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News 27 May 2019, at 08:37

Populist Attack on EU Falls Short Despite Gains in France, Italy

Marime Font

Mainstream European Union parties held their ground against the assault from populists in elections for the bloc’s Parliament as the highest turnout in two decades looked set to reward pro-EU Liberals and Greens.

As polls closed, the parties who rally against foreigners, want to rein in the 28-nation EU and hate the cozy relationship between centrist groups weren’t performing as well as some establishment politicians feared, according to official provisional results.

Two major exceptions to the EU-wide trend were France and Italy. President Emmanuel Macron had talked up this election as a straight choice between those who are for or against the EU and his party was heading for defeat by Marine Le Pen’s euroskeptic National Rally with more than half the votes counted.


“The French people gave a lesson in humility” to Macron, far-right candidate Jordan Bardella said.

And in Italy, Matteo Salvini’s nationalist League won 34%, according to provisional results, far ahead of the 17% in last year’s general election. The opposition center-left Democratic Party overtook the Five Star Movement, the League’s coalition ally.

After a night of vote-counting throughout much of Europe, the mainstream postwar center-right and center-left alliances look like they will fall short of controlling the majority of seats in the European Parliament that they had since direct elections began 40 years ago.

According to the latest provisional results, the two big alliances will make up 44% of the seats, down from 56% in 2014. The pro-business Liberals and the Greens look like the big winners with 14% and 9% respectively, up from 9% and 7%.

An assortment of anti-establishment, euroskeptic and populist parties looks set to win 28% of seats in the Europe-wide vote, slightly less than in the outgoing parliament, according to official EU provisional results. Differing views on some of Europe’s key issues mean these parties have up until now always failed to work together.


The results signal that the EU is likely to broadly continue current policies: distancing itself from U.S. President Donald Trump’s protectionist trade strategy, gradually integrating the euro area, seeking a way to share the burden of non-EU migrants and holding firm against any U.K. attempt to reopen the Brexit deal. The result will also feed into the race for the bloc’s top jobs, including European Commission president and head of the European Central Bank.

While Chancellor Angela Merkel’s CDU/CSU bloc is a clear winner in Germany with 29% of the vote, that’s less than the 35% recorded in 2014. The Social Democrats, Merkel’s junior coalition partner, slumped to 16% from 27%, while the Greens surged to second place with 21%. The nationalist AfD is set to record 11%, according to provisional results, lower than forecast but up on 2014’s 7%.

“This election result is not a result that meets the ambitions that we’ve set for ourselves as a mass party,” Merkel’s chosen successor, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, told party members in Berlin.

Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party emerged as the winner in the U.K., with almost 32% of the vote, followed by the pro-EU Liberal Democrats with 19%. Both Labour and the Conservatives scored their worst results in decades. The U.K. was obliged to participate in the election because it didn’t leave the EU on March 29 as scheduled.

In Greece, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras called a general election following defeat in the European poll to the center-right New Democracy. The national vote will most likely be held at the end of June or early July.

Across Europe, it’s a similar picture of euroskeptic parties failing to make breakthroughs:

In Denmark, provisional results show the nationalist Danish People’s Party will get less than 11% of the vote, after getting 21% in the last national election
Spain’s Socialists won the largest proportion of seats there, with the center-right People’s Party in second place, with nearly all votes counted
In Austria, Chancellor Sebastian Kurz’s conservatives gained about 8 points to 35%
In Slovakia, the far-right party is set to finish third
In Finland the far-right Finns party is getting 14% -- roughly in line with its 2014 showing
In Hungary, Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s Fidesz Party won with 52% of the vote
“The tendency of less cooperation and saying no to the EU has really reminded people about what is good about the EU,” Swedish EU minister Hans Dahlgren told broadcaster SVT. “This has increased support for the EU across all of Europe.”

 

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