Eurosceptic party performances in the 2014 European elections

Giovanni Barbieri

Over the years the issue of European integration has acquired greater salience. Because of the intensification and spread of the economic crisis, the media, politicians and scholars have devoted particular attention to two issues: firstly, the activities of the European Parliament (EP) which, more or less effectively, could tackle the crisis; and, secondly, the consequences of the enlargement process. Nevertheless, turnout in EP elections has been decreasing since 1979, reaching its lowest rate of 43% in 2009 and 2014. Voters, therefore, regarded European elections as “second-order” polls: public opinion accorded little importance to their outcome; voters punished governing parties; while opposition and protest parties achieved their best results. Furthermore, citizens’ trust in European institutions has decreased. The “permissive consensus” toward European integration, which began to decline following the negative outcomes of referendums on European issues, appears to be almost completely eroded. Against this background, one could have expected an excellent performance by the Eurosceptic parties in the 2014 EP elections. However, what was the actual outcome? Did Eurosceptic parties truly achieve extraordinary election results? And, if they did, were these results consistent throughout Europe?

A preliminary analysis of the Eurosceptic parties’ electoral performance can be performed by considering the results achieved by those EP political groupings that are typically considered to be Eurosceptic: the soft Eurosceptic European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR), the hard Eurosceptic Europe of Freedom and Direct Democracy (EFDD), and the European United Left/Nordic Green Left (GUE/NGL), which includes parties adopting both hard and soft Eurosceptic stances. Finally, the Not-attached Members (NA) must also be included in the examination, as they are generally Eurosceptic.

Table 1 shows the electoral results obtained by European political groupings from the first to the most recent EP elections: 

Table 1:  EP political groups 1979-2014 (percentage of MEPs)

1979 1984 1989 1994 1999 2004 2009 2014
Epp 26.3 25.3 23.4 27.5 37.2 36.6 36.0 29.4
S&D 27.3 30.0 34.7 34.9 28.8 27.3 25.0 25.4
Alde 9.8 7.1 9.5 7.8 8.0 12.0 11.4 8.9
Ecr 15.4 11.5 6.6 7.3 9.3
Efdd 3.4 2.6 5.1 4.3 6.4
Eul/Ngl 10.7 9.4 8.1 4.9 6.7 5.6 4.8 6.9
Greens/Efa 4.6 8.3 7.4 7.7 5.7 7.5 6.7
Na 2.4 1.6 2.3 4.8 1.4 4.0 3.7 6.9
Others 8.1 10.5 7.1 9.3 7.6 3.7

Source: Elaboration of data from http://www.europarl.europa.eu/pdf/elections_results/review.pdf and http://www.results-elections2014.eu/en/election-results-2014.html.

In 2014, the European People’s Party (EPP) remained the largest political group in the EP, despite considerable losses. Together with the EPP, the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe group suffered the worst decline in recent years. Conversely, from 2009 to 2014, the share for all Eurosceptic groups increased. If, for the sake of argument, one were to add the results obtained by the three Eurosceptic EP groups and the NA members, we would have a total of 29.6% of the seats; a plurality not particularly far from the forecasts expressed by many opinion polls before the elections.

To perform a more in-depth analysis, I have also examined data on individual Eurosceptic parties. To define parties as Eurosceptic or not many scholars have considered their official documents – election manifestos, party platforms and leader’s speeches – whereas others have preferred to appeal to expert judgment. The results of these two approaches, of course, do not always correspond with one another. Thus, to develop a list of the Eurosceptic parties that is as detailed and reliable as possible I compared the main analyses on the topic. Table 2 thus presents the final list of the Eurosceptic parties. It includes 62 parties from 26 countries. Eurosceptic parties are present throughout Europe. Moreover, there are no significant differences relating to: territorial distribution, the date of EU accession, or old political and military cleavages.

