It is both surprising and reassuring to experience democracy in action when you are used to documenting the erosion of solidarity and rise of nationalism on the European continent. The results of these elections — held between 23 and 26 May — brought their share of surprises: a green wave that might create a new line of divide in Europe, the decline of mainstream parties and a higher-than-expected level of turnout across the continent.
We are still in an extremely fluid situation: in the early hours following the first results, we heard that the two main groups of the previous grand coalitions — the European People’s Party (EPP) and the Progressive Alliance of Socialists & Democrats (S&D) — did not retain the majority and now need the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE) and the Greens. But one needs to look into detail at the results on a national level
: the socialists did quite well in Spain, Portugal and the Netherlands and the Conservatives did well in Greece and Austria.
The results of these elections brought their share of surprises: a green wave that might create a new line of divide in Europe, the decline of mainstream parties and a higher-than-expected level of turnout across the continent.
Political groups are evolving, and three issues are at play
: first, what will happen after Brexit and the departure of 73 British members of the European Parliament (MEP)? They are at the origin of two groups at the Parliament, notably that of the Europe of Freedom and Direct Democracy chaired by Nigel Farage, where the Italian 5 Stars movement sits as well. Questions abound the future of the Italian movement after Nigel Farage and the members of his group leave. The second issue, highly discussed in France, is the future role of ALDE when Emmanuel Macron has clearly bet on them becoming kingmakers in the Parliament: indeed, though his party came second to Marine Le Pen’s Rassemblement National (RN), it will have a defining role in the Parliament because of the lack of working majority. Finally, while the EPP lost 42 seats, there are still the first group with 179 seats. Hungary’s illiberal Prime Minister Viktor Orban will also play a key role in the shaping of the new EPP group and consequently of the Parliament, all the while Fidesz, his party is currently suspended by the EPP since March 2019 over Orban’s record on respect for the rule of law, freedom of the press and rights for minorities. Marine Le Pen has been calling for both of them to form an alliance of anti-European parties, but Viktor Orban feels closer to Italian deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini. Will Orban stay inside the EPP and push it further right? Contrary to the Brexiteers, he has always been clear that he doesn’t want to leave the EU but transform it from the inside by influencing debates on key topics such as migration.
Commentators on European affairs immediately pointed to the fragmentation of this new Parliament and its subsequent expected paralysis, but actually it is probably more representative of diverging views in Europe and the desire of European citizens for this flurry of views to be expressed and defended, due to the record level turnout. The combined effect of these events will hopefully be the advent of true European power. In light of the rise of anti-European parties in the recent years, this new configuration should be a wake-up call for the powerlessness of European institutions to face global issues. Anti-European parties recriminate against an either true intrusive Europe or, on the contrary, a powerless and inefficient one. In this new context, efficiency and power might come from ad hoc coalitions on specific topics, amongst which climate and environmental issues will be paramount. One can hope the Green Wave that landed in the Parliament
will ensure that the topic stays on top of priorities. European Greens recorded their highest score winning 69 seats in the European Parliament: they doubled their score in Germany and arrived second to the CDU, they also arrived second in Finland, arrived third in France and Luxembourg, did very well in Belgium and Netherlands and won their first seats in Ireland in 20 years. This Green Wave seems to have been contained in Eastern and Southern Europe, where the Greens didn’t get any seats. One can wonder whether a new line of divide has appeared between Eastern-Southern and Western-Northern Europe on this issue.
Anti-European parties recriminate against an either true intrusive Europe or, on the contrary, a powerless and inefficient one. In this new context, efficiency and power might come from ad hoc coalitions on specific topics, amongst which climate and environmental issues will be paramount.
All in all, the pro-European majority has spoken, and it will be majoritarian in the Parliament, winning over 500 seats — out of 751 — with the aforementioned green wave and the strengthening of ALDE with the arrival of MEPs from Macron’s LREM party and the UK Liberals. However, there are as many views of the European project as there are pro-European groups. Now that they are elected and in power, it is their responsibility to show voters what European power looks like and address essential issues as social justice, economic inequalities or climate change, where the national level isn’t the adequate scale anymore.
The views expressed above belong to the author(s). ORF research and analyses now available on Telegram! Click here to access our curated content — blogs, longforms and interviews.