At the European level, the center-right, Christian democratic European People’s Party (EPP) emerged with about 25 more seats than the center-left, social democratic Party of European Socialists (PES).
That immediately gives former the EPP’s candidate for the presidency of the European Commission, former Luxembourgish prime minister Jean-Claude Juncker, a boost in his efforts to actually become the Commission president. But it’s still far from automatic, despite Juncker’s aggressive posture at a press conference Sunday evening:
“I feel fully entitled to become the next president of the European Commission,” Juncker, a former Luxembourg prime minister, told supporters late yesterday in Brussels after the release of preliminary results. Premier for 18 years until he was voted out of office in December, Juncker also gained recognition in his dual role as head of the group of euro-area finance ministers during the debt crisis.
Juncker (pictured above) still must to convince the European Council to propose him as Commission president, and he’ll still need to win over enough right-wing or center-left allies to win a majority vote in the European Parliament.
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That process, which could feature a major battle between the European Council and the European Parliament, will unfold in the days, weeks and possibly months ahead.
But what do the results mean across Europe in each country? Here’s a look at how the European elections are reverberating across the continent.
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Germany: 96 seats
Population: 80.5 million
Joined EEC/EU: 1957 (as West Germany)
Head of government: Angela Merkel, CDU
Next national election: Before October 2017
GDP per capita (PPP): $39,028
In Germany, chancellor Angela Merkel and her center-right Christlich Demokratische Union Deutschlands (CDU, Christian Democratic Party) achieved another remarkable win, but it’s also a surprisingly strong showing for the center-left Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands (SPD, Social Democratic Party), much better than last September’s disastrous national elections.
Two immediate explanations spring to mind — first, it’s a dividend to the Social Democrats from their role participating in Merkel’s grand coalition; second, it’s a boost from Martin Schulz, the German social democrat who was selected as the pan-European candidate of the Party of European Socialists for the presidency of the European Commission.
Even as British and French voters embraced euroscepticism, however, German voters largely remained on a moderate, pro-European course.
The CDU victory is also a personal victory for David McAllister, the former minister-president of Lower Saxony, who narrowly lost reelection bid in 2013. McAllister led the CDU campaign and is a top Merkel protégé, and seems likely to become Germany’s next representative to the European Commission (that is, if Schulz doesn’t become the Commission president).
The liberal Freie Demokratische Partei (FDP, Free Democratic Party), who lost all of their seats in the Bundestag in last September’s federal elections, had an equally disastrous night in the European elections. Their losses came at the benefit of Germany’s new soft eurosceptic party, the Alternative für Deutschland (AfD, Alternative for Deutschland), though winning 6% or 7% of the vote is hardly a revolution. The AfD looks like it may have stolen supporters from the CDU’s sister party in Bavaria, Christlich-Soziale Union in Bayern (CSU, the Christian Social Union in Bavaria).
That the neo-Nazi Nationaldemokratische Partei Deutschlands (National Democratic Party) appears to have won one seat will be a national disgrace and embarrassment, though. On the more whimsical side, Die PARTEI, a satirical party founded by the editors of the parody magazine Titanic, running on the slogan of ‘Yes to Europe, No to Europe,’ won 0.6% of the vote and and one seat.
Update, May 26: Merkel spoke to the press on Monday, reiterating her support for Juncker as the next president of the European Commission, but noted that he would still need to win a qualified majority of the European Council and a simple majority of the European Parliament. Both British prime minister David Cameron and Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán have indicated they will not support Juncker.
But Merkel also addressed the rise of the eurosceptics across the continent:
“As for the good results of the populists and the right-wing, it’s remarkable and regrettable,” the chancellor told a news conference in Berlin on Monday. “The question is how we win over voters. This is also the case for France,” she said. “I think a course that focuses on competitiveness, growth and jobs is the best answer to the disappointment.”
Though Merkel has indicated that she might seek a new round of treaty negotiation at the European level with an eye toward greater fiscal policy standardization and, potentially, a new banking union, she hinted Monday that a new treaty might not be a pressing concern.
“It will be more about pursuing policies that resonate with the people,” said the chancellor, whose conservative bloc emerged as the strongest party grouping in Germany. “They are less interested in the issue of whether there should be treaty change or not, but rather whether Europe is making a difference in their own lives,” she added, noting that high jobless rates in some countries had damaged trust in the EU project.