Table 2 – Results of the Eurosceptic parties in the European elections of 2014

Country

Party Political group Seats (%) Difference Seats Position
2014 2014 2009-14 2014 2014
1 AT FPÖ  Freedom Party of Austria NA 19.7 7.0 4 3
2 EU Stop 2.8 0 6
3 REKOS The Reform Conservatives 1,2 0 8
4 BZÖ Alliance for the Future of Austria 0.5 -4,1 0  9
5 BE Vlaams Belang Flemish Interest NA 4.1 -5.7 1 10
6 BG NFSB/НФСБ The National Front for Salvation of Bulgaria 3.1 0 7
7 ATAKA Attack 3.0 -9.0 0  8
8 CY ΑΚΕΛ – ΑΚΕL Progressive Party of Working People UEN-NGL 27.0 -7.9 2 2
9 ΕΛΑΜ/ELAM National Popular Front 2.7 2.5 0  7
10 CZ KSČM Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia UEN-NGL 11.0 -3.2 3 4
11 ODS Civic Democratic Party ECR 7.7 -23.8 2 6
12 Svobodni Party of Free Citizens EFDD 5.2 3.9 1 7
13 Usvit Dawn of Direct Democracy 3.1 0 10
14 DE Die Linke The Left UEN-NGL 7,4 -0,1 7 4
15 AfD Alternative for Germany ECR 7,1 7 5
16 NPD National Democratic Party of Germany NA 1,0 na 1 10
17 REP The Republicans 0,4 -0,9 0  14
18 DK DF Danish People’s Party ECR 26,6 11,8 4 1
19 N. People’s Movement against the EU UEN-NGL 8,0 1,0 1 6
20 EE EIP Estonian Independence Party 1,3 na 0  7
21 EL SYRIZA Coalition of the Radical Left UEN-NGL 26,6 21,9 6 1
22 X.A. Golden Dawn NA 9,4 8,9 3 3
23 KKE Communist Party of Greece NA 6,1 -2,3 2 6
24 ANEL Independent Greeks ECR 3,5 1 7
25 ΛΑ.Ο.Σ/LA.O.S. Popular Orthodox Rally 2,7 -4,5 0  8
26 ES IU United Left UEN-NGL 10,0 6,3 5 3
27 BNG Galician Nationalist Block UEN-NGL 2,1 -0,4 1 9
28 FI PS Finns Party ECR 12,9 -1,1 2 3
29 FR FN National Front NA 24,9 18,6 23 1
30 PCF French Communist Party UEN-NGL 6,3 0,3 3 6
31 DLR Arise the Republic 3,8 2,1 0 7
32 LO Worker’s Struggle 1,0 -0,2 0 9
33 NPA The New Anticapitalist Party 0,3 -4,6 0  10
34 HR HSP AS Croatian Party of Rights ECR 41,4 1 1
35 HU Jobbik NA 14,7 -0,1 3 2
36 IE SF Sinn Féin UEN-NGL 19,5 8,3 3 4
37 IT M5S Five Star Movement EFDD 21,2 17 2
38 LN Northern League NA 6,2 -4,0 5 4
39 FDI-AN Brothers of Italy-National Alliance 3,7 3,7 0  7
40 LT TT Order and Justice EFDD 14,3 2,0 2 4
41 LV TB/LNNK For Fatherland and Freedom ECR 14,3 6,8 1 2
42 NL PVV Party for Freedom NA 13,3 -3,7 4 3
43 SP Socialist Party UEN-NGL 9,6 2,5 2 5
44 SGP Dutch Reformed Political Party ECR 7,7 0,9 2 7
45 GroenLinks Green Party Greens-EFA 7,0 -1,9 2 8
46 PL PiS Law and Justice ECR 31,8 4,4 19 2
47 KNP Congress of the New Right NA 7,2 4 4
48 SP United Poland 4,0 0  6
49 RN National Movement 1,4 0 9
50 PT PCP Portuguese Communist Party UEN-NGL 12,7 2,1 3 3
51 BE Left Block UEN-NGL 4,6 -6,1 1 5
52 RO PRM Greater Romania Party 2,7 -6,0 0  8
53 SE MP The Green Party Greens-EFA 15,3 4,3 2 4
54 SD Sweden Democrats EFDD 9,7 6,4 2 5
55 V Left Party UEN-NGL 6,3 0,6 1 7
56 C Centre Party ALDE 6,5 1,0 1 6
57 SI SNS Slovenian National Party 4,0 1,2 0  9
58 SK SNS Slovak National Party 3,6 -2,0 0 10
59 L’SNS People’s Party – Our Slovakia 1,7 0  11
60 UK UKIP United Kingdom Independence Party EFDD 26,8 10,7 24 1
61 Cons: Conservative Party ECR 23,3 -3,7 19 3
62 DUP Democratic Unionist Party NA 0,5 0,1 1 10

Source: Elaboration of data from http://www.europarl.europa.eu/pdf/elections_results/review.pdf and http://www.results-elections2014.eu/en/election-results-2014.html.

More than 30% of these parties were not able to satisfy the electoral thresholds that most countries selected. Furthermore, they failed to achieve satisfactory results throughout Europe. Many parties – such as the Danish DF, Greek SYRIZA, French FN and UK Independence Party – achieved extraordinary success, but others – such as the Bulgarian ATAKA, Cypriot ΑΚΕΛ-ΑΚΕL and Czech ODS – suffered painful defeats. National contexts and political systems, therefore, appear to have played a pivotal role in affecting electoral outcomes.

