European Parliament elections are being held on 22-25 May, with voting already under way in some countries across Europe. To mark the start of the election, Stuart Brown takes a look at the national campaigns, national polling, and the key domestic issues which are at stake in each of the 28 EU states.
While several predictions have been made as to the eventual composition of the European Parliament, the individual votes which will take place in each EU states between now and Sunday will also have an important impact at the level of domestic politics. This article provides a final overview of each of the 28 national campaigns, including polling on the likely results and some of the key issues at stake in each state. To structure the article, states have been loosely grouped on the basis of their size and location into six different sections, with tables provided showing the latest vote share and seat predictions from PollWatch2014 for each group in turn. An outline of each of the political groups within the European Parliament is available here.
Table 1: Predicted vote share and seats in the 2014 European Parliament elections in the five largest states: France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the UK
Latest update: average of EP polls from 14 – 16 May; Ifop, OpinionWay, TNS, CSA and Ipsos. For more information on the parties see: Union for a Popular Movement (UMP); Front National (FN); Socialist Party (PS); Front de Gauche; Union of Democrats and Independents (UDI); Europe Ecology – The Greens (EELV); New Anticapitalist Party (NPA); Arise the Republic (DLR).
In France, Marine Le Pen’s populist Front National are expected to come out with the largest share of the vote, ahead of the country’s main centre-right party, the Union for a Popular Movement. Meanwhile, the Socialist Party of French President François Hollande is predicted to finish a distant third, with 14 seats.
The elections come off the back of municipal elections in March where Hollande’s party suffered their worst result at the local level since 1983. Discontent over the country’s economic situation, in particular the unemployment rate of around 10 per cent, has seen the President’s popularity plummet, and the party is on course to receive a similarly disappointing result to the one it achieved in the last European Parliament elections in 2009. The Front National, in contrast, enjoyed success in the municipal elections and are planning to form a new ‘Eurosceptic Alliance’ in the European Parliament with other Eurosceptic parties, including Geert Wilders’ Party for Freedom in the Netherlands.
In Germany, the levels of support predicted for the major parties are broadly similar to the results in the German federal election in September 2013, with Angela Merkel’s CDU/CSU holding a solid lead over the SPD, while the Greens and Die Linke sit between 8 and 10 per cent of the vote.
Two developments relating to smaller parties are particularly interesting in Germany. First, while Germany has previously used an electoral threshold in EP elections to limit the numbers of parties entitled to seats, for the 2014 elections this was ruled illegitimate by the country’s Constitutional Court. This has opened up competition to several small parties who would otherwise have had little opportunity to gain representation. This includes the far-right National Democratic Party of Germany (NPD), which has been the subject of controversy in recent years, including several attempts to ban the party from competing in elections. Under the latest prediction, the NPD looks likely to win at least one seat.
Second, the broadly ‘anti-euro’ party Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) looks likely to gain 6 seats in the Parliament – a result which could establish its place in the German party system after the party narrowly fell short of the 5 per cent electoral threshold used in the federal elections in September. The Free Democrats (FDP), who also narrowly missed the threshold in September for the first time in their history, are polling a more disappointing 3 per cent.
In Italy, the European Parliament elections will be the first election since Matteo Renzi became the country’s new Prime Minister in February. Renzi’s Democratic Party (PD) have been enjoying strong support in the polls since he took over from previous Prime Minister Enrico Letta, and this looks set to continue in the European elections with the party predicted to win 27 seats.
Beppe Grillo’s Five Star Movement, which shocked a number of people with the level of support they received in the Italian parliamentary elections in February 2013, appear ready to build on this success in the European elections, with second place and 19 seats. The party is not currently aligned to any group in the European Parliament and it seems unlikely that this will change given the ‘political outsider’ image which explains at least part of their success. Meanwhile Forza Italia, the party reformed by former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, will comfortably emerge as the country’s largest centre-right party in the election – illustrating that Berlusconi’s political career is still far from over, despite his legal battles.
Spain was one of the countries worst hit by the Eurozone crisis, with an unemployment rate still around 26 per cent. While this economic situation might appear to make the country a natural candidate for Eurosceptic and populist politics, there has so far been no emergence of the kind of Eurosceptic political movements which are expected to do well in other EU states during the elections. The two mainstream parties, Mariano Rajoy’s People’s Party and the Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party, are still expected to secure the bulk of support in the country. As José Fernández-Albertos has argued, most of the discontent is likely to be expressed through voter apathy, rather than by supporting smaller populist parties.
