Europe's leading parties lick wounds after bruising election

Mainstream parties have faced a drubbing at the hands of far-right populists and a rising Green tide.

    In Europe's powerhouses, supporters of mainstream parties have woken to a bruising defeat and are carefully considering their future. 

    More than 400 million Europeans in 28 member states including Brexiting Britain had been asked to cast a vote for a renewed five-year term of the European Union's only directly elected body, the European Parliament.

    Germany's governing parties were dealt their worst results for 70 years, with Chancellor Angela Merkel's centre-right Union bloc taking just 28.9 percent of the vote (down from 35.4 percent five years ago) and their Social Democrat allies receiving just 15.8 percent (down from 27.3 pecent in 2014).

    In France, President Emmanuel Macron has faced calls to dissolve parliament after the far right stormed to victory in the European Parliament elections. The results did not trigger "a national crisis", a government spokesperson told BFM TV, and Prime Minister Edouard Philippe "has all the confidence of the president".

    Macron's Republic on the Move party is a defining voice among pro-business liberals, but received just 5.1 million votes, compared with 5.3 million for Marine Le Pen's National Rally.

    Both will have 23 seats in the European Parliament, but the far-right National Rally will receive one more if and when Britain leaves the EU and its seats are reapportioned among the 27 nations who remain in the bloc.

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    "It's a victory for Marine Le Pen but a small one, less than a percentage point - so she seems to have failed to capitalise on the fact that Emmanuel Macron has had such a challenging year," said Al Jazeera's Natacha Butler, reporting from Paris.

    "His popularity has plummeted mainly because of the yellow vest crisis over inequality. He would have wanted his party to win but the fact the defeat is so small will be something of a relief for him and his party.

    "What these results tell us about France is they confirm the demise of the traditional parties of the left and right and confirms the position of the far-right as the main opposition," Butler added.

    Surging Greens and the far right

    It was, however, a good night for Europe's Green movement. France's Greens will have 13 seats after placing a surprisingly strong third, followed by eight seats for the conservative Republicans and six seats each for the far-left Defiant France and the Socialist group.

    In Germany, the Greens took second place with 20.5 percent, whereas its far-right AfD movement only managed a fourth-place showing with 11 percent of the vote. Provisional results across the continent show the Greens coming in as the fourth-largest bloc with 70 seats, an increase of 18 from European elections five years ago.

    The "Green wave" continued in Britain, where the Green party outperformed the governing Conservative party, pushing the crisis-hit Tories into fifth place.

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    But in Britain and in Italy, there was little surprise as right-wing populists surged.  

    Nigel Farage's Brexit party is set to be the joint largest party in the European Parliament, with 29 seats, after winning 31.6 percent of the vote.

    Liberal Democrats placed second with 20.3 percent, Labour third with 14.1 percent and the Greens with 12.1 percent. The Conservatives could only manage 9.1 percent.

    Overall, pro-remain parties outperformed the "hard-Brexiters", with the resurgent Liberal Democrats, rising Greens, brand new Change UK and Welsh progressive-nationalists Plaid Cymru getting a combined vote share of 38 percent. The Brexit party and UKIP had a combined total of 36.8 percent.

    The combined vote share for Conservative and Labour, which both favour a "soft Brexit", was 23.4 percent.

    "For me the big takeaway from the British vote is that the traditional two-party system is under enormous strain," said Al Jazeera's Laurence Lee, reporting from London.

    "The one thing the Brexit party, the Greens and Liberal Democrats all have in common is that they believe people vote for them when they know their votes will mean something. It is the biggest of ironies that Brexit is leading to calls for a more European style of voting from the parties which did well in this election."

    In Italy, Matteo Salvini, the leader of the far-right League, called on Europe's other populist parties to join a hardline Eurosceptic bloc after his party took a third of the nation's vote share, bolstering his role as the flagbearer of the nationalist and far-right forces in Europe. 

    Salvini told reporters in Milan that he is counting on Farage's Brexit Party and Hungary's Fidesz, led by Viktor Orban, to leave their current parliamentary groupings and join his Europe of Nations and Freedom group that includes far-right parties in France and Germany, among others.

    Salvini said he hopes to expand the group to at least 100 members, with an ambition to make it as many as 150, by also bringing in parties from the Czech Republic, Finland, Sweden, Denmark and Spain, "if everyone can overcome jealousies, sympathies and antipathies".

    Building blocs

    Rosa Balfour, of the German Marshall Fund of the United States think tank, said there were "different pictures in different countries", and it was crucial to see how much the far-right parties had in common as to whether they would be able to form an effective power bloc.

    "These parties share an anti-EU agenda," she told Al Jazeera, speaking from Brussels. "But there are some which are not Eurosceptic - they want to stay in the EU, but they don't want further integration - while others want to strip the EU of powers.

    "We have seen that the centre right has at times flirted with the far right, but it hasn't always been successful."

    There will be a special EU summit on Tuesday, as the continent's political leaders get stuck into horse-trading over establishing coalitions and voting blocs, but the main outcome of these elections is a shake-up of the former power bases across Europe.

    "It is the end of the dominance of the traditional axis within the European Parliament," said Al Jazeera's David Chater, reporting from Brussels. "You could say it's a victory for democracy, but it does mean that politics in Europe are getting even more complicated."

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies