It is not just in Britain that these EU elections took on immense significanceby Georgina Wright / May 27, 2019 / Leave a comment
In the UK the European Parliament elections were about Brexit and as a consequence took on immense importance. But in the rest of the EU this election was widely perceived as the most important EU election in the last 20 years: in the end, some 50.5 per cent of eligible voters chose to cast their vote to elect the 751 MEPs—significantly up on the usual turnout. The results show a more fragmented and polarised EU. Here are some immediate conclusions, though it has yet to be seen how this result will impact EU decision-making over time.
While both the centre-right and centre-left parliamentary groupings lost seats, the EU elections did not result in the far-right nationalist surge many expected. The notable exceptions are France, where Marine Le Pen’s Rassemblement National (a rebranded Front National) came first with 23.3 per cent of the vote and Italy where Matteo Salvini’s Lega secured 34.5 per cent. It was not a great night for the traditional centre-right, the European People’s Party (EPP) and the centre-left Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats (S&D) parliamentary groupings. The gains did not simply go to the far right. Both lost seats with the Greens and the Liberals making significant gains. But the populists also benefited and the nationalist presence looks here to stay.
Brexit was only an issue for voters in the UK and Ireland, with the Brexit Party in the UK securing over 29 of the UK’s 73 seats. But as the battle for Brexit continues to rage in Westminster, most EU countries have decided to switch off. Even those in the EU who had previously endorsed Brexit as a model to follow have changed their tune. Le Pen’s far-right le Rassemblement National dropped any mention of a Frexit in its campaign.
Higher turnout in 21 member states shows that EU and national elections are becoming intertwined. By midday on polling day, 14.39 per cent of Polish voters, 19.26 per cent of French and around 22 per cent of Slovakian voters had turned up, which is higher than at the same time in 2014 (7.31 per cent, 15.7 per cent and 18 per cent respectively).
It is too early to say what motivated voters but it could reflect the growing recognition that the EU is not…