Early projections report that more than 200 million people, out of the 400 million eligible, voted in the European parliamentary elections. This turnout is a significant increase from the last election five years ago and indicates a growing concern about the future of the European Union.
While right-wing parties were predicted to make substantial gains, they only did slightly better than in 2014. The centrist parties that dominated the EU’s parliament for the past 40 years did have substantial losses, while the Greens and Liberal parties did substantially better.
The population of the EU is 540 million people, compared to 328 million in the United States. Elections to the EU Parliament took place from May 23 to May 26 in 28 member countries. Preliminary results were announced late on May 26.
The EU Parliament has little real authority. It can’t propose laws or EU leaders; it can just accept or reject them. The U.S. media barely reported on these elections in the past. This time, the corporate media here paid more attention.
That’s because the far- and fascist-right proclaimed their intent to win this vote in order to break up the EU from the inside. Steve Bannon, one of Trump’s main ideologues, is promenading around Europe from plush hotel to even plusher hotel proclaiming the evils of the EU and meeting with European anti-immigrant ultra-rightists.
At the same time there is a general mood of disgruntlement among workers in many European countries over economic conditions, which also led to the greater turnout.
EU member countries are heterogeneous. Some are developed and wealthy imperialist countries, like France, Germany, Britain, and the smaller Netherlands and Sweden. Others like Romania and Cyprus aren’t.
For the European big bourgeoisie, the EU is a capitalistic coalition that serves as an economic and political machine that can be wielded against former colonies, can improve its competitiveness with U.S. imperialism, and can provide a framework the big German and French banks to operate more freely and dominate the economies of the other countries. It is also a capitalist tool to keep workers’ demands under multinational control.
The EU faces an existential threat in Britain’s demand to leave, which was made almost three years ago. This process, called Brexit, has turned British politics into a shambling wreck. The campaign to get the referendum authorizing Brexit approved was based on racist, xenophobic lies, blaming immigrants for the austerity that the British ruling class imposed.
Most Brexit scenarios predict major economic damage to the British economy, the second largest in the EU behind Germany. British, Scottish, Welsh and Irish workers — the working classes of the nations included in the so-called United Kingdom/Great Britain — will inevitably bear the biggest burden of any economic collapse.
Prime Minister Theresa May’s forced resignation — over the English Parliament’s refusal to approve any deal that she worked out with the EU — makes a precipitous Brexit much more likely come Oct. 31, the deadline for Brexit to be completed.
The right-wing parties in Europe, which the U.S. media generally calls “populist,” have strong differences with each other as well as points of agreement. They are united for the most part in opposing immigration, strengthening their countries’ borders, and hypocritically criticizing “the elites.” After the mess that Brexit has created in Britain, these parties are rather circumspect about calling for an exit from the EU.
Like the Brexiteers in Great Britain, most of the far-right parties in Europe want to increase the power of their national governments against “Brussels,” a generic word for the European Union’s bureaucracy located in the EU’s capital city.
A major point of disagreement in the European right-wing is over whether to have friendly or confrontational relations with Russia.
Results in Britain, France, Germany
The election results in Britain, France and Germany were particularly interesting.
In Great Britain, the Brexit Party — a single-issue party set up six weeks ago — came in first with 28 seats out of 64. Basically the total vote for leaving was close to the total vote for staying. The Conservatives, the party now running the British government, got less than 10 percent of the vote, coming in fifth, with their lowest percentage vote in almost 200 years.
In France, the semi-fascist Rassemblement National (National Rally) came in first with 23 percent, beating the République en marche (Forward the Republic), President Macron’s party, by just 1 percent. This is an embarrassing defeat for Macron, but not the smashing victory Marine Le Pen, head of the RN, was trumpeting. The two parties that had alternated running France for decades barely made a showing.
In Germany, the Greens made strong gains to finish second with more than 20 percent of the vote, behind Angela Merkel’s center-right party. The far-right Alternative for Germany also made strong gains to finish fourth, just behind the Social Democrats, who with 15.5 percent had a brutal decline of more than 11 percentage points compared to five years ago.
Our guiding principle in looking at such a large, complicated event as the EU parliamentary elections is that workers’ struggles should have no borders. The EU is a capitalist institution being attacked by capitalists in their interests. Workers have their own interests at stake.