In the UK, the campaign has been dominated by the rise of UKIP. The latest prediction indicates that UKIP is likely to come out with both the largest share of the votes and the most seats ahead of Labour. The elections are particularly important in view of the upcoming general election in 2015 and the commitment that David Cameron has made to hold an ‘in/out’ referendum on the UK’s membership of the European Union should his party win a majority at the next election. Some commentators have also suggested the European election results could have an impact on the referendum on Scottish independence, which will take place in September. UKIP has traditionally done less well in Scotland than the rest of the UK and a strong UKIP vote might therefore provoke a negative reaction north of the border – although some of the recent opinion polling indicates that it is possible UKIP could also win a seat in Scotland.
Table 2: Predicted vote share and seats in western European states: Belgium, Ireland, Luxembourg, Netherlands and Portugal
Latest update: average of polls between 28 April – 11 May; RTBF. Note: The Christian Social Party (CSP) represents Belgium’s German speaking community – under Belgian law one seat is reserved for this community. For more information on the other parties see: New-Flemish Alliance (N-VA); Christian Democratic and Flemish (CD&V); Socialist Party (PS); Reformist Movement (MR); Open Flemish Liberals and Democrats (Open Vld); Socialist Party Different(sp.a); Humanist Democratic Centre (cdH); Groen (Green); Ecolo; Flemish Interest (VB); Workers’ Party of Belgium(PTB); People’s Party (PP); Francophone Democratic Federalists (FDF).
Alongside the European elections, Belgium will also be holding regional and federal elections on 25 May – which some commentators have dubbed the ‘mother of all elections’. This can be expected to have a number of different effects on the European vote. First, as Carl Devos has argued, the fact that elections are taking place at all levels of government simultaneously puts political actors under increased pressure, with unsuccessful party leaders and even individual parties unlikely to survive until the next elections in 2019. Second, there may be less of a ‘second order’ effect in Belgium if voters vote for the same party across multiple ballot papers.
In terms of the polling, the Flemish nationalist New Flemish Alliance (N-VA) are predicted to gain the largest vote share and number of MEPs. Success for the N-VA is particularly important in the context of the linguistic divide within Belgium, which resulted in 20 months of negotiations until a new government could be formed after the last federal elections in 2010. The N-VA has moderated its position on Flemish independence since the 2010 elections – it still advocates independence for Flanders in the long term, but the issue is not put forward as an immediate priority. Nevertheless, debates over the linguistic divide within Belgium and the results of the federal elections are likely to overshadow the European elections.
Irish European elections have a different dynamic to most of the elections in other states due to the use of the Single Transferable Vote (STV) electoral system. The nature of this system means that the elections tend to be dominated by personalities rather than parties, with polling suggesting that only 35 per cent of voters base their decision on a candidate’s party. As a result it is not uncommon to see candidates fielded who are well-known outside of politics, such as TV presenters or, perhaps most famously, Eurovision winner Dana Rosemary Scallon, who won a seat in the European elections in 1999. Nevertheless, in terms of the polling Fine Gael is currently predicted to emerge with the largest number of seats with four.
Luxembourg, as one of the smaller EU states, only has an allocation of six seats. Arguably a more important issue than the national vote is therefore whether former Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker can become the next President of the European Commission, having been nominated as the candidate for the European People’s Party. This will be the first occasion on which Luxembourg has not simultaneously held national elections alongside the European elections, following snap elections in October which were brought forward due to Juncker’s resignation.
In the Netherlands, there has been a great deal of speculation about Geert Wilders’ right-wing Party for Freedom topping the national poll; however the latest prediction has the liberal and broadly pro-Europe Democrats 66 leading. Overall, the elections are expected to produce a typically balanced outcome with no one party receiving any more than 20 per cent of the vote. The country’s Prime Minister, Mark Rutte, could see his People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy finish in third place in terms of vote share, although with the same number of seats as Wilders’ party.
Portugal was one of the worst hit countries during the Eurozone crisis, but much like neighbouring Spain, the two mainstream parties are still predicted to win the bulk of the country’s seats. The centre-rightSocial Democratic Party of Prime Minister Pedro Passos Coelho, which has been in government since 2011, is expected to fall short of the opposition Socialist Party by two seats.
