Explaining the EP election results – A 7-country cheat sheet

From Eurosceptic “earthquakes” in the UK and France to a surprising establishment win in Italy and increased turnout in Germany and France – the most notable results of the EP vote in 7 member states.


The European elections are nothing short of a vote of (no) confidence for the current government led by the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP). It comes after a year of popular protests spurred by the controversial appointment of a media tycoon to head the national security agency, in the wake of national elections in May 2013. With both protestors and parliamentary opposition are calling for early general elections, the overwhelming defeat of the ruling BSP at the EP polls could shake up the cabinet or even lead to a resignation.

Hard Euroscepticism represented by ATAKA is in decline in favor of the somewhat softer, populist Eurosceptisicm of Bulgaria Without Censorship (BWC), which garnered between 9 and 11% giving them 2 MEPs. ATAKA’s failure can be traced to its association with the current government and the split of the ultranationalist vote amongst several competing lists.

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Turnout is the main surprise of the vote, since at 43% it is far higher than the predicted turnout, and 10% higher than in 2009.

The Eurosceptic National Front (FN) achieved the stunning success of coming in first, ahead of both establishment parties. But clearly the FN is riding a wave of very negative economic and social conditions (growth, debt, employment, taxes).

Despite the headline-grabbing FN win, within France there are two upshots of the vote for the ruling Socialist party. Manuel Valls and a few others has emphasized the “earthquake” and come out strongly for reforms that would turn around the economy. Others, such as former Socialist PM Ayrault, are choosing to describe the vote as a warning to Europe. And second, the defeat of leftist groups in fact gives a freer hand to reformists inside the current majority.

Meanwhile, the conservative right is left deeply split between those who want to play a more rightist and populist line to reclaim voters from the FN, and those who want to campaign strongly within the European framework.

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In Germany turnout was up almost 5 percent over 2009 – after a steady decline since the first election in 1979. Establishment parties won, with Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats in the lead. And Germany’s new Eurosceptic party got a notable 7 percent of the vote.

The aggregated effect of EU-wide populism, however, will be of greater significance. It will lead to more reluctant governments in the European Council, seeking to demonstrate their sovereign control over EU-matters. Once again, “more Europe” has become more difficult, Merkel may feel reassured in her reluctance to lead Europe.

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The EP election in Italy turned up an astounding – and unexpected – victory for Matteo Renzi's Democratic Party (PD) triumph. Not only were the PD’s share of the vote higher than any victor before, they won everywhere: from North to South of the country, with huge margins of victory in his Florence and centre. In fact, the PD received 3 million votes more than the most recent national elections.

Within Italy Renzi’s great showing bestow powerful legitimacy to the ruling coalition. At the European level, these results also make Renzi is the strongest progressive leader. With the miserable results of other PSE members in Europe (especially the Socialists in France and Spain), he should have powerful leverage in Europe.

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Despite hopes to the contrary, turnout once again fell in Poland. The right-wing Law and Justice party came out just ahead of the ruling Civic Platform – and with this may become the strongest national group in the EP faction European Conservatives and Reformists. But Law and Justice has to face a new and much more radical rival emerging in the right-conservative milieu: the Congress of the New Right whose result of more than 7 percent (4 seats) is clearly the most ground breaking result of this election.

And despite a pro-European populace the biggest loser of the election is the Your Movement campaign headed by Janusz Palikot – the only openly pro-federalist political force, which openly called for a speedy accession of Poland to the eurozone as well as for a European army. It did not win a single seat in the EP and with 3.7 percent its political future is highly uncertain.

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Three things to highlight in Spain: while in the rest of Europe, governing parties are punished, in Spain it is the opposition that is punished. The Socialists are facing a serious crisis.

Second, the two-party system has gotten a shake. The main two parties are below 50% for the first time ever, if this is carried into the next election, Spanish politics will change.

Third, real populists claim seats in Spain for the first time. PODEMOS, a one-man party funded by an University Professor with links from Venezuela broke with United Left (GUE, Tsipras) because it was too mild on capitalism and the euro. PODEMOS, which advocates for the withdrawal of Spain from the euro will have 5 seats the new EP.

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UKIP’s victory seems to confirm a shift to a four-party system. The result will put David Cameron under even greater pressure on Europe ahead of the referendum on British membership Cameron has committed to hold in 2017 if he wins the next general election (one senior Conservative backbencher has already called for Cameron to promise to hold the referendum a year early).

Meanwhile, the Liberal Democrats, the most “pro-European” party took just 7 percent of the vote and will lose nearly all of its 12 seats in the European Parliament.

Another difficult question for Cameron thrown up by the election is whether the Conservatives will co-operate with the German Eurosceptic party Alternative für Deutschland, which won seats in the European Parliament for the first time. AfD would like to join the Tories in the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) grouping in the European Parliament – a cooperation strongly opposed by Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats. Thus while Cameron finds himself under even greater pressure than before from UKIP and Eurosceptics within his own party, he may also find it harder to win German support for his attempt to renegotiate Britain’s relationship with the EU.

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The European Council on Foreign Relations does not take collective positions. ECFR publications only represent the views of their individual authors.

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