3rd Feb 2023

Centre-right dominate as Socialists regret 'bitter' result

  • The four-day elections were once again marked by a low turnout (Photo: EUobserver)

The European Parliament will continue to be dominated by the centre-right for the next five years, but the 736-seat assembly is set to be more fragmented this time round as many small parties made the threshold.

The Socialists, who had hoped to make major gains at the polls by way of a backlash against the current economic crisis, kept their second place in parliament, while the Liberals remain in third place.

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Current predictions suggest that the centre-right EPP-ED group will have 267 seats (currently they have 288) ; the Socialists will have 159 (currently 217), the Liberals 81 (currently 100) and the Greens 51 (currently 43).

The parliament as a whole has decreased by 49 seats from 785 seats.

Noting the result, which was marked by a rise in representation of the far-right, such as in Austria and the Netherlands, outgoing European parliament president Hans-Gert Pottering said:

"I am very pleased to see that the pro-European parties – the EPP, the PES, the Liberals and the Greens - have achieved a good, solid majority in the European Parliament."

Joseph Daul, head of the EPP, said he could not be more satisfied with the results, while Liberal leader Graham Watson indicated his faction's showing was in line with what he expected.

"That means we will continue to hold the balance between the left and the right, to be the force who determines the outcome of most of the votes and should be able to provide the solid pro-European force at the centre of our House," Mr Watson said.

However the Socialists expressed deep disappointment. Martin Schulz, head of the socialist group, said it was a "very bitter evening" for the party and that they "had hoped for a better result."

Ahead of the vote, the Socialists had been trying to position the centre-right as possessing a failed ideology that led to the economic crisis. They had been hoping for around 200 seats.

In Mr Schulz's native Germany, the Social Democrats, a junior partner in the governing coalition, polled 20.8 percent an all time low. Meanwhile, Britain's Labour took a bashing, as did the French Socialists while Italy's conflict-ridden centre-left and Spain's centre-left government also fared poorly. The centre-right maintained its lead in France, Germany and Italy.

Greens and turnout

Among the main victors are the Greens, who gained in the parliament. In France, the green party (16.2%) were almost at a level with the French Socialists (16.8%). In Germany, they polled in third place (12.1%) ahead of the liberals (11%).

The immediate reaction also focussed on the low turnout of 43.09 percent, making it the seventh consecutive time that turnout dropped since direction elections to the EU assembly began in 1979.

Mr Watson said it was because voters felt "no connection" between how they voted and the final make-up of the Brussels institutions, while Mr Schulz warned about the dangers of having an ever decreasing turnout while the parliament itself gains in powers.

But even though the initials results are in, the politics has only just started.

The British Conservatives have said they will leave the EPP and set up their own anti-federalist grouping.

The rightist UEN, the fourth biggest group ahead of the elections, is likely to be dissolved and some of its political components swallowed up by the centre-right and liberal groups while the anti-EU camp is expected to be stronger.

In addition there are many more smaller parties in the parliament ranging from the far-right to the one-issue parties, such as the Swedish Pirate party, who campaigned on Internet issues and is set to get one seat.

The question remains how big an effect the anti-EU camp will have on the workings of the parliament and whether it will be able to mount a cohesive force.

"I expect from those parties that don't have a pro-European attitude that they cooperate fairly and objectively with all the others in the European Parliament," said Mr Poettering.

The new parliament will have its constitutive session mid-July where it is also expected to elect its own president as well as vote on the nominee for president of the European Commission, likely to be the incumbent Jose Manuel Barroso.

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