Millions of voters across 28 European Union (EU) countries will head to the polls between Wednesday and Sunday to cast their ballots in the European Parliament (EP) elections. Immigration, climate change, EU funds, integration and economic features are the main topics of debate ahead of the vote. With Brexit lingering on the horizon, euroscepticism has also become a major talking point as the EU elections approach. If anti-EU parties do well enough at the ballot box, they could slow down the EU’s law-making process, making it difficult to implement bloc policies and significantly disrupting EU proceedings. More than 370m voters are eligible to elect 751 members of the EP to serve for five years. With record low turnout figures reported during the 2014 vote, campaigning has mostly focused on the apparent uprising of far-right politics across Europe. With emerging parties also taking part in the vote, traditional political platforms are having to compete with more parties on major issues. Here is a brief snapshot of the political situation in all 28 EU member states as they approach the EU elections:
The country heads to the polls amid an internal political scandal involving the far-right coalition partner Freedom Party of Austria (FPO). Austria’s Vice-Chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache recently resigned after secret footage emerged showing him talking to an alleged Russian investor. Following the corruption scandal, Chancellor Sebastian Kurz called snap elections; however, Kurz himself now faces a vote of no-confidence motion.
In a vote which doesn’t typically attract high turnout figures, Belgium is the exception. In 2014, nearly 90 percent of eligible voters cast their ballots in the EP elections in Belgium, where voting is compulsory. The Greens are expected to match gains made in the country’s local elections. They are the main alternative to traditional parties such as the Socialist Party and PM Charles Michel’s Reform Movement. The ruling minority coalition was recently hit after the Flemish N-VA quit over the UN migration pact.
Prime Minister Boyko Borisov’s cabinet was recently affected by the resignation of the agriculture minister over the mishandling of EU aid. The country continues to recover from high-profile corruption scandals, which involved the justice ministry. Political campaigning for EU elections in Bulgaria has mainly come from the ruling GERB party. Major topics include EU policies on lorry drivers and illegal immigration.
Like other countries in the Balkans, immigration has also dominated the political discourse in Croatia. The EU elections in Croatia come just months ahead of the presidential vote in late-December, which will test President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic’s Croatian Democratic Union. The government faces increasing domestic pressure over corruption and the migration of Croatians to other EU countries.
Cyprus faces the vote in the context of a two-year deadlock in UN-backed negotiations between the island’s Greek and Turkish-Cypriot people. Rising tensions between the EU and Turkey have further contributed towards the complexity of the situation. At least nine Turkish-Cypriot candidates will take part in the vote. They include Niyazi Kizilyurek, a Turkish Cypriot running for the Greek Cypriot AKEL. According to opinion polls, DIKO, DISY and the far-right ELAM are expected to see some strong results.
Eurosceptism in Czechia has become an increasingly relevant topic set in the backdrop of Brexit, with Prague at the centre of anti-EU rallies. Opinions on the country’s EU membership remain a divisive factor, with Prime Minister Andrej Babis being the main advocate behind strengthened immigration policies. Although the far-right Freedom and Direct Democracy (SPD) lacks representation in Czech politics, it has been the main driving force behind the country’s anti-EU discourse.
The EU vote in Denmark will come just weeks before its parliamentary elections, where the leader of the centre-left Social Democrat opposition, Mette Frederiksen, has been garnering increasing support due to her anti-immigration rhetoric. The Social Democrats won three of Denmark’s 13 seats in the 2014 EU election and are one of the favourites to secure the most seats this time around. The Danish People's Party (DF) - one of the most prominent eurosceptic fronts in Denmark – is expected to lose two seats, having won four seats in 2014. Other hot topics for Danish voters in the upcoming European election also include the issue of climate change.
