Opinion: No revolution in the EU | Opinion | DW | 27.05.2019
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Opinion

Opinion: No revolution in the EU

The European Parliament will be more heterogeneous than before, so finding a majority and reaching compromise will be a serious challenge, writes Bernd Riegert.

Before the vote, Europe's large, centrist parties had declared Sunday's European Parliament elections as a pivotal movement and potential turning point.

And now we see that two-thirds of the electorate picked pro-European parties. The takeover by the bloc's right-wing populist parties, which Italy's Interior Minster Matteo Salvini had promised, has not materialized. The bloc's liberal democratic model has persevered; though some parts of Europe exhibit worrying trends.

For the second time in a row, the French far-right populists have emerged victorious at EU elections. In Italy, Salvini's far-right League won the most votes. In Hungary, right-wing populists are already in power and again garnered over 50% of the vote. And in Poland, which is also ruled by a national-conservative party, said party secured a victory as well.

Read more: EU election aftermath

In Germany, Austria, Denmark, the Netherlands and Spain, however, right-wing populist parties took fewer votes than expected. So while there will be an increase in nationalist MEPs, this should still be bearable. As they will be unable to form a coherent group, they will only mange to slow down rather than obstruct parliamentary business.

Shift in balance, though pro-Europeans remain strong

The election was a turning point with regard to environmental issues and climate change. A veritable Green wave swept across parts of Europe, with environmental parties doing much better than expected. Together they will most likely form a group within the European Parliament that will be larger than that of the far-right populists — a major accomplishment.

Obviously, the climate protests over the past weeks and months have helped get young people to vote green. But only in parts of Western Europe, chiefly in Germany, France, Luxembourg and Finland. In Southern and Eastern Europe, there are no influential Green parties, and Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg seemingly had no impact there.

Read more: German political parties go green for EU 'climate election'

Europe's so-called big centrist parties, meanwhile, suffered substantial losses. The Conservatives and the Social Democrat blocs lost roughly as much as the Greens and Liberals gained. Which means the big European parties will now have to rely on the Liberals, and possibly also on the Greens, to form parliamentary majorities.

This will become clear already at Tuesday's special EU summit, where the bloc's heads of state and government will discuss who will take over various key leadership positions. The old principle that the front-runner of the biggest group, in this case the centrist conservative EPP, should automatically become the president of the European Commission has become untenable. This does not bode well for its ambitious leader, Manfred Weber.

National peculiarities

The outcome of this pivotal election means two things: The European Union continues — but with a highly fragmented parliament. Last week, many more people turned out to vote than expected. Granted, a turnout of 50% is not much — though it is the highest in over 20 years.

Germany, France, Spain and Poland saw the biggest rise in voter turnout. And in the UK, where looming Brexit means this vote is essentially meaningless, more people turned out to vote than previously, too. Most voters chose the Brexit Party. Yet a substantial number of the electorate also voted for pro-European Liberal Democrats.

So, what does all this mean? The EU remains what it always was: a highly heterogeneous mixed bag of people, who will continuously have to find compromises. That is its fate and burden.

Infografik 27.05.2019, 7:07 EU Wahl 2019 - Parlament ENG

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