The Institute Presents: The EU Elections

June 5, 2019

 

 

Overview: Philippe Lefevre

 

We have just experienced what many have called, the most European EU elections ever. With turnout rocketing upwards to over 50% [1] and many pan-European issues being raised vigorously from across the Union. However, for many European citizens, it was local issues that affected their vote, from their countries place in Europe, to the parties themselves. In this special presentation we at the Institute want to give you the chance to hear from every member state what the outcomes of the elections were for each country, from recently embattled Austria to rather peculiarly, the United Kingdom.

 

First we must begin with a brief overview of the results themselves. In essence, it was a battering for the traditional two main parties of the EU Parliament, the European People's Party (a centre-right grouping) and the Socialist and Democrat Party (a centre-Left grouping). In almost all EU elections previously, the two parties together have managed to secure at least half of the seats in the parliament (There are 751 MEPs total) but this was narrowly missed this year, with the Alliance for Liberals and Democrats in Europe (a roughly liberal centrist grouping) gaining many seats along with the Greens. This strong show of force for pro-EU groups was offset by strong returns for Eurosceptic groups in Parliament, spread across multiple parties. However, if you dig deeper into the countries themselves, you find many different interesting results that allow you to understand the nature of these elections and their impact on the future of European politics.

 

 The EU election results as a whole, still provisional but unlikely to change. [2]

 

[1] “Turnout | 2019 European Election Results | European Parliament.” 2019 European Election Results. Accessed June 5, 2019. https://www.election-results.eu/turnout/.

[2] “Home | 2019 European Election Results | European Parliament.” 2019 European Election Results. Accessed June 5, 2019. https://election-results.eu/.

 

Austria: Natalie Raidl

Like in most other countries in Europe, the turnout in Austria’s elections to the European Parliament was considerably higher than in the previous election – almost 60% in 2019 compared to 45% in 2014. While all of Europe was bracing for a sweeping victory of right-wing parties, Austria’s FPÖ (Freiheitliche Partei Österreichs) was caught up in one of the biggest political scandals of Austria’s history. Party leader Heinz Christian Strache was filmed during a meeting with a supposed Russian oligarch’s niece and caught on camera vowing to politically staff the biggest Austrian newspaper and sell out the Austrian building industry. This was followed by Mr. Strache’s withdrawal from his post as vice chancellor and the along with him, all FPÖ ministers stepped down. The chancellor called for new elections, and the transition government was given a vote of no confidence, forcing the president to put together an expert government to run the country until elections in September.

 

This national crisis overshadowed most of the European elections and may also have impacted the high turnout, as people’s political awareness was high around the time. The outcome of the elections were used as a measure for who would end up benefiting from this national crisis and who would lose political popularity. The strongest party was the Austrian People’s Party (Österreichische Volkspartei, ÖVP), who scored 34,55%, a phenomenal 12% increase compared to 2014. This suggests that party leader Sebastian Kurz was able to convince his electorate that he was the “good guy”, who took al necessary steps to rid Austria of corrupted politicians. As expected, the FPÖ lost – but only around two percent from 19,72% in 2014 to 17,20% in 2019.

 

This shows that Austria’s right-wing party has a very strong core electorate that cannot even be alienated through a video that shows the party’s leader in treasonous behavior. The Austrian Social Democratic Party (Sozialdemokratische Partei Österreich, SPÖ) scored 23,9%, practically the same result as in 2014, which nevertheless was a disappointment. The party was hoping to benefit from the crisis by being viewed as the strong opposition who forced out the untrustworthy transition government. However, it seems like the Austrian population, who were largely against this vote of no confidence, did not appreciate this move. The Austrian Green party, who had not received enough votes in the previous parliamentary elections to enter parliament, celebrated a big victory, scoring 14,08%. The centrist liberal party NEOS received 8,44% in their first run for European elections, which was a slight increase to their score in the national elections. The Austrian communist party and the “JETZT!” list did not make the threshold and will not be represented.

 

Belgium: Stijn Mertens

 

Belgium went to the voting booth on the 26th of May to vote for regional, national and European representatives. After Climate Marches, ‘Gilets Jaunes’, the fall of the government because of the Global Compact for Migration also known as the Marrakesh Pact and multiple shortcomings in the Belgian justice systems, we could only guess which theme would come to dominate the campaign. Most expected growth for the Greens (Groen & Ecolo), the extreme right (Vlaams Belang) and the extreme left (PTB - PvdA) at the expense of the establishment parties. The magnitude of this growth remained to be seen.

