This European election was not a contest with an over-arching Continental narrative, but a series of national and regional battles. For the two main party groupings in the European Parliament (each losing seats and with less than a quarter of the vote), there will be relief that the results were not worse than they turned out. Here’s a guide to the biggest winners and losers:
Voter turnout rose dramatically. Making the voting process the biggest winner, after 40 years of declining participation. Champagne corks will be popping in Brussels if national election authorities confirm that the magic 50 percent turnout figure was reached (currently it is projected to hit 50.95 percent).
The main parties
The center-right European People’s Party fell below 25 percent of the vote for the first time since 1989, and the Socialists are hovering at about 20 percent. That’s their worst performance since European Parliament direct elections began in 1979.
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The bright spots for the big parties came in Italy. The Democratic Party pushed past the 5Star Movement to take second place and 19 seats. In Spain too, the Socialist party won a clear victory and grew to 18 seats. In Greece, the EPP-aligned New Democracy will win nine seats. By convincingly beating the far-left governing party Syriza, it has prompted Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras to call a national election in June.
Of the parties that grew, Italian Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini’s alliance is doing best. Essentially doubling in size to 70-75 seats, but getting nowhere close to dominance in Parliament. His League colleagues will be lucky to lead the fourth-biggest group in Parliament. The liberal ALDE alliance also gained about 35 seats. Thanks mostly to Emmanuel Macron’s En Marche movement, to hit 100-105 seats and take a clear third place.
The EU’s “Green wave” is both real and geographically limited. Green parties finished second and third in countries including Germany, France, Finland and Luxembourg. Yet Green parties have won no seats in Southern and Eastern Europe. They won only two seats in Central Europe, from Austria, itself a decline on the 2014 Austrian result. Even so, a surge in support for the Greens in the U.K. means the group is likely to beat Salvini’s alliance.
Euroskeptic parties had their best showing in Hungary where Viktor Orbán’s ruling Fidesz party scored 53 percent. Enough for 13 seats. Euroskeptics won 62 percent overall there. Fidesz will now need to decide whether to moderate and stay within the EPP, or to branch out and join a Euroskeptic party group. The outcome may affect the EPP’s bargaining power for top jobs like European Commission president. In Poland, Euroskeptics captured 53 percent of the vote. And across the Parliament, Euroskeptic parties look set to end the night with 235 seats.
Leave and Remain
In the U.K., Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party, which wants the country to get out of the EU with or without a deal, took first place nationally. Raking in close to a third of the votes cast. But that win was counter-balanced by strong surges for unequivocally pro-Remain parties, most notably the Liberal Democrats, who look to be on course for second place with around a fifth of the vote.
Scandal-prone parties tended to pay a heavy price. The ruling Romanian Social Democratic Party lost more than one-third of their vote share, and seven of their 16 seats, punishment in part for playing fast and loose with rule of law in the country. Romanian expats lined up for hours to cast ballots against a party many said was a reason for leaving Romania.
Austria’s far-right Freedom Party (FPÖ) lost support after the so-called Ibiza scandal in which secretly recorded footage emerged showing Heinz-Christian Strache — then vice chancellor and FPÖ leader — attempting to trade public contracts for campaign support. The party came third with 17.2 percent, down 3 percentage points on the party’s 2017 general election showing.
The Danish People’s Party, whose members were regularly caught up in investigations over misspending EU money in the last five years, lost more than half of their votes and two of their three seats. One of Salvini’s key allies, Anders Primdahl Vistisen, lost his seat.
In Estonia, the far-right Conservative People’s Party hasn’t even made it through a month of government before being punished at the polls, beaten by even the tiny social democrats, and winning only one seat.
Marine Le Pen’s National Rally was the winner in France on vote share, but it was a hollow victory: her party lost support compared to 2014. That’s despite coming second in the 2017 French presidential election and the golden opportunity presented by an electorate angry at President Macron’s policies and governing style.
Macron’s so-called “Renaissance” list suffered the humiliation of finishing second in France, but could still act as a kingmaker in coming months: either by dominating the Parliament’s liberal bloc or forming a small new progressive front that acts as a balance of power in Council, Commission and Parliament votes.