What European election results mean for the rest of the EU
A populist surge fails to materialise as Greens and liberals make gains
While the new Brexit Party looks set to be the biggest single national party in the new European Parliament, across the rest of the continent the much-anticipated populist surge failed to materialise.
The headline takeaway is that the main conservative grouping, the European People’s Party (EPP), remains the biggest bloc but with a reduced majority after liberals, Greens and populists all made modest gains. This could hamper the efforts of Manfred Weber, the EPP’s lead candidate, to claim the European Commission presidency.
“But Brussels’ fears of a further massive swing toward the far right did not really materialise. Populists did well in some places, but largely retained the (strong) position they secured in 2014”, reports Politico’s Matthew Karnitschnig.
“Yes, illiberal parties did well in France and Italy, Poland, Hungary and beyond” he writes, “but overall no better than expected, and in some cases worse so”, with the bottom line being “the populists’ finish isn’t that much stronger than in 2014,” he adds.
Mirroring the success of their counterparts in the UK, pro-EU Greens and liberals made significant gains across the continent and could hold the balance of power in the new parliament, bolstered by Emmanuel Macron’s new En March MEPs.
Following months of dire warnings the below-par showing from anti-EU populists will come as a welcome relief in Brussels.
The elections will shape the direction of the EU for the next five years, determining the parliament’s stance on issues such as trade and climate change, and heavily influencing the contest for the bloc’s top jobs.
“The work of the parliament, which has acquired significant extra powers in recent years and now plays a major part in the EU legislative process, will undoubtedly become more complicated,” says The Guardian’s Europe correspondent Jon Henley, “but that isn’t just down to the populists’ advance”.
“The election results spell the end of the centre-left and centre-right joint hold over the legislature since 1979, giving way to a more divided pro-EU bloc that will include up to four parties,” says the Financial Times.
“The result will be a parliament fragmented like never before,” agrees Henley, “and the ‘less EU’ camp of nationalists, sovereignists and Eurosceptics itself reflects that fragmentation, divided by profound differences of ideology and policy.”
“This outcome reflects a tendency already apparent in national elections all over Europe: rejection of the status quo,” reports BBC Europe editor Katya Adler.
“Europe's voters are looking elsewhere for answers. They're drawn to parties and political personalities they feel better represent their values and priorities” be they from the nationalist right or pro-European alternatives, like the Green Party and liberal groups, says Adler.
Yet despite growing anti-EU sentiment across the bloc, overall turnout topped 50%, the highest figure since 1994, according to the parliament provisional results.
“It bucks a 40-year downward trend that had often been cited as evidence of the legislature failing to connect with its electorate,” says the FT.