On Sunday, 21 of the 28 member-states of the European Union held votes for seats in the European Parliament, a vote which occurs every five years. The European Parliament is effectively the legislative body of the European Union and is second largest democratically-elected electorate in the world behind India’s Parliament. As such, these elections are one of the most important elections held on the globe.
Despite that fact, voter apathy still held, with less than 50 percent of people showing up at the polls. Of those that did turn out to vote, however, there was a strong message sent to the establishment parties of Europe.
By the time polls closed on Sunday, it was evident that the leading powers of the European Union have suffered much over the past five years due to economic crises and international tensions, with many far-right and fringe parties rising to unseen prominence.
In Germany, Merkel’s Christian Democratic bloc remained victorious, bringing in 35.5 percent of the total vote. That total represented the lowest percentage since votes for the European Parliament began in 1979, however.
The slack was picked up from two surprising sources – the newly-minted Eurosceptic party, Alternative for Germany, and the far-right, neo-Nazi National Democratic Party.
— The Economist (@TheEconomist) May 26, 2014
Alternative for Germany, abbreviated AfD, is barely one year old but making great headway in the German political scene. The party is not anti-EU, but rather anti-euro due to its exacerbation of non-competitive and inegalitarian economic policies. It is calling for the secession of southern European states from the eurozone.
In this election, AfD garnered 7 percent of the vote, resulting in 7 seats in the European Parliament.
In response to the 7 percent gain from the AfD and the 1 percent total from the National Democratic Party, Chancellor of Germany Angela Merkel had a somber message:
“It’s quite remarkable and regrettable but now the point is to win those voters back… A course directed toward competitiveness, growth, and jobs is the best response to those who are disappointed and have now voted the way we all didn’t want.”
Merkel’s comments have more impact when considered with a wider scope. While the far-right parties did not make a huge splash in the German political landscape, their gaining-strength was displayed in both France and the United Kingdom.
— European Parliament (@Europarl_EN) May 26, 2014
In France, far-right, anti-immigration National Front party won a majority of the votes, coming in at 26 percent. Even more shockingly, the current-ruling Socialist party came in third, with only 14 percent of the vote.
In the United Kingdom, the U.K. Independence Party, or UKIP, won 27 percent of the vote compared to 18 percent for David Cameron’s conservative party. The UKIP takes a hard-lined stance on its view toward the EU, with its leader, Nigel Farage, stating, “I don’t just want Britain to leave the European Union, I want Europe to leave the European Union.”
While Germany and Merkel may have not experienced the worst of the social upheaval at this year’s polls, her plan seems to be the right place to start. All of the far-right and fringe parties seemed to be gaining support through their opposition to the euro, a currency many people seem to blame for the current economic crisis in Europe.
If Germany and other countries want to cement their center-right political stranglehold and prevent the destruction of the EU, job growth and economic stability are the keys.
Image via Wikimedia Commons