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France: 74 seats
Population: 65.6 million
Joined EEC/EU: 1957
Head of state: François Hollande, PS
Next national election: April/May 2017
GDP per capita (PPP): $35,548
The commanding victory for Marine Le Pen and the Front national (FN, National Front) could upend national politics in France, and it gives Le Pen growing momentum in her campaign to steal the mantle of the French right from the center-right Union pour un mouvement populaire (UMP, Union for a popular movement). Though the UMP finished in second place, not so far behind the Front national, it’s becoming easier to see Le Pen eclipse the UMP’s current crop of leaders in the 2017 presidential race, including former prime minister François Fillon and Jean-François Copé (though not former president Nicolas Sarkozy).
French voters are obviously still unhappy with president François Hollande and his center-left Parti socialiste (PS, Socialist Party), and the PS’s results are even worse than many opinion polls projected. Despite naming Manuel Valls, the popular former interior minister, as his new prime minister last month, Hollande still hasn’t found a way to reconnect with the French electorate, even though he’s only two years into what could be an incredibly difficult five-year term.
Think of Le Pen’s victory just as much a rejection of the mainstream French political elite, which includes not only the PS and the UMP, but also other minor parties of moderates, greens and leftists that have long inhabited the French political space. French voters, more than anywhere else (except possibly Greece), have lost faith with both the traditional left and right. It’s still hard to believe that Le Pen could emerge victorious from a two-round presidential election.
Update, May 26: Hollande, in remarks on Monday, used to opportunity to argue that Europe needs to pursue stronger pro-growth policies in order to combat the growth of the populist and eurosceptic right:
“I am a European, it is my duty to reform France and re-focus Europe,” he said in a short message broadcast on French television a day after his Socialist’s party defeat in EU parliamentary elections. “Tomorrow, at the European Council, I will reaffirm that the priority is growth, jobs and investment,” he said.
But that promise rings somewhat hollow, in light of Hollande’s massive unpopularity at home, and in light of the policies that Hollande has pursued in France, including budget cuts, controversial tax increases (especially on the wealthiest) and meek attempts at labor market and pension reform that satisfy neither the left nor the right. If anything, with a new focus on competitiveness and cutting payroll taxes, and with the appointment of Valls, who comes from the conservative wing of the Socialists, as prime minister, Hollande’s emphasis has increasingly moved more toward the fiscal agenda of Merkel and Cameron.
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United Kingdom: 73 seats
Population: 63.7 million
Joined EEC/EU: 1973
Head of government: David Cameron, Conservative
Next national election: May 2015
Currency: pound sterling
GDP per capita (PPP): $36,941
British voters, who have been particularly ambivalent about their country’s membership in the European Union, delivered a strong protest vote by propelling Nigel Farage’s United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) into first place — the firs time that neither the Conservative Party nor the Labour Party has won a national election in over a century.
UKIP will certainly have a greater presence in national elections in May 2015, but there’s little threat that Farage will ever become prime minister — or even deputy prime minister — in 2015. Under the first-past-the-post electoral system that the United Kingdom utilizes in national elections, the fight will still largely be between prime minister David Cameron’s Conservatives and center-left Labour. (Under European law, European parliamentary elections must be conducted, in contrast, by proportional representation).
Farage is a better politician than anyone in Great Britain today, excepting possibly London mayor Boris Johnson and Scottish National Party leader Alex Salmond. He’s smart enough to distance himself from Le Pen and the Front national‘s anti-Semitic roots, and when he made intemperate remarks about Romanian immigrants and crime, his party took out full-page ads to ameliorate the damage. It’s hard not to find some charm in Farage’s ‘happy warrior’ as he’s excoriating the neocolonial militarism of the Blair-Brown era or slapping around deputy prime minister Nick Clegg in debate.
The results are more immediately ominous for Ed Miliband, the leader of the Labour Party, who seems to be stalling in his efforts to win voters now that the British economy is on the mend and Cameron’s political situation improves. It’s even worse for the junior partner in Cameron’s government, the Liberal Democrats, who have seen their support collapse.
But the stridently eurosceptic protest vote should haunt Cameron if he’s reelected, given his promise to hold a referendum on British EU membership in 2017.
Update, May 26:
In Scotland, where voters elected six MEPs, UKIP actually won one seat, which denied the Scottish National Party (SNP) an expected third MEP, which would have boosted the party as it gears up for a campaign in favor of Scottish independence in advance of Scotland’s September 18 referendum.
