The governments of France and Britain were humiliated by the far-right, but the majority of Europe remains pro-EU. There were few really big surprises in the European parliamentary election.
The center-right's leading candidate, Jean-Claude Juncker, appeared confident and relaxed on election night. "The conservatives won," he declared. A preliminary distribution of seats put the European People's Party (EPP) on 212 in the new European Parliament, with the center-left Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats on 185 seats. That preserved the conservatives' position as the strongest faction, despite taking severe losses compared to the 2009 election.
Speaking to the press, Socialist leader Martin Schulz refused to acknowledge defeat, still hoping to claim the presidency of the EU Commission, a post that is elected by the new parliament.
Both candidates are probably aware that they need the political family of the other to organize a majority in the fragmented European Parliament. "Europe is a love-child between conservatives and socialists," said the basically contented Juncker. That was, he added, a quote from former EU Commission President Jacques Delors. Juncker promised he would take the hand of the Socialists if it was extended to him. If need be, there would be a grand coalition to make the parliament workable.
But the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE) also wants a say. They are likely to become the third biggest group in parliament, and their leader, Guy Verhofstadt, said, "We will be necessary for a truly stable majority." Almost defiantly, Schulz announced talks between the two parties that could take several days. Government leaders are due to meet on Tuesday (27.05.2014) and it's no secret in Brussels that the 28 participants in the summit will have their reservations about both Juncker and Schulz. The EU is likely to face a long tussle over who will become the next president of the EU Commission.
The established parties are at least united in their rejection of the many euro-skeptic MEPs who have made it into the new parliament. Depending on final counts, far-left and particularly the far-right parties are set to occupy 140 to 150 seats in the European Parliament - 20 percent of all the seats.
"This is a bad day for Europe, because far-right people, xenophobes, and neo-Nazis have made gains in many countries," said Schulz. "We desperately need to work out the reasons for these successes, the deep rejection [of the EU], and the loss of trust." Juncker, for his part, once again ruled out an alliance with far-right or euro-skeptic groups, and analysts predict he will need the informal grand coalition with the Socialists all the more.
Earthquake in France and Britain
Election analysts more or less predicted the results of the European election correctly. There were few surprises in the Brussels parliament building, which had been re-tooled as a press zone for the night.
But for some EU member states, the election was something of a political earthquake. The French election was taken by the far-right, xenophobic National Front. Party leader Marine Le Pen overtook the mainstream parties and punished Socialist President Francois Hollande. Le Pen will send more than 25 representatives to the European Parliament. She may eventually be able to form a new faction with other far-right parties, which would bring extra subsidies and privileges from the parliamentary budget, though her influence on the legislative process would be limited.
Meanwhile, in Britain, the UK Independence Party won the election ahead of the established parties, which their leader Nigel Farage described as a "historic victory." He said that Europe's bailout policies had not worked - neither in the crisis-hit states of southern Europe nor in the bailing-out states in the north - and that the election result was the expected outcome of these irresponsible policies. This will increase the pressure on Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron to demand major reforms from the EU.
Governing parties were also punished in Denmark, Ireland, Bulgaria, and Greece, where the far-left Syriza party became the strongest party. Now it's questionable whether the governing coalition of conservatives and socialists in Athens will remain in power for long. Meanwhile, Greece's neo-Nazi Golden Dawn and Hungary's openly racist Jobbik party also made gains.
But while the night was marked with warning signals being sent out to the national governments, there was also a conflicting trend - the governing parties won in Germany, Austria, Italy, the Netherlands, Romania, and Poland. And even in crisis-hit Cypris, an outspokenly pro-European party won out by defending painful austerity measures. In general, what Juncker told the press conference was basically true: "The pro-European forces have won an overwhelming majority in the European Parliament, despite all the negative analyses."
The turnout among the 400 million potential voters was barely higher than in the last election - an EU-wide average of 43.1 percent. The major election campaigns of the lead candidates did little to change that - it was only really acknowledged in Germany, France, and Italy. In all the other countries, the European elections were decided by national issues and candidates, at least according to a study published by the Center for European Policy Studies in Brussels. The lowest turnout was in Slovakia, where only 13 percent of the electorate could muster any interest in either European or national politics.