The results of the European Union’s Parliamentary elections are just in. They are twofold: first, there is a clear disinterest in the European Parliament as expressed by very low voting turnouts and second, of the few Europeans that did bother to vote, many have decided that it is time for a change.
Non-voters in the European Parliamentary elections are the majority in those nations without compulsory voting. The European turnout was 43% with 57% not voting or spoiling their vote. In Germany 48% voted, 46% voted in France, 36% in the UK and 35% in Portugal. There was extreme disinterest in the European elections in much of Eastern Europe: with 24% turnout in Croatia; 23% in Poland, 19% in The Czech Republic; and the Slovakians with a 13% turnout.
Christoph Hasselbach of Deutsche Welle’s Europe desk noted: “As for turnout, the picture is mixed: in some countries more people voted than before, but those votes often went to Euro-skeptic parties.” “All in all”, he added “the general public’s interest in the EU is shockingly low”.
As to the changes in voting patterns, highlights of the wave of political change include the rise of the German anti-EU AfD party (Alternative für Deutschland) which gained their first seats in the European Parliament; France, where Marine Le Pen’s party was the overall winner of 24 seats with more than 25% of the vote; Spain, which now has a new fourth party called “Podemos” with an anti-EU/Troika and an anti-capitalist stance which may have taken many of the PP and PSOE’s 17 lost seats; and the UK where non-finalised counts indicate that the right-of-centre anti-EU party UKiP (United Kingdom Independence Party) has won the election gaining, for the first time ever, more MEPs than either the Tory or Labour parties; finally there is Greece, where the “SYRIZA” far left alliance has come out on top with 27% of the national vote and seven MEPs.
On a national level Europe’s political structure has been reasonably stable since the Second World War and more specifically since the first waves of growth of the Common Market in the 1970’s. This has been broadly reflected in the European Parliamentary party groups since the Parliament began in 1979. Until today the main groups in the European Parliament reflected two broad nation political categories. The centre-left grouping in the European Parliament is the S&D “The Group of the Progressive Alliance of socialists and Democrats” which includes the German SPD, the PSOE in Spain, the French Socialist Party and Labour in the UK, among others. The large centre-right grouping in the European Parliament is called the EPP “The Group of the European People’s Party (Christian Democrats)”, it includes Germany’s CDU party, the Spanish PP and Ireland’s Fine Gael. Provisional results at 11:00AM/CET on Monday, May 26 show the S&D lost seven seats since the last (2009) elections falling to 189 MEPs but the EPP did even worse, losing 60 seats to 214 seats. There are 63 new ultra-left-wing MEPs and 63 new ultra right-wing MEPs who have not yet aligned themselves to European party groups. This change is a clear demonstration of the radicalization of European politics.
The extreme disinterest in the EU parliament elections could call into question the legitimacy of the EU project itself, at least in its current form. Four years back, in earlier phases of the EU’s financial crisis, the EU laid out the “Europe 2020 strategy” toward “smart, sustainable and inclusive growth.” Targets included Employment levels, Research and Development budget levels, Education and the “Fight” against Poverty and Social Exclusion. The European Commission is currently reviewing this largely unsuccessful strategy. With the hindsight of the results of the 2014 elections, the failures of 2020 are clear.
The Author, Tony Phillips, is a native of Dublin, Ireland, and a resident of Buenos Aires;
His latest book “Europe on the Brink, Debt Crisis and Dissent in the European Periphery” comes out in Portuguese (Bertrand, Lisbon) in June 2014 and in English on Zed Books of London on July.