Now that the dust has settled a bit, and we have recovered from the media hysteria around UKIP and the Front National in France, we can begin to try and make some sense of the results across Europe. One should never try to read too much into the results of these elections for two reasons. One is the relatively low turnout. While in some countries the turnout was over 50%, across Europe this amounted to a rather poor 43%, almost identical to five years ago. Secondly in all countries the campaigns are more about national or sub-national issues than about the EU itself. So with these caveats, some things stand out.
There was no great anti EU surge across Europe
This may at first sight seem an odd observation to make, given the media coverage of UKIP and the FN in France, but in truth, as a certain Professor Curtice would say, these were very isolated results. Though the anti EU vote did go up, this was no earthquake. Especially as most of the explicitly anti EU parties seem to hate each other at least as much as they hate the EU. Even the much talked about “success” of UKIP and the FN are not all that impressive when compared with other parties in other countries. The FN got 25% of vote in France, while UKIP pulled in 27% of the votes in the UK. However this latter “success” was matched by Syriza, a left alternative party in Greece, which also garnered 27% of the votes. Both were way behind other parties elsewhere. If the 27% of UKIP is such a “success” how are we to describe the 31% achieved by the Socialist Party in Portugal or the incredible 41% achieved by the Democratic Party in Italy. The latter in particular seems to have gone almost unmentioned by our unenlightened media. Yet the Democrats are the party of government in Italy and are an unashamed pro EU party.
The Left is going nowhere
This is perhaps for many of us the most disappointing aspect of these elections. Once again the left, however broadly or narrowly you look at it, has failed pretty miserably. Notwithstanding some excellent results, such as those mentioned above in Italy, Portugal and Greece, the the combined share of the vote for left and green parties remained stationary at 38%. There was not even much change within this very broad grouping. There is of course serious doubt as to whether any of the parties that make up the traditional or mainstream “left” – Labour, PSOE, SPD etc – merit the description of left wing anymore. Wherever you want to place them on the political spectrum, in aggregate they have made no progress whatsoever since 2009. Much the same can be said for the Greens and the various alternative left wing parties. The Greens declined by about 0.5%, while the alternative left, known as the GUE/NGL group, gained around 1.4%. Most of this is probably due to the success of Syriza in Greece. While it is not altogether surprising that the traditional left parties have made no progress, it should be very worrying that the rest of the left has been unable to make any significant impact considering the dire economic and social situation across the EU.
The traditional centre-right is in decline
If the traditional left parties are marking time, then it is relatively worse for their counter parts on the right. The main right wing grouping in the European Parliament is the European People’s Party, and this groups saw its share of the vote decline by almost 7% to a not very inspiring 28.5%. Even if you include the British Tories and their allies, this conservative vote only goes up to a grand total of 40%. This would seem to confirm that most of the votes for the far right parties have come from the traditional right. However 40% is still higher than the combined total for left parties. And of course if you include the untouchables of UKIP and the FN, then the right of the political spectrum is far in the ascendant. Even more so, if you regard the various Liberal parties in Europe as essentially of the right, then around 60% of the new Parliament is made up of parties from the right. Of course most of these parties have very little in common and it is difficult to see them co-operating on any issue, let alone working together as a bloc.
Given the predominance of right wing parties in the new Parliament, we should not expect this body to offer much in the way of resistance to the neo-liberal/austerity trend of the member states. The one possible conflict on the horizon may be the election of the new President of the European Commission. The governments of the member states get to nominate someone for this post, but the Parliament now has to confirm this choice. Or reject it altogether. Before the elections, all the main party groupings agreed that the new Commission President should be the person who was the lead candidate for their respective group. As the EPP is still the largest party, that should mean that Jean-Claude Juncker from Luxembourg will be the next Commission President. Alas the member states are not keen on this power grab by the Parliament and may well nominate someone else. Will the Parliament stick to its guns and refuse to elect anyone? At least it may offer us a bit of light relief for a spell. Anything to take our minds of yet another failure of the left.