The electoral results cannot be perceived in a unitary way for Eurosceptic parties, as they include both positive and negative aspects. Clearly, the Eurosceptic parties obtained an unprecedentedly large percentage of votes, but no “political earthquake”, “sweeps”, or “Europe’s populist backlash”, as predicted by much of the press before the elections, occurred. While suffering a decline of 5.1%, the EPP remained the largest group in the EP; former Luxembourg Prime Minister Jean-Claude Junker, the leading candidate of the EPP, took charge of the European Commission; and a new grand coalition of the EPP, the Socialists and Democrats (S&D) and ALDE was formed. The Eurosceptic parties, therefore, will not have substantial authority within the EP.

Furthermore, Eurosceptic parties have never been able to form a joint anti-European front both because of their different stances, purposes, aspirations, and, above all, their mutual mistrust. A detailed consideration of the negotiations that the various Eurosceptic parties, especially those in the right-wing camp, undertook to form new EP groups may be extremely useful to clarify this issue. No extreme right or neo-fascist party, such as the Greek X.A. or the Hungarian Jobbik, has ever been allowed to join any EP group. The attempts made by Marine Le Pen, leader of the French FN, and Geert Wilders, leader of the Dutch PVV, to form a new political grouping called the European Alliance for Freedom (EFA) failed. The two most prominent figures in the potential alliance managed to ally with the Austrian FPÖ, the Italian LN and the Belgian Vlaams Belang but were unable to secure the necessary support of two additional parties. The negotiations opened by the French FN with the Polish KNP were quickly interrupted by Wilders, who deemed the misogynistic and anti-Semitic positions of its then leader, Janusz Korwin-Mikke, intolerable.

Nigel Farage, the leader of the UKIP, by contrast, was able to form the EFDD grouping, although this is the smallest EP political grouping and has MEPs from only seven member states. In the first official EFDD meeting after the elections, Farage declared that he would not accept the possible future entry of those parties that supported the formation of the EFA group. Thus it would appear that each Eurosceptic party has a rather negative opinion of its fellow Eurosceptics; in particular, the centre-right parties consider the right-wing parties to be extremists, and neither wishes to have anything to do with the far-right and neo-fascist parties. “He’s worse than me”, could be the statement that best epitomizes the relationships within the Eurosceptic right-wing camp. It should be noted, however, that several Eurosceptic parties – such as the Danish DF, Greek Syriza, the French FN and the UKIP – received the most votes in their respective countries in the EP election, and others – such as the Italian M5S, the Latvian LNNK, and the Polish PiS – secured second place. It would, therefore, appear that these parties were able to move away from the niche positions they have typically held in the electoral market and, thereby, became influential players in the national political arena. In pursuing their goals, they will probably encounter fewer obstacles in the national arena than in the European one.

In conclusion, Eurosceptic parties do not appear to have passed the EP electoral test with flying colours, although their further success could just have been postponed. A further exacerbation of the economic crisis, and/or the inability of the EU institutions in addressing it, could lead such parties toward new and more considerable achievements.

Giovanni Barbieri is Assistant Professor of Political Sociology at the University of Perugia.

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There’s life yet in the European Liberals

Ben Margulies 

For some European liberal parties, the 2010s have been an arduous, disappointing decade. As one academic noted in a recent post on the LSE’s European politics blog, the last five years have seen the precipitous decline of Germany’s venerable Free Democrats (FDP), expelled from the Bundestag in 2013 for the first time, and from many state parliaments since. In the United Kingdom, the Liberal Democrats began the 2010s with a surge in popularity, 23% of the vote and their first Cabinet seats since 1945. Five years later, they emerged from the 2015 general election with eight seats, having shed about two-thirds of their electorate. And at least these parties made it to 2010 – Ireland’s liberal Progressive Democrats won but two seats in the 2007 general elections, and dissolved two years later.

But though many European liberal parties are indeed ailing, predictions of the party family’s demise are almost certainly premature. Liberal decline has tended to be worst in Europe’s larger nation-states, and has claimed two very prominent victims in the German FDP and the British Liberal Democrats. But elsewhere, liberal parties, including some new entrants into the political arena, are prospering. In Austria, NEOS-The New Austria entered the National Council at the 2013 elections with nearly 5% of the vote. In Iceland, Bright Future, another new liberal party, won six seats (out of 63) in elections the same year. All three of the Low Countries are governed by liberal prime ministers at present.

The Alliance of Liberals and Democrats in Europe (ALDE) has recently welcomed a number of strong new member parties from Eastern and Southern Europe. The new Modern Centre Party, which won the 2014 Slovenian general elections within a few weeks of its founding, is now an ALDE member. The Reform Party of Estonia recently won a fifth term as the leading party in the governing coalition.