Following significant gains by the far-right Conservative People’s Party of Estonia (EKRE), the party was invited to join the ruling coalition. However, it recently faced a blow after one of its ministers was forced to resign. Nevertheless, the EKRE is expected to take at least one seat in the European Parliament. This year’s favourites to win the most seats are the Estonian Reform Party and the Estonian Center Party. Interestingly, Estonia is currently the only country in the world which allows online voting for the entire electorate, with thousands having already voted. Voting online has been available since 2005 in Estonia and now the preferred method of voting for around 44 percent of voters.
Prime Minister Juha Sipila’s Centre Party suffered its worst results in the last general elections held in mid-April, with a massive victory for the Social Democrats (SDP). The eurosceptic Finns Party became the second-biggest political party in Finland. The economic situation is at the centre of the debate in the lead up to EU elections, which come after PM Sipila’s cabinet resigned over the failed implementation of healthcare reforms.
Marine Le Pen’s National Rally (RN) has been campaigning intensively ahead of the European vote. Le Pen is currently reporting strong results against the other main political parties in France, especially President Emmanuel Macron’s La Republique En Marche. The government continues to face increasing pressure over continuous ‘yellow vest’ protests which still haunt France, while some parties criticise EU policies. A number of climate related protests have also been organised across major cities ahead of EU elections.
The rise of the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party has meant populists in Germany are expected to make significant gains in both national and EU elections, especially with Chancellor Angela Merkel’s expected departure in 2021. The ruling Christian Democratic Union (CDU) has been facing an internal crisis since Merkel resigned as the party’s leader in 2018. Despite previous grievances, the CDU is joining forces with its Bavarian sister, the CSU, in the European elections. Climate change has also become a major talking point in Germany ahead of EU elections, with nationwide climate change protests due to take place on Friday 24 May as the country prepares to go to the polls on Sunday 26 May. With 96 seats, Germany gets the most in the EP, as the most populous EU member state.
Greece’s New Democracy (ND) and the left-wing SIRYZA are expected to be the main political forces in the European vote. Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’s SIRYZA is forecast to lose some seats to the ND opposition of Kyriakos Mitsotakis. The far-right Golden Dawn party may also win seats in the EU. Greece faces a busy month, with local elections also taking place in May. In a different context from the previous 2014 European elections, the country is also focused on the upcoming legislative vote due to be held in late-October.
With extremely low turnout figures reported from previous elections, PM Viktor Orban’s Fidesz party aims to achieve strong results in a highly fragmented political landscape. Orban has also been engaged in disputes with the EU, mainly over migration policies. The centre-right parties in the European People’s Party (EPP) group form a significant political force in the alliance with more liberal policies. Main threats include the emergence of eurosceptic forces in the EP’s opposition coalition – made up of five bloc-wide political groupings, including the Europe of Nations and Freedom Group (ENF).
Ireland is facing its first EU elections since the Brexit referendum was held in the UK. As the deadlock over the Irish backstop continues, the country is closely following Brexit. The majority of Irish political parties are pro-EU and Ireland remains one of an increasingly small group of EU members with no major eurosceptic far-right parties exercising electoral significance. Other countries in that group include Portugal, Luxembourg, and Malta.
Prime Minister Matteo Salvini has been at the forefront of the establishment of a far-right European-wide political alliance. He has been the main advocate for meetings with the ENF. His right-wing League is at the centre of promoting populist in the EU. Contenders include the grandson of late-dictator Benito Mussolini, Caio Mussolini, who runs for the far-right Brothers of Italy. Last weekend, Salvini rallied in Milan with a number of other high-profile far-right, nationalistic, anti-immigrant European leaders, including Marine Le Pen of France’s National Rally and Geert Wilders of the Netherlands’ Party for Freedom. The rally came as part of an effort to coordinate an international alliance of anti-EU parties with the intention to weaken and reform the EU from within.
