Monday

16th Jul 2018

EU's mainstream parties challenged in 2015 elections

  • Citizens in at least eight EU member states will be able to vote in 2015. (Photo: electoralcommission.org.uk)

Europe's anti-establishment parties have at least nine chances to shine this year.

Following on from the European elections in May 2014 which saw record wins for anti-establishment parties on both the left and the right, this year will test whether they can consolidate this power.

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Citizens in at least eight EU member states will be voting for national parliaments in 2015. A total of 2,778 parliamentary seats will be reallocated, in countries like Greece, the UK and Spain.

While voters will go to the polls with national issues on their minds, several of the themes such as austerity and the merits of the single currency stretch across member states.

Greece

On 25 January 2015, Greeks will go to the polls for snap general elections, triggered by the failure of the country's parliament to elect a president. The far-left anti-austerity party Syriza looks set to win the vote.

Led by Alexis Tsipras, Syriza is polling at 30.4 percent, according to a recent poll while the centre-right New Democracy party of prime minister Antonis Samaras is at 27.3 percent.

The election campaign in the coming two weeks is likely to be dominated by discussion on whether the country will stick to its reform programme - pledges made in return for its international bailouts. With Tsipras wanting debt restructuring, talk of a possible Greek exit from the Eurozone has once again resurfaced.

Estonia

Five weeks after the Greek elections, the polls will open in Estonia. There is no eurosceptic group among the four political parties currently represented in the Estonian parliament, or Riigikogu.

Since Taavi Roivas took over as prime minister early in 2014, his centre-right Reform Party, which supports his coalition government with the centre-left Social Democrats, has done well in the polls. According to the most recent poll, his party is set to gain almost a third of the votes on election day, 1 March.

Estonia, a eurozone member since 2011, has two eurosceptic parties, but neither seems close to overcoming the threshold of 5 percent. The Conservative People's Party of Estonia, or EKRE, which was founded in 2012, stands at about 2 percent, although it held around 4 percent of the virtual votes in August.

The Estonian Independence Party, which wants to completely withdraw the Baltic state from the EU, polls between 0 and 1 percent of the votes.

Intermezzo: France

While France does not have national elections in 2015, it has regional elections on 22 and 29 March.

These elections are seen as a test for how well the far-right National Front can do against the socialist party of the unpopular president Francois Hollande, and the centre-right UMP of former president Nicolas Sarkozy.

Marine Le Pen's party delivered a major shock at the European Parliament election in May, coming in top with 25 percent of the vote. It is anti-immigration, wants to withdraw from the single currency, and favours trade protectionism.

Meanwhile President Hollande's approval rating remains extremely low – around 15 percent - amid a stagnating economy and high unemployment.

Finland

Finland goes to the polls on 19 April 2015 to pass judgement on the coalition government of centre-right prime minister Alexander Stubb.

Stubb came to power in June 2014, after his predecessor Jyrki Katainen stepped down as prime minister and party chairman. His coalition of five parties lost one party in September, when a majority of Stubb's cabinet approved a nuclear power plant that will be constructed by a Russian state company.

The coalition has steadily been losing support, which provides on opportunity for the eurosceptic Finns Party, previously called True Finns.

The party, led by Timo Soini, surged in the previous national parliamentary elections, securing 19.1 percent of the votes. However, the most recent poll gives the Finnish eurosceptics only around 13 to 14 percent.

According to Finnish historian Mikko Majander, it is not the Finns but the Centre Party that will likely profit from the waning popularity of the government coalition. The centrists are “a plausible and secure choice for the bourgeois voters who are disappointed with the conservatives and mistrust the populists”, Majander wrote last month.

Possible election campaign issues include the effect of Russia sanctions on the Finnish economy, NATO membership, and immigration.

United Kingdom

One election set to attract major attention will take place in the UK. The campaign for the British election, to be held on 7 May, kicked off at the beginning of the week.

The vote will be “the most open general election in decades”, according to Nigel Farage, leader of the UK Independence Party, or Ukip. His eurosceptic party won the most seats in the UK European elections and then won its first ever seats in the House of Common in two by-elections in autumn.

The governing Conservative Party of PM David Cameron has been trying to woo potential and already-converted UKip voters by ratcheting up the tough rhetoric on the EU and on immigration.

Cameron has pledged that if his Conservative party comes out of the poll victorious, it will hold an in/out referendum on EU membership before the end of 2017, although the Tory leader recently indicated he is open to holding it at an earlier date.

Denmark

If Europe's governments aren't toppled or dissolved to trigger snap elections, Europe's summer could be quiet, electorally speaking, until Denmark's election for 179 new members of its parliament.

Centre-left prime minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt has to call for elections to take place on or before 14 September. Her cabinet has been losing popularity, and in some polls the anti-immigrant Danish People's Party comes out top (21.2% in a November poll).

Without having announced the election date, Helle Thorning-Schmidt used the traditional New Year address by the prime minister to pre-launch her campaign. It was followed by double-page newspaper adverts featuring her portrait and carrying the slogan: 'The Denmark You Know'.

On Monday (5 January) she visited a local supermarket where she used to work in her youth, chatted to staff, spoke to customers, posed for photos and hugged babies in front of the rolling TV cameras. The campaign is seen as trying to win back traditional social democrat voters from the Danish Peoples Party.

Portugal

Portuguese elections will be held between 20 September and 11 October. It will be the first parliamentary elections in the Iberian country since June 2011, two months after the Portuguese government asked the EU for a financial bail-out.

The campaign is set to be about the effects of reforms and austerity measures, but the corruption scandals affecting the main political parties are also likely to take centre stage.

In November, the country's interior minister, a member of the centre-right social democratic party, resigned following accusations of corruption. A week later, former socialist prime minister Jose Socrates was arrested and accused of corruption and tax evasion.

Poland

Could 2015 see the return to the centre of Poland's political scene for Jaroslaw Kaczynski? The leader of the centre-right opposition party Law and Justice was prime minister from July 2006 to November 2007, and twin brother of the late president Lech Kaczynski (2005-2010).

The Kaczynski brothers caused something of a strain on Poland's relations with Brussels, relations which have been improved during Donald Tusk's time as prime minister (2007-2014). Tusk's successor Ewa Kopacz, who started her job in October 2014, said she would continue their party's pro-EU stance.

Elections for a new parliament is scheduled for October. 2015 will also see elections for a new Polish president.

Spain

Spain is another country where the traditional political scene may be rocked. Podemos, meaning ‘we can’ was founded early in 2014, scooped eight percent of the votes a few months later in the EU elections, and is now topping the polls.

Like Greece’s Syriza party, Podemos found its electoral strength in opposing austerity measures against a backdrop of record high unemployment (55.5% of Spaniards under 25 were unemployed in 2013 according to Eurostat. Only Greece had a higher rate at 58.3%)

It has also positioned itself as the clean party, as corruption scandals have rocked the main centre-right party and a recent report said that nearly all political parties in the country were guilty of financial crimes.

Netherlands?

In March, Dutch voters will go to the poll to choose provincial legislatures. However, the result will indirectly decide the make-up of the country's national senate.

If the parties that back the government fail to reach a majority in the senate, it could result into a paralysed government for prime minister Mark Rutte.

Were elections for the parliament's lower house called, it should not be a surprise that right-wing anti-EU politician Geert Wilders does well.

UK elections: All bets off

Just months to Britain's next general election all bets are off. Can one of the beleaguered Conservative or Labour parties stumble across the winning line, or will Ukip's surge continue?

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