Europe has decided. Scratch that, just over a third of Europe has decided. The largest pan-continental election in the world has, like every 5 years, been woefully under-attended. Like every 5 years, no one can really be bothered to go out and vote and like every 5 years, the far-right and the protest parties have slowly edged forward in the polls.
In the UK, roughly 30% of the electorate decided that UKIP were the best group of people to represent us in Europe. Who’d have thought it: after intense media saturation, UKIP won the largest share of the vote and the most MEPs. Labour came second, winning MEPs here and there and the Tories, for the first time, came third in a national election.
Again, take this moment to pray for/ridicule the Lib-Dems.
So I guess we should just bend the knee and bow down down to our new lord, King Nige the First? Looks like a hundred-odd years of British democracy is coming to an end. Well it was fun, but this vast amount of UKIP MEPs is clearly a sign from the electorate that it’s time for 1000 years of fruitcakes. Pack up guys, shows over.
Well, no. An election with 30% turnout does not prove much, if anything. The people who can be bothered to vote are those who care about the European Parliament, or who want to register dissent. I expect the former outnumbers the latter quite heavily. Yes, UKIP did win in terms of the national vote this year, but they came a decent second in 2009. The BNP won MEPs back then too and yet that certainly did not convert to seats in Westminster. The European elections combine two things that allow small, extremist parties to thrive: poor voter turnout and proportional representation. UKIP can do well in these polls because the constituencies fought for are quite large. Their support is (relatively) evenly spread out across the country. But when we talk about Westminster UKIP don’t have geographically concentrated votes, vital for winning MPs.
Looking towards the whole continent, it is true that the far left and the far right increased their share in the vote and in MEPs, but the European People’s Party and the Party of European Socialists together still hold a sizeable majority of MEPs. Europe will still go on as usual. The two groups will still compromise and haggle to make sure that the EU continues to do its job. The most interesting and unpredictable part of these elections will be the appointing of the new President of the European Commission. The decision, made by the Council of Europe with the result of the European elections ‘in mind’, is still being fought on. Neither of the two outward candidates, Juncker and Schulz, are, in my opinion, going to become President. The Grand Coalition of the EPP and the S&D normally means that the Presidency gets bounced between the two parties, meaning the Socialists should get it this time round. However neither David Cameron or Angela Merkel want Martin Schulz to ‘lead’ Europe. Moreover, Juncker is not looked upon favourably by Cameron, Hollande or Matteo Renzi. Clearly some sort of compromise will have to be reached. My money would be on Enrico Letta, the former centre-left Prime Minister of Italy. Not only is he liked by David Cameron and Angela Merkel, but he is acceptable to Hollande and more importantly, Renzi is in his debt, since being ousted from power a few months ago. Letta is a known negotiator and coalition-builder. In the volatile world of Italian politics, he managed to keep a diverse coalition together. All the signs point to a Letta commission.
EUROPE WILL NEVER BE THE SAME AGAIN!
Rubbish, the EU will continue on the same course: it takes a lot of energy to divert such a massive institution. It’s not glamorous, but it’s vitally useful. It will continue to work silently doing things like sending Europeans into space, supporting art and culture throughout the continent and keeping the longest period of peace Europe has ever known intact. In the end, I’d like to say with a straight face that the European elections mattered, but really, they don’t.