Table 3: Predicted vote share and seats in the Nordic states: Denmark, Finland and Sweden
Latest update: Average of polls 6 – 12 May; YouGov, Epinion, Greens, Gallup, A&B, and Voxmeter. For more information on parties see: Venstre – Liberal Party of Denmark; Danish People’s Party; Social Democrats; People’s Movement Against the EU; Danish Social Liberal Party (Radical Left); Socialist People’s Party; Conservative People’s Party; Liberal Alliance.
The populist Danish People’s Party (DPP) has a significant polling lead over the other Danish parties and is in line to double its number of seats, having won two in the European elections in 2009. There has been some speculation that the party is willing to join the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) group in order to increase its influence within the Parliament, however this could prove problematic for some of the other parties within this group, including David Cameron’s Conservative Party in the UK, given the DPP’s strong anti-immigration stance. Elsewhere, the People’s Movement Against the EU seems likely to retain the single MEP it won in 2009, while the Socialist People’s Party, which left the country’s coalition government in January, is predicted to receive less than half of the vote share it gained in 2009, leaving it with only one MEP.
While Finland has traditionally been regarded as a strongly pro-European country, the success of the Eurosceptic Finns Party has generated significant attention in recent years. The party is predicted to receive a sizeable percentage of support in the elections, although the vote share of just over 20 per cent is broadly comparable with the result it received in the 2011 parliamentary elections (19.1 per cent). In terms of the wider campaign, Finland is similar to Ireland in the sense that the appeal of individual candidates tends to play a large role in European election outcomes due to the use of open party lists, but the latest prediction indicates that the National Coalition Party – the largest party in the current Finnish Parliament – will emerge with four seats, just ahead of the Finns Party on three.
The European Parliament elections in Sweden will be held with one eye on the country’s national elections, due to take place in September. The two largest parties in Sweden, the Social Democrats and the Moderates, have therefore had an incentive to increase their active campaigning in comparison to previous European elections, with a disappointing result likely to derail their attempts to build momentum in advance of September’s national vote. As it stands, the polling suggests the Social Democrats will finish as much as 10 per cent ahead of the Moderates and gain two extra seats in the Parliament. Of the smaller parties, perhaps the most notable are the Sweden Democrats, who are expected to join Marine Le Pen’s ‘Eurosceptic Alliance’ if they can gain representation. At present the party are predicted to gain one seat, but they are not far from the margin required to win two seats.
Table 4: Predicted vote share and seats in Central and Eastern Europe: Austria, Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia
The elections in Austria will take place following national elections in September last year. The two mainstream parties in Austria – the Social Democratic Party of Austria (SPÖ) and the Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP) – narrowly maintained enough support in September’s elections to continue their grand coalition. However both parties have persistently been challenged in recent years by far-right and anti-system parties, most notably the Freedom Party of Austria (FPÖ), who have substantially reduced the traditional dominance enjoyed by the SPÖ and ÖVP in Austrian politics. The European elections will be the latest ‘battleground‘ in this respect, with the latest prediction showing that the two mainstream parties are likely to maintain a narrow lead over the FPÖ.
The Czech Republic held national elections in October 2013, which produced a substantial reshaping of the Czech party system with the new ANO movement, led by Czech businessman Andrej Babiš, finishing only narrowly behind the Czech Social Democratic Party (ČSSD). The key issue in the run up to the European elections is therefore whether ANO can continue its success and establish itself as a permanent feature of Czech politics. The latest prediction would indicate that this is a distinct possibility, with ANO currently leading the polls by over six per cent from the ČSSD. In the 2009 European elections the Civic Democratic Party (ODS) comfortably topped the national vote with over 30 per cent, however the party’s support has collapsed since then, receiving less than 8 per cent in the 2013 elections, and potentially an even smaller vote share in the upcoming European elections.
The European elections in Hungary will take place a little over a month since national elections in April. The national elections were won comprehensively by Viktor Orbán’s ruling Fidesz party, which has dominated Hungarian politics since 2010. Given the European elections will take place so close to the national contest, it is no surprise that Fidesz also have an overwhelming lead in the European polls. What is arguably more significant, however, is that the nationalist Jobbik party is expected to gain an extra seat from the three it won in 2009 and finish in second place in terms of vote share. The Hungarian Socialist Party, the main opposition to Fidesz, is expected to finish in third place, losing one MEP from the four it received in 2009.
In Poland, Law and Justice, who are one of the key members of the ECR group containing the UK’s Conservative Party, were initially expected to come out comfortably ahead in the election after polling consistently higher than their main rival, Civic Platform, over the last year. In recent months, however, this poll lead has narrowed and it now appears that both parties will receive a similar level of support, with 17 seats being predicted for each by PollWatch.