The EU elections are taking place in Latvia amidst significant political turmoil following last year’s general election, which resulted in a potentially unstable five-party coalition government. The EU elections will therefore act as a testing ground for Latvian political parties. A total of 16 parties are taking part in the EU elections for Latvia’s eight seats in the European Parliament. The current favourite to secure the most seats are the Harmony Social Democrats (Saskana SDP) – expected to win two seats if they achieve at least 20 percent of the vote.
The Lithuanian Farmers and Greens Union is expected to do well in the EU elections, along with the Homeland Union, with both expected to secure at least three of Lithuania’s 11 seats in the European Parliament. This is reflective of a general increase in support for environmentalist policies, with green parties across Europe on course for their strongest showing to date.
Ten parties will be contesting the EU election for Luxembourg’s six seats. The Christian Social People’s Party (CSV) are predicted to secure half of these, while the Greens are in a position to sweep up two seats if they can rally enough younger voters. European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker (former PM of Luxembourg) is due to step down as the EU’s top official in November and has warned against his successor using populist support amidst the rise in far-right parties in Europe. “What happens to the next Commission will depend on the way the next European Parliament is put together”, said Juncker, stating he would encourage the CSV to quit the European People’s Party if pro-EU groups compromise with the far-right.
EU elections will be held in Malta on Saturday 25 May, along with Latvia and Slovakia. Malta has followed a relatively steady pro-EU stance since it joined the EU in 2004, despite a close referendum on the matter shortly before they joined. Malta is the EU’s smallest member state, but also the most densely populated, with its strategic Mediterranean position affording it geopolitical importance in terms of trade and transport routes. Although Malta’s relationship with the EU has remained largely positive, immigration and corruption are likely to be hot topics in this election following the death of anti-corruption journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia in a car bomb attack two years ago.
The Netherlands is one of a number of countries set to pick up some extra seats in the EP after the UK leaves the EU. The number of Dutch seats will increase from 29 following Brexit; however, for now, 26 representatives will be elected. According to opinion polls, the conservative-liberal People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD) is expected to win the most seats out of the 16 parties taking part, while the social-liberal Democrats 66 (D66) party is also set to do well. The VVD has focused on reducing the role and costs of the EU in domestic policy, arguably placing it on the euro-sceptic end of the spectrum.
There has been a surge in anti-LGBT campaigns in parts of Poland recently, with the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party depicting LGBT rights as dangerous foreign ideas, which go against traditional Catholic values in Poland. Voter turnout for EU elections is predicted to be lowest in PiS rural strongholds though, with some polls showing tough competition from the pro-European opposition parties. With high national turnout figures predicted, the results of the upcoming EU elections are likely to influence the general election due to take place in October or November. Just days before the EU election is held, the Polish government has written to EU member states to propose the EU give veto powers to national parliaments on EU laws.
Opinion polls have placed the social-democratic Socialist Party (PS) as the favourites to win the most votes in the election on Sunday, with its centre-right rival, the Social Democratic Party (PSD) expected to come second. Currently, PS is forecast to hold on to the eight seats it won in the 2014 EU election, while PSD are expected to gain a seat, potentially increasing their share of Portugal’s 21 seats to seven. Outside of the two main parties, smaller parties have been campaigning in the streets of Portugal; however, unlike much of Europe, eurosceptism in Portugal has seen limited success, with just 14 people attending a campaign rally for the new radical-right Basta! (“Enough!”) party in Lisbon last week.
Among the candidates appearing on the Romanian ballots on Sunday include a former Romanian president, three former Romanian prime ministers, and a former Moldovan prime minister. Romania’s share of seats in the EP is set to increase from 32 to 33, making it the sixth largest EU state in terms of MEPs. The ruling Social Democratic Party and the opposing National Liberal Party are currently neck and neck in the latest polls, which predict both parties could be set to send eight or nine representatives to the EU. The third-biggest party, the Save Romania Union, is expected to take six or seven seats according to polls.
