EU Elections: Surge in Support for Nationalist Parties, Greens at Expense of Historically Dominant Parties

By Omid Ghoreishi
Omid Ghoreishi
Omid Ghoreishi
Omid Ghoreishi is an Epoch Times reporter based in Toronto.
May 27, 2019 Updated: May 27, 2019

The European Union’s 28-country elections saw significant gains for nationalist parties and the Greens, and diminishing support for the historically dominant parties.

While the center-left and center-right parties still had the highest votes in the four-day election that ended on May 26, for the first time in the bloc’s history, they lost their majority in the European Parliament.

Right-wing nationalist parties dominated the results in Italy, Poland, and Hungary. In France, where Emmanuel Macron won a decisive victory in 2017, his nationalist rival Marine Le Pen’s party was the victor this time, although by a narrow margin.

“The rules are changing in Europe,” said Matteo Salvini, leader of Italy’s right-wing League party, which is part of the governing coalition in the country. His party’s win of 34 percent of Italian votes, compared to the coalition partner 5-Star Movement’s 17 percent is expected to give him more leverage in the government.

Matteo Salvini
Italian Deputy Prime Minister and Interior Minister Matteo Salvini gives a “thumbs up” during a press conference in the Lega headquarters in northern Milan following the results of the European parliamentary elections, on May 27, 2019. (Miguel Medina/AFP/Getty Images)

Disenchantment with the European project, which has struggled through economic and migration crises in recent years, has made the bloc seem distant to many voters.

Former White House strategist Steve Bannon, who has been rallying for a greater presence of nationalist groups in Europe, said the election results show that European integration is “dead in its tracks.”

“People are taking their countries back … it’s just the beginning. It’s going to get more and more powerful over time,” he said.

In a previous interview with The Globe and Mail, Bannon said the leaders of the nationalist parties don’t want to leave the EU, but want to reform it. “They all want a massive reform of the EU—it’s Macron’s vision versus [Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor] Orban’s and Salvini’s.”

In the United Kingdom, Nigel Farage’s new Brexit Party and pro-EU voters carved up the country’s votes at the expense of the governing Conservative Party. The UK took part in the election since it’s still part of the EU, but the lawmakers elected to the European Parliament will only remain until the country leaves, currently scheduled for Oct. 31.

The election also saw a surge in support for Greens, especially in Germany, where the party came in second after Chancellor Angela Merkel’s center-right Union bloc. Gains for the Greens as well as liberals in the bloc could mean talk of tougher regulation on pollution and climate-change policies for the new EU executives.

In Spain, the left-wing Socialist Party won with 33 percent of the vote, making gains from the conservative People’s Party. However, the right-wing Vox, which has been gaining popularity, secured three seats in the European Parliament for the first time.

Sven Giegold
German Greens party top candidate Sven Giegold speaks on stage after exit poll were announced on public broadcast TV stations on May 26, 2019, in Berlin following the European Parliament election. (Tobias Schwarz/AFP/Getty Images)

With the loss of votes to the nationalists, Greens, and liberals, the Parliament’s two main parties, the European People’s Party and the Socialists & Democrats, will likely now have to hold complicated talks to form a majority coalition with other parties.

Turnout was at a two-decade high in the EU elections, with close to 51 percent of eligible voters in the bloc participating, compared to 43 percent in 2014. It also marked the first reverse of falling participation since the initial direct EU vote in 1979.

Big Losses

The poll results caused Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras to call for an early in-country election, after his party’s poor showing in the European Parliament elections.

“The result does not rise to our expectations … I will not ignore it or quit,” said Tsipras, whose Syriza party won 23 percent of the votes, compared to New Democracy’s 33 percent.

Tsipras said he will ask the Greek president for early dissolution of Parliament. The soonest a new election can be held is June 30.

In Romania, the ruling Social Democratic Party also was dealt a setback by voters. On May 27, Liviu Dragnea, head of the party and the country’s most powerful politician, was sentenced to prison for official misconduct in a graft case.

Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

Omid Ghoreishi
Omid Ghoreishi
Omid Ghoreishi is an Epoch Times reporter based in Toronto.