The far right makes gains, but fails in bid to control EU Parliament

Ministers, who number 751 in total, vote during a session of the EU Parliament in Brussels, Belgium.
Ministers, who number 751 in total, vote during a session of the EU Parliament in Brussels, Belgium. The legislature also meets in Strasbourg, France, and its administrative offices are in Luxembourg City. PHOTO: European Union 2019 — Source EP
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Good news first. Despite a well-orchestrated attempt, the ultra-nationalistic, anti-immigrant Identity and Democracy (ID) coalition failed to win control of the European Union Parliament in elections in May. It aimed to gain at least 30 percent of the seats, but won only 9.7 percent.

However, the coalition did advance, claiming 73 positions out of 751. That’s the bad news.

How the elections work. Twenty-eight nations make up the EU, which formed as an imperialist bloc to compete with the U.S. and other major capitalists. (See past Freedom Socialist article “European Union on Shaky Ground.”) Every five years, citizens of EU countries vote for representatives to the European Parliament in elections held country by country.

In general, turnout has been steadily declining. In May, however, over 50 percent of eligible voters cast a ballot, with many citing concerns over immigration or climate change.

In contrast to U.S. elections, EU voting is not winner-take-all. Each political party or coalition gets positions proportionally. If a group gets 25 percent of their nation’s votes, they get 25 percent of its seats. The four biggest countries — Germany, France, the United Kingdom, and Italy — have the most seats. (The U.K. is currently due to leave the EU in October. We’ll see.)

Most groups in the legislature are international in nature, alliances of different national parties. For years, the majority of seats were held by the “grand coalition” — a bloc between the center-right European People’s Party and the reformist Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats. They controlled 27.8 percent and 26.5 percent of the positions respectively.

If Identity and Democracy had gotten 30 percent of the seats, it would have been too big to ignore, and most likely part of a governing coalition.

What the far right did and did not win. As hard-core nationalists, each spouting a version of Trump’s “America First,” it’s not easy for European reactionaries to work together. Nevertheless, some leading ultra-rightists pursued unity as a means of taking control of the EU Parliament.

Steve Bannon, Trump’s former campaign adviser, was a key player in this effort. During the run-up to the election, he traveled to Europe and met with right populists including the U.K.’s Nigel Farage, Italy’s Matteo Salvini, and Hungary’s Viktor Orbán.

Bannon found a natural ally in Salvini, who created the ID coalition for this year’s election. However, many of Europe’s far-right groups snubbed the coalition because of political differences and national competitiveness, and Bannon’s unity gambit is considered a failure.

Still, the ID bloc took fifth place in the election, and in specific countries many of its members made strong showings. In France, for example, Marine Le Pen’s party won by edging out the coalition of President Emmanuel Macron.

Salvini’s party took 34.5 percent in Italy. He is the first high official to refuse to attend the annual celebration of Italy’s triumph over the Nazi occupation. In a slap at communists, who led the anti-fascist resistance, Salvini said he would not be “wearing red handkerchiefs.”

Not all hard-right groupings did well. Corruption charges against Austria’s Freedom Party, for example, took the wind out of its sails, and it lost a seat. (See companion article.)

Gains for liberals and Greens. Europe during this election was marked by slowing economic growth, high unemployment, and governments unable or unwilling to cope humanely with the entering waves of displaced people.

So, reflecting widespread discontent with business as usual, the two groupings that had been in power got pummeled. The European People’s Party and the Socialists and Democrats alliance lost 30 seats each, but still took first and second place.

Reactionaries were not the only ones to make gains at the expense of the status quo. Both the Greens and the liberal Renew Europe group, which includes Macron’s party, significantly increased their numbers, coming in fourth and third respectively. Despite a record of enforcing austerity and supporting wars when in power in countries in Europe, the Greens drew people to them with an internationalist environmental platform.

Who will rise to the occasion? Left socialists did not share in the anti-establishment bounty, with their group coming in dead last. This points up a failure of revolutionary leadership that is by no means limited to Europe — and remains a giant problem to be solved.

Helping to resolve it will undoubtedly be many of the people in Europe who are confronting their governments over global warming, the callous response to the refugee crisis, and more. From the student-led Global Strike against climate change to the dockworkers who refused to load weapons bound for war, Europeans are standing up for a just and peaceful future — one that is the complete opposite of the dismal one the modern-day fascists have in mind.

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