Elections in Europe: wrap up

by Lorenzo Piccoli


Against all the odds, a relatively large percentage of Europeans voted in 2019.

The average turnout is 50.5% across the EU. This number is much higher than that of 2014, when only 42% of those who have the right to vote went to the polls. The clearest gains were recorded in Spain, Romania, Hungary, Poland, France and Germany.

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This finally bucks a 40-year negative trend. Falling participation has made a mockery of the Parliament’s claims to represent the real voice of public opinion. This year’s election represents the higher turn-out than any other European Parliament election since 1994.

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The results proved more complicated than “march of the populists” narrative.

Almost all left populist parties did worse than five years, from Syriza in Greece (down from 26% in 2014 to 23%) to Podemos in Spain (down from 8% to 6%) and Jeremy Corbyn’s version of the Labour Party (from 24% in 2014 to 14%).

For right wing populist the scenario is mixed. They emerge as clear winners in Italy, where the Lega is the first party with 34% of the votes high from 6% of 2014. They also win big in Hungary with Fidesz at 53% and in Poland with Jarosław Kaczyński’s Law and Justice at 45%.

Yet, far right wing populist’s wins must not be exaggerated. In France, the Le Ressemblement National is the first party but has a lower percentage of votes than in 2014. In Austria, the FPÖ lost substantially when compared to 2014. So did the Party for Freedom in the Netherlands. In Germany, the AfD gained just as much as it did in 2014.

Overall, the three existing Eurosceptic groups – which include Poland’s government (the ECR), Italy’s Lega (the ENF) and Marine Le Pen’s Ressemblement National (EFDD) – will make up around 25 per cent of the chamber, some 5 percent points more than 2014. They are not the third largest group in the European Parliament that had been predicted by some.

The centre holds – but it is a new and more dynamic centre.

Any commission president will need 376 votes to secure the absolute majority needed in parliament. In the end, a disparate pro-European centre gained new members and largely held firm in the face of its biggest threat from anti-establishment parties. The pro-EU parties hold around two-thirds of seats. Yes, the People’s Party and the Socialist Group in the Parliament lost the majority; but they can still govern comfortably if they manage to struck a deal with the liberals and/or with the greens. Credit for the two images below goes to Politico and to the Financial Times.

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In the end, this elections look just like Ivan Krastev had written on L’Internazionale last week, citing the 1911 novel “Gertrude the Governess”: Lord Ronald said nothing; he flung himself from the room, flung himself upon his horse and rode madly off in all directions. European politics is recombining in new ways and directions. The rise of the right-wing populists is part of that but not, in this election, a particularly new or dynamic one. European voters rather seem to go a bit everywhere, from socialism in Spain to environmentalism in Germany, far right in Italy, and liberalism in the UK.

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Who are the winners?

Green parties almost everywhere.
The Lib-dems in the UK.
Matteo Salvini’s Lega in Italy.
Viktor Orban’s Fidesz in Hungary.
The Socialist party in Portugal, Spain, and the Netherlands.

Who are the losers?

Labour and Tories in the UK.
The centre-right party in France, Italy, and Spain.
5SM in Italy.
AfD in Germany.
Syriza in Greece.

Is Italy Europe’s new heart of darkness?

Yes. At the moment, there is no clear alternative project to the Lega’s hegemonic regressive views on territorial inequalities and migration.

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Italians abroad do it differently.

While in Italy the Lega emerged as first party with 34% of the votes, the PD at 22% and the 5SM at 17%, Italian abroad voted for the PD (30%) ahead of Lega (19%) and 5SM (15%). Funny, if you think that they were given the right to vote in 2001 by a far right minister who had hoped to mobilise fascist nostalgia abroad.