The European elections were held across the EU from 23-26 May.
EU elections matter – they dictate the political direction for the EU institutions for the next five years and are the largest democratic elections in Europe. Yet they are often seen by the electorate as a “protest vote” against the incumbent national government. Let’s have a look at the results!
Prior to the elections, there were fears that populist / eurosceptic parties would increase their share of the vote significantly, as had been a trend in recent elections. Indeed, they did increase their share, but, the centre-right EPP, centre-left S&D, and liberal ALDE (with the addition of Macron’s En Marche) have retained a combined majority. Nevertheless, the duopoly of power between the S&D and the EPP has been broken, meaning that the liberal grouping will play a much more significant role as ‘kingmaker’, both in the horse-trading process of allocating committee positions and legislative files, and also in brokering compromises in legislative votes. Compromise and coalition will become much more important.
Another important outcome was the ‘Green wave’. Already seen in local and regional elections in late 2018, such a high result for the Greens was not expected (they increased their share of Parliament seats by 15 to a total of 68). They did particularly well in France, Germany and Ireland. While the group remains strong, the result will be taken as a push for the other parties to do more for the environment.
With the EPP remaining the largest party, they will also claim the Presidency of the European Commission. Yet their so-called “Spitzenkandidat” – the German Manfred Weber – is not guaranteed this role.
This is because the Council wants to retain a degree of control over the process and does not want to be pushed around by the Parliament. In the sidelines sits the EPP’s Michel Barnier – a potential Commission President, fresh from negotiating Brexit (supposedly, though this is dragging on) and someone with the necessary political gravitas, respect, and experience that would surely win over most of the Member States – and possibly the Parliament too.
Finally, let’s look at turnout, which had fallen in every election since it was first held in 1979. In 2014 turnout across the EU was 42.5%, down by 0.5% on the 2009 elections. The Spitzenkandidat process is an attempt to rectify this trend, yet the main “Spitzenkandidats”, as in the case of Mr Weber, are little known outside Brussels and their own Member States. This year, the turnout was up by almost 10 percentage points (from 42% to 51%) since the 2014 election.