The conservative European People’s Party once again won the most seats in the European elections on Sunday (26 May) but will face difficulties in building a controlling majority as the Greens, liberals and populists posted big gains, reflecting the ongoing divisions in the bloc.
Greens were the biggest surprise, increasing their number of seats to 67 from 50, thanks to a strong showing in Germany and France, giving rise to the term “Green Wave”.
Populism refers to a range of political stances that emphasise the idea of “the people” and often juxtapose this group against “the elite”. Within political science and other social sciences, various different definitions of populism have been used; some scholars propose rejecting the term altogether. There is no single definition of the term, which developed in the 19th century and has been used to mean various things since that time. Few politicians or political groups describe themselves as “populist” and the term is often applied to others pejoratively.
A common framework for interpreting populism is known as the ideational approach: this defines populism as an ideology which presents “the people” as a morally good force against “the elite”, who are perceived as corrupt and self-serving. Populists differ in how “the people” are defined, but it can be based along class, ethnic, or national lines. Populists typically present “the elite” as comprising the political, economic, cultural, and media establishment, depicted as a homogeneous entity and accused of placing their own interests, and often the interests of other groups—such as foreign countries or immigrants—above the interests of “the people”. Populist parties and social movements are often led by charismatic or dominant figures who present themselves as the “voice of the people”. When in office in liberal democracies, populists are often responsible for democratic backsliding as they undermine independent institutions like the media or judiciary which they consider hostile to the “will of the people”. According to the ideational approach, populism is often combined with other ideologies, such as nationalism, liberalism, or socialism. Thus, populists can be found at different locations along the left–right political spectrum and there is both left-wing populism and right-wing populism.
Other scholars active in the social sciences have defined the term populism in different ways. According to the popular agency definition used by some historians of United States history, populism refers to popular engagement of the population in political decision making. An approach associated with the scholar Ernesto Laclau presents populism as an emancipatory social force through which marginalised groups challenge dominant power structures. Some economists have used the term in reference to governments which engage in substantial public spending financed by foreign loans, resulting in hyperinflation and emergency measures. In popular discourse, the term has sometimes been used synonymously with demagogy, to describe politicians who present overly simplistic answers to complex questions in a highly emotional manner, or with opportunism, to characterise politicians who seek to please voters without rational consideration as to the best course of action.
The term populism came into use in the late 19th century alongside the promotion of democracy. In the United States, it was closely associated with the People’s Party, while in the Russian Empire it was linked to the agrarian socialist Narodnik movement. In the 1960s the term became increasingly popular among social scientists in Western countries, and later in the 20th century it was applied to various political parties active in liberal democracies. In the 21st century, the term became increasingly popular, used in reference largely to left-wing groups in the Latin American pink tide and current right-wing conservative wave and to the proliferation of right and left-wing populist movements and parties in Western countries.
Populist rise, but real battle in new EU assembly is EPP vs 'progressives'
A battle is a combat in warfare between two or more armed forces. A war usually consists of multiple battles. Battles generally are well defined in duration, area, and force commitment. A battle with only limited engagement between the forces and without decisive results is sometimes called a skirmish.
Wars and military campaigns are guided by strategy, whereas battles take place on a level of planning and execution known as operational mobility. German strategist Carl von Clausewitz stated that “the employment of battles … to achieve the object of war” was the essence of strategy.
According to the results published at 01.35 am, the EPP was on course to get 179 deputies (38 less than in 2014) in the 751-seat European Parliament. The Social Democrats won 152 seats (a loss of 35). The two oldest political groups lost their joint majority in the EU assembly for the first time.
Populist rise, but real battle in new EU assembly is EPP vs 'progressives'
The EPP Spitzenkandidat, Bavarian Manfred Weber, was quick to stake his claim on the top prize. “If we are the strongest group, then every citizen will say that the strongest group will have the right to make the…president of the Commission,” he said in Berlin on Sunday night.
“There is no majority against the EPP possible,” Weber added in Brussels, hours later, but hinted at a broad pro-EU coalition. “When I look at the figures, I don’t see a majority against liberals, socialists, EPP. What I would ask us to do is to join our forces and work together”.
However, an informal alliance comprising the far-left, SD, the Greens and quite possibly liberals from ALDE, appeared to be in the making, as it was hinted by the leaders of some of these parties.
The lead candidate of the Socialists, Frans Timmermans, insisted on his offer to create a platform of progressive parties.
“My offer is on the table”, he said after the first official results were announced.
“I will be looking for a progressive majority to do what people expect from us,” on issues like climate change and social justice.
The lead candidate of the liberals, Denmark’s Margrethe Vestager, came close to accepting his offer. She mentioned Timmermans and the Greens as part of an effort to forge a progressive front.
“There is room for talks,” she said. “The most important thing is change so we are able to take action” on issues such as the fight against global warming and tax justice, she said.
Weber said he was happy the EPP came first, but the feeling inside his party was not of victory.
All eyes on Macron
All eyes will now be on the new centrist group, created by merging French President Emmanuel Macron’s LREM and ALDE, which is now the third strongest with 105 deputies. Macron has not formally supported either the EPP or the SD, but diplomatic sources say contacts with the Social Democrats have been established.
But Macron’s position is somewhat weakened, despite his pro-European, pro-reform drive of the past year, as he lost at home to his nemesis Le Pen.
On the positive side, turnout was the highest since the European elections held in 1999, at 50.5%, compared to 42% in 2014. The massive participation, especially in countries like France, Spain or Poland, helped to reverse the declining trend seen ever since the Europeans started to vote in 1979.
The biggest individual winner was the EPP’s “bad boy” Victor Orban, who won more than 50% of votes in Hungary, confirming his iron grip on power. The Lega party of Italy’s Salvini got around 30% but failed to become the biggest single party in the Parliament. Salvini plans to set up a new Eurosceptic group in the Parliament.
Overall, the march of Eurosceptic populists lost its stride and the far-right bloc remains fragmented and unlikely to be invited into any ruling coalition.
“The big thing is that the gains for the extremists were not very substantial,” Guntram Wolff, head of the Bruegel economic think-tank in Brussels, told Reuters.
The other big winner of the night was the Green Party, thanks to the spectacular results seen in Germany, where it became second (20.7% of votes) to Chancellor Angela Merkel’s CDU (28.7%), and surprises seen in countries like Ireland.
“Tonight’s Green Wave gives us the mandate and duty to drive change in Europe. Any new Commission should take this into account, as our programme of climate protection, social justice and defence of rule of law and democracy gave the Greens this important win,” said the lead Green candidate, Bas Eickhout.
[Contributing Jorge Valero]
The race for EU top posts heats up
Familiar faces and new names will be competing for the EU’s top jobs, as capitals are starting to manoeuvre and prepare the ground for their preferred candidates, EURACTIV has found out after talking to EU officials and diplomats.