European Elections: A Shrinking Center Facing Trouble

Voters delivered a few pleasant surprises for some groupings, and a couple of bitter disappointments for others, in elections to the European Parliament Sunday. Perhaps the biggest surprise of all was turnout: more than 50% of the European Union’s 400 million voters did so this weekend. Sunday marked the first election since 1979 in which turnout actually increased. Various pro-EU factions still command a strong majority in the 751-seat Parliament. However, for the first time in 40 years, the EPP and S&D governing coalition has lost its majority.

The center-right European People’s Party (EPP) and center-left Socialists & Democrats (S&D) took heavy losses across the 28 member states, yet remained the two largest blocs. The centrist Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE) made big gains, and so did the Greens/European Free Alliance grouping. Various populist and nationalist groups did well too. The far-left seemed to do poorly.

(Image: europeelects.eu)

Long seen as low-turnout protest votes against governing parties, the dislodging of the EPP and S&D parties mirror results from several regional and national elections. That will leave the Liberals, who finished a strong third, and the Greens, a surprising fourth, jockeying for position within an even grander coalition of the pro-EU center. The Greens seemed to buck continental— if not global— trends Sunday, as climate-motivated voters washed a Green wave over Parliament. They came in second in Germany, third in France. In Britain, the Greens beat the Conservatives. With Social Democrats sputtering and aging, a Green shift, sparked by younger voters, may be afoot, supplanting them as the main party of the left across Europe.

Results were mixed on the Right. The European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) appeared to lose 16 seats, exactly as many as the hapless Tories gave up. Nigel Farage’s Europe of Freedom and Direct Democracy (EFD) did well, almost entirely on the strength of his Brexit Party, which topped the vote in Britain. The Alternative for Germany made small gains, Italy’s 5 Star Movement lost seats. Matteo Salvini’s far-right Europe of Nations and Freedom (ENF) also netted seats. However, his League’s 23-seat skyrocketing in Italy was washed out elsewhere. Marine Le Pen’s renamed National Rally bested President Emmanuel Macron’s centrist En Marche in France. Eurosceptic parties now account for 23 percent of the EU Parliament.

The fall of the EU centrist coalition is likely to help both wings of the political spectrum. To form a new governing coalition, the center parties will have to accept leftists, and some of their policies, into the government. That in turn will strengthen Eurosceptic party criticisms of the majority and likely increase their support among voters going forward. “The monopoly of power is broken,” Margrethe Vestager, ALDE candidate for European Commissioner, summed up. Negotiations for a new parliamentary power structure begin over dinner on Tuesday.

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Robert Martin (CN Staff)

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