Parliamentary election confirms the populist anti-European Union wave

Gabriel Moyssen
Parliamentary election confirms the populist anti-European Union wave
The European Union flag flies on top of the Rock in the British overseas territory of Gibraltar, historically claimed by Spain - Photo: Jon Nazca/REUTERS

Parliamentary election confirms the populist anti-European Union wave

Gabriel Moyssen
Mexico City
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The multinational parliament election has confirmed the growing power of populist, right-wing anti-European Union parties, despite the emergence of greens and centrists

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The multinational parliament election has confirmed the growing power of populist, right-wing anti-European Union parties, despite the emergence of greens and centrists, whose gains in the ballot box were also achieved at the cost of traditionally conservative and social democratic parties in leading countries of the regional bloc.

If the individual country votes often serve as a gauge on important domestic issues in the EU’s only directly elected institution, the 751-seat parliament, then we need to underscore that the National Rally (RN), again, is on the brink of becoming the dominant political force in France, having narrowly won with 23.3% of the vote over President Emmanuel Macron’s Republic on the March, with 22.1%.

While in the last EU election in 2014 Marine Le Pen’s RN beat the conservatives by four percentage points, with Macron’s Socialist predecessor Francois Hollande trailing in third, the result is still a setback for the current French leader, as he tries to persuade the rest of the EU to pursue tighter integration, rejected by Italy, Poland, and other countries where the Eurosceptics in power won the four-day process last week.

Besides that, Macron is preparing a major overhaul of the pension system, which will likely meet the opposition of the Yellow Vests movement, now in its sixth month of protests against the fall in living standards in the European nation.

“The president turned this election into a referendum. He and his politics have been rejected,” declared Jordan Bardella, who headed the electoral list for the former National Front.

Bardella and Le Pen called for “dramatically reorienting” economic policy, restrictions on immigrants, and new legislative elections.

For their part, the Greens rose to third with 13.1%. The Gaullist The Republicans and the Socialist Party, France’s traditional parties of rule since 1968, fell to a humiliating 8.4% and 6.6%, respectively, and communist Unsubmissive France, which won 20% of the 2017 presidential vote, took only 6.6%.

In Germany, the EU’s economic powerhouse, the conservative Christian Democratic Union-Christian Social Union (CDU-CSU) won 28% of the vote and the Social Democratic Party (SPD) 15.5%—down 7% and 11.8%, respectively. The CDU-CSU-SPD “grand coalition” of Federal Chancellor Angela Merkel now has only 43.8% of the vote.

The Left Party fell 2% to 5.4%, while the Greens and the xenophobic Alternative for Germany both rose to 22% and 10.5%, respectively.

Il Capitano, an emerging leader?

In Italy, right-wing League party of Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Interior Matteo Salvini won a third of the vote and is poised to become one of the biggest parties in the European Parliament with 28 seats.

Considered a politician with sufficient power to recreate fascism in Italy and move the Mediterranean country out of the Eurozone which has contributed to a stalled economy, Il Capitano Salvini spoke with Le Pen, Hungary’s authoritarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and United Kingdom’s Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage, in order to build a right-wing coalition in the European Parliament.

“We want to be a group that has at least 100 members and has the ambition to be at least 150 if everyone can overcome jealousies, sympathies, antipathies. To create an alternative, you play. You don’t do it by turning up your nose,” he said.

However, some differences over issues as migration and relations with Russia have already surfaced among the right-wing parties, clouding prospects of a united front capable to reshape EU’s future and address problems such as high unemployment rates and security.

Well aware of these differences, Macron has also been active, talking with the leaders of Belgium, the Czech Republic, Germany, Poland, and Slovakia.

Spain’s Government President Pedro Sánchez, whose Socialists will have the biggest contingent in the EU parliament’s group after stopping the rise of the far-right Vox party, will dine with Macron at the Elysee Palace next Monday.

As Merkel gradually leaves the stage after almost 15 years in power, Macron is keen to take over the leadership with the support of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE), which saw its stake in the parliament rise to 109 seats, from 68.

With the two hitherto dominant forces—the European People’s Party (EPP) to the right and the Socialists and Democrats (S&D) on the left—short of the 376 seats needed for a majority in the assembly, ALDE will become crucial for any coalition, possibly with the Greens.

Nevertheless, the litmus test for Macron’s nascent regional leadership could be his disagreement with Merkel over the EU’s top jobs, including that of European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, who is at the end of his five-year term.

In 2014, Juncker was chosen to head the Commission as the EPP candidate, after the conservative triumph in the election. Yet this time, despite Merkel’s support for the new EPP’s candidate, Manfred Weber—a German—Macron is promoting to the post, responsible of enforcing rules and drafting law, fellow countryman and chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier, Danish Margrethe Vestager, and Dutch Frans Timmermans.

Negotiations are likely to be long and tricky; several names will come and go before the process eventually comes to an end later this year.

The other top EU officials to be replaced are European Council President Donald Tusk (Poland), European Central Bank President Mario Draghi (Italy) and EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs Federica Mogherini (Italy).

Populist, right-wing progress was also evident in the UK; voters were not initially even supposed to participate in this election since the country was supposed to have left the EU by the end of March. Yet with two delays—and plans for leaving now set for October 31—voters had to take part, and gave the new Brexit Party more than 30% of the vote.

British citizens expressed their frustration with the outgoing Prime Minister Theresa May, giving the Conservatives its worst results in the party’s 185-year old history.

Founded weeks ago to replace the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP), the Brexit Party carried the rural vote, yet also made headway in northern England and Wales with a clear message, that Britain must leave this year the EU, without any agreement if necessary, whatever the economic costs.

In a polarized and fragmented political environment, where the figure of Tory parliamentarian Boris Johnson appears as the next occupant of Downing Street, the results dealt a severe blow to the Labour Party and his leader Jeremy Corbyn, who lost his Islington district of London to the Liberal Democrats.

Editing by Sofía Danis
More by Gabriel Moyssen

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