Slovakia held a Presidential election in March, with businessman Andrej Kiska, an independent candidate, winning a shock victory against Robert Fico, the country’s Prime Minister and leader of Smer-SD. Fico’s party has an absolute majority in the Slovakian Parliament following elections in 2012 and has dominated Slovakian politics in recent years (outside of the Presidential election). This is expected to continue in the 2014 European elections, with Smer-SD currently polling a substantial distance ahead of ‘The Network’, a new party created by Radoslav Procházka earlier this year.
Table 5: Predicted vote share and seats in South-East Europe: Bulgaria, Croatia, Greece, Romania and Slovenia
Latest update: average of polls 13 May; Media and IMP. Note: The Coalition for Bulgaria is an alliance between several parties: the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP), Party of Bulgarian Social Democrats, Agrarian Union “Aleksandar Stamboliyski”, and Movement for Social Humanism. For more information on the other parties see: Citizens for European Development of Bulgaria (GERB); Bulgaria Without Censorship; Movement for Rights and Freedoms;Alternative for Bulgarian Renaissance; Reformist Bloc; Ataka (Attack).
Bulgaria has experienced political instability since 2013, when a widespread protest movement forced the government of Boyko Borisov to resign. The new government which emerged was a fragile coalition between the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP) and the Movement for Rights and Freedoms (DPS), which lacks a parliamentary majority (it is firmly supported by 120 out of 240 MPs) and relies on the ultra-nationalist Ataka (Attack) to govern effectively. The European elections will take place in this context, with support polarised between the governing parties and Borisov’s Citizens for European Development of Bulgaria (GERB).
The Social Democratic Party of Croatia (SDP), led by the country’s Prime Minister Zoran Milanović, has suffered a substantial drop in popularity in recent months, particularly over the party’s opposition to a proposed referendum on a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage. However, the SDP have also contributed to their own downfall, with the latest in a long line of problematic decisions being the sacking of a largely popular Finance Minister, Slavko Linić, over allegations of irregularities in tax administration. This was the seventh minister to leave the government since its formation in December 2011, and while Linić has declared he will not make any comments until after the European elections, support for the SDP has nevertheless fallen. The latest prediction bears this out, with the SDP’s coalition currently in second place in the polling behind the right-wing Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) coalition.
At a broader level, there is little mention in the public discourse of the impact the elections might have on Croatian politics, and enthusiasm toward the EU appears to have faded substantially since the country’s accession in 2013. This was apparent in Milanović’s comments in a recent LSE lecture where he declared that “‘we have a united Europe, and it’s great, but it’s enough”. While such down-to-earth remarks are in stark contrast with the flamboyant promises of other politicians in the region, such as in Serbia, it is unclear whether they will be enough to arrest the slide in support the SDP has experienced.
Greece was the focal point of the Eurozone crisis and debates over the country’s economy and on-going austerity programme have formed the backdrop to the European elections. As Spyros Economides hasnoted, the electorate is deeply divided between citizens who support the continued austerity and reform programme – who will mainly vote for the centre-right New Democracy party (ND) – and those opposed to the austerity packages, who will mainly support the radical populism of SYRIZA. In the latest prediction, SYRIZA holds a narrow lead in the polling over New Democracy, with the far-right Golden Dawn in third place.
A further dynamic in the Greek party system is the anti-establishment politics of parties such as SYRIZA and Golden Dawn which targets the ‘old’ parties who held power prior to the crisis, namely New Democracy and PASOK. The latest party to emerge along these lines is ‘The River‘ (To Potami), which was formed by TV presenter Stavros Theodorakis in February. The party is currently polling around 8 per cent of the vote, which would be good enough for 2 MEPs in the Parliament.
In Romania, the Social Democratic Union alliance between Romanian Prime Minister Victor Ponta’s Social Democratic Party (PSD), the Conservative Party (PC), and the National Union for the Progress of Romania (UNPR) has a strong lead in the polling and is likely to receive around half of the country’s total allocation of seats. The elections will take place in the context of political instability and ahead of a contentious Presidential election in November. Following elections in December 2012, Romania was governed by a coalition, the Social Liberal Union (USL), which incorporated the three Social Democratic Union parties alongside the National Liberal Party (PNL). However the PNL left the government in February, forcing a new coalition involving the Democratic Union of Hungarians in Romania (UDMR) to be formed. The elections could therefore have an important impact on party co-operation in the upcoming Presidential election.
