In the weeks and days leading up to the European Parliamentary elections, there were fears that the tide of populism that has swept across the continent over the past three years would somehow inundate the pan-European project, setting it up for self-destruction.
That hasn’t happened. Anger, it seems, can only last for so long.
Instead, what the results of the European elections have shown us is that the right, while still noisy and certainly active, is not the force it was once made out to be. Yes, that’s a broad generalisation — but it is not all doom and gloom when the 756 new MEPs meet in Strasbourg early next month.
Right now, there are meetings taking place that will settle the outlook of the European Commission, made up of 28 commissioners who oversee the day-to-day running of the EU, much like cabinet ministers in any national government.
And right now, the old boys, while shaken by the results of the elections, don’t plan to stir things up too much. Yes, Marine Le Pen, the Brexiteers under Nigel Farage’s quirky leadership, Viktor Orban and Matteo Salvini’s nationalists did make inroads — but not so in Germany and Denmark.
Those elected nationalists will make a lot of noise in Strasbourg for the next five years — empty vessels and emptier vassals do such things — but the European project is on course to implement real reforms to make the EU more effective and relevant to the 512 million who live within its boundaries.
And the Greens, who enjoyed broad electoral success across the 28-member states, are now a voice that will ensure that the institutions of the EU will put climate change and environmental action front and centre for the continent.
Early analysis of the results shows that Green candidates attracted nearly 30 per cent of the votes of those under 30 years of age. That’s an impressive showing. It now means that the young look at the EU as a positive source of change, one that can enact policies and legislation to ensure that Europe is a leader when it comes to positive action on the climate.
For those above 55, parties on the right also secured roughly one-third support. And the rest voted for centrist parties — Christian and Social Democrats who have held the balance of power at the EU for the past four decades since direct elections were first held.
Given these results, it’s therefore possible to argue that the EU is divided into three — the disparate groups on the right with their nationalist and populist agendas, the centrists old guard of Social Democrats and Christian Democrats — a group into which the liberals and globalists of the ilk of French President Emmanuel Macron easily fit — and those on the left who are firmly focused on climate change. For the wily Eurocrats who have a long track record in making Europe greener, the new wave of Green recruits to the ranks of the European Parliament are a welcome sight. It’s much easier to develop progressive policies at the EU level with those on the left than it would be to try and convince populists on the right — climate-change deniers fit easily into their ranks of anger and conspiracy theories.
The hard numbers show that most Europeans want the project to continue — albeit with a change in focus. Heading into the elections, populists and right-wing nationalists held 78 seats. In the new parliament, they will hold 112 seats.
The Greens headed into the election with 52 seats — they emerged with 70 plus the backing of another dozen or so independents who were elected on a largely green manifesto. And while the various socialist and centrist parties did lose ground, it was far from being a disaster — and that’s why those meetings that are under way this week to flesh out the shape of the new commission will likely see a lot of the same old faces return once more, even if they have to learn the new lexicon of climate change.
So much then for Salvini, the Deputy Prime Minister of Italy who was intent on creating a pan-European movement on the right. Following those results, he says he will still persist with the idea. But he’s also no fool. Back in Italy, his League are in a delicate coalition government with the Five Star Movement.
In Italy, Five Star fared badly, with the former Democrats who held power for five years before last year’s Italian elections, bouncing back to claim second place.
It’s one thing to want to build an empire across Europe — but even ancient Roman emperors were well aware of how fickle the masses could be in Rome. Salvini is learning that lesson now. And that’s a good day’s work for the EU in its current form.