28 July 2014
By: Foundation for European Progressive Studies
1.The 2014 European Parliament elections were historically important.
objective was to shift the balance of power in Europe in favour of voters, providing
more power to the European Parliament with a view to enhancing European Democracy.
For the first time in the European Union’s history, the major parties in the European
Parliament launched top candidates who campaigned for the post of European Commission
president. It contributed to the politicisation and democratisation of European politics at
national level, and it has undoubtedly given a clear set of options to the voters.
However, the voters have given a resounding warning to the European Union establishment, with a remarkable increase in votes for populist, nationalist and often xenophobic
candidates. In many member states, campaigners resorted to nasty national stereotypes of
imperialist, arrogant Germans; lazy Greeks; and Romanians and Bulgarians seeking to take
advantage of the welfare system.
The top candidates became recognisable names in many member states but so too did
notable populist characters like Nigel Farage, Beppe Grillo and Marine Le Pen, who have all proved sensationalist successes for the media, at the expense of adequate scrutiny of EU
politics. Thus, while there are positives, this election should serve as an important warning for the next legislature.
2. The hope had been that voter participation would increase and that right -wing populists would be held at bay in most countries.
Turnout has fallen steadily and consistently since 1979, from 62% in the first election in 1979 to 43% in the 2009 election. This time, the average turnout across the 28 member countries remained stable and even increased slightly, at 43.1%.
Stabilisation of turnout was helped by the campaign of the leading candidates. However, it was also driven by anger, and by a rejection of the European demos. Instead, as happened in the past, voters in a lot of countries settled scores with their own governments, either by voting nationalist and neo -‐populist parties or by abstaining.
The nationalist parties like UKIP in the UK, Dansk Folkeparti in Denmark, Front National in France, the Centre of the New Right in Poland, and Jobbik in Hungary got quite successful results. For them, anti-EU parties were a means to an end and in these countries national considerations outweighed European issues.
Voters highly used the European election to punish their respective national governments although the turnout was more successful in countries where the economy is doing
relatively well, like in Germany.
However as the turnout in the UK (36%) and in France (43,5%) was very low, the result of UKIP with 27.5% and the results of the FN with 25% have to be relativised. Approximately only 10% of eligible voters backed UKIP in the UK or FN in France! As the large majority of citizens are not participating, parties like UKIP or FN are becoming relatively more important than they are in reality within their respective societies.
3. Even if the turnout wasn’t as high as it could have been, this election has still made Europe more democratic.
The leading candidates have set important precedents that will be hard to change. The leaders of the groups in the European Parliament met and agreed to propose Jean-Claude Juncker as candidate for the presidency of the European Commission given his position as the leading candidate of the EPP (European People’s Party) who emerged as the strongest group after the elections.
It is perverse that the conservative leaders amongst the heads of state are now blocking their own leading candidate for the position. When the progressive leaders in the EU Council
supported the European Parliament’s proposal, this was an act of respect for the will of the European voters.
Although the leaders will still be able to nominate candidates for other important EU posts, including the other members of the Commission, the key job of Commission President was due to be based on the will of voters. That is how democracy should be and, if followed, it would have been an historical and positive development.
4. Despite a rise in anti-European parties, political balances remained broadly unchanged in the European Parliament.
The populists will not play a major role in the new European
Parliament. Nevertheless they will pose a challenge on their different national levels. The centre‐right European People’s Party (EPP) won 213 seats in the European parliament, followed by the Socialists and Democrats (S&D), with 190 seats (out of 751). The centrist liberal group could get 64 seats, Green parties 53 and the right wing Conservatives and Reformist group 46 seats. The far-left obtained 42 seats, while the far-right Europe of Freedom and Democracy group got 38. The big question mark relates to the 105 Non -affiliated MEPs not yet belong to any political grouping.
Most of those belong to populist and extremist parties hostile to European integration. Nevertheless it is obvious that the new European Parliament is a more fragmented one with a huge number of independent parliamentarians. Some of them have even been surprised
to be elected, such as “Die Partei”, a satirical comic movement in Germany, who won a seat after the German Supreme Court abandoned the threshold of 5% for European elections.
5. However, the two mainstream parties reached more or less only one third of the overall votes.
On the left and especially on the right new forces have emerged in some countries, even as the strongest party as in the case of the FN in France. Most of them will probably join the already existing EFD group, which includes UKIP, while the French FN will try form
an agreement with the Dutch PVV and others. If one compares the results of the two mainstream parties, it becomes obvious that they have been in particular difficulty in two particular types of member states: those with economic difficulties (Greece, France and Spain) and those where there has been longstanding scepticism towards Europe (UK, Denmark, Hungary and Finland).
