Europe’s voters are clearly looking elsewhere for answers
Analysts have pointed out that, after the recent 2019 EU elections, both the big centre-right and centre-left blocs in the European Parliament, have lost their combined majority amid an increase in support for Liberals, the Greens, and Nationalists.
This result will play a big part in the evolving dynamics of the newly constituted European Commission.
Of the total number of 751 seats, the left-leaning parties have won 392 seats -- left (GUE/NGL) 39 seats, socialists and democrats 146 seats, Greens (EFA) 69 seats, Liberals (ALDE) 109 seats, and others 29 seats.
The right-wing groups have won 359 seats -- independent MEPs 8 seats, centre-right (EPP) 180 seats, Conservative Party (ECR) 59 seats, Populists (EFD) 54 seats, and right-wing nationalists (ENF) 58 seats.
EU citizens turned out to vote in the highest numbers for two decades, bucking years of decline and significantly higher than the last elections in 2014, when fewer than 43% of eligible voters took part.
Turnout in Hungary and Poland more than doubled compared to 2014 and Denmark hit a record 63% participation. Analysts have attributed this high turnout to a range of factors including the rise of populist parties and increased climate change awareness.
Pro-EU parties are still expected to hold a majority of seats however, largely due to gains made by the liberal ALDE bloc, and particularly a decision taken by the party of French President Emmanuel Macron Renaissance Alliance to join the group.
However, gains for nationalist parties in Italy, France, and elsewhere have been interpreted as a move towards a greater say for Eurosceptics who want to curb the EU’s powers. It would be important to reflect on how voting has created new dimensions in different parts of the EU.
In Germany, both major centrist parties suffered. Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats has dropped from 35% of the vote in 2014 to 28%, while the centre-left Social Democratic Union has fallen from 27% to 15.5%.
The right-wing populist Alternative für Deutschland performed worse than expected -- winning about 10.5% -- a slight improvement over its first results in 2014. Amid mixed results for far-right parties across Europe, Le Pen’s National Rally party in France celebrated their victory overruling President Macron’s party by securing 24% of the vote to his 22.5%.
This outcome has reflected a tendency already apparent in national elections all over Europe: The rejection of the status quo. Europe’s voters are clearly looking elsewhere for answers. They have underlined that they are drawn to parties and political personalities.
Some are also clearly attracted to the nationalist right who are promising a crackdown on immigration and more power for national parliaments, rather than Brussels. The European Parliament is EU’s supreme law-making body and one of the parliament’s main legislative roles is scrutinizing, and passing laws proposed by the European Commission -- the bureaucratic arm of the EU.
It is also responsible for electing the president of the European Commission and approving the EU budget. The traditional centre-left and centre-right parties, which have dominated the EU for the last two decades, appear to have lost their majority for the first time in the European Parliament.
This aspect conforms to the beating meted out to France’s centre-right and centre-left; to Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel and her Social Democrat coalition partners; plus the rebuke by denotation delivered to the UK’s Conservative and Labour parties.
Now that the election to the EU Parliament is over, the dynamics will start for the important positions in Brussels, EU Headquarters. The month of June saw consultations between EU leaders and parliamentary groups.
In the first week of July, the EU Parliament was tasked with nominating five persons for the most important positions within the EU paradigm. The European Parliament voted and selected right-wing Germany’s Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen to lead the EU Commission as its president.
She’s loyal to the German Chancellor Angela Merkel, a true Christian Democrat, and a conservative Europhile. It is the first time in more than 60 years that a German has been given the post.
The elections have assumed special importance as it has seen the big centrist blocs lose their majority with Nationalists and Greens gaining ground. It leaves the EU more fragmented, so finding consensus on issues may be harder than in the past.
The last few weeks has witnessed upholding of EU’s commitment regarding the necessity to balance gender, political affiliation, and geography when it fills its top jobs. It has required some compromises.
The EU and Britain will now both be following the evolving situation very closely. Earlier, on Brexit, the European Commission negotiated on behalf of EU member states. Those negotiations ended when the UK government signed off on the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement back in November.
The only ones now with the legal power to change or add to the text are now the EU national leaders. As depicted through the wave of indecision among national leaders over the selection of top EU jobs, it’s clear that while France and Germany are still powerful, they are not all-powerful in EU circles anymore.
This will be something that will have to be kept in mind by the new UK prime minister ahead of planning trips to Berlin and Paris to request a renegotiation of the Brexit deal.
Muhammad Zamir, a former ambassador, is an analyst specialized in foreign affairs, right to information, and good governance. He can be reached at [email protected]