So the people of the European Union have voted – the 51 per cent of them, at least, which is a considerable reverse on the long term trend of a declining interest in the European elections – and the results are in. But what does it all mean? Will Chamberlain, the publisher of “Human Events”, tweets, “Le Pen first in France Salvini first in Italy Farage first in Britain It’s almost as if people don’t like the EU”, and others agree, for example the ex-Info Wars Paul Joseph Watson (“Looks like Salvini has smashed it in Italy. Le Pen beat Macron. Brexit Party triumphant in the UK. Remember in 2017 when they told us populism was dead? Reality begs to differ.”) and the black conservative activist Candace Owens (“EU election results as of right now: Nigel Farage leading in England Marine Le Pen leading in France Salvini leading in Italy A global mass awakening is happening and there is nothing that the global elites or their media henchmen can do to stop it.
Well, maybe, maybe not. Perhaps the more interesting question is: does it matter?
The true picture of the elections across Europe – to elect the members of the European Parliament – is more complex than a few tweets would suggest. In some countries the populists did indeed perform well, in other (most) countries they haven’t. Even the “well” is relative – the vote in most EU member nations is so fragmented that we are very far from the more clear cut situations we are all familiar with, such as a victory in the US presidential elections (though in the recent past that hasn’t been all that clear cut either, with the disjuncture between the popular vote and the Electoral College results). The overwhelming majority of Euro voters cast their ballots on traditional parties, which means that in practice not much will really change in the EU’s halls of power, even if the proceedings of the European Parliament might become significantly more entertaining.
For any casual observer, the political picture is complicated by the fact that there are no parties in Europe that cross political boundaries. People vote for their national parties, which choose, for the purposes of the European Parliament, to be part of various groupings, which could be described as quasi-parties or, perhaps, more accurately party coalitions. These are generally based on some commonalities in ideology or at least broad outlook, even if in some cases it is difficult to guess what hides behind the name. Oh, and to make it more complicated, there are eight different groupings like that represented in the European Parliament, which is why it doesn’t pay to be overly triumphalist or simplistic or both in your hot takes (actually, there are more than eight, but some of them have, in turn, formed electoral alliances with other super-groups).
This is the most up-to-date result of the vote count:
- European People’s Party 24.0%
- Socialists & Democrats 19.4%
- Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe + Renaissance + USR PLUS 14.5%
- Greens/European Free Alliance 9.2%
- European Conservatives and Reformists 7.9%
- Europe of Nations and Freedom 7.7%
- Europe of Freedom and Direct Democracy 7.2%
- European United Left/Nordic Green Left 5.2%
- Non-attached 1.1%
See? Can you tell me from the above who “won” the election, who doesn’t like the EU, or which political tendency is surging?
If you can, you arguably don’t need to read this article in the first place.
On the other hand, if, like most people in the United States or Australia – and let’s face it, even Europe itself – you can’t, feel free to stick around.
Firstly, a short guide to the European Parliament “parties”:
European People’s Party – originally started by Christian Democratic parties, now expanded to the centre-right broadly speaking. Members include Germany’s Christian Democrats, France’s Republicans (the Gaullists), Spain’s People’s Party, Italy’s Forza Italia (Berlusconi) and Poland’s Civic Platform. But because it’s Euro politics and it’s not really meant to make sense, one of its leaders is Luxembourg’s odious drunk Jean-Claude Juncker at the same time as it includes Victor Orban’s ruling (and fiercely anti-Juncker) Fidesz party of Hungary (which as of two months ago has been suspended as a member of the group for being anti-Juncker – and anti-Soros).
Socialists and Democrats – more self-explanatory. Party of European Socialists’ members include the UK’s Labour Party, Germany’s Social Democrats, France’s Socialists and Italy’s Democratic Party. European Democratic Party are essentially the several minor centrist pro-EU parties that broke away from the European People’s Party for, I guess, being too right wing. You really wouldn’t know any of its members; I certainly didn’t.
Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe – touts itself as uniting the “liberal” forces in Europe but it can more accurately be described as centrist (unless you consider the two terms to be synonyms). Includes Germany’s Free Democrats, Ireland’s Fianna Fail and UK’s Liberal Democrats. Again, because we are talking about Europe, Lib Dems are generally considered a trendy centre-left party while Free Democrats have been the most pro-free market party in Germany. Renaissance is the grouping led by France’s Macron and USR PLUS hails from Romania. Together, they all dream of being the counter-balancer and the king-maker between the “conservative” European People’s Party and the “socialist” Part of European Socialists, attempting to lure the more centrist-inclined members of both the major groupings.
Still no populist, by the way.
Greens/European Free Alliance – again, pretty-self-explanatory, at least as far as the Greens are concerned. European Free Alliance, on the other hand, unites all the forces advocating for regional independence, devolution or autonomy, and include everyone from the Basques and the Corsicans to the Welsh and the Scottish nationalists, as well as a myriad of other ethnic minority movements you’ve never heard of. It’s the unlucky club of the European politics, because the member nation-states will only let the separatists succeed literally over their dead bodies.
European Conservatives and Reformists – can be considered to be the “conservative Eurosceptics”, but historically more interested in reforming the EU from the inside in the more realistic (and democratic) direction rather than ditching the Union altogether. The two key, and by far the largest, members are the UK’s Conservatives, who got trashed in this election, and Poland’s ruling Law and Justice Party, which by contrast took almost 46 per cent of the national vote.
Europe of Nations and Freedom – is one of the newest Euro “parties”, formed only in 2014, and draws upon nationalist, conservative and populist movements throughout the continent. Members include Austria’s Freedom Party, Belgium’s Vlaans Belang, France’s National Rally of Marine Le Pen and Italy’s Lega (League) of Matteo Salvini. Hard Eurosceptic. Now we’re finally talking about the “populist wave”, albeit at only 7.7 per cent of the pan-European vote.
Europe of Freedom and Direct Democracy – the anti-EU party; way past sceptic/agnostic – you can probably call them European atheists. Used to the party of the UKIP, before the UKIP collapsed. Now composed of Germany’s Alternative for Germany, Italy’s Five Star Movement, and of course, the UK’s Brexit Party, which trounced all the established parties throughout Great Britain.
European United Left/Nordic Green Left – minor democratic socialists and communists. Enough said.
So what does it all mean in practice? Politico.eu reports:
Initial results and exit polls showed the EPP is likely to hold 179 seats — a sharp decline from the 216 it won last time. The center-left Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats (S&D) is expected to come second with 150 seats, down from 187.
A new centrist-liberal coalition led by French President Emmanuel Macron and Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte is predicted to come third, with 108 seats, followed by the Greens with 68 seats. A disparate array of far-right and anti-EU forces, including the U.K.’s Brexit Party, is set to win at least 115 seats — but it is unclear how coordinated they will be, and they are currently divided into multiple groups.
The fragmented outcome suggests upcoming negotiations to fill the EU’s top jobs — including the presidencies of the European Commission, the Council and Parliament as well as the post of high representative of foreign affairs — will be particularly fraught.
In other words, the dominant establishment centre-right and the dominant-establishment centre-left have lost some ground (37 seats each to be exact) but remain the biggest groupings in the European Parliament. They appear to have lost ground to both the pro-EU centrists and the various gradations of anti-EU populists. For what it’s worth, Politico predicts the pro-EU, centre-left alliance between Socialists, Liberals and Greens. It certainly looks more likely than any scenario where the currently “ruling” European People’s Party can form a viable coalition to cling to power. The European Parliament has 751 seats – you can do your own math.
So while the so-called populist (or nationalist or Eurosceptic) parties have performed OK, on balance they did not perform staggeringly better than in the previous election (2014). And ironically, their success, such as it is – mixed across the member countries – might actually help the left gain the control of the EU, and I mean the real left, not the rather pathetic European centre-right, which to many an Anglosphere eye can often appear as bad as the centre-left. I say all this as someone who is not unsympathetic to at least some of the populist sentiments. The EU might be a decent idea unceasingly gone bad, but the election result doesn’t lend itself to Tr(i)ump(h)alism.