The ninth European Parliament election was held between 23rd and 26th May 2019. The most notable aspect of this election was voters abandoning the traditionally dominant centre-right and centre-left parties in many countries, because of this the European People’s Party (EPP) and Socialists and Democrats (S&D) do not have a majority in the Parliament for the first time ever. This was due to gains for other pro-EU parties such as the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE) and the Greens. This election also saw an increase for right-wing Eurosceptic parties, though not to the extent anticipated by many, and not in every country. It is worth looking at the results in several countries and analysing the implications of this election.
In Germany, the centre-right CDU/CSU parties, led by Angela Merkel, remain the largest parties, though not to the same extent as in 2014. Their vote was down 7.5%, and they lost five seats. It was a more disappointing result for the centre-left SPD, which lost eleven seats and 11.4% of its vote. The Green surge was particularly evident in Germany, they came second in this election with nearly twice as many votes as in 2014 and ten more seats. As the map above shows, they did particularly well in cities, and came first in Berlin, Hamburg, Frankfurt, Düsseldorf, Munich, Leipzig and Potsdam. The nationalist AfD gained four seats, and topped the poll in two states (Brandenburg and Saxony), however they will likely be disappointed by their result, as they were expected to play a more decisive role in a far-right surge which did not happen.
The next German federal election, to be held by October 2021, could produce some interesting changes if these trends continue. The Greens look set to improve on their 67 seats won in 2017, and the SPD will likely lose seats as a result. The CDU/CSU will face their first election since 2005 without Merkel as leader, and they will be hoping that their new leader Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer (AKK) will maintain their standing as the largest party and win support from voters who backed the AfD in 2017. Also watch the liberal FDP, who did better then expected in 2017 but underperformed in the European election.
The decline of the centre-right and centre-left was particularly evident in France. The clear winners were another two parties: Marine Le Pen’s National Rally or RN (formerly National Front) and Emmanuel Macron’s La Rèpublique En Marche! (LREM). They both won 23 seats, though until the UK leaves the EU RN will have 22 and LREM will have 21. The other party with a strong result was the Greens, who went from six seats up to thirteen. The centre-right Republicans lost twelve seats, down to only eight, and the centre-left Socialists lost seven seats, down to only six. The map above highlights the extent of the dominance by RN and LREM; RN appears to have succeeded in rural areas while LREM did particularly well in metropolitan areas like Paris.
The 2022 French presidential election looks likely to be very similar to the 2017 one based on the European election. Macron and Le Pen will likely both make it to the final round, and Macron should win because of tactical voting from the centre-left and centre-right. One person to watch out for it Jean-Luc Mélenchon, who won 19.58% of the votes in the presidential election, but his left-wing La France Insoumise parties only took 6.31% in the European election, winning six seats. However, despite likely success in the 2022 presidential election, Macron’s party might find it more difficult to maintain control of the National Assembly, although RN is unlikely to become the largest party there due to the two-round system used for elections there which puts them at a significant disadvantage.
The clear winner in Italy was the League, a right-wing to far-right party led by Matteo Salvini. They took 34.3% of the vote and won 28 seats. The League dominated the north and centre of the country, but in the south the big winner was the populist Five Star Movement, led by Luigi Di Maio, who won fourteen seats on 17.1%. The centre-left Democratic Party lost twelve seats, but with nineteen overall they are the second largest party ahead of the Five Star Movement. One well-known figure returning to the European Parliament is Silvio Berlusconi, his centre-right Forza Italia lost seven seats to be reduced to only six.
Italy’s coalition government consists of the League and the Five Star Movement. Giuseppe Conte is the Prime Minister and an independent, while Salvini and Di Maio are both Deputy Prime Ministers, Salvini is also Minister of the Interior and Di Maio is Minister of Economic Development, Labour and Social Policies. The Five Star Movement is the largest party in both the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate, with nearly twice as many seats as the League in both. If the European result is replicated in the next general election, due by May 2023, then there is a strong chance that Salvini and the League could lead what would be the most right-wing government in Europe.
Ireland was one place where the two traditionally dominant parties retained their support. Fine Gael defended their four seats and Fiánna Fail defended its one seat, both parties will gain another seat if the UK leaves the EU. The Green surge was felt in Ireland, they topped the poll in Dublin and also won a seat in South, while Sinn Féin lost their seats in these areas, only returning one MEP in Midlands-North-West. Three left-wing independents were also elected, one in each constituency, independents are rare in the European Parliament although they regularly do well in Irish elections.
The next general election, to be held by 10th April 2021, will be interesting. Fine Gael will be pleased at being 13% ahead of Fianna Fáil in the European election, and will be hoping to win a third term in government. Meanwhile, Fianna Fáil will also be pleased with finishing 1.66% ahead of Fine Gael in the local election, and will be hoping to improve on the 2016 general election. Sinn Féin and Labour are unlikely to make much gains, particularly if the Green surge is repeated, then they would be looking at a lot more then their current two seats in the Dáil.
The Brexit Party emerged as the UK’s largest party in the European Parliament, gaining 29 seats on 39.7% of the votes. However, an equally significant result was the Liberal Democrats winning sixteen seats on 21.9%, fifteen more then in 2014. The only areas of Great Britain without a Lib Dem MEP are North East England and Wales, and it is likely that Change UK splitting the remain vote cost them these seats. The Lib Dems outpolled the Conservatives in Windsor and Maidenhead (including Theresa May’s constituency) and they outpolled Labour in Islington (including Jeremy Corbyn’s constituency). The Greens and SNP also gained seats, the Greens gained four seats winning seven overall, and the SNP gained a third seat in Scotland. It was a devastating election for the Conservatives, they only took four seats on 5.5%, and Labour were also disappointed, with ten seats on 13.7%. This suggests that in this election, voters backed parties who were clear in their stance on Brexit, e.g. many pro-leave voters opted for the Brexit Party, and remain-supporting voters backed the Lib Dems and Greens. They were probably dissatisfied with the internal Conservative divisions on the Withdrawal Agreement, and Labour’s unusual policy of supporting the Customs Union but not the Single Market.
Would we see a similar result in the next general election? Probably not, first past the post would help the Conservatives and Labour minimise potential losses. However, the Brexit Party could have an impact by taking votes from the Conservatives in pro-leave areas, potentially letting other parties succeed. It looks certain that the Lib Dems will improve on their current twelve seats, and the SNP look likely to consolidate their position.
Finally, in Northern Ireland the Alliance Party had their best ever result. They won 105,928 votes (previously their highest number of votes was 94,474 in the 1973 local election) and 18.5% (previously their highest percentage vote was 14.4% in the 1977 local election). Following transfers, Alliance finished with 170,370 votes, taking the second seat ahead of Sinn Féin. As a result of this election, Naomi Long becomes the third Northern Ireland politician to be elected as a councillor, Assembly member, member of the UK Parliament and member of the European Parliament. The other two are John Taylor and Jim Nicholson.