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EU Populists Fall Short as Voters Swing Behind Greens, Liberals

By Bloomberg 26 May 2019
Caption
French Member of Parliament and president of the far-right 'Rassemblement National' party, Marine Le Pen (C), arrives prior to the hearing of the french Paris prefect Michel Delpuech (unseen) by the deputies of the Laws Committee concerning the scandal of President Macron's security chief Alexandre Benalla in Paris, France, 23 July 2018. A video has been released on 19 July 2018 allegedly showing Alexandre Benalla, the French President Emmanuel Macron's deputy chief of staff, wearing a riot helmet and police uniform while attacking protesters during street demonstrations on 01 May 2018. EPA-EFE/CHRISTOPHE PETIT TESSON

Mainstream European Union parties are holding their ground against the assault from populists in elections for the bloc’s Parliament, according to the first set of exit polls.

With voting still going on in some countries, the parties who rally against foreigners, want to rein in the EU and despise the cozy relationship between centrist groups, aren’t performing as well as some establishment politicians feared.

Instead, it’s the Liberals and the Greens set to post the biggest gains in the first EU-wide test of public opinion in five years. Turnout looks set to be the highest for two decades as voters respond to the populist threat.

The big exception looks to be France where President Emmanuel Macron talked up this election as a straight choice between those who are for or against the EU. His party has been defeated by Marine Le Pen’s euroskeptic National Rally, according to exit polls.

“The French people gave a lesson in humility” to Macron, far-right candidate Jordan Bardella said.

With full results from across Europe filtering in over the next six hours, the focus will be on whether the mainstream postwar center-right and center-left alliances will have a majority in the European Parliament as has been the case since direct elections began 40 years ago.

According to the first official EU projection based on the exit polls, the two big alliances will make up 43% of the seats, down from 56% in 2014. Populist parties look set to win 29% of the Europe-wide vote, slightly down from 30% in the current Parliament, according to official EU projections. The pro-business Liberals and the Greens look like the big winners with 14% and 9% respectively.

That would mean that the EU is likely to broadly continue current policies: distancing itself from U.S. President Donald Trump’s protectionist trade strategy, gradually integrating the euro area, seeking a way to share the burden of non-EU migrants and holding firm against any U.K. attempt to reopen the Brexit deal.

While Chancellor Angela Merkel’s CDU/CSU bloc is a clear winner in Germany, with 28% of the vote, according to exit polls, that’s less than the 35% recorded in 2014. The Social Democrats, Merkel’s junior coalition partner, slumped to 15.5% from 27%, while the Greens surged to second place. The nationalist AfD is set to record 10.5%, according to the indication, lower than forecast but up on 2014’s 7%.

“This election result is not a result that meets the ambitions that we’ve set for ourselves as a mass party,” Merkel’s chosen successor, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, told party members in Berlin.

Across Europe, it’s a similar picture of euroskeptic parties failing to make breakthroughs:

In Denmark, exit polls show the nationalist Danish People’s Party will get less than 12% of the vote, after getting 21% in the last national election In Slovakia, the far-right party is set to finish third In Finland, with 21% of the vote counted, the far-right Finns party is getting 13% — more or less in line with its 2014 showing In Greece, the opposition center-right New Democracy is on course to beat Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’s Syriza

Turnout across the 28 countries is the highest in 20 years, according to official EU estimates, and has risen for the first time ever.

Results from the U.K. are due to be published from 10 p.m. local time. The U.K. was obliged to participate in the election because it didn’t leave the EU on March 29 as scheduled. DM

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