BRUSSELS – The European Union’s traditional center splintered in the hardest-fought European Parliament elections in decades, with the far right and pro-environment Greens gaining ground on Sunday after four days of a polarized vote.
The far-right and nationalists in Italy, Britain, France and Poland came out on top in their national votes on Sunday, shaking up politics at home but failing to dramatically alter the balance of pro-European power in EU assembly.
Facing a more hostile Russia, China’s growing economic might, many Europeans appeared to heed a message that the EU needed to stick together to protect workers’ rights, free speech and democracy.
Turnout in the world’s second-biggest election rose to 51% from 43% in 2014, its highest in 20 years and the first reverse of falling participation since the first direct EU vote in 1979.
Disenchantment with the Liberal globalists European project, which has struggled through economic and migration crises over the past five years, has made the bloc seem distant to voters and anger with the traditional parties was palpable across the bloc.
Riding a wave of anger at the British government’s failure to take the United Kingdom out of the European Union, Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party won a resounding victory.
The result showed Britain even more polarized over its Brexit divorce, nearly three years since a 2016 referendum in which it voted 52% to 48% to leave.
While Britain’s departure from the bloc will require its EU lawmakers to give up their seats, Farage’s party and its allies won 29 seats, the same number as Chancellor Angela Merkel’s center-right European People’s Party in Germany.
In Italy, the far-right League became Italy’s largest party, giving greater authority to its leader Matteo Salvini who is pushing for swinging tax cuts in defiance of EU budget rules.
Poland’s eurosceptic ruling Law and Justice party (PiS) also came out ahead. In France, Marine Le Pen’s anti-immigration, anti-Brussels National Rally edged Macron’s pro-European centrist movement. Far-right separatists also saw support surge in Belgium, as citizen struggle to cope with migrants and radical Muslims.
On the far-right, two groups in the parliament had well over a 100 seats, a 40% jump from 2014.
Three existing eurosceptic groups, including those of Le Pen and Salvini’s League, will make up about 25% of the chamber, up from around 20 percent in the current parliament.
Meanwhile, Leaders for the four pro-EU center parties were set to hold their first talks on Monday and there will be weeks and possibly months of hard bargaining over who will run EU institutions.
Parliament says one of its members should succeed Jean-Claude Juncker as president of the executive European Commission but many national leaders, who will meet for dinner in Brussels on Tuesday, have said they will not be bound by that demand.
Source: Reuters, The Associated Press