermath of the video scandal in which Vice-Chancellor Christian Strache proposed advantageous deals to media outlet owners in exchange for favorable coverage. A few days later, Chancellor Kurz announced a snap general election for September, but was hoping to remain in office until then. ‘No way’ as SPO and FPO MPs voted in a no-confidence motion – the first one to be successful in the country’s history since World War Two.
SPO and FPO MPs voted in a no-confidence motion – the first one to be successful in the country’s history since World War Two.
But, even though a technocratic government should take office in a few weeks, Kurz is hopeful to win in September, having won the European elections. His party came first with 35%, a long way before the SPO with only 24% and the FPO with 17%. The Greens performed quite well as in the rest of Europe, winning 14%. This leaves the country on its way to a new Parliament in September and with difficult months ahead trying to form a government.
Belgians voted for both European and federal elections. The Belgian political landscape is divided between Francophone and Dutch-speaking communities, which makes it difficult for nation-wide coalitions to be formed. But, this might become even harder as the right wing N-VA, which won 13% of the European vote, and the far right, VB, which gained 11%, topped the polls. The Belgian PS arrived third, before Prime Minister Charles Michel’s centre-right Mouvement Réformateur. With no clear majority and the rise of Flanders’ Far Right, there is no doubt that Belgium will struggle for stable government.
Hungary is virtually a one-party country, with the absolute domination of Viktor Orban’s Fidesz party, which received 52% of the votes leaving official opposition parties with scraps. The centre-left Demokratikus Koalíció came second with 16%, but the party announced its MEPs will leave the S&D in Strasbourg to join the ALDE – En Marche new group. In a devastating and depressing political landscape, the 9% which went to centrist Momentum might be interpreted as a sign of hope for the future of pro-EU and liberal politics in Hungary. The hope is only little though.
The ruling party Law and Justice party won 45% of the vote, defeating the “Coalition for Europe” formed by the centre-right Civic Platform and Social Democrats (38%). This gives a good signal for Poland ahead of its general election due to take place in November, but whether Law and Justice will get an overall majority then is another issue. The party might be forced to form a coalition with minor parties, even though this outcome seems unlikely after its landslide victory, now four years in office. Nothing seems to shake Polish politics in a way or another.
The future of Alexis Tsipras’ party, Syriza, seems in jeopardy as the party was heavily defeated by right-wing party New Democracy, with it only winning 24%, compared to New Democracy’s 33%. As a result, the Prime Minister has called for a snap election. With 7% of the vote, the new social democrats (KINAL, Ex-PAZOK) showed that the country’s centre-left is still more or less present despite years in political obscurity. It also showed that, whilst he may not win the next general election, Tsipras will be able to count on minor centre-left parties to prop-up a government.
The centre-right party Venstre won with 23% of the vote, just ahead of social democrats with 21%. The Socialistisk Folkeparti also performed quite well with 13%. The biggest surprise came with the very low result for the far-right Dansk Folkeparti, which lost 15% since 2014 to finish with little more than 10%.
Denmark, along with the Netherlands, is one of the few countries in which the far-right is actually diminishing. This helped socialist parties win more votes, and to re-conquer the working class, as well as Prime Minister Rasmussen’s party Venstre to appeal to lower middle-class voters. Will it be enough to get a new centre-left government nearly four years after Helle Thorning-Schmidt?
The biggest surprise came with the very low result for the far-right Dansk Folkeparti.
Like in the famous television series Borgen, everything will depend on which party and which leader is able to get the magic number: 90 seats. So far, polls have suggested that the social democrats could be in a position to form such a majority with the social liberals (Radikale Venstre), the Greens and other left-wing parties. This would mean that Mette Frederiksen, the S&D leader, is about to become Denmark’s second female Statsministre.
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