The 2009 European elections, held simultaneously in 27 countries for the first time in history, ended in a clear victory for the centre-right European People's Party (EPP) and a defeat for the Socialists.

Overview

From 4-7 June, 375 million European citizens were called upon to vote for the 736 members who will represent them in the European Parliament until 2014.

The European Parliament is the only EU institution directly elected on a strictly European mandate.

Over the past 30 years, since the first EU elections, the Parliament has gained more powers, but many citizens still see the ballot as a national mid-term poll for punishing the parties in government.

Issues

The EPP group get 265 members elected in the new European Parliament, against 184 MEPs for the Socialists (S&D). In the outgoing 785-member European Parliament, the former EPP-ED group had 284 MEPs to the PES's 215.

This time, the British Conservatives left the group after their leader, David Cameron, decided to form a separate anti-Lisbon political group (EurActiv 02/06/09). Despite being deprived of some 29 British MEPs, the EPP remained by far the largest grouping in the 736-seat parliament.

The Alliance of Liberal and Democrats for Europe (ALDE) obtained 84 seats, down from 103 in the previous legislature. The Greens/European Free Alliance group won 55 MEPs, up from 42 last time around.

The Eurosceptic Independence-Democracy group, which previously had 24 members, is replaced in the new Parliament by the far-right Europe of Freedom and Democracy Group (32 members) (EurActiv 01/07/09 and 02/07/09).

The Union for Europe of the Nations group (UEN), which had 44 members in the last legislature, does not feature in the new EU assembly. A new group has been created: the European Conservatives and Reformists group (54 members), which gathers 25 British Conservative (EurActiv 2/06/09) and 15 Polish Law and Justice members (PiS), among others (EurActiv 23/06/09).

The Confederal Group of the European Left/Nordic Green Left (GUE/NGL) is down from 44 to 35 MEPs.

 

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For a full overview of the distribution of seats by member states and political parties, please click here
.

Centre-right successful in 'big five'

In the five largest EU countries – Germany, the UK, France, Italy and Spain - the EPP did well. German MEP Hartmut Nassauer, EPP vice-president, said he was happy with the results in his country, where the conservative CDU obtained 30.7% (34 seats) against 20.8% (23 seats) for its rival, the SPD.

"It's a good signal for 27 September," said Nassauer, referring to his country's upcoming national poll.

In 
France
, President Nicolas Sarkozy's UMP scored 27.8% (29 seats) against a dismal 16.48% (14 seats) for the Socialists, who were almost overrun by the Greens after Europe Ecologie scored 16.28% (14 seats). French MEP Joseph Daul, the EPP group chairman, said his group had won because it had spoken "about Europe" and had not got involved in controversy like its Socialist opponents (EurActiv 07/06/09).

In Italy, Berlusconi's 'Party of Liberty' (PdL) scored 35.26% (29 seats), against 26.13% for its main rival, the centre-left PD (21 seats).

In Poland, the governing Civic Platform won 25 seats (44.43% of votes), 10 more than during the previous legislature. Together with the Peasants Party (PSL), this means Poland will have 28 seats in the EPP group. The conservatives of President Lech Kaczyński's PiS (Law and Justice) party scored well with 27.4% of the vote (15 seats). The socialists lost one seat, returning seven MEPs to the EU assembly, while no liberal, independent or far-right candidates ran for election this time around (EurActiv 17/06/09).

Electors punish Socialists

In other countries, several ruling parties suffered losses and the opposition made gains. In 
Spain
, governed by socialists, the centre-right Popular Party scored 42.23% (23 seats) against 38.51% for the socialist PSOE (21 seats).

In Greece, the governing centre-right New Democracy party obtained just 32.29% of the ballot against 36.65% for the opposition PASOK. Both won eight seats.

In Bulgaria, which in June was still governed by a socialist-led coalition, two EPP-affiliated opposition parties (GERB and SDS-DSB) recorded a total of 32.31% (six seats), against 18.5% (four seats) for the socialist BSP (EurActiv 6/07/09). Despite suspicions of vote buying (EurActiv 14/05/09) and fraud, "the Bulgarian Central Electoral Commission (CEC) turned down demands for a manual recount of the vote" tabled by the Blue Coalition (formerly anti-communist) and the Lider party, according to Vihar Georgiev, writing on Blogactiv.

In 
Hungary
, a country hit hard by the economic crisis, the ruling socialists lost to the opposition FIDESZ-KDNP, which scored a remarkable 56.36% (14 seats), against only 17.37% for the ruling MSZP (four seats). Significant gains were made by the far-right Jobbik party, which scored 14.77% (three seats).

"The left-wing results are much worse than expected in the polls," writes Dániel Antal on Blogactiv. "The Socialist party, which has received the most votes in all national elections since 1994 and was kept out of power only by a three-party right-wing coalition between 1998-2002 […] was beaten in many districts by Jobbik. Their result will sooner or later undermine the hugely unpopular Socialist minority government," he adds. 