6. The big missing point of the campaign on both sides was an overall European topic on which to campaign.
For example the Transatlantic Trade and Partnership Agreement
proposal (TTIP) was at the heart of the debate in Germany whereas it was hardly mentioned in Spain. One could have expected that especially for the centre-left, the problem of youth unemployment could have been the overall unifying campaign topic but this was not the
While the post-electoral discussion seems to point to the importance of a new political agenda in order to restore the EU’s credentials, it would appear that the campaign did not contribute to any larger extent in defining its common, pan-European building blocks. This is the case regarding the future of the European Economic and Monetary Union, Banking Union, but also with regard to the social agenda. The ambitions spelled out in the Lisbon
Strategy or EU 2020, such as education and training were not picked up in the debates.
What is more, there was no sufficient response to the social groups hit hardest by the consequences of the crisis – women being a prominent example.
7. The UK as a special case
Most notably in the UK the discourse leading up to the European elections did not get past the first hurdle of Britain’s relationship with Europe, let alone a further debate on important policy issues.
UKIP received a lot of media attention, many would say far too much, and shook up the political and traditional bi-party system in the UK by winning the majority of seats from the UK. Their result is of great concern, especially on policy matters and looking towards the
General Election to be held just a year from now. However, the Liberal Democrats, the smaller coalition partner of the current national government have been decimated in these elections. Labour on the other hand has achieved large gains in seats this time round.
Greens have also increased their number of seats.
The notion of Scotland’s divergent voting patterns as one of the reasons for independence no longer stands. With a UKIP MEP in Scotland it will be interesting to see how the ‘nationalist’ debate will now play out. Interestingly, the latest elections have
shown that London is increasingly different from the rest of the country.
The transnational campaign for a top candidate of the European Commission did not reach the UK, which is a shame because this somewhat distanced the UK from the rest of the
European debate. This also certainly benefitted Nigel Farage’s campaign. Unfortunately he must be the only MEP that most Brits have ever heard of.
Remarkably around one third of voters simply didn’t know there was a European election last Thursday.
8. Italy as a special case
Matteo Renzi’s Partito Democratico got the highest ever result for a left-wing party in the country’s history, exceeding all expectations. With an outstanding 40.8%, it limited the very feared rise of populist Movimento 5 Stelle to a “mere” 21.1 %, while Berlusconi’s Forza Italia
didn’t even reach 17%, thus hitting its historic low. Such results are even more remarkable if compared to last year’s national elections, where PD and M5S both stood at around 25%.
Italy is therefore a special case, as it is one of the few cases (alongside Germany) in which the voters didn’t punish the government in charge, despite the country still facing a harsh
economic situation and struggling to recover. In fact, Renzi has been even further encouraged to pursue his
reform programme and obtained the legitimacy it previously
lacked. Such a result, of course, is not only due to him. The party also stood united and put aside every internal dispute during the campaign and it achieved a massive mobilization of
its traditional voters, as well as gaining new ones (mostly from Monti’s moderate Scelta Europea, which was well below the 4% threshold).
It is interesting to note that the overall campaign was far more European than in previous EP elections (even though it became m
ore national in the last couple of weeks). In particular, PD chose to carry the PES logo in its own one, to make clear that any vote for them would ultimately translate in a vote for Schulz and for European Socialists.
Overall, the newest PES member brought the largest increase of seats to the S&D Group (+8), thus becoming the strongest national delegation in it. This will make Renzi and Partito Democratico major brokers in the upcoming legislature.
9. The EU Council appears to have already failed to accept the new role of the Parliament when electing the new Commission president.
With reference to the upcoming European challenges
in different fields, like for the banking union, overall monetary and fiscal policy, common foreign and security policy etc.,
the purpose of an elected EU Commission President is to have a strong mandate from the majority of the European Parliament.
This would also provide greater weight to parliamentary scrutiny during the overall legislative period and would further develop the
role and importance of the EU parliament in the institutional set-up.
10. The next step towards a new European democracy should be to change the current Europarty system.
The Europarties should from now on offer to their activists the
opportunity to become formal members of their respective parties, i.e. for progressive activists, this means an opportunity to join the PES directly. The initiative of introducing the leading candidates in 2009 was a substantial step forward towards more democracy.
The progressive movement should further challenge the trend and establish European Social Democracy as the real driving force for the European Union. The essential for the “mainstream” parties is to regain the power derived from democratic legitimacy; as only
through democratic legitimacy a clear mandate for change can be obtained. Enhancing the opportunities for citizens to become members of a Europarty will be a clear step in that
One of the lessons from the elections is also that Europe needs more than discussions about oilcans, cucumber curves and chlorinated chickens. An attractive European Union has to concentrate on attractive concepts that convince the citizens and
hence the voters. Therefore, it is important that national parties are not only concerned with EU issues just for the few months before the European elections but that they enhance the debate during the entire legislative term.