In recent weeks, the Slovenian political arena has been dominated by Zoran Jankovic’s re-election as leader of Positive Slovenia (PS), at the expense of the country’s Prime Minister, Alenka Bratusek, who subsequently submitted her resignation as PM on 5 May. Bratusek fought hard to avoid an international bailout of Slovenian state-owned banks, and has succeeded in this respect; however, this came at the cost of increased taxation and higher foreign government debt, resulting in a fall in popularity. Jankovic took the opportunity to successfully challenge Bratusek’s leadership at the party’s annual congress, thus provoking her resignation, with national elections expected in July.
With such a chaotic lead up to the European elections, it is perhaps not surprising that PS are predicted to have a disappointing result. Indeed, of the current coalition parties, only the Social Democrats are predicted to win a seat. The remaining seats are likely to be shared by Janez Jansa’s Slovenian Democratic Party (SDS), followed by the conservative New Slovenia – Christian People’s Party (NSi) and two minor parties.
Table 6: Predicted vote share and seats in Cyprus, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Malta
Cyprus – Provided by LSE’s James Ker-Lindsay
Cyprus goes to the polls a little over a year after a financial crisis that brought the country to its knees. Although it has made a rapid recovery, and it is now expected that the resulting recession will not be as deep or as prolonged as once feared, there is still a lot of anger at the way in which the EU behaved at the time. Eurosceptic sentiment has risen dramatically. This could well have a major impact on turnout.
The key things to watch out for will be the extent to which the two main parties – the governing centre-right DISY (EPP) of President Nicos Anastasiades and the opposition communist party AKEL (GUE/NGL) – will be affected by the economic downturn. Usually, they each poll around 30-35 per cent each and in the last election they each took two of the island’s six seats. The other two seats went to the two smaller mainstream parties: DIKO and EDEK (both S&D). Other things to look out for are whether ELAM, a Cypriot affiliate of Greece’s Neo-Nazi Golden Dawn picks up votes. Also, this election will see five Turkish Cypriots standing as candidates for the European Parliament. Given that the government has made it easier for Turkish Cypriots to vote, some have asked whether Cyprus may even elect its first Turkish Cypriot MEP. Although this is highly unlikely, it will nevertheless be interesting to see if many Turkish Cypriots do cross the dividing line to cast a vote.
Estonia’s European Parliament elections come only a couple of months after the country’s Prime Minister, Andrus Ansip, resigned in March. Ansip’s Reform Party is a short distance behind the Centre Party in the latest PollWatch prediction, but the margin between several parties is too close for any concrete statement to be made about which will come out with the largest share of the vote. The elections will also take place against the backdrop of the Ukraine crisis, which is an important issue in Estonia as a result of the country’s minority Russian population.
As with several other countries, Latvia’s European elections will take place in the run up to national elections, due to be held in October. The national elections will be held after the resignation of the country’s Prime Minister, Valdis Dombrovskis, in 2013, and the formation of a new government in January this year. Two of the key issues in the campaign have been the legacy of austerity policies implemented during the financial crisis, and the on-going Ukraine crisis which, similar to Estonia, has particular resonance in Latvia given the country’s significant Russian speaking minority. Dombrovskis’ Unity – which is in coalition with former president Zatlers’ Reform Party, the right-wing nationalist National Alliance, and the Union of Greens and Farmers (ZZS) – is currently a little over 10 per cent behind the RussophoneHarmony Centre alliance in the polls.
Lithuania’s European elections will be held alongside the second round of the country’s Presidential election. As such, the European elections are likely to be overshadowed to some extent, with the second round of voting featuring incumbent President Dalia Grybauskaitė and Zigmantas Balčytis of the Social Democratic Party of Lithuania. The latter is some distance ahead in the European elections polls, but Grybauskaitė, an independent candidate, is likely to be successful in the Presidential election.
Finally, in Malta, the country’s entrenched two-party system will likely result in both of the two mainstream parties, the Labour Party and the Nationalist Party, splitting all of the country’s seats. The Labour Party is currently in government following elections in 2013 and is predicted to have a lead in the vote share, if not seats. The smaller environmental party Democratic Alternative will also compete, but is a long distance from challenging for a seat.
This article was written with the help of LSE’s Tena Prelec and James Ker-Lindsay