News & Politics

EU Elections: Populist Wave in Europe Shows No Sign of Ebbing

Far-right National Party leader Marine le Pen, escorted by her bodyguard Thierry Legier, leaves after delivering a speech at the campaign headquarters, Sunday, May 26, 2019 in Paris. Le Pen declared victory in the European Parliament election over pro-EU French President Emmanuel Macron. (AP Photo/Thibault Camus)

Europeans in 28 countries went to the polls yesterday to elect members to the European parliament.

The results were a disaster for mainstream parties across the board, with modest gains made by eurosceptic politicians in several countries.

In France, the anti-EU forces represented by Marine Le Pen outpolled President Emanuel Macron’s party, winning a small majority of members. The results were a humiliation for Macron, who has been under attack by “yellow vest” protesters for months.

Another shocking outcome occurred in Great Britain, where the Brexit party of Nigel Farage buried the traditional mainstream parties. Farage’s party won 29 seats, the Liberal Democrats 16, Labor 10, Greens seven, the Tories four, the SNP three and Plaid Cymru one. Prime Minister Theresa May’s humiliation is now complete as her inability to negotiate a satisfactory Brexit deal appears to be dragging her entire party down with her.

In Italy, the anti-EU forces led by Interior Minister Matteo Salvini’s League Party scored a major victory, winning about 34% of seats.

However, there were decidedly mixed results in Germany, Austria, and the Netherlands, with eurosceptic parties failing to gain much ground.

Another surprising development from the elections was the rise of the Green Party. The Greens finished ahead of Tories in Great Britain and made significant gains elsewhere.

The consequences of Macron’s embarrassing loss will be far-reaching.

Bloomberg:

Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said that Macron’s party had performed well when you look at how incumbents have performed in past EU elections and that it gives the government an incentive to continue with its reforms.

Macron’s team said that the projections show the ruling party is maintaining its electoral base from the 2017 presidential election and so the result shouldn’t be interpreted as a punishment.

Jordan Bardella, who headed the electoral list for Le Pen’s National Rally, said the president and his policies had been rejected by voters.

“The French people have this evening inflicted a clear sanction as well as a lesson in humility on the French president, who chose to bring all of his authority to the campaign,” he said. “The French president turned this election into a referendum. He and his politics have been rejected.”

The Washington Post tried to downplay the results:

Voters turned out in droves — the highest participation in 25 years — for the opportunity to take a shot at the parties that have steered Europe’s consensus-driven policies for decades.

Far-right leaders were on track for their best Europe-wide result ever, but it was only an incremental gain over their result from 2014, suggesting that despite years of tumult, voters might not be ready to give up on the European Union, or to embrace leaders who want to weaken it from within. Voters boosted Greens and other pro-European Union leftists, showing that voters who abandoned traditional parties were searching for new blood, but not a full-scale political revolution.

Not mentioned by the Post was the widespread belief in 2014 that the populist wave was already receding and mainstream parties should be able to recover their momentum in 2019.

Instead, if anything, populists proved they have staying power. Ask Macron or mainstream British pols about “receding” populism.

What will the EU look like at the time of the next parliamentary election? There is likely to be no Great Britain with probably vastly diminished roles for Italy and several Eastern European countries. In short, the dream of a united European “superstate” will meet the hard reality that ordinary people are refusing to cooperate.

There may very well be some kind of European Union, but it won’t look anything like it is today.