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.
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.
, 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 Kaczy?ski'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
, 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.
, 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.