European elections: Far right surge but centre holds on (plus: The European left after the elections)


First published at Anti*Capitalist Resistance.

European elections are unique. Voters do not elect a government but a consultative parliament that proposes policies to the European Commission, composed of ministers from each state who make all the decisions. Unsurprisingly, turnout is much lower than for national parliamentary elections. Yesterday, the European average was around 50%, ranging from the low thirties in Spain to over sixty in Hungary.

EU votes can seem tangential to national politics. When Britain was still in the EU, Farage’s virulently anti-EU party won 28% of the vote and dozens of seats in 2014, yet never won a national MP standing as UKIP. The Greens also won more seats than their solitary Westminster MP. A democratic, proportional representation system in European elections can magnify differences between national first-past-the-post or two-round systems and European votes. While European votes are more like opinion surveys, they can indicate discontent or crisis in national governments. UKIP’s victory in 2014 possibly influenced Cameron’s decision to call the EU membership referendum.

Today, the press is full of French President Macron’s decision to dissolve the National Assembly and call elections in three weeks. The largest party in the assembly, the post-fascist Rassemblement Nationale (RN) with 33%, doubled Macron’s Renaissance party’s score. Including Eric Zemmour’s far-right Reconquete party, the far right reaches nearly 40%. Why has Macron made this dramatic move?

It is less of a gamble than it seems. Without a working majority in Parliament, Macron has used a presidential mechanism to push legislation through. He sees nothing to lose in trying to develop a new majority through a new election. In France, if no majority is achieved in a seat, a second round of voting occurs a week later, usually depending on support from eliminated candidates. Le Pen’s RN lacks allies, unlike Meloni in Italy, and Macron assumes another ‘Republican front’ against the far right will help him, as it did in his two presidential victories.

The weakness of the left means there is little risk of a strong left opposition majority in parliament. Yesterday’s results show the social liberal Socialist Party re-establishing itself as the biggest party on the left, with 14% compared to 9% for Melenchon’s La France Insoumise (LFI). The NUPES left coalition, successful in the last parliamentary elections, is defunct, with both the SP and the Communists breaking from Melenchon. There are divisions over Gaza, Ukraine, and Europe. To its credit, the LFI raised the Palestinian banner during the campaign and increased its European vote.

Macron may calculate that even if the RN won a majority, he could manage (cohabitation) for the remaining three years of his presidency. An RN government might lose support for the far right if it had to manage capital’s crises, making a Le Pen presidential victory less likely. This dangerous game could, however, propel Le Pen to the presidency next time. Sectors of French capital might even start to consider a Le Pen alternative if Macron is no longer viable.

The far right advanced in Europe but did not displace the right-of-centre majority in the European parliament. The latter benefits from support on many issues from the left-of-centre group. The hard right is divided over European powers and other issues; Meloni and Le Pen MEPs sit in different groups. Having more MEPs helps the far right develop its forces, providing money, resources, and institutional access. Revolutionary MEPs like Miguel Urban from the Spanish Anti-capitalists show the advantage of a European seat. The far right’s international coordination, demonstrated by a recent well-publicised conference in Madrid, often surpasses the left’s, with larger groups helping smaller parties.

Despite negative publicity about the Nazi sympathies of some leaders and plans to deport all migrants, Germany’s AfD (Alternative for Germany) progressed by three points. Austria’s far-right Freedom Party topped the polls with 25.7%. Meloni’s Fratelli d’Italia improved by two points to 28% but missed the 30% target, a worrying sign given her two years in power and the ongoing cost of living crisis. Salvini’s Lega, her main competitor in the right-wing coalition, performed poorly, strengthening her position. Elsewhere, Spain’s neo-fascist Vox (Voice) group rose by 3.5 points to nearly 10%, winning two more seats. The anti-corruption, conspiracy-focused group Se acaba la Fiesta (The party’s over) got three seats and nearly 5%. Low turnout in Spain may explain the success of extremist right parties. In Portugal, Chega (Enough) advanced to nearly 10% and two seats. In Holland, the far-right Freedom Party took 17%, but the left-of-centre current beat them.

Green parties suffered setbacks in these elections. The right-wing offensive, seen with the Tories on net zero costs amid the cost of living crisis, is taking a toll. Germany’s Greens slumped nine points, possibly due to their coalition with Scholz’s social liberal SPD. France’s Greens also lost nine points. In Italy, the alliance with Sinistra e Verdi (Left and Green) reached nearly 7%, surpassing the threshold for seats. The alliance’s lead candidate, Italian anti-fascist Ilaria Sallis, currently detained under house arrest in Budapest following a protest against Orban, caused a political furore in Italy. Overall, the Green group lost 20 seats in the EU parliament.

The left-of-social-liberal, ex-social-democrat parties held up, losing one seat. Melenchon’s LFI increased its share from 6% in 2019 to over 9%, still below its presidential and parliamentary election scores. Portugal’s Left Bloc and CP held their seats with around 4.5%. In Italy, an anti-war left slate led by journalist Michele Santoro failed to reach the threshold. Germany’s Die Linke (the Left) won three seats, losing two, falling to 2.7%. The red/brown split of Sahra Wagenknecht’s party, which won six seats and 6% on its first electoral outing, has hurt it. This party, similar to Galloway’s Workers Party, combines traditional left economic policies, ‘campist’ foreign policy, workerist anti-identity politics, and anti-migrant adaptations. We must reflect on why parties to the left of traditional reformist parties failed to make a bigger impact amid economic, social, and ecological crises.

