It is a challenge to extract the most significant points of EU elections results as they gather 28 countries and elect representatives from about 200 national parties. Conclusions can be easily drawn at national level but it is still hard to generalise a trend at EU level as each country’s results is mainly caused by national political situations as European elections are traditionally used by the opposition as a forum to express discontent over national governments.
However I believe last night’s election results show two clear European trends.
In 2019 the participation in EU elections went up for the first time in history
It is the first time in EU elections history that the turnout has gone up. Since 1979, turnout has always gone down from one election to the other. For the political aficionado and political sociology graduate that I am THIS IS A HUGE DEAL as since my student years I had accepted the systematic drop in election turnout as a given of our times. I would be curious to hear professional political scientists (any teachers out there?) giving their views (hello comment section) on the reason for such an increase in turnout (+8 points). Could it be that Brexit has put Europe on top of the news and therefore kindled voters’ interests in these elections? Could it reflect the wish of the population (especially the youth) to step up the actions in favour of the environment?
Confirmed weakening of the left-right divide
The second most important point is the confirmed weakening of mainstream parties of the centre right (Conservatives – EPP) and center left (Socialists & Soc-Dems -S&D) to the benefit of the nationalists, greens and liberals. This confirms political scientists’ observations that the traditional left-right divide is being challenged by other dividing lines, such as the pro or against greater EU integration (also known as liberal vs nationalist and open society vs closed borders divide) and prioritising the environment over other considerations.
That being said, how will this affect the day-to-day business of EU law making? Although the nationalists of the ENF (the Le Pen/Salvini group) have gained an impressive 22 seats, their impact will be limited as long as they chose to remain on the sideline of EU policy-making that structurally speaking can only move forward thanks to a consensus found between several political groups. The main center right and centre left groups won’t be able anymore to have a majority on their own while their grand coalition decided roughly 74% of votes in the 2014-2019 term. This means broader majorities will have to be found, notably with the liberals and the greens.
Last nights’ results are an EU wide reflection of the ongoing reshuffling of our political systems, moving further away from traditional parties’ influence, strengthening new political offers and thus planting the seed for designing new ways of doing politics.
This post is also available in: French