Friday

13th Dec 2019

Analysis

Key takeaways from the European elections

Turnout up, but why?

After 40 years of diminishing interest in the European elections, 2019 finally brought a rise in turnout in the EU elections. For 27 of the 28 EU states, with the exception of the UK, the estimated turnout came in at 50.5 percent, the European Parliament said. The turnout in the last European elections inco 2014 hit a historic low of under 43 percent. Why the interest now? Some in the parliament already argued for the success of the Spitzenkandidaten system, ushered in by the EU parliament to force the national leaders' hands when picking the next EU commission president. Climate change, the 2015 migration crisis, and populists' relentless drive against the perceived 'Brussels elite' all contributed to the increasing interests of voters.

Centre-right and centre-left suffers

A grand coalition of left and right lost its 40-year long majority to parties looking to upset the status quo. The centre-right European People's Party was down to 180 MEPs from 217 according to the parliament's calculations (it could lose 13 MEPs more if Hungary's Fidesz leaves the party family), and the Socialists & Democrats will have 145 compared to 184 seats gained in 2014. The voters have opted for a more fragmented parliament, and the majority coalition will need to include more parties. European People's Party lead candidate Manfred Weber called for an EPP, Socialists, liberal and green alliance underlining "stability", while socialist lead candidate and Dutch EU commissioner Frans Timmermans called for a "progressive alliance" with liberals, the greens and the far-left, without the EPP - although that, for now, does not add up to half of the 751-seats. "There is no stable majority against the EPP possible. My message is 'join the EPP'," Weber said on Sunday night.

New liberal group forms

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After months of speculation, the formation of a new liberal group was announced by a parliament official on Sunday evening. He told journalists that due to the request of the liberal group in parliament, ALDE, French president Emmanuel Macron's party and a Romanian party alliance will be added to them. The liberals are now projected to have 109 seats compared to the current 69. "That means that no solid pro-European majority is possible without the help and participation of our new centrist groups," liberal group leader and lead candidate Guy Verhofstadt told the press on Sunday, in what sounded like a hint that he would be fine with an EPP and Socialist coalition including the liberals. "A coalition can be built of those who want to change things," Danish commissioner and other liberal lead candidate Margrethe Vestager said later, hinting she could support a progressive coalition. In any case, liberals are set to be king- or queen-makers.

'Green Wave' stops soon

The Greens were first to celebrate on Sunday night as exit polls trickled in. Greens have certainly made a slash in Germany, where they emerged as the second party in the country with 20.7 percent, behind chancellor Angela Merkel's CDU/CSU with 28.7 percent. In France too, the Green party saw a surge in support, scoring 13 percent and getting third place behind the far-right and Macron's centrist party. In Ireland, Greens gained 15 percent of the votes. Greens have also done well in Belgium, in Brussels, the Flemish and French-speaking Greens are expected to become the largest group. Overall, all this leads to a gain of 17 MEPs, according to the European Parliament's calculations, and their best-ever result, making the party the fourth largest in the parliament. It also exposes the 'Green Wave's' obstacles: a low presence in southern and eastern Europe.

Populists get over 100 seats

Marine Le Pen won in France, Nigel Farage claimed Britain and Matteo Salvini is victorious in Italy, Orban landslide in Hungary - these populists and nationalists victories would have sounded the pro-EU alarm normally. But on Sunday night, it was business as usual. Populists were expected to do well in the European elections, and some projections even envisioned a third of the seats going to anti-EU forces, making legislation in the parliament almost impossible, crippling the EU machinery. According to the parliament's projects, their current groups can add up to a total of 112 MEPs, up from 78. Eurosceptic conservatives mean another 59 MEPs. A lot depends in how closely these groups can work together when it comes to setting their own agenda in the parliament, upsetting the EU's legislature, and changing the bloc to their liking.

Poland and Romania backfire

While Hungary's premier Viktor Orban held onto his massive dominance in the country, with his Fidesz party winning 13 seats, in Poland and Romania, and other eastern European countries where the rule of law and democratic principles were challenges by the government, opposition parties made important gains. In Poland, the country's ruling Law and Justice party (PiS) came out only narrowly ahead compared to a pro-EU alliance, in a vote seen as a test of the party's nationalists ahead of the general elections later in the year. In Romania, the ruling Social Democrats (PSD) suffered big losses, exit polls put them tied for first place with opposition centrists. A new grouping of parties, USR-Plus, secured third place with 24 percent of the votes, giving a boost to the liberals in the EU parliament.

Berlusconi and Puigdemont in

Catalan separatist Carles Puigdemont, living in self-imposed exile in Belgium, has won a seat in the European Parliament, and so did former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, making sure the European Parliament will remain a colourful place for politics of all sorts of flavour. Puigdemont cannot take up his new role without returning to Madrid where he faces jail. Making things even odder, Britain's Brexiteer Nigel Farage could steer one of the biggest parties in the next parliament, in an election that was never supposed to have taken place in the first place in the UK.

Interview

Populists 'could be the opposition parliament needs'

Dutch historian and writer Luuk van Middelaar argues populists could be the new opposition in the next European Parliament and a better reflection of EU public opinion - thus actually reinforcing the body's status.

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Parliament outmanoeuvred in EU top-post game

The European Parliament on Tuesday lost a years-long power struggle, and gave up winning more influence on European politics via the so-called Spitzenkandidat process it had championed.

Who is the new EU parliament president, David Sassoli?

The 63-year-old centre-left Italian MEP was elected president of the European Parliament, with 345 votes. A former journalist, Sassoli has experience as a vice-president of the parliament, but is little known.

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