Overall, European politics is still dominated by right-of-centre parties adapting to the reactionary, racist positions of a growing post-fascist far right. Labour will join Sanchez’s PSOE government next month as one of the few left-of-centre governments. It is unlikely to provide a way forward out of the continent’s crises. The caution and moderation of a Starmer government could lead to an opposition increasingly dominated by far-right, racist forces, as seen in these EU elections.

Dave Kellaway is on the Editorial Board of Anti*Capitalist Resistance, a member of Socialist Resistance, and Hackney and Stoke Newington Labour Party, a contributor to International Viewpoint and Europe Solidaire Sans Frontieres.

The European left after the elections

Johanna Bussemer 

First published at Rosa-Luxemburg-Stiftung.

The winner of these European elections for the Left is the Finnish Left Alliance, or Vasemmistoliitto, with its lead candidate Li Andersson. With an election result of a spectacular 17.3 percent (polling predicted around 11), the Left Alliance has shown how a clear stance on the wars in Ukraine and Gaza can be successful. Thanks to a well-orchestrated nationwide campaign, Vasemmistoliitto managed to assert itself as the second-strongest force in the country in difficult times.

The Finnish party shares support for weapons deliveries to Ukraine on the one hand and a policy of solidarity with Palestine on the other with its Swedish sister party, Vänsterparti, which also achieved a very good result with 10.9 per cent.

In France, La France Insoumise (LFI) also achieved a stable result with 9.9 percent. However, the Communist Party (PCF), which counted 19 Members of the European Parliament at the end of the 1970s, failed to cross the electoral threshold for the second time in a row. The snap elections now called by Emmanuel Macron will once again hinge on the question of a unified left-wing camp. This is because it is possible that the Socialist candidate Raphaël Glucksmann will make it to the run-off with Marine Le Pen instead of Macron should the LFI and the Greens support him. An alliance between all left-of-centre parties, as was unfortunately tried unsuccessfully last year with the joint NUPES programme, could be the only chance of stopping a France governed by the far right.

The Cypriot AKEL even achieved 21.5 percent, but lost one of its previous MPs.

The results for Sinn Féin in Ireland are not yet available, but it is to be expected that they will also have very good results and a larger group of MEPs. Sinn Féin adopts a left-social democratic line in the European Parliament, but the goal of promoting Irish unity dominates its agenda. Although there has been some speculation, it is likely to remain in The Left group in the European Parliament, despite the party’s emphasis on Irish reunification.

In other western and southeastern European countries, left-wing parties scored between around 4 and 8 per cent. For example, the Spanish left-wing alliance Sumar under charismatic Labour Minister Yolanda Díaz only achieved 4.7 percent of the vote. Díaz subsequently resigned from her posts at Sumar, but remains Minister of Social Affairs and Labour in Spain’s government. Sumar and Podemos did not run together. Podemos achieved 3.3 percent and therefore secured as many seats in the European Parliament as Sumar. The Portuguese Left Bloc, or Bloco, also did worse than before with 4.3 percent of the vote, losing one of its previous two seats. The Danish Enhedslisten was able to hold on to its seat with 7 percent, but were unable to match the success of their Scandinavian neighbours.

For Levica, which currently has three government ministers in Slovenia, the 4.8 per cent it won was not enough for a seat in the EP. In Poland, on the other hand, the social-democratic left-wing alliance Lewica won three seats. The former member of the Sejm and openly gay politician Robert Biedroń will certainly enter the EP with two other colleagues. However, it is completely unclear which political group they will join.

For Greece and Germany, the split between Die Linke and Syriza will change a lot in terms of the parties’ representation in the European Parliament: Syriza, which is increasingly social-democratic following the split but — according to rumours — will not be accepted into the Socialists & Democrats group, will continue to be represented with four seats. The left-wing splinter party Nea Aristera and Yanis Varoufakis’s MERA25, on the other hand, failed to cross the electoral threshold with 2.5 percent each. On the other hand, the Communist Party of Greece (KKE), which has been modernizing in recent years, is once again represented with two candidates.

Only three candidates of the German Left will continue to form a parliamentary group with many of their sister parties. However, conflicts could arise here, particularly in European foreign policy with regard to Ukraine, the Gaza war, relations with Russia, and the issue of military co-operation.

The Scandinavian parties have shown that their progressive political style and their clear stance on Ukraine and the Gaza conflicts, coupled with clear positions on climate, can be successful, and will want to exert greater influence on the direction of The Left group. This could lead to conflicts with the equally strong group of La France Insoumise and Bloco, also with in terms how to deal with the European institutions. However, the often-publicized proximity of the Left Bloc and LFI to the Sahra Wagenknecht Alliance (BSW) is false. A pro-migrant position remains central to left-wing politics in both Portugal and France.

As it is difficult to imagine BSW and Die Linke remaining in the same parliamentary group, it is possible that a second group is emerging, in which the Italian 5 Star Movement could be represented alongside BSW. However, at least 23 MEPs from seven EU member states are actually required to constitute a group. It is possible that Kateřina Konečná, who unexpectedly defended her seat for the Czech Communist Party with the Stačilo! alliance, will join the group.

The Left in Europe therefore will face major challenges with regard to its programmatic unity, but also with regard to forming a group in the European Parliament. Bold left-wing unity is urgently needed, especially now in light of the glaring shift to the right across Europe.

Thanks to the good results of some left-wing parties, the presence of left-wing forces in Brussels remains relatively stable, despite heavy losses for others.

Translated by Loren Balhorn. Johanna Bussemer directs the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation’s Europe Unit in Berlin.