In Belgium, "the results reflected a deepening divide in Belgian political life" and "there are no common trends," according to Jean-Michel de Waele, a political science professor at the Unversité Libre de Bruxelles (ULB) (EurActiv 08/06/09). "In Flanders, the Christian Democrats are on the rise, in coalition with a small separatist party on the up, N-VA, but their Walloon equivalent, cdH, lost ground. In Flanders, the Liberals scored well but plummeted in Wallonia. The rise of the Greens in Wallonia is remarkable, but their equivalent is stagnant in Flanders," de Waele said.

Impact of far-right

The far-right won substantial support in some member states, particularly in the Netherlands and Austria. A new far-right Eurosceptic group – the Europe of Freedom and Democracy (EFD) group – was formed in the European Parliament on 1 July (EurActiv 1/07/09).

The new group consists of national parties strongly opposed to EU integration and immigration policies. Its members favour returning power to sovereign nations.

It stems from the Independence/Democracy group, which was founded after the 2004 European elections.

The new parliamentary formation consists of 32 MEPs from eight national political parties, most prominently the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) with 13 MEPs and Italy's 'Lega Nord' (Northern League) with nine MEPs (EurActiv 2/07/09).

In the Netherlands, the anti-immigration Freedom Party (PVV) became the second-largest political force, with 16.97% of the ballot and four seats (EurActiv 05/06/09). 

In Austria, the Freedom Party (formerly led by Jörg Haider) scored 12.71% (two seats), while another far-right party he founded, 'The Alliance for the Future', picked up 4.58%, not enough to get an MEP.

In Belgium, anti-immigration party Vlaams Belang, which advocates independence for Flanders, obtained 9.85% (two seats), below the 11.6% won five years ago.

In Bulgaria, ultra-nationalists Ataka scored 11.96%, less than their 14.2% in the 2007 by-elections. The party will send two MEPs, one less than before.

In Romania, the Great Romania (PRM) party of ultranationalist Cornel Vadim Tudor scored 8.65% and obtained three seats. In the 2007 by-elections after Romania's accession, it obtained only 4.15%, failing to send an MEP to Strasbourg (EurActiv 09/06/09).

In the United Kingdom, the far-right British National Party entered the European Parliament for the first time, winning two seats. The BNP gained the seats in two regions of northern England at the expense of Prime Minister Gordon Brown's Labour Party, which has been hurt by a scandal over politicians' expenses (EurActiv 08/06/09).

"There has not been a surge in the [BNP] vote. It was the dip in the vote for the major parties, particularly Labour, due to the major scandal that helped them," according to British Labour MEP Richard Corbett, who lost his seat to the BNP in these elections (EurActiv 09/06/09).

The pan-European anti-Lisbon Treaty party  Libertas suffered a harrowing defeat in the European elections, electing just one MEP in the EU 27, its head of list in the west of France and sitting MEP Philippe de Villiers. Party figurehead and leader Declan Ganley failed to win a seat in Ireland (EurActiv 08/06/09).

Low turnout 'doesn't mean EP lacks legitimacy'

Despite fears that voter turnout would plunge, participation in these elections remained stable, with 43% of voters heading to the polls. In the 2004 elections, it was 45.47%.

Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE) leader Graham Watson said the low turnout could be interpreted in two ways: "Either people don't go to vote because they are perfectly satisfied, or because there must be something wrong."

"We need to work towards a proper policy of communication about what happens at EU level, give Euronews the status of public station broadcaster in all of our countries, and elect a percentage of the European Parliament on a pan-European list. That might help us to have a European debate, rather than help us to have 27 national debates," he said.

"I propose that all Europeans vote on the same day in order to create a European public space," French Commissioner Jacques Barrot told EurActiv. "These elections are too fragmented and only national views prevail," Barrot said, adding: "The European project is complex and it is necessary to familiarise children with these complex data at school," he added.

Asked what effect the low turnout would have on the Parliament's legitimacy, Professor Mario Telo, president of the European Studies Institute at the Université Libre de Bruxelles (ULB), said: "It is incorrect to talk about lack of legitimacy. A possible reading could also be that the European system is so well-established that even Eurosceptic parties want to be represented in the European Parliament."

"The participation crisis can be blamed on national parties, which did not do their job in explaining Europe and campaigning on European issues. Europe is still perceived as boring and too complex," Telo continued, adding: "The election results reveal a crisis of national democracy rather than at EU level. In member states, we are seeing more and more of a resurgence of populism, sadly enhanced by political scandals."

A top European Parliament communication adviser told EurActiv the poor turnout had once again exposed "the failure of national political parties to engage citizens".

"The European Parliament has launched an institutional campaign to raise awareness, but no political party campaigned on European manifestos," the official said, noting that not one party mentioned that three-quarters of national legislation is produced in Brussels.