Slovakia recorded one of the EU’s lowest turnouts in the 2014 European elections, with just 13 percent of the electorate choosing to vote. This is arguably a result of the sudden shift from Russian communism to democracy in the nineties, but the low turnout figure is also representative of the EU’s failure to engage with voters in central Europe. With minimal levels of European identity, it’s likely that in time, eurosceptic parties in Slovakia could begin to have more of a voice as the country’s economic situation gradually improves, subsequently shifting it from a recipient of EU funds to a contributor. However, as far-right parties emerge, anti-fascist groups have started campaigning against far-right meetings in Danube. The latest polls show unprecedented interest in European politics this year, with turnout predicted to rise to 21 percent.
For the last three EU elections, centre-right parties aligned with the European Peoples’ Party (EPP) have dominated Slovenia’s representation in the EP. The EPP-affiliated Slovenian Democratic Party & Slovenian Peoples’ Party is expected to win the most seats this year, potentially grabbing two out of Slovenia’s eight seats up for grabs; however, this would mean the loss of a seat – indicating other parties may have more influence this year. The centre-left Social Democrats (aligned with the Party of European Specialists) are also expected to do well, as are the ruling centre-left List of Marjan Sarec (LMS) – aligned with the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for European Party (ALDE). Slovenia is set to take over the presidency of the Council of the EU in the second half of 2021 as part of a trio with Germany and Portugal, with whom LMS have already been in talks with to agree long-term goals.
Unlike its Iberian neighbour, Spain has not entirely managed to avoid the spread of far-right populism which has gained traction in other parts of Europe, with far-right propaganda reportedly targeting voters online ahead of the EU election. The populist Vox party is relatively new but a sudden surge in support in the run-up to last month’s general election, although they failed to secure any seats in parliament. In April, Catalan independence rebel Carles Puigdemont was initially banned from running in the EU elections; however, earlier this month a Madrid court ruled the former leader of Catalonia would be allowed to run for election to the EP. Puigdemont and his Catalan separatists are part of the pro-independence coalition Junts per Catalunya (JuntsXCat), which aims to join the European Free Alliance in the EP, representing European nationalist parties. The socio-democratic Spanish Socialists’ Party are forecast to gain three seats from 14 seats last year, while the People’s Party’s representation is currently expected to go down from 16 to 10 seats.
The left-wing Social Democrats are expected to do well again this year and are currently forecast to hold on to their five seats in the EP. The conservative Sweden Democrats (SD) and centre-right Moderate Party are both expected to pick up a seat from the Green Party, whose representation is expected to fall from four seats to two. This goes against the wider trend of Green parties doing increasingly well in light of growing concern over environmental policies at European level. Some have argued that the shift in support from centre-left to centre-right politics could be down to the rise in immigration levels in Sweden, with the eurosceptic SD adopting firm anti-immigration policies. Although the SD’s anti-EU and anti-immigrant stance has deterred other domestic parties from considering them as coalition partners for government, the SD has found support in the EU from the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR). Just days ahead of the ballot, an investigation has been launched into SD’S top EU candidate, Peter Lundgren, over allegations of sexual misconduct.
In the midst of Brexit, there is a mixed attitude towards the EU elections in the UK. The government’s failure to finalise Brexit has led to a boost in support for smaller parties, which are now poised to do well in the vote. While the Green Party’s anti-Brexit stance is winning over remain voters, UKIP and the newly formed Brexit Party have chosen to use the elections to highlight the failure of Conservative PM Theresa May to negotiate a successful withdrawal agreement. The UK was originally meant to leave the EU back in March; however, two extensions and no deal later, the public are now receiving campaign leaflets and polling cards in the mail. Voter turnout is expected to be low, with MEPs expected to only sit in European Parliament for a few weeks or months. Although with Brexit talks recently called off between the PM and opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn, it’s becoming increasingly harder to predict how Brexit will play out, with everything from a no-deal to a second referendum on revoking Brexit on the table. For that reason, the EU have insisted that the UK participate in the EU elections to avoid constitutional and legal mayhem.