 

The results came in and they shocked us. In Flanders, ‘Vlaams Belang’ went from 5.9% (the electoral threshold lays at 5%) to 18.5% of the votes, making it the second largest party after the conservative nationalist party ‘N-VA’. ‘Groen’ underachieved and only gained 1.4% and the communist ‘PvdA’ reached the electoral threshold for the first time in Flanders. Meanwhile in Wallonia things went in an entirely different direction. Here large gains were made by ‘Ecolo’ (+6%) and ‘PTB’ (+7.5%) making them the third and fourth party respectively after the socialist ‘PS’ and the liberal ‘MR’. Note that there are no significant right-wing, anti-migration  parties in Wallonia, quite unique in Europe nowadays.

 

The winners and losers on regional, national and European level are roughly the same. In both regions coalitions can be formed rather easily. A left-wing or progressive coalition in Wallonia and a conservative one in Flanders. The federal level will not be as straightforward. It requires at least one party from the Wallonian and the Flemish side, so all major language groups are represented. Add to this that most parties signed an agreement not to make a coalition with ‘Vlaams Belang’ (=Le Cordon Sanitaire). This agreement effectively eliminates the third largest party from a possible coalition. As things stand, at least four parties are needed to form a majority on a national level. In this scenario ‘N-VA’, ‘PS’, ‘Vlaams Belang’ and ‘MR’/’Ecolo’ would have to make a coalition, which could never happen. Let’s hope we do not break the record for the longest government formation again.

 

 

Bulgaria: Ana Popova

 

From Bulgaria, seventeen new members from five different political formations are going to be sent to the European Parliament (EP).[1] The governing party in the country, Citizens for European Development (bulg. GERB) reached the highest results with 31,07 % and won 6 MEPs. Even though the number of their candidates doesn’t increase, they have scored a slight increase in the votes compared to the 2014 EP elections.The biggest opposition party at national level, the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP), followed with 24,26 % and 5 MEPs – one more MEP than the last election. This is an increase of approximately 5% of the votes compared to the 2014 elections.

 

The Movement for Rights and Freedoms (bulg. DPS) gets to send 3 members of the EP with 16,55 % of the votes. This is a negative result for the party that is supposed to represent the Bulgarian minorities and means that they will have one member less than in the previous election. The first two candidates who got the most votes withdrew their candidacy after the elections. The first one and current chairman of the DPS, Mustafa Sali Karadayi, explained in his questionable Bulgarian that their goal was to unite their voters. For the second candidate, Delyan Peevski, this is the second withdrawal after he cancelled his candidacy in the 2014 EP elections as well. His argument was that he was needed more in the Bulgarian Parliament, where the times he has been physically present since his inauguration in 2017 can be counted on one hand. The Bulgarian nationalists’ movement “Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organisation” (bulg. VMRO) has won 7,36 % of the electorate and will be represented in the EP by 2 MEPs.

 

A newly formed coalition of the Bulgarian Green party, the party “Yes, Bulgaria!” and the Democrats for Strong Bulgaria (DSB) also made it above the 5,88%-hurdle with 6,06% and will have one MEP – the leader of DSB Radan Kanev. The results are positive for the Greens in comparison to the 2014 elections.

 

In contrast to the overall positive results regarding the voter turnout, the election participation was lower in Bulgaria compared to earlier elections. Only  32,64% of the population granted a valid vote, which is 3,2% less than the 2014 elections and 6,35% less than the 2009 elections.[2]

 

The EP elections are often regarded by theorists and academics as “second-line-elections” which are not believed by the population to influence national politics. Consequently, many voters view them as a pitch mostly to a protest vote. [3] This observation is accurate in the Bulgarian elections results only inasmuch as an insignificant percent of GERB’s electorate has chosen to support the Green and Democrats Formation instead. Otherwise, there is no significant change in comparison to the national elections.

 

[1] Bulgarian Central Electoral Commission, European Parliament Elections 2019, https://results.cik.bg/ep2019/mandati/index.html (accessed 02.06.2019).

[2] European Parliament, Elections Results 2014, http://www.europarl.europa.eu/elections2014-results/en/country-results-bg-2014.html (accessed 02.06.2019).

[3] Todorov, Antonii, “European Elections 2019: The earthquake ist postponed, but for how long?”, https://antoniytodorov.wordpress.com/EP elections

 

 

Croatia: Filip Fila


Although end results did not deviate a great deal from predictions, much commotion regarding them ensued in Croatia in the days following the elections. The most popular Croatian party and the main party within the ruling coalition, the center-right Croatian Democratic Union, earned the greatest share of votes (22,72%) and consequently won 4 seats in the European Parliament. They had, however, certainly hoped to win more seats than their longstanding rivals, the center-left Social Democratic Party, which got 18,71% of the vote, and was also awarded with 4 seats. All other parties which passed the elective threshold won a single seat. It should, however, be noted that the third place belongs to a coalition of right-wing parties titled Croatian Sovereignists, led by the former/current EP MP Ruža Tomašić. They managed to win 8,52% of the vote. Coming in close with 7,89% of the vote was the independent candidate and newcomer to politics Mislav Kolakušić, the biggest surprise of the elections. The last two seats will be reserved for the the anti-establishment Human Shield party and the Amsterdam Coalition, which consists of several center-left, liberal, and regionalist parties. There was not a great difference between the two in terms of votes won; Human Shield was the top choice of 5,66% of the voters, while the Amsterdam Coalition acquired support from 5,19% of the voters. Voting turnout was fairly low, a bit under 30%.


