The atmosphere was quite euphoric at the European Parliament’s Hemicycle last night, where the press was gathered for the announcement of the election results. All but one party representatives, including some of Spitzenkandidat rank-and-file, seemed to have good reason to celebrate.
The only exception was a very presidential and restrained Frans Timmermans, who admitted that his political family, the Social Democrats, did not have sufficient grounds to lay any claims to leadership or otherwise as a result of their defeat.
The celebratory paeans by all of the leaders and European Parliament representatives who took to the stage had a common narrative that was based on two elements. These elections had the highest turnout since 1999 and reversed a downward trend that went back 20 years, and, for the first time since that vote, participation broke the 50% threshold. More, the result was described as a defeat of the extreme right. However, on a closer look, that conclusion is far from reality.
The firebrand pro-EU globalist Guy Verhofstadt was the first to jump on the turnout bandwagon. “Europe is back, and Europe is popular,” he exclaimed. That is where the first misrepresentation of the night comes into focus. Increased participation from 42.61% across the EU in 2014 to 50.93% this time around was immediately interpreted to mean, and equated to, a surging pro-European sentiment.
Others followed Verhofstadt’s lead and have continues to blindly parrot the same line.
Preliminary results show that there was a meaningful increase in voter participation in twenty countries, however, New Europe’s analysis points to a strong connection between the higher turnout and the major increase in support for the Eurosceptic parties which the EU’s leaders either failed to spot or chose to ignore.
The data, however, shows that where there was a larger turnout, the better the results were for the Eurosceptics.
Out of those twenty countries that saw increased turnout, the largest in terms of the population saw the vote for Eurosceptic parties significantly spike compared to 2014. Those include Germany, the United Kingdom, France, Spain, Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovakia, Croatia, Latvia, and Estonia. That correlation was marginally negative in the Netherlands, Sweden, and Austria, and irrelevant in Romania, Denmark, Finland, Slovenia, Lithuania, and Cyprus.
What this means is when adjusted for population, the higher turnout could be a protest vote against the European Union, and not a Europhile comeback. The degree of each will be determined when the exact figures of votes per party will be published.
Moreover, to support the claim that pro-European parties have held their ground is to ignore the new intake of the European People’s Party. There are elements within the party that can be easily be described as Eurosceptic – Viktor Orbán’s Fidesz, for example. Sebastian Kurz’s Austrian People’s Party, Laurent Wauquiez’s Republicans in France, or Slovenia’s Janez Janša’s SNS would not necessarily fit into the definition of Eurosceptic formations, but all have gradually and decisively shifted to the right.
The partial Orbánisation of the EPP – however limited – has changed what the term “pro-European” is understood to mean. Including the entirety of the EPP into the same pro-European camp as the Social Democrats and the Greens is a fundamental mistake. There are increasingly different degrees and shades of Europeanism, including some very grey ones. Counting them all in the same basket is a fundamental misunderstanding of the results. Nothing is more telling in this regard than the fact that some EPP parties feel perfectly comfortable sharing power with the extreme right.
Though the threats of a Eurosceptic takeover might not have materialised, and the results for some of the more strident anti-EU parties were disappointing from their standpoint, ignoring the facts on the ground is a surefire way to sink the European elites into another false sense of euphoria.