European elections: Hope in the gloom as left gains in Greece, Spain, Ireland

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Syriza leader Alexis Tsipras (centre). Syriza outpolled all other parties in Greece.
For more coverage of the 2014 European elections, click HERE.

[See a table containing all the results for the European left, Green and left nationalist parties at the end of the article.] 

By Dick Nichols

May 30, 2014 – Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal/Green Left Weekly, an earlier version of this article appeared at Green Left Weekly -- The result of the May 25 European parliamentary poll was dominated by the victories of the xenophobic and racist National Front (FN) in France (26%, 24 MEPs, Members of the European Parliament) and the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) in Britain (26.8%, 24 MEPs). It has set off a wave of mainstream media angst across the old continent.

The angst is understandable. Five years after the 2009 European elections, the political basis for European Commission austerity policy has been severely weakened and “governance” of the 28-member European Union has become even more fraught.

Moreover, old European spectres have re-emerged, with a surge in support for formations that directly identify as Nazi or fascist—like the Golden Dawn in Greece, Jobbik in Hungary and the National Democratic Party (NDP) in Germany. Their victories are a direct result of the economic crisis and the austerity policies of “Brussels”.

From scoring 0.46% and 23,566 votes in the 2009 European Parliament elections, Golden Dawn has risen to 9.38%, with hundreds of thousands of supporters.

The tide of respectable xenophobia is also at a flood. The Danish People’s Party (DFP) topped the poll in Denmark; the New Flemish Alliance (NVA)—specialist in “reasonable” scapegoating of migrants and French-Belgian welfare recipients—won in Belgium (16.35%); and the racist Austria Freedom Party (FPÖ) came in third with a score 19.7%, as did Dutch islamophobe Geert Wilders’ Party for Freedom (PVV) (13.2%).

These are horrible results, and the victory of France’s National Front (FN) in the country of western Europe’s greatest revolution for democracy the most horrible of all.

Yet they were inevitable. With anti-austerity left parties and coalitions failing to reach a threshold of political credibility in many countries, a mass vote for right-wing populists posing as opponents of the system was certain.


Yet the outcome is fraught with contradictions. Despite appearances and despite the apocalyptic response of mainstream politicians like France’s Socialist Party prime minister Manuel Valls (”it’s an earthquake”), the result does not represent a massive general swing to the right across all Europe, but more a hollowing out of the mainstream right and centre-right by the eurosceptic and racist right.

The election has certainly produced a partial rightward shift, with the greatest losses being experienced by the ruling European People’s Party (EPP—down 61 seats to 213 seats in the 751-seat European parliament.

At the same time, however, the broadly defined left—covering the social-democratic Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats (S&D, 191 seats), the Greens-European Free Alliance (Greens-EFA, 52 seats) and the anti-capitalist left’s European United Left-Nordic Green Left (GUE-NGL, 42 seats)—has increased its presence, from 37.6% to38.5% of the European parliament.

Within this left both greens and social democrats have lost, while the GUE-NGL and the left and centre-left nationalist forces within the EFA (which groups together MEPs from “nations without a state”) have gained. If new left forces, like Spain’s Podemos, enter the GUE-NGL the relative weight of the anti-austerity left will have grown even more noticeably (see Table).

The two main right parliamentary groups—the EPP and the anti-federalist and eurosceptic European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR)—had 43.2% of seats before May 25. Afterwards, their share has fallen to 34.5%. The strength of the centre-right Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE) has also declined, from 10.8% to 8.5%.

The winners on the right are the Europe of Freedom and Democracy (EFD) group, basically an alliance of the UKIP and Italy’s Northern League, which has grown from 4% to 5.1% of seats. The winning far-right forces, like the FN and Golden Dawn, have yet to form a parliamentary group—and seem very unlikely to be able to do so, as they almost certainly won’t meet the parliamentary requirement of 25 MEPs from at least seven member states. The UKIP, for example, has announced that it will not be forming a fraction with Le Pen and Golden Dawn.

Signs of hope: Greece and Spain

The main immediate impact of May 25 is to destroy the right and centre-right majority that was the basis for European Commission austerity, and to increase the pressure on the S&D to form a German-style broad governing coalition with the EPP.

Yet, this choice would have to be carried out in a Europe where the two countries that have seen the highest level of social struggle—Greece and the Spanish state—have also seen the greatest growth of left anti-austerity alternatives, and the greatest level of crisis of social democracy itself.

This trend reached a new high at this European election.

In Greece, the left coalition Syriza topped the poll with 26.6%, 3.9% more than the ruling conservative New Democracy. Pasok, the Greek social democratic party, ran as part of the Olive Tree-Democratic Alignment, which scored only 8.1%. In the aftermath, Syriza leader Alexis Tsipras has demanded early elections in Greece.

