European Parliament Election Results Come In! Mainstream Loses as "Marginals" Post Gains!
The EU today is summing up the results of the 4-day elections to the European Parliament — a legislative body representing the interests of over 500 million people. For the first time in 40 years, the traditional parties have lost a decisive majority, while the nationalists and eurosceptics strengthened their positions. The British voted for the Brexit Party. The Catalans voted for the disgraced leader, Puigdemont. And the Latvians voted for Ushakov, the resigned mayor of Riga. Well, in Austria, the national parliament passed a vote of censure against the winner's government, Chancellor Kurz's, a few hours ago.
Mikhail Antonov in Germany, Anastasia Popova in France, and Alexander Khabarov in Great Britain figured out what changes Europe wants.
The concepts of "mainstream" and "marginals" with respect to European politics have lost their meaning. Over the past four days, voters in 28 countries substantially shook up the political landscape. The earthquake, predicted by the far-right, took place.
The political center lies in ruins. The European People's Party, which unites the conservatives and the bloc of the European social democrats, no longer controls the parliament. The most serious troubles happened to them at the top of the list: in the four countries that send the largest number of deputies to the European Parliament — in Germany, France, Great Britain, and Italy.
It was the Italian national patriots who opposed Brussels, migration, and anti-Russian sanctions that became the biggest winners in these elections — they won 35% of the vote. To say that Deputy Prime Minister Salvini's far-right "League" improved its result means to say nothing: they had 5 seats, now they'll have 28.
Matteo Salvini, Deputy Prime Minister of Italy: "I'll try to prove with my work and actions that I believe in a better future than what the European bureaucrats have prepared for us".
His ally in the current government, the Five Star Movement, won 17% of the votes, according to preliminary results. Nevertheless, it'll definitely bring more than 10 deputy seats to eurosceptics. It's expected that their French associates will send at least 20 people to Brussels.
In France, the European elections turned into a duel of Emmanuel Macron's ruling La République En Marche! against the main opposition force — Marine Le Pen's National Rally. It's a kind of referendum, which gets personal, an attempt to understand what the French want — European integration or to distance themselves from the EU. The French chose the latter. Marine Le Pen got over 23% of the vote. In fact, she took revenge for her defeat by Macron in the second round of the presidential elections two years ago. Le Pen was well prepared. She renamed the party, disowned her father's legacy, and attracted young people. Her list was headed by yesterday's student, 23-year-old Jordan Bardella.
Jordan Bardella, member of the National Rally: "The French people tonight clearly punished and taught a humiliating lesson to the president of the republic, who decided to use all of his power in this campaign. The president turned this election into a plebiscite. He and his policies were rejected".
Marine Le Pen, leader of the National Rally: "The president should draw conclusions after he put his reputation at stake in the elections when he turned them into a referendum on his policies and his own personality. He has no other option other than to dissolve the National Assembly and give up to a more democratic electoral system in order to better represent the majority of this country's political views".
Le Pen appealed to history. In response to student protests in May of 1968, Charles de Gaulle announced the "great French reform of the 20th century." The first bill wasn't supported at the referendum. And the president immediately resigned. But then there was de Gaulle, and here is Macron. He couldn't say anything about the results of the European elections. His press secretary tried to do it for him:
- We lost to Le Pen's National Rally, but their results aren't so high.
- But I'm not asking about them but about you, the party La République En Marche!
- We haven't won, but considering the fact that we're a new association, that the country was shaken up by social crises, we handled it, and therefore, we did a great job.
Prime Minister Édouard Philippe called the results humiliating. Foreign media also use this word in their headlines. The French government promised to remedy the situation. But they made a proviso that Macron won't change the economic course, dissolve the parliament, or dismiss anyone. Marine Le Pen is preparing for a new battle; France's municipal elections will be held in a year.
Macron can console himself with the fact that the faction of liberal democrats, whom his party is going to join in the European Parliament, has also improved its result from 68 to 107 seats. On the left flank, among the undisputed winners is the Green Party. They'll have 71 seats instead of 52. The leader of the Latvian Russian Union, Tatjana Ždanoka, will return to the European Parliament as a part of that party. To the disappointment of those who provoked his resignation, former mayor of Riga Nils Ušakovs will also continue his political career in Brussels, although in total, the European Social Democrats lost many seats. They had 191 seats, now they'll have 150. According to preliminary results, the far-right forces came out of the electoral struggle with practically no losses, but there's at least one government crisis related to their failed performance.
Following the results of the European, regional, and municipal elections in Greece, Prime Minister Tsipras announced his resignation. The ruling party, Syriza, managed to lose all of them.
In Austria, there'll also soon be a temporary government until the early elections. The Austrian parliament today issued a vote of censure to Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, who last week broke the coalition with the ultra-right Freedom Party and dismissed its ministers from the government in connection with the scandal around their party leader, former Vice-Chancellor Strache. Two years ago, in front of hidden cameras in Ibiza, Strache negotiated campaign funding for his party with a supposedly Russian millionaire. The fact that now it's clear that it was a trap doesn't change anything. The only thing that the Freedom Party could do was to take revenge on its former ally, using the support of social democrats. It could backfire on them both because the vote of censure against the prime minister was issued a few hours after the triumph by his party at the elections to the European Parliament. Kurz's Austrian conservatives were supported by 35.5% of voters. This is its best result in history. At the same time, the far-right themselves lost at least one seat. They'll have only three seats.
