Centre-right wins European elections

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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.

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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”. 

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.

"Our aim is to have 50 Green MEPs and I believe this is within reach. This will enable us to speak with a stronger voice in the smaller Parliament," said Belgian Green MEP Philippe Lamberts

Asked why the Socialists had performed badly, 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 (ELDRPresident 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". 

Background

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

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.

Further Reading

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