Europeans woke Monday to a new political reality after European Parliament elections ended the domination of the EU’s main center-right and center-left parties and revealed a changed political landscape where the far-right, pro-business groups and environmentalists will be forces to be reckoned with.
Turning out in numbers not seen for 20 years, voters took their concerns about immigration and security to the ballot box, making parties led by the likes of Italy’s populist Matteo Salvini and France’s far-right leader Marine Le Pen among the biggest in the 28-nation bloc’s assembly.
“The rules are changing in Europe,” Salvini, Italy’s hard-line interior minister, said at his League party headquarters in Milan early Monday. “A new Europe is born.”
Voter projections showed the League won 33% of the vote, up from just 6% at the last European vote in 2014.
The lion’s share of Britain’s seats went to Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party, as citizens punished the governing conservatives and opposition Labour party for their embarrassing failure to manage the divided country’s delayed departure from the EU.
Riding what they called Europe’s “green wave” backed by Europe-wide rallies urging climate action, environmentalist parties made strong gains, notably in Germany, one of the continent’s main forces for EU integration.
The free-market liberals saw their stake in the 751-seat parliament rise to 107 seats, from 68 in 2014.
The picture of a fractured assembly for the next five years was complete as many citizens turned their backs on the center-right European People’s Party — one of its key figures, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, saw her party lose ground — and the center-left Socialists.
“We are facing a shrinking center of the European Union parliament,” a subdued EPP lead candidate Manfred Weber said, after just over 50 percent of the EU’s more than 400 million voters had turned out over four days in the world’s biggest transnational elections. “From now on, those who want to have a strong European Union have to join forces.”
The Socialist lead candidate, Frans Timmermans, essentially conceded defeat, even though the two groups remain the assembly’s biggest by some margin.
“If you lose an election, if you lose seats, you have to be modest,” the former Dutch foreign minister said. “We have lost seats and this means that we have to be humble.”