The trouble with last week’s elections for the European Parliament is that its results offer grounds for widely different interpretations of their meaning. Too many glasses are half-full or half-empty. One thing is certain: the upsurge of Euroskeptic, sovereignist-identitarian parties – feared by some, hoped for by others – has not materialized. The EU is not about to unravel any time soon, but it is not going anywhere in particular.
Let us start with the figures. Voter participation went up from 43 percent in 2014 to 51 percent last week. Pro-EU commentators hailed this as a sign that the Union is overcoming its perennial “democratic deficit,” but the reality is more complex. A close friend of mine in The Netherlands summed it up in an email last week: “If I vote, I’ll grant this monstrosity undeserved legitimacy. If I don’t, the bad guys will carry the day.” In the end he did not vote, and it is an even bet that millions of sovereignist sympathizers faced the same dilemma. We do not know how many of them were among the 49 percent who abstained, but its stands to reason that they outnumbered those who support the Union yet preferred to stay home.
The big losers are the long-established Eurocratic duopoly, the centre-right European People’s Party (EPP) and the centre-left Socialists and Democrats (S&D). Their coalition had dominated the European Parliament ever since direct elections began in 1979. With 325 seats between them the Siamese twins remain the largest group, but no longer have the majority. They will have no difficulty in finding like-minded partners, however, as last week’s major winners were the Liberal and Green groups, which are invariably pro-EU. Some weeks of hard bargaining over who exactly will run which EU institution may follow, but there will be no change in their character.
What the mainstream media commentariat calls “right-wing nationalist and populist groups” – let’s more accurately call them sovereignists – did very well in Italy, France, Britain, Hungary, Sweden, and Belgium’s Flanders; they barely held their ground in Austria, Poland and Germany; they fared badly in The Netherlands, Denmark, Spain, and several smaller countries. They will have some 160 deputies in the 751-member European Parliament. The staunchest among them, the Europe of Nations and Freedom (ENF), has gained only 16 percent, increasing its share from 50 to 58 seats. This is far from sufficient to dent the grip of the mainstream pro-EU “families.”
Germany remains staunchly pro-EU. This was the first nationwide election since the 2017 federal election, in which Angela Merkel’s ruling Christian Democrat-Social Democrat coalition suffered reverses, while the sovereignist Alternative for Germany (AfD) came third with 13 percent of the vote. Last week the AfD only came fourth with 11 percent of the vote. It is a modest drop of two percent since 2017, but must be considered a failure in the context of earlier expectations and current political opportunities. Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and its Bavarian partner, the Christian Social Union (CSU), did relatively well with 29 percent. This is four percent less than the 2017 federal result and a drop of 6.5 percent compared to the 2014 EU election. It is not catastrophic, however, considering Merkel’s overall erosion of authority and her announced withdrawal from politics at the end of her current mandate.
The Social Democrats (SPD) collapsed from 27 to 15.8 percent, with the commensurate gain for the Greens. They are now the second strongest party in Germany with 20.5 percent – twice the share of the vote they had in 2014. The Left Party and the liberal Free Democrats fared poorly, with just over five percent each. On balance, the only significant outcome is the Green upsurge at SPD’s expense. This is indicative of the German left’s escape from real politics into the mushy world of the “civil society.” As Thierry Mayssan put it, this expression indicates activist groups which are not associated with politics, but defend specific causes:
This is precisely the case with environmental issues, which are often transnational but always subordinate to political considerations. To wit, even if we were to get rid of all the cars and trucks in the Union, the decrease of Co2 would be minimal compared with the quantity produced by the ships and aircraft necessary for economic globalization . . . The expansion of the Green Party in Germany (20%) and in France (13%), therefore reflects the impotence of voters in political matters. Since we cannot act against imperialism and economic globalization, let’s make ourselves useful in other ways.
In France, last week’s vote was “the proof that the French no longer trust Emmanuel Macron,” according to Louis Aliot, vice president of Marine Le Pen’s Rassemblement National (RN). Macron’s ruling La République en Marche (REM) alliance was beaten by the RN – admittedly by just one percent, but considering the fact that well over ten percent of French voters are Muslims (nobody knows the real number) it stands to reason that close to a third of real French people want to save their country and their nation – from the Beast of Brussels to the north, and from the teeming multitudes across the Mediterranean to the south.
Other good news include the halving of the Socialist vote (and then some) from 14 percent in 2014 to 6 percent last week, and the shattering defeat of the phony Right, Les Républicains, with a paltry 8.5 percent. Last and least, for the leftist La France Insoumise, the results were abysmal. Its leader Jean-Luc Mélenchon won a fifth of the vote in the first round of the 2017 presidential election. Mélenchon’s slate collapsed to six percent last week, less than one-half of the Green vote (just over 13 percent). There is still hope for France.
The United Kingdom is the most deeply divided country in Europe. The Brexit Party came first, while both Tories and Labour were utterly humiliated. The problem is that Farage’s new party and what remains of UKIP – in other words, the staunch deal-or-no-deal Brexiteers – gained 34.9 percent of the vote. Their fanatically Remain opponents did better. The obsessively pro-EU Liberal Democrats, who came second, the Europhile Greens, the Scottish Nationalists (plus the ridiculous grupiscule known as Change UK) won 39.4 percent.
At least the issue is now clear: three-quarters of British voters do not want some wishy-washy, soft-Brexit, half-Brexit fudge. Jeremy Corbyn faces a sustained pro-remain rebellion, and it is to be hoped that Labour will finally opt for Remain. On the other hand, Boris Johnson’s pending court case will only solidify his aversion to all things Bruxellian, and – once he takes office – reenergize the quiet Tory majority which has been dismayed and demoralized by May’s three years of duplicity and plain incompetence.
On balance, in last week’s EU elections the sovereignist-identitarian parties have made surprisingly modest gains over 2014, considering the migrant crisis, Brexit, and the apparent mood of anger and disenchantment in many member-countries. It indicates that they need to prepare for years of hard work, in the face of relentless media hostility and increasingly neostalinist legal strictures limiting any meaningful debate on Islam and immigration. That irresistible hurricane, which seemed imminent two or three years ago, has turned into a modest storm. The revolution did not happen last week, but a long march in the years ahead is both possible and promising. Here’s a heretical thought: Antonio Gramsci’s technique in principle may provide a road map for action, regardless of the practitioner’s ideological hue.