The European elections, held simultaneously in 27 countries for the first time in history, ended in a clear victory for the centre-right EPP-ED group and a defeat for the Party of European Socialists (PES), provisional results showed late last night.
The EPP-ED group is credited with between 263 and 273 members of the European Parliament, against 155-165 MEPs for the PES, the European Parliament website indicated. In the outgoing 785-member European Parliament, EPP-ED 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 between 78 and 84 seats, down from 103 in the previous legislature. The Greens/European Free Alliance group won 52-56 MEPs, up from 42 last time around.
The Eurosceptic Independence-Democracy group, which previously had 24 members, lost seats and has now 15-19 MEPs, while the Union for Europe of the Nations group (UEN) also lost members and is down from 44 to 33-37 MEPs. Similarly, the Confederal Group of the European Left/Nordic Green Left (GUE/NGL), is down from 44 to 33-37 MEPs.
Wilfried Martens, president of the European People’s Party (EPP), said his party would have “more coherence” without the British Tories and the Czech conservative ODS, which have joined the new conservative grouping (EURACTIV 02/06/09). He told EURACTIV that the only reason for which the Tories had left the centre-right group was because they do not support the Lisbon Treaty. The Tories want to hold a referendum on the text in the UK should they manage to call early elections there.
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 30.8% against 20.8% 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, Sarkozy’s UMP scored 28% against a dismal 16.8% for the Socialists, who were almost overrun by the Greens after Europe Ecologie scored 16.2%. French MEP Joseph Daul, the EPP-ED group chairman, said his group had won because it had spoken “about Europe” and had not got involved in controversy like its Socialist opponents.
In Italy, Berlusconi’s ‘Party of Liberty’ (PdL) scored 39%, against 27.5% for its main rival, the centre-left PD.
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 42.03% against 38.66% for the socialist PSOE. In Greece, the governing, centre-right New Democracy party obtained just 33.9% against 36.1% for the opposition PASOK.
In Bulgaria, governed by a socialist-led coalition, two EPP-affiliated opposition parties scored a total of 33.12%, against 18.36% for the socialist BSP.
In Hungary, a country hit hard by the economic crisis, the ruling socialists lost to the opposition FIDESZ-KDNP, which scored a remarkable 56.37%, against only 17.37% for the ruling MSZP. Significant gains were made by the far-right Jobbik party, which scored 14.7%.
Impact of far-right
The far-right won substantial support in some member states, particularly in the Netherlands and Austria. In the Netherlands, the anti-immigration Freedom Party (PVV) became the second political force, with 17% (EURACTIV 05/06/09). In Austria, the Freedom Party (formerly led by Jorg Haider) scored 13.1%, while another far-right party he founded, ‘The Alliance for the Future’, picked up 4.7%.
In Belgium, anti-immigration party Vlaams Belang, which advocates independence for Flanders, obtained 10.43%, below the 11.6% obtained five years ago.
In Bulgaria, ultranationalist Ataka scored 11.28%, less than its 14.2% in the 2007 by-elections. It is expected to send two MEPs, one less than before.
In Romania, the Great Romania (PMR) party of ultranationalist Cornel Vadim Tudor scored 7.2%. In the 2007 by-elections after Romania’s accession, it had obtained only 4.15%, failing to send an MEP to Strasbourg.
Low turnout ‘doesn’t mean lack of legitimacy’
Despite fears that voter turnout would plunge, participation in these elections remained stable, with 43.39% of voters heading to the polls. In the 2004 elections, it was 45.9%.
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.
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 no party had mentioned that three-quarters of national legislation is produced in Brussels.
Barrroso or not Barroso?
The election results do not give a clear indication of European Commission President José Manuel Barroso’s chances of securing a second mandate at the EU executive’s helm.
At the upcoming European Council on 18-19 June, EU leaders are expected to agree to nominate the former Portuguese prime minister again. During the first plenary session of the seventh legislature on 14-16 July, the Parliament has the right to approve or reject the nomination by a majority of the votes cast.
The Greens have already opposed Barroso’s reappointment and even launched a campaign against him, dubbed ‘Stop Barroso’. But the Liberals and Socialist are divided on the issue. Despite leaders like the UK’s Gordon Brown, Spain’s José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero and Portugal’s José Sócrates having backed the centre-right candidate, some Socialist MEPs could decide to vote against Barroso’s reappointment as the vote is made by secret ballot.
“The European Parliament needs to fight for its popularity and legitimacy,” Professor Telo said, suggesting that “MEPs should anticipate the Lisbon Treaty and play a key role in the selection of the European Commission president”.