These are more than modest figures against the background of the humiliation that the British eurosceptics carried out over the oldest parliament in Europe.
London, Great Britain
Brexit won in Great Britain again. This time, it’s the name of a party, which appeared here just two months ago. It has neither a program nor a manifesto, but only one call: to leave the European Union. Nevertheless, this party won 32% of the vote here. For comparison, the ruling Conservatives have only 9%, and the opposition Labor has 14%. The leader of the winning party, Nigel Farage, has already claimed his seat at the negotiating table with the EU.
Nigel Farage, leader of the Brexit Party: "I want to radically change the form of British politics. The outdated voting system, the absurd House of Lords, need to be cleaned up and started anew".
The ruling Conservatives are at a loss. The "lame duck" Theresa May is the head of the party. On June 7th, she'll leave the post of leader. A fierce struggle for her post has already begun. One of the key candidates, former Foreign Minister Boris Johnson, promises Brexit, whatever it takes, no matter whether they'll agree with the EU or not. Johnson was the first to react to the defeat of his party at the European elections.
"The message of the European election results is clear. If we go like this, we will be dismissed".
The outraged supporters of Brexit criticize BBC presenters for the fact that they scarcely covered the success of Farage's party. But they gave the floor to the former assistant to Prime Minister Tony Blair, Alastair Campbell, who absolutely groundlessly accused the winners of allegedly being funded by Russia. They didn't even ask Campbell how he could confirm his words.
"You had a great campaign, did a great job on social media, held a lot of useful events, and got all of the necessary Russian rubles. Everything was great, I take off my hat to you. The campaign was very good".
There are no serious political figures in Farage's party besides himself. But the fact that voters are ready to vote for this hodgepodge shows their attitude to the current parliament and government, which actually papered over the results of the Brexit referendum. Many people here viewed this vote as a kind of test for a possible re-referendum on Brexit. It's difficult to assess the result because, in the leading parties, there are both supporters and opponents of leaving the EU. But in any case, voters sent a clear signal to the local political establishment. They're dissatisfied with it.
The Belgians are also dissatisfied. The nest of eurosceptics happened to be in the eurobureaucrats' stronghold. The nationalists from the New Flemish Alliance and the Flemish Interest Party won 25% of the vote. They'll have 5 seats that will join the far-right coalition that is forming around the parties of Le Pen, Salvini, Farage, and the German AfD, the latter of which will have 10-11 seats.
Jörg Meuthen, leader of the Alternative for Germany: "We know that you voted for us not because you wanted us to be comfortably accommodated in Brussels, to become members of their club. We're going to Brussels to restore the EU, to return its main functions to i"t.
At the same time, the right wing is obviously going to prevent the centrist majority from solving tasks, even those that used to be simple, such as an appointment of the management of the European Commission. The European People's Party, which includes Merkel's CDU and the Social Democrats, will have a total of only 326 seats. But they need 376 seats in order to act without support from the rest of the parliament. When forming a parliamentary coalition that will be authorized to nominate a candidate for the post of the president of the European Commission, they'll now have to cooperate with the liberals, or the greens, or the European conservatives and reformists; the latter of which includes Kaczyński's ruling Polish party. Any option will require sacrifices and concessions. Therefore, for example, Mr. Weber, Merkel's candidate for the highest post in the EU, no longer seems such an absolute favorite. However, this is only one of the unpleasant effects that the past elections can have on the political well-being of Europe. Germany is again on the verge of a government crisis.
The German Social Democrats suffered a terrible defeat: they got only 15.5% of the vote. Not they but the Greens, which sensationally gained 22%, are now the second most popular party in Germany. But this is only half the trouble: not long ago, the SPD lost Bremen, where it ruled without interruption for seven decades. Merkel's party took control over it. And the chancellor may well regret this victory.
Andrea Nahles, leader of the SPD: "We became the third strongest party in the national elections for the first time, right behind the Greens. I congratulate the Greens and tell them to cheer up because the Social Democrats are ready for this competition".
The challenge for the Social Democrats is the overdue decision, which the party's rank and file have long been urging its leaders to take — to break the coalition with Merkel, which is detrimental to the party's reputation. That is, to join the opposition. Let the chancellor create a new government and try to bring together the interests of the financial-industrial groups behind the Christian Democrats and the environmental radicalism of the Greens. To be exact, not Merkel but Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer. Let Merkel resign.
Nothing's over, everything's just beginning. These elections to the European Parliament will have a ton of delayed effects, which will make themselves felt over time. Like in an earthquake: the most dangerous thing is the aftershocks.
Mikhail Antonov, Alexander Korostelev, Anastasia Popova, Alexander Khabarov, and Andrey Putra for VESTI from Berlin, Brussels, London.