Possibly more women, but no equal representation

Once again, women will not be equally represented in the new European Parliament, despite much talk and fully-fledged legislation to ensure gender equality (EurActiv 11/06/09).

Even if the percentage of women in the Parliament has growing at each election, the number of female MEPs is far from equally representing the bloc's population, of which 52% is female.

The new Parliament is made up of 35% women and 65% men, according to gender distribution data. In the 2004-2009 legislature, the EU assembly was composed of 31% women and 69% men.

"It is not surprising as it is due to the slight shift to the right," said Cécile Gréboval, policy director at the European Women's Lobby (EWL), the largest umbrella organisation of women's groups in the European Union. 

Positions

Hailing their victory, EPP-ED group chairman Joseph Daul and EPP president Wilfried Martens said European citizens had "decided to make the road map from the EPP manifesto for the next five years their own". "The message that European citizens want to pass to their politicians is crystal clear: they must put ambition and political will back at the heart of European action to meet the daily concerns of citizens and to ensure Europe's place in the world," they said in a statement.

"This new parliamentary term will be decisive for the European Parliament. With new, improved working methods, and the statute of co-legislator strengthened by - and we hope as quickly as possible - the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty, the Parliament will be in a strategic position at the heart of European decision-making," the leaders said.

"The EPP parliamentary group will have a particular responsibility in Parliament in view of its position in this Institution and the weight of the challenges we face both internally and internationally," they added.

Asked why the Socialists had performed badly, Belgian Green MEP Philippe Lamberts said: "The Socialists have not been able to take advantage of the problems caused by ideologies put forward by the conservatives, such as deregulation and free markets. They did not articulate a clear vision, while the Green vision was very clear: a Green New Deal with growth through green investment and transformation of lifestyles."

"The economic crisis has deeply touched the electors. I think we all have a responsibility at European level to find solutions to this crisis. If we fall into nationalism and protectionism, we are dead," said Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE) leader Graham Watson (UK).

"The Socialists have lost many seats in these elections, while the liberal democrats maintained their position and might be a tiny bit stronger than in the previous parliament," Watson said.

Commenting on the results, Socialist Group leader Martin Schulz (DE) said: "There are days you win and days you lose. I would have liked extra seats, but we have to take what the electors give us."

"We will continue our fight for progressive policies. We will continue the fight for social Europe, building up on our manifesto," he added.

European Liberal Democrats (ELDR) President Annemie Neyts told EurActiv that the result meant the Liberals' standing in the Parliament was more or less "equal" to what it was before the poll.

"There are countries where we have lost seats. Indeed, some of our delegations have been wiped out altogether – the Alliance of Free Democrats in Hungary didn’t make the threshold," she noted.

But gains were made elsewhere. "The Dutch Liberals-combined gain one seat, and in Germany, the FDP made a big jump," Neyts observed.

Describing the results as a "success", the ELDR president said: "This was our ambition, given that as the financial crisis deepened everyone was indicating that liberals were the big culprits and deserved a beating".

"So by succeeding in keeping the same number of MEPs, we have done rather well," she concluded.

European Commission President José Manuel Barroso described the outcome as "an undeniable victory for those parties and candidates that support the European project and want to see the European Union delivering policy responses to their everyday concerns". "The political forces that constructively address policy challenges, and that have constructively engaged with the Commission during the past legislature, occupy the overwhelming majority of the seats in the next European Parliament," he said.

"From today onwards, Europe owes it to the voters to show once again that it can deliver. It must continue to pave the way through the economic and financial crisis. It must do all it can to support those most vulnerable in society, especially those facing unemployment. And Europe must grasp the opportunity to build a new social market economy that puts a smarter, greener growth at its core, so as to decisively address climate change," the Commission president continued.

"The turnout compared to 2004 shows that this is not the time for complacency. National politicians, whose debates all too often remain largely national in their focus, must acknowledge themselves more consistently as both national and European actors. The Commission will continue with its efforts to put the European Union at the centre of the political debate in all member states," he said.

Commenting on the relative failure of the European centre-left at these elections, Jackie Davis, an analyst at the European Policy Centre, a Brussels think-tank, said the results "show how divided the centre-left forces are at the moment. Normally sitting governments are punished at European elections".

"It is not the centre-right winning, but rather the centre-left going down, and the votes are shifting to extremist parties," Simon Hix, a professor at the London School of Economics, told EurActiv, commenting on the results (EurActiv 09/06/09). "Mainstream centre-right parties in most places have adopted the agenda of social democrats," Hix said, meaning that "they are now in favour of public spending as a result of the economic crisis". 

Timeline

  • 4-7 June 2009: European Parliament elections.
  • 14-16 July 2009: First plenary session in Strasbourg of the newly-elected European Parliament.