Perhaps most notable in recent months has been the meteoric rise of Ciudadanos-The Party of the Citizens, a Spanish centrist party and ALDE member originally focused on Catalonia (where it represented the center on the center-periphery cleavage, opposing the Catalan nationalist parties). Now competing across Spain on a platform of liberalizing reform, it is nearly level with both with establishment Popular Party and Socialists and the left-populist Podemos. Ciudadanos may soon become the Continent’s most prominent liberal grouping. Ciudadanos’ explosive success was foreshadowed by the more modest inroads made by another new liberal grouping – Union, Progress and Democracy (UPyD) – which won a seat in the 2008 general elections and five at the 2011 polls.

The German FDP and British Liberal Democrats faltered less due to secular changes in the electorate than tactical and strategic errors in office. The Liberal Democrats betrayed their best-publicised electoral pledge in their rush to make Britain’s first peacetime coalition work. The FDP was hurt by an unpopular leader and a belief that it had veered too far to the right; the current party leadership appears to be attempting to correct this.

Why might liberal parties have a brighter future than the German and British cases would otherwise suggest? Perhaps the greatest reason for the optimism is the sort of social changes that have proved so corrosive to other established parties. (For a more detailed examination of this argument, please see my article in the Rivista Italiana di Scienza Politica, The future of the liberal party family: a survey of new liberal parties and other trends.”) In the last half-century, globalization, the transition to post-industrial economies, and increasing social fragmentation have eroded traditional class and confessional identities. This de-alignment has led to a steady increase in party-system fragmentation, and a steady decline in support for many established parties, especially in the social democratic family. It has also led to greater electoral volatility, as noted by Peter Mair in Ruling the Void (2011).

Liberal parties, old and new, do not have strong class, demographic or other inherited social identifications. Liberal parties have traditionally been “bourgeois” or middle class parties, and in some countries may be identified with business interests (for example, the German FDP). But for the most part, the liberals’ lack a strong class, demographic, occupational or confessional identity, just at the time when most voters are also shedding those same identities. As such, they may be very well positioned to become the “catch-all” parties of the future. The success of NEOS in Austria may prove a key example in this regard – Austrian politics is notable for its domination by two traditional class- and confession-based parties, the Social Democrats (SPÖ) and the Christian People’s Party (ÖVP), with protest votes going to the once liberal, now right-populist Freedom Party (FPÖ).

Liberal parties may also be well placed to adapt to competition along the post-materialist cleavage. This cleavage is sometimes defined as being between two sets of values-based positions: a left-libertarian camp defined by support for environmentalism and human rights, and a right-authoritarian position supportive of traditional hierarchies and authorities and hostile to outgroups. Though the left-libertarian camp is usually identified with Green parties, its focus on human rights is shared by liberals too. As Giger and Nelson (2010) note, the growth of post-materialist voting will benefit both “left-libertarian and market-liberal parties.” Though, as Marino argues, liberal parties may be losing votes to Green parties or protest parties in some nations, in others liberal parties are proving successful in spite of the presence of Greens. The Democrats ’66, a left-liberal party, made large gains at the recent Dutch provincial elections, while the Greens suffered losses, continuing a pattern observed in the 2012 general elections.

That brings me neatly to another point that favours a bright liberal future, which is the triumph of free-market politics. Mair pointed out in Ruling the Void that established parties have, since the fall of Communism, converged around a free-market consensus. This consensus undermines social democratic parties, who have lost much of their raison d’etre, but suits liberal parties much better. This is especially true if they are able to portray their liberal platform as a strike against vested interests, coddled by the old welfare state or clientelist practices, as Ciudadanos does in Spain and the supporters of Mario Monti did in Italy. This is true even outside Europe – Bruce Cumings explains that South Korean liberals embraced a painful IMF structural adjustment programme in 1997-98 because it undermined the country’s oligopolistic chaebol mega-corporations.

That said, the liberal future could easily portend as much pain as it does hope. For many liberal parties, the lack of a clear class, occupational, or demographic identity is a great advantage; it makes them attractive to many different types of voter and dissociates them from the established political parties and their hidebound ideologies and interests. But it also leaves liberal parties vulnerable to sudden shifts of opinion. Every poor policy decision made by a liberal party risks a rapid erosion of support, much more so than a similar error made by a party with a stable base. As Robert Ford noted in a Guardian piece following the May 2015 UK general election, the Liberal Democrats paid dearly for their “lack of a loyal demographic core.” Liberal parties also carry much greater risks when they go into coalition; as they are often the smaller party, they may have to make more concessions, which increases their chances of alienating a fickle base intolerant of compromise.

All that said, there is much reason to believe that the liberal party family could thrive, or at least enjoy considerable success, in the coming decade. German and British liberals may indeed face an uncertain future, but this is as much due to tactical errors on their part and specific political conditions in each country as it is to secular decline in the liberal party family. The liberals’ future may be less grim than advertised.

Ben Margulies recently completed his doctorate at the University of Essex on the electoral behaviour of liberal parties. Previously he has worked as a policy researcher and his research focuses mainly on party systems, new political parties and populism.