Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 15 December 2019

Five takeaways from the EU elections 2019

Pro-EU groups hold control, Brexit-inspired annihilation, rising populism, green growth and highest turnout in 20 years

Early results in the 2019 European parliament elections suggested significant losses for the centre-left and right across the continent, and some large gains for the continent’s populist parties, especially in Britain.

We look at five key points so far:

1. Pro-EU parties hold control

The names of the parties in the European Union’s parliament will change, but the broad ideological leaning is not likely to.

There are big losses expected for the bloc’s centre-right European People’s Party and the centre-left Socialists and Democrats, but a large proportion of this is taken up by big wins for the extremely pro-EU Liberals and Green parties.

Large gains for right-wing nationalists and independent groups such as the newly formed Brexit party have largely eaten away at the majority of the seats held by eurosceptic parties within the parliament’s Conservative or far-left blocs.

2. Farage’s Brexit Party storms the polls

Eccentric eurosceptic Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party, which is a little over six weeks old, stormed into the European Parliament, taking approximately 33.5 per cent of the vote, wiping out his alma mater, Ukip ... and the country’s two main parties in the process.

While the strong leave vote was concentrated on Mr Farage, the remain-supporting vote was also extremely popular, but fractured.

While Mr Farage’s ability to launch a party and gain support is remarkable, it doesn’t necessarily mark a large swing in the UK’s electorate. In 2014, Ukip won 29.2 per cent of the vote – this year, the Brexit Party won approximately 4 per cent more (33.5 per cent). Taken with the 3.4 per cent Ukip retained, it only marks a 7.5 per cent swing towards a single-issue leave supporting party, perhaps unsurprising given the prolonged process.

Nigel Farage, leader of the Brexit Party, talks to members of the media in Southampton, UK, after being elected as a Member of the European Parliament. Brexit wrought more havoc on Britain’s main political parties in European Parliament elections, with both Conservatives and Labour scoring their worst results in decades as voters opted for parties with clear pro- and anti-European Union messages Bloomberg
Nigel Farage, leader of the Brexit Party, talks to members of the media. Bloomberg

Much of this support would have come from the UK’s main two parties, the Conservatives, who lost 14.8 per cent – and will soon lose their leader – or Labour, who lost 11.3 per cent of the vote.

What is significant is the quiet resurgence of Remain-supporting parties such as the Liberal Democrats (+13.4 per cent), the Greens (+4.2 per cent) and new party Change UK (+3.4 per cent). The remain vote was split, but totalled 40.4 per cent, compared with 34.9 per cent for the single-issue leave supporting parties.

But remember, it is the official policy of the Conservatives and Labour to leave the EU (22.6 per cent in total).

It is fair to say the elections will not put the debate to bed. If anything, they will add more fuel to the fire and, if Mr Farage has his way, broker his seat at the negotiating table.

3. Populism increasingly popular

Continuing a trend sweeping across Europe is the rise and establishment of the populist, anti-EU, anti-migration parties.

In France, Marine Le Pen’s National Rally appears to have unseated President Emmanuel Macron’s Renaissance party, according to estimates. And there has also been a strong showing from anti-EU parties in Hungary, Italy and Poland as well as, of course, Mr Farage’s new Brexit party.

Much of the EU’s opposition from within will now come from firmly anti-EU parties – and not just Eurosceptic ones.

But there is a flip side – the anti-EU right has not done as well as its rhetoric might lead you to believe.

Italy’s Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini, whose League party won the most votes in Italy, said the EU will be forced to change.

Mr Salvini pointed to wins by Marine Le Pen, Nigel Farage and in Hungary and Poland.

But while anti-EU parties in some areas did have significant success, in some countries, such as the Netherlands, anti-EU parties have had their vote share fall.

4. EU goes green

One unexpected win of the night is the rise of the Green party. They are predicted to gain 20 seats in the parliament, taking their seat share to 70.

There appears to have been a significant shift in attitudes to the climate crisis in recent months, perhaps as a result of activists Extinction Rebellion, climate visionaries such as Greta Thunberg and mass school strikes in the name of action on environmental issues. Increasingly, changing attitudes towards single-use plastics, carbon emissions and social responsibility are swinging many towards environmentalism.

The Greens’ success has primarily come from the UK, Germany and France, where Extinction Rebellion held disruptive protests and where mass school strikes have taken place.

Swedish Green Party candidate Alice Bah Kuhnke applauds preliminary results in the European Parliament elections AFP
Swedish Green Party candidate Alice Bah Kuhnke applaud preliminary results in the European Parliament elections. AFP

5. Record turnout but why?

While each country’s election is in many ways tied up in its own national dramas, one trend across the board is an incredibly high turnout.

It is the highest it has been in 20 years at about 51 per cent, up almost 9 per cent since the last vote.

But why? The obvious answer is that people are more engaged. It feels like a time when debates over how Europeans want their societies to be run are taking place across the EU – questions over trade, migration and how to respond to the climate crisis have shown thousands of people it has never been more important to vote.

Updated: May 27, 2019 04:55 PM

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