The vote that many saw as a defining moment for Europe did not yield too many surprises. The national campaigns are over. We can finally talk about European politics and see what a ruling coalition may look like. No clear vision for the Union emerged, other than a moderate and heterogeneous conviction that we want one.
The party negotiations during the next month will determine how keen this new EU is to reform competition, overcome the Fiscal Compact, develop an industrial strategy or become tougher on China, and so on. The main elements to work with and formulate an EU plot are the following:
- An ever-stalled Union: There are no real alternatives to the working majority with the numbers to rule, that of EPP, S&D and ALDE plus Macron’s LREM. This means a more undecided and weaker European Parliament, with ALDE as “Kingmaker”, fewer chances to make big leaps, and even stronger control of Member States in Council.
- A green-ish Europe? The Greens won more seats, and above all the right ones to leverage the EU core in France and Germany, where they displaced the left. Whether a ruling coalition will partner with the Greens to strengthen the working majority or relegate them to the opposition and go after their votes remains to be seen.
- The dark right rises. There was no breakthrough of populist parties, but behind worries about this flurry buzzword, everyone is quickly getting used to the far, far-right constantly gaining ground in the political space that was born out of its rejection.
- There is hope. Turnout is up for the first time in 20 years: people may be realising how much the EU matters. Be it out of fear migrants or climate change, or in the hope of a better tomorrow, now it is up to national leaders to do something with it.
There is quantity, …
The results confirmed most expectations – or fears, depending on perspectives: forming a working majority will be hard, let alone fleshing that out in a solid coalition. But the centre is really the only way possible. The populist front has no way to govern the European Parliament, not even with an unlikely EPP veer to the right, and the left could only rule if, well, it became a centre and allied with ALDE. The biggest wins are for ALDE+LREM and Salvini’s alliance, with 41 and 35 more seats respectively. The biggest numbers are however the losses of EPP and S&D, 34 and 40 less respectively. So, the centre-right polarisation continues.
…there is quality…
All MEPs are created equal, and so are EU Member States – but everyone knows that in practice some are more equal than others. This is particularly important for the Greens, who did not gain many more seats, but won the right ones. Above 20% in Germany and above 10% in France, they are now better placed to influence a majority in the European Parliament because they have a louder voice in the two capitals that matter the most. The Greens overtook the left in both countries, where S&D and GUE members got less than 20% combined. However, the Greens did not break through in the Union’s east and south.
The same arguments also show that whereas populists may not have made a breakthrough, they have kept their tide rising. We now have 70+ far-right MEPs in the European Parliament, with extreme right parties ruling in Italy at 34%, coming first in France with 23.5%, scoring above 10% in Germany and even winning 3 seats in Spain. Less than a century after dictatorships in three of those countries tore Europe apart, this is something the public is getting used to incredibly quickly.
… and the Brits.
The oddest scenes of these elections came from Britain. Prime Minister May resigned in the wake of the vote, and as several Tory vultures nosedived to get a chance at her job, thousands of UK and EU (for now) citizens voted basically on Brexit as the only electoral issue. Farage’s ad-hoc party won big time and the Remainer Lib-Dems came back from the dead to claim a surprise second place. The saddest part of it, however, is not the grotesque traits of this vote – the Brexit party will be one of the largest, matching the German CDU, and leave their allies weaker once they leave – but reports of non-British EU citizens being rejected at voting stations due to administrative mistakes. Whatever Brexit will look like, if anything, this poll just added an ugly stroke to an already gloomy picture.
Now let’s write it up!
Did the voters want Europe? The answer is an overall positive mix of polarised feelings, but the elections delivered no clarity about what Europe. The only thing that everyone seems to agree is that business as usual is not an option anymore – and the turnout confirms voters may be tired of sitting back and letting Brussels do its thing. The main characters are defined, from a greener left to a stronger and more radical right, with an increasingly pragmatic centre. It is now up to European political families to write the script for the next 5 years, show what their vision for Europe is, and deliver it. Otherwise, the next five years may well be remembered as the last of many, many last calls for the EU to shake up, reform, and overcome.