Right wing populists gain in European elections

June 22, 1994

By Phil Clarke

LONDON — Elections for the European parliament, held on June 9 and 12, resulted in erosion of support for mainstream and government parties. However, the main beneficiaries were not the left alternative or Green parties, but right-wing populist formations, particularly in France and Italy.

There were several exceptions to this trend. In Britain, the Labour Party inflicted a crushing defeat on the hugely unpopular ruling Conservatives.

The one place where the Greens did well was Germany, with 10% of the vote; among the 12 new German Green deputies (MEPs) are well-known "Red-Greens" Danny Cohn-Bendit, a key leader of the 1968 French student movement, and Friedrich Otto Wolf.

European parliamentary elections involve no compulsory voting, and many Europeans see the Strasbourg assembly as little more than a talking shop, of little relevance to their lives. Polling was therefore generally low, and a poor guide to the real political situation. Nonetheless, the trend to the right was unmistakable.

Fascist gains

In Italy the right wing achieved a major success. The party of Premier Silvio Berlusconi, Forza Italia, scored 30.7% of the poll and elected 27 of the country's 84 MEPs. The fascist National Alliance scored 12.5% and 11 MEPs. On the left, the social democratic Party of the Democratic Left (PDS) scored a poor 19.1% electing 16 MEPs. The poor performance led to the resignation of PDS leader Achille Ochetto.

The Greens scored just 3.2%, electing three MEPs (well down on their 8.7% and seven MEPs at the 1989 elections), and the Party of Communist Refoundation 6.1%, electing six MEPs. The anti-mafia La Rete network elected just one MEP.

Apart from the PDS, which as the main opposition party should have done better than 19%, the main loser was the regionalist Northern League, whose 6.7% just beat the Party of Communist Refoundation. Commentators argued that the vote of the League had gone over, in many cities, to the new Forza Italia, the new creation of media baron Berlusconi, who ruthlessly manipulated both his own three TV channels and the national TV to plug his own party. The significance of the decline of the Northern League is that between them Forza Italia and the fascist National Alliance have over 40% of the vote.

Germany's Greens scored third place with 10% (two points up on their 1989 performance) behind the Social Democrats on 32.2% and the Christian democrats on 30%. However, these figures are misleading since they don't include the 6.2% won by the Bavarian Christian Social Union, which is a de facto sub-branch of the Christian Democrats. In reality Chancellor Kohl's party scored 36%.

In the provinces of the former east Germany, the PDS (Party of Democratic Socialism) came second behind the Christian Democrats, scoring 20% in some districts. But this was not enough to break the 5% barrier needed nationwide to elect any MEPs.

British Tories crushed

In Britain minor parties were squeezed out by the massive swing to Labour, whose 44% of the vote won a massive 62 seats, making the British Labour Party the biggest single national party delegation in the European parliament. The ruling Conservatives, on 27%, won only 18 seats, and the Liberal Democrats two. In Scotland the Scottish National Party pushed the Tories into third place, winning one seat, Scotland North-East, from Labour, making its European representation a total of two seats.

The whole of the British left backed the Labour Party, with the exception of one candidate of the Trotskyist formation Scottish Militant Labour, whose single candidate, in Glasgow, Tommy Sheridan, scored a creditable 8%.

Support for the Greens slumped disastrously from the 1989 high of 15% to just 3%. However the 1989 result was a freak, based on the then disarray of the third party, the Liberal Democrats, many of whose voters switched to the Greens. The British Green Party is notoriously right-wing compared with some of its continental partners, and very small.

In Northern Ireland, which elects three MEPs, the candidates of Sinn F‚in scored a creditable 9.8% of the vote; but since it had no chance of actually electing an MEP, thousands of nationalist voters went over to the Social Democratic and Labour Party, whose leader John Hume was re-elected as an MEP, increasing his vote by 25,000.

In the Irish republic, the Greens, standing for the first time and campaigning on transport issues and against the British Thorpe nuclear power station, which discharges waste into the Irish Sea, won 3% and two MEPs.

United Left

One big success for the new left-wing formations was the 13.4% won by Izquierda Unida (United Left) in Spain, which won nine MEPs, coming third behind the Popular Party (40.2%) and the ruling Socialists (30.6%) of Premier Felipe Gonzales. Regional elections held in Andalucia on the same day gave the United Left over 20% of the vote. This confirmed the United Left as the most powerful, on a national basis, of the formations which have emerged from the crisis of the old Communist parties in Europe.

In France the vote for the mainstream parties was sharply down, but the main gainer was a new right-wing anti-Maastricht coalition, "For Another Europe", which won 12%. The Communist Party won 6.9% of the vote, electing six MEPs. The Greens slumped to 2.9%, failing to elect a single MEP.

On the far right, the National Front, led by Jean-Marie Le Pen, won 10.5%, maintaining its Strasbourg representation of 10 MEPs.

The elections in Belgium were marked by a strong showing for the extreme right: the Flemish nationalist Vlaams Blok won 7.8% and the semi-fascist National Front, which operates only in the French-speaking part of the country, 2.9%. Between them they elected three of the country's 25 MEPs, while the Greens, with a total of 11%, elected two.

One success against the far right was recorded in Germany, where the Republicans' vote slumped to 3.9%, giving them no representation in the European parliament.

Overall, representation of the Greens at Strasbourg fell from 27 to 22; the Communist group went from 13 to 12; the social democratic group's representation rose from 197 to 213, mainly due to the huge Labour victory in Britain.


Much of the debate in the campaign focused on the Maastricht Treaty, signed in 1992. The treaty provides for growing economic and political integration of the European Union.

Big business knows that any single country is not powerful enough to compete economically with the United States and Japan — that is why, for example, a consortium involving British, German, Italian and Spanish firms is building the new "Eurofighter" aircraft. No single country could afford it.

The terms of the treaty are built around the objective of monetary union. It specifies state spending and deficit targets which national governments have to meet before monetary union, now due for 1998, can take place.

This implies a huge reduction in state spending in most countries — an attack on the welfare state. Social security provisions in the European Union are much higher than in the United States or Japan. Europe's rulers regard the welfare state as a major obstacle, a substantially higher price for labour, in the economic battle against the world's two economic giants.

Opposition to Maastricht has therefore come from both right and left. Nationalists oppose Maastricht because they see it as eroding their national identity into a Europe-wide cosmopolitanism: this is particularly true of the Thatcherite "Euro-sceptic" in the British Conservative Party. On the left, Maastricht is opposed because it implies major attacks on the "1945" settlement which gave workers some of the best social security and health provisions in the world.

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