In Spain, the election delivered a possibly mortal blow to the two-party system of the ruling People’s Party (PP) and the opposition Spanish Socialist Workers Party (PSOE): between them the main parties of the post-dictatorship transition could only manage 49.1%, 5 million votes less than in the 2009 European election.

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Podemos supporters celebrate.

At the same time, the vote for the Plural Left (electoral coalition led by the United Left) rose from 3.7% to 10% (two seats to six), while newcomer Podemos (“We Can”), seen by many in the indignado generation as their own organisation against the “political class” and attracting a vote that may well not have gone to the Plural Left, achieved an astonishing 8% (five seats).

In those parts of the Spanish state where the struggle against austerity and cuts to public services has been fiercest, such as Madrid and the Balearic Islands, Podemos actually outscored the Plural Left.

Left and centre-left national forces also advanced, most notably in Catalonia, where an 11 percentage-point lift in the participation rate saw the Republican Left of Catalonia (ERC, 23.7%) defeat the ruling right-nationalist Convergence and Union (CiU, 21.9%), the first time the oldest party of Catalan nationalism has won an election since 1932.

At the same time, Initiative for Catalonia-Greens (ICV), allied in Catalonia with the United Left, lifted its vote to 10.3% (from 6.1% in 2009).

The crisis of social democracy is beginning to take on Pasok-like dimensions in Catalonia. At this poll the Party of Catalan Socialists (PSC), easy winner of the 2009 European election with 36%, was reduced to 14.3% (350,000 votes less), and for the first time ever fell behind ICV in Barcelona city.

Left nationalist and regionalist forces also won seats in the Basque Country and Valencia.

Italy, Ireland, Portugal

The other countries where the progressive anti-austerity vote most rose were Ireland and Italy. In Ireland, Sinn Fein, the traditional party of left nationalism, more than doubled its vote to 17% on the basis of opposition to austerity (winning three seats in the South) and retained the one seat it held in the northern Six Counties still ruled by the UK.

In Italy, the new formation The Other Europe with Tsipras—won three seats, returning the country’s anti-capitalist left to a presence in the European parliament after its disastrous 2009 failure to win any seats.

In Portugal, the other country most hit by the crisis, social democracy has managed a partial recovery at the expense of the anti-capitalist left, in particular the Left Bloc. The Socialist Party vote, at 26.5% in 2009, has climbed to 31.5%, while the combined far-left vote of the Communist Party-Greens and Left Bloc (21.4% in 2009), has fallen to 17.2% at this election, with the Left Bloc vote falling from 10.7% to 4.6%.

However, the Portuguese political scene has also been marked by the dramatic emergence of a newcomer representing mass discontent—the Party of the Land, which won 7.1% and two seats.

Another welcome advance has been the success of Sweden’s Feminist Initiative, which won one seat with a vote of 5.3% (more than double its 2009 score).

New phase

Forces like Podemos and The Other Europe-with Tsipras will now have to decide whether they enter the GUE-NGL group. If, as seems likely, they do, a strengthened left in the European parliament will be better placed to support the social struggles that lie at the root of its growth.

A further step—not easy but not inconceivable—would be for the left to find ways to collaborate with the radical eurosceptic Italian Five Stars Movement of Beppe Grillo, which won 21.2% and 17 seats on May 25.

In immediate terms, the most positive impact of this election will be on the national political struggle in the Spanish state and Greece.

At the time of writing Podemos spokesperson Pablo Iglesias has stated that collaboration with Syriza will be a priority for the organisation and its MEPs.

At the same time, the national secretary of the PSOE, Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba, has called an emergency PSOE congress and announced that will not contest his position at it.

Combined with the announcement that dissident Party of Catalan Socialists members are planning to run their own ticket in the 2015 municipal elections, Rubalcaba’s resignation has unleashed a wave of internal factional turmoil within the PSOE, increasing the perception that social democracy in the Spanish state is teetering on the edge of a precipice.

[Dick Nichols is Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal’s and Green Left Weekly’s European correspondent, based in Barcelona. An earlier version of this article appeared at Green Left Weekly. For full results go to]

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Submitted by Terry Townsend on Sun, 06/01/2014 - 15:53


Huffington Post UK  |  By Jessica Elgot Posted:   |  Updated: 28/05/2014 15:59 BST

One has a leader with a swastika tattoo, one wants to rid his entire country of Muslims, another has a founder who suggested releasing the Ebola virus on migrants. This is the class of 2014, the parties set to enter the European Parliament as part of the Union's most eurosceptic, far right, anti-immigrant intake of all time.

Though the British National Party had their one MEP dismissed by voters, this year is the first time openly neo-Nazi parties will sit in Brussels as representatives of their nations.

The European fringe of what Boris Johnson described as "bizarre or downright potty" have flooded the chamber.

Almost all are Eurosceptic, joining the mainstream anti-EU parties like Britain's Ukip to make up around a third of the parliament.