Analyzing the results, what is noticeable is that an exact correspondence with popularity polls and with the results of recent national elections did not occur. Therefore the CDU, which expected to win 5 seats and a greater share of the vote, has been perceived as one of the losers of these European elections. SDP, on the other hand, should rightly see themselves as winners, even if they do not seem to be anywhere near close rivaling CDU on a national level. Owing to the strong lineup of politicians they fielded, they will not only now have the same amount of seats in the EP as CDU, but have increased their number by 2. Concerning other parties and their expectations, the Human Shield stands out as it has been itching to become Croatia’s second most popular party, but was ultimately miles away from SDP this time around. Among those which failed to win a seat, many noted the bad result of the Bridge of Independent Lists, a relatively new conservative party which peaked in its first elections ever in 2015, but has since then been on a decline. On the whole, the waters of future national elections seem muddy as what was once more demonstrated was fragmentation as a reflection of a sort of a desire for new options to counter the CDU and SDP. Despite the resurgence of SDP, what should also be highlighted is a general shift towards the right. As far as European politics are concerned, Croatian representatives will be predominantly pro-European, with the only explicitly Eurosceptic option being the Human Shield and its MP.

 

 

Cyprus: Lawrence

 

The results of the European Parliament electoral process in Cyprus proved that still, European affairs are far from the Cypriot reality. The panel debates leading up to the elections were mostly focused on inter-party bickering, discussions on local topics (national health care, crime, etc), less about the Turkish invasion problem (with the exception of the latest Turkish invasion of Cyprus’s Exclusive Economic Zone and deep-sea drilling – look it up),  and even less coverage of European affairs. Which is why it was not entirely surprising that Cypriots ignored the #thistimeimvoting campaign of the European Parliament, and chose instead to vote for the beaches rather than spend their Sunday involving themselves in a process that has intentionally kept them distant. If nothing else, it showed that when people are called to vote for the future of Europe, they should be involved in it from the beginning.

 

The most surprising result of the Cypriot vote was the “douze points” given to a Turkish-speaking Cypriot, who, for the first time since Turkish-speaking Cypriots walked out of their public service posts in 1963, will hold a public office seat representing the interests of the Republic of Cyprus. Turkish-speaking Cypriots were the largest minority on the island, when it became a Republic in 1960. Following an internal conflict caused by years of British oppression, a Greek-led military coup and a Turkish-led invasion in 1974, the Turkish-speaking Cypriots have ever since been living in the north of the island, forming a de facto state only recognised by Turkey. Now, for the first time, an individual who holds a passport of this de facto state, as well as a passport of the Republic of Cyprus, is elected as 1 of the 6 Cypriot MEPs, even though he does not reside in the areas controlled by the Republic of Cyprus. Whilst this reinforces the power of the Republic of Cyprus and diminishes any status the puppet state of the north has had, many fear about potential security and national issues that may arise.

 

The other highlight, although much less surprising, was the lack of any women candidates. Showing how the party politics on the island are still male-dominated, the society has a long way to go until it realises that women bring unique qualities and skills to the negotiating/political table.

The newly elected group of 6 MEPs will need to produce a lot of work to prove to their European counterparts that the island is indeed European, but they will need to put an even greater effort in achieving at least a fraction of their pre-electoral promises to the Cypriot people.

 

 

Czechia: Anna Korienieva

 

Interest in the European Parliament elections has historically been low in the Czech Republic. This year's turnout was 28.72%, which is significantly below the EU average of 50.8%. Such a situation reflects prevailing Euroscepticism, which generally benefits pro-European parties, whose supporters are more likely to take part at the election to support their favorites.

 

With regard to the election results, the main power of the current Czech government, ANO (YES 2011), won 21.18% of the vote resulting in 6 MEP seats. Party's slogan “We will protect the Czech Republic, steadily and uncompromisingly" suggests its main priority – to defend the Czech Republic against the external enemy, embodied in Brussels and EU regulations. This is also connected to the adoption of the Euro, which Prime Minister Babiš (ANO) committed to postpone during his election campaign, a move seen to have been made to attract more voters

 

However, the question is to what extent ANO will be able