Written by: Xinyuan Yang
The European Parliament election has typically been considered a “second order” national election. With issues like Brexit, the rise of populism, and an immigration crisis roiling the bloc in the past years, however, the European Parliament election this year had the highest voter turnout of the past two decades. Unlike national elections, EU Parliament elections can be both a reflection of national interests and a way for voters to express their dissatisfaction with their national governments. The results of this year’s elections shows that even though Euroscepticism and far-right populism is on the rise, the pro-EU liberals are still winning big and the Green party is surging throughout Europe.
The Greens and Liberals are the biggest winners in this election, with the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for European Group (ALDE) winning 105 seats out of the total 751 seats and the Greens winning 69 seats. The Greens attracted more young voters across the member states. In Germany, the Greens seemed to take votes away from both Chancellor Merkel’s Christian Democratic party and the center-left Social Democratic Party. Countries like France, the UK, and Finland have also seen their Green Parties performing unexpectedly well, winning thirteen, twelve, and sixteen percent of national votes, respectively. Liberals within the parliament also did well, with French President Macron’s party gaining 21 seats in the ALDE.
The two historically dominant parties — the center-left Progressive Alliance of Socialist and Democrats (S&D), and the center-right European People’s Party (EPP) — have both lost their absolute majorities for the first time since 1979. Nevertheless, they are still taking the most seats in the parliament with EPP taking 179 seats and S&D taking 153 seats, a combined 47% of total seats. Without an absolute majority, they will have to work closely with the Greens and the Liberal party on future legislation. With the determining role of the Greens and the Liberals in passing any agenda, the pro-EU center within the European parliament is unlikely to be taken over by the far-right populists.
Still, the populist parties and far-right Eurosceptics also performed better than previous elections. The biggest winner on the political right is Nigel Farage, the leader of the Brexit party and now the leader of the Europe of Freedom and Direct Democracy Group (EFDD), a traditionally Eurosceptic party in the parliament. In France, Marine Le Pen’s far-right party beat President Macron’s party with a marginal national vote of less than 3%. In Italy, the far-right populist League Party led by Matteo Salvini also outperformed the center-left Democratic Party.
With the UK Conservative and Labour parties experiencing huge losses from this election, the Brexiters are remaining strong in the United Kingdom, especially with the Brexit party winning 28 seats in the parliament. Nevertheless, as the Brexit date has been pushed to Oct. 31th, whether it would be a deal or no-deal Brexit or even a second Brexit referendum is still under debate.
Overall, pro-EU and liberal democratic parties are remaining strong in the face of the rise of populist parties and a nationalist right which holds 25 percent of the seats. The rise of the Green party across member states might become a new unifying force within the bloc.