Here's the full rundown:

  • 1
    Front National (France)
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    Marine Le Pen has had to work hard to de-toxify her fair right party, including censoring her own father and the party's founder. Jean Marie Le Pen suggested only last month that "Monseigneur Ebola" could sort out Europe's immigration issue "in three months". He has regularly been convicted under France's race hate laws, and has called the Nazi gas chambers a “small detail” The party took a quarter of the vote in France, with its popular anti-immigration platform.
  • 2
    National Democratic Party (Germany)
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    The neo-Nazi NPD has been campaigning on a platform of stopping immigration and been called racist and anti-semitic. They have fought under the banner of slogans like "Money for granny instead of Sinti and Roma" and "the boat is full", given interviews insisting Europe is "a continent of white people" and have marched with banners proclaiming the Nazi ideology of "National Socialism".
  • 3
    Golden Dawn (Greece)
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    The Greek ultra nationalist party Golden Dawn has swapped its jackboots for suits in the run-up to the elections and been rewarded with its first seats in the European Parliament. Its main spokesman has a swastika tattoo, and a good number of the party's members are in prison for being part of a criminal organisation. Its slogans have been daubed on mosques, synagogues and cemeteries. In May 2012, Golden Dawn ran in Greek elections under the slogan "So we can rid this land of filth", set up 'Greek-only' food banks, and its spokesman has quoted from the Protocols of the Elders of Zion in parliament, But the party insists it is neither criminal nor neo-Nazi. It is now the country's third most popular party.
  • 4
    Finns (Finland)
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    Finland's anti-euro populist party has done less well than predicted, but still picked up two MEPs. Previously known as the 'True Finns' . Its MP James Hirvisaari was fined in 2011 for comments he made on his blog about Muslims, another declined an invite to the Independence Day ball because he did not want to see same-sex couples, but the party has repeatedly rejected accusations of racism and homophobia.
  • 5
    Danish People's Party (Denmark)
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    The Danish People's party won nearly 27% of the vote and has doubled its number of MEPs. The party's founder Pia Kjærsgaard holds the view that Denmark is not a country where immigration is natural or welcome. In response to criticise from Swden, she retorted: "If they want to turn Stockholm, Gothenburg or Malmö into a Scandinavian Beirut, with clan wars, honour killings and gang rapes, let them do it. We can always put a barrier on the Øresund Bridge."
  • 6
    Party for Freedom (The Netherlands)
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    Dutch far-right 'Party for Freedom' leader Geert Wilders will be disappointed with the results, as pro-EU parties topped the Dutch poll. His party has been dogged with controversy. Known for his vociferous criticism of Islam, Wilders is known for saying "I don't hate Muslims, I hate Islam". He campaigns to end all Muslim immigration to the Netherlands and repatriate Muslims currently living there. "Islam is the Trojan Horse in Europe. If we do not stop Islamification now, Eurabia and Netherabia will just be a matter of time," Wilders once told the Dutch parliament. This week, there was no difference in the rhetoric. "Do you want more or less Moroccans in this city and this country?" he shouted to a rally, to chants of "Less! Less!" "We'll arrange that," he said. The party retains four seats in the EU parliament.
  • 7
    Jobbik (Hungary)
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    The right-wing nationalist party Jobbik, one of the most obviously neo-Nazi parties in the European parliament, matched its 2009 EU election results, garnering 14.7% of the vote and three MEPs. Members have called for the country's Jewish inhabitants to sign a special register. "I think such a conflict makes it timely to tally up people of Jewish ancestry who live here, especially in the Hungarian Parliament and the Hungarian government, who, indeed, pose a national security risk to Hungary," the party's deputy parliamentary leader, Márton Gyöngyösi said.
  • 8
    Austrian Freedom (Austria)
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    There were huge gains for the far-right Freedom Party, which gained around a fifth of the vote for its anti-immigration platform. It doubled the number of MEPs, from two to four and says it hopes to form an alliance with the Front National. “If there are immigrants, from Turkey, who complain there is a cross hanging in the classroom at school, then I say to them: ‘go back home’," was the slogan from leader Heinz-Christian Strache this week. The party is fiercely anti-Muslim immigration, and believes Austria should not accept any more migrants. Strache says he himself is not a racist because he "eats kebabs."
  • 9
    Lega Nord (Italy)
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    The far-right party gained 6% of the vote in Italy. "Africa hasn't produced great geniuses as anyone can see from a Mickey Mouse encyclopaedia," one of its ex MEPs said,
  • 10
    But one bit of good news in Britain
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  • Leader of the BNP Nick Griffin lost his seat in the European parliament, the far-right party's only MEP after Andrew Brons quit the party. Out of breath and breathing heavily, Griffin said his reception at the town hall was "fairly typical". He appeared to concede defeat saying his party had "no chance" tonight, before adding: "We will be back." The BNP were the real "racist" party, he said, and those who had voted for Ukip had been mistaken.