European elections

Leuven Travel Blog

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As every article has told us, the recent European elections were a sweeping victory for the centre-right and the far-right across Europe, and the left are tongue-tied. By naming a few examples you can show the socialists losing seats in power and in opposition. But is this actually a fair characterisation of the election results? In terms of adjusted seats, out of a parliament of 736 the centre-right Christian Democratic parties gained an extra 20 seats while the centre-left Socialists lost 35 seats. However the big story on the left side of parliament is the shift from Socialists to Greens, who gained 13 seats off the Socialists. This is a long-term trend as left-politics tends to be shifting from work rights to social/environmental rights and is interesting, but is an internal left story. So we have Christian Democrats on +20 and Socialists/Greens on a net of -22, which translates to about 2.5% of seats shifting from centre-left to centre-right.

So the shift between centre-right and centre-left was much more mild than is reported in the press, it is also much less homogenous. Here are the results country-by-country with the balance between centre-right and centre-left seats (with the net to the left in brackets).

Centre-left win (ranked by margin)

Czech Republic 2:7 (+5)

Denmark 1:6 (+5)

Belgium 6:8 (+2)

Sweden 5:7 (+2)

Left-right tie or +1/-1

France 29:28 (+1)

Greece 8:9 (+1)

Malta 2:3 (+1)

Netherlands 5:6 (+1)

Austria 6:6 (even)

Estonia 1:1 (even)

Lativa 1:1 (even)

Spain 23:23 (even)

Cyprus 2:1 (-1)

Ireland 4:3 (-1)

Lithuania 4:3 (-1)

Luxembourg 3:2 (-1)

Romania 13:12 (-1)

Slovakia 6:5 (-1)

Slovenia 3:2 (-1)


Centre-right win (ranked by margin)

Italy 35:0[21] (-35 [-14])

Poland 28:7 (-21)

Hungary 14:4 (-10)

UK 0[26]:18 (+18[-8])

Germany 42:37 (-5)

Portugal 10:7 (-3)

Bulgaria 6:4 (-2)

The interesting thing about this ranking is that clearly most Europeans nations gave a basically even split between centre-right and centre-left votes. Only a handful had centre-right or centre-left winning more than one seat than the opponents. The other interesting thing is that you can account for almost the entire swing with just two countries - Italy and Poland, the two most famously unstable political systems in Europe, with massive swings and government changes every couple of years the norm. If you ignore these two countries there was almost no European shift.

What actually happened in the European elections was that the centre-left vote shifted from the Socialist parties to the Green parties. We had a couple of big shifts to the right in Poland and Italy, and a few extra seats dribbled to the far-right. The left should not be happy with the result, but it is simply bad reporting (and bad mathematics) to conclude that there was a Europe-wide shift between left and right.
Adrian_Liston says:
Thank you :)

Certainly Poland and Italy are major countries within the EU, and also countries where the socialists should be performing very well. For them to be crushed beyond recognition in these two is terrible. Even EU wide, for the centre-left to just tread water is probably a bad vote for them, considering the current economy caused by centre-right policies.

The EU turnout is bad (or rather, it is good in some countries and terrible in others), but is also around the same as the US turnout. Perhaps at a certain population size the value of individual votes starts to drop to the point where people don't bother to use them? (okay, India has better turnouts, but they also have very unusual voting patterns by western standards, such as higher turnout in poor and rural areas)

The big problem I have with the list system is the lack of connection to individual representatives. When the people that head the list don't actually sit there is very little personal responsibility and very little connection to voters - a "party" is much more vague than an individual.

BTW, Clinton won the US Presidency in a landslide in 1992 (370 to 168 electoral votes) with less than 24% of the voter population. Lincoln won the Presidency in a landslide in 1860 with less than 15% of the adult citizen vote.
Posted on: Jun 15, 2009
lamadude says:
Also, while Italy and Poland may be only 2 member states out of a total of 27, they represent 100 million people out of the total 500 million EU citizens.
Posted on: Jun 15, 2009
lamadude says:
Very interesting analysis!
Of course the problem is that "EU balance of power remains relatively unchanged" isn't exactly the kind of headline you can open a newpaper with. It always has to be a crushing defeat for somebody.

The big problem I have with the EU election are not the results but the horribly low turn-out and the fact that everybody votes on national issues and problems with no regard to what the actual competences of the EU parliament are.
Compulsary voting like in Belgium is not an ideal solution, but I wouldn't feel like living in a democracy where the governement is formed by the majority of a 30% turn-out. (so only 15% of the people decide)

Also it's not always as easy to qualify a certain party as left or right, but this is of course a necessary simplification in order to be able to see trends like these.
(For example the CD&V in Belgium is a member of the EPP (European People's Party, biggest party in the EU parliament) in fact the EPP president is a CD&V politician. So most would consider this a centre right party. One wing focuses on reducing spending to reduce the (huge!) national debt, and on increasing Flemish autonomy. But it is also strongly linked to the biggest union in the country (ACW) and defends social rights sometimes even harder than the socialist party.)
Posted on: Jun 15, 2009
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