31 May 2019

The overall picture: fragmentation

Last week’s European Parliament elections reflected the growing fragmentation of politics across the continent, which have now been elevated to the EU and its institutions. As predicted in Open Europe’s pre-election briefing, ‘The 2019 European Parliamentary elections and the future of the European Project,’ the election saw gains for liberal, green and nationalist parties at the expense of the centre-right and centre-left.


The map below illustrates the largest MEP contingent sent to the European Parliament by political group.

Fragmentation is also reflected by the fact that in many countries, parties were able to ‘win’ the elections with a relatively small percentage of the overall vote share. In all but 3 EU member states (Poland, Hungary and Malta), it was possible to top the poll on 35% of the vote or less. In ten countries, the winning party received less than a quarter of the overall votes.


The end of the Grand Coalition

This election also saw the ‘grand coalition’ of the centre-right European People’s Party (EPP) and the centre-left Socialists and Democrats (S&D) lose their combined majority for the first time. This coalition, which carried 74% of EU legislation in the last Parliament, will now have to work with other groups – in particular the liberals (ALDE), as well as the Greens.


Was there a Green wave?

The 2019 election has widely been characterised as a ‘green wave’, in which environmentalist parties did far better than many predicted. While this analysis has merits, the ‘Green wave’ did not hit Europe evenly. When measured by the success of explicitly green parties, it appears to primarily be a Western and Northern European phenomenon, with little headway in Southern or Eastern Europe.


How did Eurosceptic parties do?

The successes of various Eurosceptic parties – including critical reformers, nationalists, populists, and left-wing Eurosceptics – also varied across the continent. By far their strongest performances were in Italy, Hungary, and Poland (where Eurosceptic parties are in government).

What was the impact of the UK’s unexpected participation?

The UK’s participation in the European elections had an incremental impact on the size of the political groups of the European Parliament, benefitting in particular the liberal and green groups. If the Brexit Party joins one of the Eurosceptic groups, its 29 MEPs will add additional clout – albeit on a temporary basis.


Further analysis from Open Europe’s experts:

Open Europe’s pre-election briefing: The 2019 European Parliamentary elections and the future of the European project

Open Europe’s analysis of how the European press and politicians reacted to the election results

Dominic Walsh: How will the UK’s participation in the European Parliament elections affect the EU?

Zoe Alipranti in the Telegraph: Conservatives are paying the price across Europe for aping populist Eurosceptics

Pieter Cleppe in the Spectator: Five myths about the European parliament election results