European Parliament elections showed growing mistrust to idea of united European government

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June 7, 2014 - PRLog -- The European Parliament elections on May 22-25 were marked by overall turnout increase and rise in popularity for the Eurosceptics who oppose the processes of European integration, say members of the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR) in a series of articles titled “Explaining the EP election results – A 7-country cheat sheet” which was published on their website.

The turnout in the European Union increased since the previous elections in 2009. For example, about 43% citizens voted in France, while Germany has seen the first turnout rise since 1979 at 48%. The amount of voters also increased in Spain due to Catalonians mobilized on secession. However, voter activity decreased in some member states like Poland and Bulgaria.

Among the fractions of the European Parliament, the European People’s Party won the first place (29.4%), staying in the lead despite losing a number of seats. The Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats was second (25.1%), and Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe was third (7.9%). “The Greens/European Free Alliance,” “European United Left/Nordic Green Left” and “European Conservatives and Reformists” got 6.9%, 6.1% and 6% of the seats respectively.

The main distinguishing feature of these elections was the rise of the Eurosceptics. Their numbers increased in Austria, Germany, Sweden, Finland and Greece, and they got first places in the United Kingdom and France.

According to François Godement, ECFR Senior Research Fellow, the most remarkable achievement of those who oppose European integration is the victory of French Eurosceptics represented by the National Front (FN) led by Marine Le Pen. FN outflanked both leading political parties in the country, the Socialist Party (PS) and the UMP, and got 25% of the vote.

However, according to the analyst, very negative economic and social conditions, such as low economy growth, large debts, employment issues and large taxes, clearly influenced the results, as well as the negative attitude of the French towards the EU.

He describes that polls that took place a few weeks before the parliamentary elections indicated a loss of trust in the European Union and its institutions.

“54% do not trust the European Parliament, 55% do not trust the Commission. Yet 83% of the French want a “united Europe”, and 59% favor the monetary union and the euro,” the expert emphasizes.

He also notes that internal issues dominated the European Parliament election, because it was held two months after a major defeat of PS on the municipal elections and was influenced by a large financial scandal in which the UMP, France’s main Conservative party, was involved. Other topics that were addressed during the debates were austerity and immigration, while external issues were left almost completely unmentioned.

François Godement sets the success of the National Front against the failures of France’s other political groups.

“The biggest loser is the Socialist Party (PS, 14.3%) and its allies, the Leftist Front incorporating the Communists (FG, 6.4%) and the Europe Ecology party (EELG, 9%). President Hollande’s ‘majority’ has fallen to 30% of voters. The conservative UMP also saw a significant loss, coming in at 20.2%. However, this setback comes from its split with UDI-Modem, the pro-European center group, which got 10% of the vote: allied in 2009, the two groups won 30% of voters,” the expert recalls.

In conclusion, François Godement points out that the country’s politicians consider the election results both as a warning for Europe and as a signal for reforms of the economy.

In his turn, Josef Janning, ECFR Senior Research Fellow, points out that the German elections attracted high public attention, even though no grand topics and major controversies were involved.

This year’s election, as the analyst mentions, was the first one with no threshold, which was cancelled by the Constitutional Court in February 2014. The debates that sparked high interest in the society were devoted to a wide range of topics, from social and unemployment issues to the Ukrainian conflict and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership.

The ruling parties were victorious after the elections, while the Liberals failed to come back to the political stage.

“The Christian Democrats (35.3%) suffered slight losses (-2.6%), whereas the Social Democrats celebrated one of their largest gains ever from one election to the next (up 6.5%), though still with a modest overall result (27.3%). The Greens remained just above 10%, losing 1.4%, the (also EU critical) Linke remained at its 2009 level (7.4%),” Josef Janning clarifies.

In his opinion, the main news of the elections is the rise of the Alternative für Deutschland (AfD).

“A truly Eurosceptic party stood for election for the first time in Germany, and it seemed certain AfD would succeed even with the original threshold still in place. Throughout 2014 their rating had been at 6% or more, on Election Day they received 7% or 7 seats in the EP, drawing about 500.000 votes from Merkel’s party,” the expert notes.

In his opinion, the election results made the perspective of closer-knit relationships within the Europe much harder to reach due to member-states focusing on EU issues locally.

“The effect of EU-wide populism, however, will be of greater significance. It will lead to more reluctant governments in the European Council, seeking to demonstrate their sovereign control over EU-matters,” the analyst emphasizes.

The elections were marked by unexpected results in other EU member-states as well. For example, Piotr Buras, journalist and ECFR expert, writes that the EP election results in Poland were predictable and paradoxical at the same time.

“Not surprisingly for the pollsters, the two largest parties came out on top – Donald Tusk’s ruling Civic Platform and the main opposition party Law and Justice (PiS) led by Jaroslaw Kaczynski. [They got] a similar percentage of votes (respectively around 32 and 33 percent) and the same number (19) of seats in the European Parliament,” he points out.

According to Piotr Buras, the Tusk followers managed to hold their position by showing activism at the EU level, while PiS benefited from the failures of its main competitors on the right.

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