EU rally brexit party European Parliament
British protesters at a pro-EU rally (Image: Wikimedia/ilovetheeu)

Well, elections for the European Parliament have been held, and the winner is… pretty much anyone you want it to be. With an unprecedented 50% turnout, the highest since direct voting to the institution began in 1979, voters went to nationalist and populist parties in greater numbers, to left and green parties, and away from the mainstream party blocs — which nevertheless maintained their overall control of the chamber.

The European Parliament is a thing of dizzying complexity, in which more than 100 parties and groups sit in about 15 different blocs.

This year for the first time the core centre blocs — the Social Democrats on the left (With UK Labour, the German SPD, Spanish Socialists etc) and the European People’s Parties on right (Christian Democrats, Sweden’s hilariously-named Moderate Party) — have fallen short of the 376 seats they need to (collectively) control business in the 751 seat chamber, with the big losers being the established parties on both sides in Germany, Italy and the UK.

The Social Democrats bloc lost 45 seats, down to 146, and the European People’s Party lost 40 seats to end up with 180. That opens a space for the smaller groups to work together. On the “left”, there’s the Liberal Democrats bloc (the UK Lib-Dems, Germany’s free-market FDP), the Nordic Green Left (which includes Syriza) and the Greens (Greens, everywhere). Only the Nordic Green Left lost — 19 seats down to 39, while the Greens gained 19 to 69. The Liberal Democrats had a small gain to 109.

On the right/nationalist side, there’s the European Conservatives and Reformists (UK Tories and others) down 70 to 60, the Nationalists on 58 — largely Salvini’s “League” party from Italy — and… sigh, the Freedom and Direct Democracy group, which is largely the UK Brexit Party, on 59.

The rise of the nationalists hasn’t been as great as some expected/dreaded, although Marine Le Pen’s rebranded National Front (now “National Rally”) was the largest party in France, along with Salvini’s rise in Italy.

One interesting counter-systemic trend has been the shift back to the Social Democrats in Denmark, and away from the nationalist Danish People’s Party — but only because the Soc Dems have recently switched themselves to being a left-nationalist outfit themselves, shedding much of their multicultural and internationalist policy. This may well be a harbinger for such a movement across Europe, as was the establishment of the Danish People’s Party in the first place.

One other unexpected shift was the further success of the Greens across the western half of the continent. They overtook the Social Democrats to be the second party in Germany, and made solid gains elsewhere.

The crucial aspect of that is that they’re by far the most unified movement across borders (Yanis Varoufakis’s Diem25 movement did poorly, gaining no more than 2-3 seats). A Green party is a Green party. You can be pretty sure what you’re gonna get, whereas other groups are coalitions.

The headline act may well have been the spectacular success of the Brexit anti-party in a country that’s leaving. But in a parliament around since 1952, elected only recently, and with a less-than-clear role, the Greens rise shows that the shifting nature of class is producing a real shift in politics, for the first time in decades.

Older forms of representation are undercut by cross-continent social shift, and the European Parliament is being used to register this. The green-global vs nationalist-communal division is emerging, and what just happened in the European Parliament is a measure of things to come.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

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