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Highest turnout in 20 years across EU as populist right and Greens make gains on establishment parties

Turnout was up to around 51% across the continent.

Updated May 27th 2019, 7:24 AM

Belgium European Elections A young boy waves an EU flag as he watches a giant screen television outside the European Parliament in Brussels last night Source: Francisco Seco AP/PA Images

EUROPE’S MAINSTREAM POLITICAL parties took a hit in yesterday’s elections, amid a strong surge by the populist right of Marine Le Pen, Matteo Salvini and Nigel Farage.

With a double-digit score across Europe’s biggest countries – including 20% of the vote in Germany and a strong showing in Ireland – the Greens bagged record gains in European elections yesterday amid calls for action on climate change.

The main centre-right and centre-left groups, however, lost their combined majority in the European Parliament in the face of a challenge by eurosceptic and nationalist forces.

The symbolic clash of the campaign saw French far-right leader Le Pen’s National Rally on course to come in neck and neck with President Emmanuel Macron’s centrist movement, damaging his drive for deeper European integration.

RN List Reacts After The European Elections - Paris It was a good showing in France for Marine le Pen Source: Lafargue Raphael/ABACA

In Britain, Farage’s one-issue Brexit Party has trounced the main parties and he will send a large contingent of British eurosceptics to a parliament they want to leave in a few months.

And in Italy, Salvini’s far-right League achieved a similar result, strengthening its role at the core of a vocal populist faction in the EU’s legislature.

Italy European Elections Italy's Matteo Salvini Source: Antonio Calanni/PA Images

The advance of the right was less pronounced in Germany – where a strong showing by the Greens was reflected in a “green wave” in many countries – but the anti-immigrant AfD broke the 10-percent barrier.

“We are facing a shrinking centre,” said German conservative Manfred Weber, lead candidate for the centre-right European People’s Party (EPP) to replace Jean-Claude Juncker as European Commission chief.

Turnout

Turnout EU-wide was estimated at 51%, the highest in 20 years, suggesting more than 200 million citizens across the 28-nation bloc voted in a poll billed as a battle between populists and pro-European forces. Ireland was just below the average with a 49% turnout.

Across Europe, according to updated projections prepared by the parliament, the EPP is on course to have the most seats in the assembly with 179, down sharply from 216 in 2014.

With the centre-left Socialists and Democrats (S&D) projected to win 150, down from 185, the two mainstream parties will no longer have a majority and will have to reach out to liberals to maintain a “cordon sanitaire” and exclude the far-right from decision making.

The Liberals (ALDE), who include Macron’s party, are on course for 107 seats against 69 previously while the Greens are forecast to take 70 seats, up from 52.

The various populist, eurosceptic and right-wing parties won more than 150 seats, but form no coherent coalition.

Here’s how some exit polls were shaping up around the continent.

France

In France, Macron had taken it upon himself to act as a figurehead for the centrist and liberal parties, and Marine Le Pen took up the 41-year-old’s challenge.

“It is up to the president of the republic to draw conclusions, he who put his presidential credit on the line in this vote in making it a referendum on his policies and even his personality,” Le Pen said.

Le Pen’s National Rally is on track for around 24% of the vote, with president Emmanuel Macron’s centrists trailing with between 22.5% and 23.0%, according to two polls from Ifop-Fiducial and Harris Interactive-Agence Epoka.

However, in official results this morning, it appears Macron and Le Pen’s parties will win 23 seats each. 

Meanwhile, the Greens looked set to win 12-12.7%, up from 8.9% in 2014.

The Green’s lead candidate in France, Yannick Jadot, hailed today as a “green wave in which we are the main players”, while Prime Minister Edouard Philippe acknowledged the “message about the ecologic emergency”.

“Everywhere in Europe, our citizens and in particular the youngest are asking us to act with determination and that’s what we’ll do in France and in Europe,” he said.

Germany

Chancellor Angela Merkel’s CSU-CDU bloc, led by ally Manfred Weber, is on course to top the vote with around 28%, according to two separate exit polls by national broadcasters ARD and ZDF.

However, the score is eight percentage points off the party’s previous low.

The results are even more disastrous for Merkel’s junior coalition partner, the Social Democratic Party, who polled at around 15.5%.

Meanwhile, the far-right AfD, which had hoped to ride on a wave of nationalism sweeping across Europe, only slightly improved its 2014 score of 7.1% to just over 10%.

The Green party was on course to double its score in Germany from the last EU elections in 2014, polling at around 21%.

“This is a Sunday for Future,” said the Greens’ lead candidate in Germany Sven Giegold, in a nod to the “Fridays for Future” school strikes by students sounding the alarm on the climate crisis.

Belgium

The far-right Flemish nationalist Vlaams Belang made strong gains, partial results showed.

With 15% of the votes counted in all three elections in the Dutch-speaking Flanders region, the party is on course for 18%, around three times their score in the last elections in 2014.

Poland

Exit polls show that the governing right-wing Law and Justice party (PiS) won the elections, outpacing a coalition of opposition liberal parties, according to an exit poll.

The PiS took 42.4% of the vote for 24 of Poland’s 51 seats in the EU parliament, compared with 39.1% and 22 seats for the liberal European Coalition, according to the IPSOS pollsters.

The progressive Spring party took 6.6% for three seats, while 6.1% also went to the far-right Confederation group.

Hungary

Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s Fidesz party was on course for a massive 56% victory, according to a poll conducted yesterday.

The Socialists (MSZP) and the Democratic Coalition (DK) trail behind on 10% each while the far-right Jobbik party is down from 15% to 9%.

Meanwhile, the small liberal Momentum party looks likely to break into the European parliament for the first time with 7%.

With reporting from Stephen McDermott, Seán Murray - © AFP 2019

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