Is the EU Moving Right or Acting Out?

If one looks only at the end result, the headlines are generally correct.  Last weekend’s elections for seats in the EU Parliament indicate power in that body is now concentrated to the right of center. But things are never that simple when 27 countries are involved in creating a super-state entity while — simultaneously — being embroiled in their own national political dramas.

For a start, who exactly is moving anything in any direction when only 43.09 percent of all eligible voters go to the polls? 10 out of the 27 EU nations recorded higher turnouts, with Belgium and Luxembourg on the high end at 91 percent. Three former Soviet satellites (the Czech Republic, Lithuania and Slovakia) came in on the low end at 25 percent or under.  It would seem that the €18 million ($25 mil) the EU Parliament spent on an “election awareness campaign” was not a good civic investment.  Of course, bureaucracies are famous for squandering the people’s money.

To the uninitiated, European Party politics can be confusing. Here is a brief introduction. The EU Parliament now comprises 736 seats. These seats are currently held among seven parties and a miscellaneous segment known as “Others.” To be listed on an EU Parliamentary ballot and submit candidates for election, a party must meet basic EU requirements by holding a certain percentage of seats within its own national government.  All 27 EU countries vote on candidates from within their own nations by party affiliation.  The final configuration of the EU Parliament is, therefore, a reflection of the distribution of elected party members when the ballots from each nation are tallied and added together.  

The number of party members elected by each country can also create a power base.  Germany will be sending 99 deputies to Belgium, the largest national contingent, since Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrat Party crushed its competition, the Social Democrats, by a margin of 48 to 20.8  percent. In France, President Sarkozy’s Union for a Popular Movement received 28 percent of the vote as compared to 16.8 percent for the Socialists, but France’s voter turnout was below the overall average of 43 percent. What these figures suggest is that rather than turning to the right, Europeans turned away from voting at all and clearly the Socialists were more likely to sit this one out.

So is Europe really moving right?  You decide. Whereas the U.S. has two major parties who essentially divvy up the power, the EU Parliament is diversity defined. For the purposes of EU elections, coalitions of like minded parties come together under umbrella names and identities, coagulating around core issues and shared policies. Here are the Parties, their relative positions on the political spectrum, and the number of seats they now hold.

  • The EPP-ED (Group of European People’s Party) is a centre-right umbrella coalition which won a total of 265 seats.  EPP-affiliated parties govern France, Germany, Italy and Poland.
  • The PES, or Socialist Group, came in second place with 184 seats.
  • UEN (Union for Europe of the Nations) Supports the EU Constitution, but can be conservative on the national level.
  • ALDE (Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe) won 83 seats.  These are centrists who hold the key to the left/right balance of power.  
  • Greens/EFA (Group of the Greens European Free Alliance) won 50 seats. This group consists of ecologically minded representatives from stateless nations or "regionalists.” They lobby for sustainable development, fundamental human rights, and environmental justice. 
  • GUE/NGL (Confederated Group of the European United Left and Nordic Green Left) won 36 seats.   Consists of members from 17 parties in 13 European countries, all firmly committed to European integration, but not along the lines of the current EU model.  They are “anti neo monetarists” who favor conferences between national parliaments in addition to maintaining an EU Parliament separately.  
  •  IND/DEM (Independence Democracy Group) won 21 seats.  This coalition consists of EU-critics, eurosceptics and eurorealists who reject establishing a constitution for Europe and oppose all forms of centralization.  The UK Independence Party (very anti-EU) falls into this group.    

Then there are the “OTHERS” who won 72 seats. Who might they be?  Here are three notable examples.

Suggesting an anti-Muslim backlash is on the upswing in the Netherlands, winning 17 percent of the Dutch vote, the Party for Freedom secured four seats.  This is the party of the anti-Islamic activist lawmaker Geert Wilders.  

This result was echoed in Austria where the rightist Freedom Party — which also campaigned on an anti- Islam platform, more than doubled its strength from the 2004 elections receiving 13.1 percent of the vote.

In the United Kingdom, the British National Party won its first two EU seats.  The BNP is considered so “ultra right” that Conservative Party leader, David Cameron, describes them as “beyond the pale.”

Garnering 7 percent of their nation’s vote, Sweden’s Pirate Party won a seat (read a HUMAN EVENTS profile of the group). This group campaigned for the legalization of Internet file sharing, the reformation of other copyright and patent laws, and an end to government authorized monitoring of emails.

The bottom line is — despite these breakout party results — mainstream center-left parties still hold between 155 to 165 seats in the EU Parliament and the right in Europe is still primarily just right of center, not off the revolutionary charts.

It remains to be seen how all these disparate groups will ever be able to legislate, not altogether a bad thing if one subscribes to the idea that people are safer when elected bodies are not in session.  It might be better (and far more cost effective)  if the Parliament was more like the U.S. Senate, with two persons chosen to represent each nation, but it is not the Republic of Europe, it is the European Union, and primarily a democratic union at that.

Something must be said about the actual EU voting process.  It was held over four days, with the British and Dutch going first on Thursday June 4 and voters from 19 out of the 27 EU nations — including France, Germany, Italy and Spain — casting  their ballots on June 7. It seems no coincidence that the anniversary of “The Longest Day” took place over what seemed to be the longest balloting weekend ever.   There were no hanging chads, nor complaints about precinct hi-jinks — but — there was a tacit agreement that the nations which voted first would keep their results under wraps so as not to suggest any trends. No such luck.  The turmoil facing the governing Labour Party government in the UK spilled into EU balloting, further eroding the nearly non existent authority of Prime Minister Gordon Brown.  The Dutch results were reported on-the-spot as proof of that nation’s current polarized and tense state of political affairs.  

Still — kudos to the fact that 27 distinct countries could hold elections to a common governing body and have the final results tallied with such breath taking speed.  Color graphics of the results were available on the EU Parliament’s own website not two hours after the last of the polls closed. The EU Parliament has also copied C-SPAN and will soon have its own TV channel as a part of the movement toward greater transparency.   

Let’s hope it’s like watching a docudrama, not a sitcom.