Mainstream parties punished in Euro poll

Issue 

With some 375 million eligible voters from 27 countries electing 736 members of parliament, the European Parliament elections, from June 4-7, were the largest multi-country elections ever held.

The world's mainstream media focused on centre-right parties triumphing over social democrat opponents. However, the more complex story lies in the lowest-ever turnout (43%), the significant growth in the green vote, pockets of strong support for the anti-capitalist left and for some extreme-right groupings — all largely at the expense of social democratic parties.

As voters elect candidates from national parties, these elections were largely 27 simultaneous national elections. National issues and campaigns impacted each country differently, albeit with some noticeable Europe-wide trends.

Greens parties boosted their vote across Europe. Monica Frassoni, outgoing co-president of the Group of Greens/European Free Alliance, said: "The success of progressive and environmental candidates shows that our messages for a green revolution, for defence of citizens' rights and for a democratic Europe have struck a chord with the European public."

In France, the Europe Ecologie party, an alliance involving the Greens, came third with 16.3% of the vote, only a whisker behind the opposition Socialist Party (PS) on 16.5%. The social democratic PS's vote plummeted by 12%.

Support for groups further to the left in France was also strong. The Left Front won 6.47% and the New Anti-capitalist Party (NPA) scored 4.88%, more than 11% combined.

Combined with the green vote, the result for those to the left of the SP exceeded 27%. President Nicolas Sarkozy's centre-right UMP party won 28.5%.

This result gives the Greens 14 of France's 72 seats in the European parliament, up from six, and the Left grouping four seats, up from three.

Germany showed a similar trend. The vote for Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats and ruling coalition partner Christian Social Union fell from 44.5% in 2004 to 37.9% from 44.5%. The opposition Social Democratic Party (SPD) plunged to a new record low of 20.8%.
German voters shifted away from the mainstream centre-right and centre-left parties, increasing support for the Left Party (Die Linke), which won 7.5%.

The right-wing Free Democratic Party (better known as "Party of the Higher Earners") also benefited from this shift, winning 11%.

Portugal, Greece and the Netherlands all saw strong support for the anti-capitalist left. In Portugal, left parties gained 22% of the vote (up 9%), and won five of Portugal's 22 seats.

The breakthrough results of the Left Block (Bloco de Esquerda) in Portugal, with 10.73% of the vote and three members of parliament, was exceptional.

In Greece, the anti-capitalist left won 13%, giving it three of the country's 22 seats.

In Ireland, far-left Socialist Party candidate Joe Higgins received 82,366 votes to win a seat.

The Netherlands epitomises one trend: gains for smaller, left and right parties at the expense of the major parties.

Support for the two main parties in the Dutch government, the Christian Democrats and the Labour Party, fell by a total of 16% compared to 2004.

Geert Wilders' far-right Party for Freedom won 17% in its first attempt. Wilders is facing prosecution for making anti-Islamic statements and "incitement to hatred and discrimination".

On the other side of the spectrum, the GreenLeft party won 8.9% and the leftist Socialist Party scored 7.1%, making strong gains. Five of Netherlands 25 seats went to the Green (3) and left groups (2), while Wilders' group won four.
Not surprisingly, Britain's ruling Labour Party was decimated. It took just 15.3% of the national vote — its worst result since World War II.

Labour came third, behind the UK Independence Party, which campaigns for Britain's withdrawal from the EU, which won 16%.

The shift in Britain clearly went to the right. The far-right, racist British National Party (BNP) won 6% and two seats.

A British Socialist Worker Party open letter said: "Never before have fascists achieved such a success in Britain. The result has sent a shockwave across the labour and anti-fascist movements, and the left."

Far-right forces, running on anti-immigration policies, also made significant gains in Austria, Finland, Hungary and Greece. The big winners in Austria were the Eurosceptics, which won three seats, and the far-right Freedom Party, which won two.

In Finland, where the three largest parties each lost a seat, the Greens and Eurosceptic True Finns saw a strong rise in support, receiving 12.4% and 9.8% respectively.

The recently-founded Pirate Party was the big surprise in Sweden, where it campaigned against anti-file sharing laws and won 7.1% and a seat.

In fact, the Pirate Party scored the most support of any among voters aged 18 to 30. It outpolled the Left Party (5.6%), which lost one of its seats, and that had until recently opposed file sharing. The Green Party in Sweden improved its vote, with around 11%, increasing from one seat to two.

With almost 60% of eligible voters abstaining in this poll, it is difficult to read much into these disparate results, except for the fact that most Europeans appear to have little interest or confidence in the European parliament.

Still, some trends are evident.

Social democratic parties were the big losers, particularly countries where, like Britain and Spain, they are currently governing. Their collective share of members in the European parliament dropped from 27.6% to 21.9%.

Given this obvious disillusionment with the centre-left parties, the anti-capitalist left did not in general make big breakthroughs, but largely held its own. In some cases, like in Portugal, they made exceptional gains.

The Greens came out stronger. With an overall increase in seats from 5.5% to 7.2%, they demonstrated the popular concern for stronger environmental policies and action in Europe. There are now 53 Greens in the 736-member parliament.

In the context of the recession and job cuts, and with the tabloid media seeking scapegoats, extreme nationalist and racist (especially anti-Islamist) parties have made some alarming inroads.

Francois Sabado, a leader of the NPA, said: "There is a paradox which sees the right-wing neoliberal political formations that have instigated anti-social attacks flanked by the populist or far right emerging strengthened from the European poll.

"We might have thought that the crisis would favour anti-capitalist ideas. The situation is more complicated.

"Social resistance, which has not led yet to overall struggles of employees and youth, does not mechanically produce an anti-capitalist alternative."

He added that with social democracy in crisis, it is now timely and more vital than ever for the left to "pursue a politics that stimulates social mobilisation against the economic and ecological crisis and the accumulation of forces to make anti-capitalist solutions increasingly credible".

[Visit Links, journal of international socialist renewal.]

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