And the award for best Eurosceptic polling in the 2014 European election goes to… France!
Perhaps this could be a consolation after France’s catastrophic results in the continental singing contest Eurovision – France finished dead last, scoring two points against Austria’s 290 – because, apart from this shameful record, there was nothing worth celebrating in the results of the European Parliament elections.
While no one seems to consider how calling more than 300 million Europeans to vote in a single week is in itself a success of the European Union, politicians and political commentators prefer to focus on the low participation. Fewer than one out of two voters cast their vote, in line with the previous election. No wonder. The only countries that have had a strong debate are those where the integration within the EU is at stake. Elsewhere, and particularly in France where this election was held just two months after the municipal elections, the media has barely relayed the continental issues, platforms and agendas of the candidates. The candidates themselves preferred to capitalize on the President’s unpopularity rather than concentrate on the issues at stake in the European Union.
While participation is a major talking point, it is nothing compared to the results. While the overall equilibrium of the Parliament will not change, all the mainstream political groups have lost seats, resulting more than ever in a hung Parliament. The conservatives of the European Popular Party (PPE) will have to ally with the social democrats of the European Socialist Party (PSE) to find the necessary majority for the election of the European Commission President leading candidate Jean-Claude Juncker. But this creates a dilemma: if they do so, the social democrats will be accused of selling out to the right wing; if they do not, no overall majority will be found and the Eurosceptics will be able to complain once more about this dysfunctional Europe.
Those are the true winners of last night. All parties and groups criticizing or opposing Europe have seen a growth in their representation. At the left end of the political spectrum and even more at the right end, anti-federalists and nationalists now sit in more than 200 of the 751 seats of the Parliament. This is the main cause of worry from last night. In nearly all of the 28 countries that take constitute the EU, Europe itself appears to be a factor of rejection. In fact, the success of the Eurosceptics is that they manage to gather all those doubtful about Europe: those against the common market, those against free circulation, those against a federal Europe, etc. However, between them, there will not be much programmatic common ground and any parliamentary group they might form will probably be out of opportunity rather than a shared vision.
Now, there is the French situation. As of yesterday, the Front National (FN) has become the leading party in the country. They score 25%, ahead of the conservative Union pour un mouvement populaire (UMP, 21%) and the Parti socialiste (PS, 14%). Of course, 25% out of 43% of participation is not much (between 5 and 6 million votes) and is still far away from the standards of a Presidential election (18 million votes for Hollande in 2012). But it may reveal a few trends. First, Europe has been blamed for years and by every existing party for every unpopular decision made by the State (austerity, deregulation, etc.). Second, mainstream media and parties have led a minimal campaign, barely concentrating on the European issues. Meanwhile, the FN has been all out mobilizing its electorate against Europe. Finally, there has been a worrying rise of the nationalist and populist rhetoric in France since the election of President Hollande.
It should then come as no surprise that Eurosceptics are gaining ground all over the continent. The dramatic failure of European institutions at closing the democratic gap generates mistrust and rejection. In the upcoming days, negotiations will determine the next President of the European Commission. If the new majority in the Parliament is respected, it should be Jean-Claude Juncker, former Luxemburg PM and ECB governor. But the European Council of the Heads of State might want to have their say. After weeks repeating that the winner of the European election would become the next President of the European Commission, any other choice than Mr. Juncker would prove one more time how unreadable the European democracy is.