Europeans went to the polls from May 23-26 to vote for a new European Parliament and, indirectly, European Commission President. At stake is the role of the EU and its response to issues like the climate crisis, economic policy, and migration.
All 2019 results and statistics based on the numbers listed at election-results.eu as of 5/27/19.
- The two largest groups in the European Parliament–European People’s Party (EPP) and Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats (S&D)–are projected to have lost ground to the Greens, liberal parties, and the far-right.
- Average voter turnout was the highest since 1994 at 50.9%, up from 42.6% during the last election in 2014.
- EPP is projected to have won 180 seats, remaining the largest party in parliament despite losing 41 seats compared to 2014. Lead candidate Manfred Weber has suggested that this gives him the authority to be the next European Commission President.
- S&D has won an estimated 146 seats. The center-left is projected to have gained in Spain, Portugal, and the Netherlands, but saw disappointing results in Germany, France, and the UK.
- The centrist Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE), in combination with French President Emmanuel Macron’s Renaissance list, have taken 109 seats, up from 67 in 2014. How the ALDE might change with the addition of Macron’s allies, and what other national parties might join a reshaped group, remains to be seen.
- The Greens-European Free Alliance (Greens-EFA) are projected to win 69 seats, adding 19 compared to 2014. The Greens in Germany won second place after the governing Christian Democratic Union, beating out the Social Democratic Party. Similarly, in France, the EELV party placed third, higher than any other party on the left. The Greens-EFA presented a platform emphasizing the need for the EU to address the climate crisis, and co-leader Bas Eickhout has said he will push for “climate action, social justice and democracy” in negotiations to determine the next Commission President. An AFP article notes, “[w]ith the two main traditional EU blocs… projected to lose ground, the Greens could end up as kingmaker in the European Parliament.”
- The far-right group including the Lega party in Italy and the National Rally in France will win an estimated 58 seats, while the group including the new Brexit Party in the UK and the Five Star Movement in Italy is projected to take 54 seats. Matteo Salvini’s Lega party handily won the most votes in Italy, with 34.3% and 28 seats out of 73. In France, Marine Le Pen’s National Rally party narrowly beat the Renaissance list backed by Macron, taking 22 of 74 seats.
- In Hungary, the far-right Fidesz party of Prime Minister Viktor Orbán won a majority of votes and 13 of 21 seats. In Poland, the far-right Law and Justice Party won 26 of 51 seats, while the European Coalition list took 22.
- The European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) and the European United Left/Nordic Green Left (GUE/NGL) both had disappointing results–ECR is estimated to have won 59 seats and the GUE/NGL 39.
- In the UK, the election serves as further evidence of how divided politics has become following 2016’s Brexit referendum. On Friday, as voters in the UK went to the polls, Prime Minister Theresa May announced her plan to resign after three years of being unable to negotiate a deal to leave the EU. The results of the election indicate that many are willing to leave even without a deal–Nigel Farage’s Brexit party won the most seats with 29 out of 73, 31.7% of the vote. However, parties that strongly support remaining in the EU also performed well. Running on the slogan “Bollocks to Brexit,” the Liberal Democrats won the second most seats with 16, and the Green Party jumped from 3 to 7 seats. The Green Party will be joined by three representatives from the Scottish National Party and one from Plaid Cymru in the Greens-EFA parliamentary group. Despite leading the country, the Conservative Party won only 8.7% and 4 seats, while the Labour Party took 10 seats.
Pew Research Center’s Global Attitudes Survey from spring, 2018 provides an idea of Europeans’ attitudes about migration (of immigrants and refugees) and the economy. A median of 51% of respondents across ten EU countries said “their country should allow fewer immigrants into their country or none at all” compared to only 10% who favored greater immigration (35% said “about the same” number). However, a median of 77% support “taking in refugees from countries where people are fleeing violence and war,” with only 21% opposed. According to the Missing Migrants Project, 7,101 people have died attempting to cross the Mediterranean Sea into Europe since 2015. Yet, the trend in European countries over the same time period has been toward shutting people out.
A median of 50% surveyed across the ten countries said “compared with 20 years ago, the financial situation of average people in our country is worse,” versus only 31% who said it was “better” and 15% who observed “no change.” The three countries where respondents had the worst outlooks were Greece (87% “worse”), Italy (72%), and Spain (62%). These southern European countries were hit the hardest by the 2008 financial crisis and then by EU-mandated austerity measures.
The far-right has capitalized on this sentiment to become a dangerous and influential force. But they are in no position to take power at the EU level. As of Friday, Politico.eu predicted that a new EU parliamentary group led by Italian Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini would win 73 seats, with a group combining the British Brexit Party and the Italian Five Star Movement taking 48. That’s significant, but only 121 out of 751 seats in total.
There is also reason for optimism at the grassroots level. On Friday, the second Global Strike for Climate hit cities in Europe and around the world, the latest in a series of school walkouts and demonstrations led by young people calling for climate action. At the final debate between candidates for the presidency of the European Commission, the topic of climate change and the environment was introduced with reference to the walkout movement and 16-year old Swedish activist Greta Thunberg, who began the movement last year.
An idiosyncrasy of EU elections is that while the share of the vote to each parliamentary group will determine the balance of power in the next EU Parliament, each voter will actually cast their ballot for a national party. Most of these national parties are allied with a parliamentary group. So, for example, a vote for the Social Democratic Party in Germany will go towards sending representatives of that party to parliament to form part of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats (S&D) group. However, it is possible for representatives to be unaligned with a parliamentary group.
The official procedure for selecting the next European Commission President is that EU member states nominate someone for the job, and that nominee must be approved by a majority of the new Parliament. According to Politico, beginning with the last EU elections in 2014, a system was adopted which encourages the lead candidate of “the party that wins the most seats in the European Parliament” to become president of the Commission. However, that ideal is non-binding. It is foreseeable that a coalition could be formed between parties that did not win the most votes but were able to cobble together a 376-seat majority. In that scenario, the lead candidate of the largest party in the coalition could become European Commission President. It is also possible that someone else altogether will be chosen as the next Commission president. For example, Emmanuel Macron has said that Michel Barnier, the EU’s lead negotiator of Brexit, should be considered. The EU is an unwieldy institution that is constantly in flux, and the procedure for determining the Commission President reflects that.
Note: A previous version of this post omitted the role of EU member states in nominating the European Commission President.