In Northern Ireland, with three seats up for grabs, the largely Catholic, Irish nationalist Sinn Féin’s candidate led with around 160,000 votes, while the largely Protestant Democratic Unionist Party’s cndidate was winning around 131,000 votes.
Nick Griffin, the leader of the xenophobic British National Party (BNP), which makes the anti-immigration, eurosceptic UKIP seem downright cuddly, lost his seat in the European Parliament.
Clegg spent Monday battling back calls for his resignation, after losing 10 of his party’s 11 seats in the European Parliament:
Looking dejected and exhausted during a television interview, the deputy prime minister said he was determined to continue his work in government and resisted calls for a change in direction.
The last of the party leaders to respond to the European results, Clegg said: “Just at the point when our decisions, our big judgments are being vindicated, we are not going to buckle, we are not going to lose our nerve and we are not going to walk away.”
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Italy: 73 seats
Population: 59.7 million
Joined EEC/EU: 1957
Head of government: Matteo Renzi, PD
Next national election: Before February 2018
GDP per capita (PPP): $30,136
Italy’s new prime minister Matteo Renzi needed a strong showing after coming to power three months ago in what amounts to a palace coup.
Not only did Renzi meet expectations, he wildly exceeded them. Italian voters, by a margin of around 41% to 21%, preferred Renzi’s Partido Democratico (PD, Democratic Party) to the anti-austerity Movimento 5 Stelle (M5S, the Five Star Movement) of comedian and blogger Beppe Grillo. Though the combined right also won around 20%, former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi’s newly reconstituted Forza Italia won just 17%, with his former deputy Angelino Alfano’s Nuovo Centrodestro (NCD, New Center RIght) winning around 4.5% of the vote.
The Italian results are among the most decisive verdicts within the European Union, and they give Renzi a strong claim as the most powerful center-left leader in Europe. Though Renzi, age 39, came to power in February only after pushing his own PD colleague Enrico Letta out of office, his agenda for rapid-fire reform slowed somewhat as Italian politicians began posturing for the European elections, including the scandal-plagued Berlusconi, who ran one of the more eurosceptic campaigns in recent memory.
The results amount to as clear a mandate for Renzi as for anyone in Sunday’s voting, and he’ll almost certainly be entitled to use the results to push for more (much needed) economic and political reforms in Italy.
Update, May 26: Renzi took a triumphant victory lap on Monday, even while he tried to downplay the significance of the European elections as a referendum on his three-month government. Renzi, however, ruled out calling early elections and reiterated that the government should continue through the end of its term in 2018. He’s now in a position of force as he attempts to sweep through a new electoral law, labor market liberalization, political reforms that would abolish or limit the power of Italy’s senate:
“Italy is in a position to put a decisive mark on the process that is now opening in Europe,” Renzi told a news conference on Monday. “I consider this a vote of extraordinary hope for a country that has all the conditions to be able to change and that can invite Europe to change.”
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Spain: 54 seats
Population: 46.7 million
Joined EEC/EU: 1986
Head of government: Mariano Rajoy, PP
Next national election: Before February 2018
GDP per capita (PPP): $30,557
Even though it’s been a tough couple of years for the center-right government of prime minister Mariano Rajoy, his Partido Popular (the PP, or the People’s Party) is one of the few governing parties to win the largest share of the national vote in the European elections. That’s despite the eurozone’s second-highest unemployment rate ongoing economic woes amid some of the most drastic budget austerity in Europe.
But both the PP and Spain’s traditional center-left party, the Partido Socialista Obrero Español (PSOE, Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party), each lost seven seats, or potentially more, from its previous total. So it’s not exactly great news for either Rajoy or PSOE leader Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba.
While regional parties, including some of the most separatist parties in Euskadi (the Basque Country) and Catalunya won three seats, the big story of the night was Podemos, a group founded in February 2014 by academic Pablo Iglesias. Izquierda Unida (United Left), a coalition of far-left parties, also won six seats, firmly establishing it as the third force of Spanish politics.
Though the PP and PSOE together won about four-fifths of the votes in the 2009 European elections, they won about one-half of the vote in 2014 — though it’s one of the few large EU member-states still untouched by euroscepticism, it’s clear that voters are not happy with the status quo.
Update, May 26: Rubalcaba resigned earlier today as the PSOE general secretary, launching a leadership election to be held on July 19-20. You can read more from Suffragio about the PSOE leadership crisis here.