Syriza leader Alexis Tsipras (centre). Syriza outpolled all other parties in Greece.
[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
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
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
This trend reached a new high at this European
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.
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.
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
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).
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
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 http://www.elections2014.eu/en.]