Sharp rise in support for Eurosceptic parties the dominant story across EU
While mainstream parties hold balance of power, protest vote is substantial
Angela Merkel’s CDU comfortably topped the poll in Germany, but the rise of AfD is an indication of the shifting political ground in Europe. Photograph: Michael Kappeler/EPA
European citizens went to the polls this weekend for the first time since the full scale of the financial crisis became apparent.
Although mainstream political parties will retain the balance of power in the next European Parliament, the protest vote is nonetheless substantial, indicating a deep-seated frustration with mainstream politics.
The slight increase in estimated voter turnout, to 43.11 per cent, will we welcomed by Europhiles, who have long bemoaned the progressive decrease in turnout. But ironically, the extra turnout may have served to boost the performance of the anti-EU parties in at least some countries.
Nonetheless, early exit polls from the Netherlands on Thursday had suggested the expected surge of the far-right and far- left in these elections had been overstated. An exit poll by Dutch national media showed the party of Geert Wilders had slipped to fourth place, despite leading in previous polls. In the end, however, the Dutch vote appears to have been an anomaly, the result of a low turnout from Dutch Freedom Party supporters.
As results streamed in late last night to the results centre in the European Parliament in Brussels, polls and preliminary results confirmed an increase in support for populist and anti-immigration parties.
France’s National Front party headed by Marine Le Pen won a quarter of the vote in France, while the Danish People’s Party topped the poll in Denmark.
Even Germany, the most pro-EU of all countries has seen a surge in support for Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) which will have six seats in the next parliament. Angela Merkel’s CDU still comfortably topped the poll in Germany, but the rise of AfD, which was formed just two years ago, is an indication of the shifting political ground in Europe.
One of the most significant aspects is the success of Eurosceptic parties in many of the largest member states.
The fact that some of the biggest countries in the EU – Britain, France and Italy – have elected protest MEPs could have a significant impact on the hue of the next parliament, given these countries hold the most seats.
The success of extreme, quasi-fascist parties like Golden Dawn in Greece and Jobbik in Hungary may be a worrying indication of xenophobia in these countries, but their relatively small populations means that, on their own, they would have little impact on the parliament.
How the class of 2014 align themselves in the parliament will determine if they can affect real change in Strasbourg, or simply use the parliament as a talking shop. Many of the new faces hold radically different views, so finding common political ground will be challenging.
A minimum of 25 MEPs from seven countries is required to form a political group, a key requirement to secure voting rights, financial assistance and committee positions.
National Front leader Marine Le Pen and Geert Wilders have already committed to forming a group. A second Eurosceptic group clustered around Nigel Farage’s Ukip is also likely to emerge.
In terms of Irish MEPs’ political affiliations, Sinn Féin will join the far-left GUE-NGL group, which, according to predictions last night, may be the sixth-largest group in the parliament. Eamon Ryan, if successful, will join the Green group, Fine Gael’s MEPs will align with the largest group, the EPP, and Fianna Fáil’s Brian Crowley will remain with the liberal group, Alde.
Labour It remains unclear whether Luke Ming Flanagan will align himself with any political group if elected, while the likely failure of Labour to gain any seats means Ireland is unlikely to have any representation in the second-largest Socialists and Democrats (S &D) group.
Centrists will, rightly, point out that the mainstream parties will continue to dominate the European parliament, but the increased power of parties opposed to European integration is likely to make the passing of EU legislation a lot more difficult over the next five years.