Author Archives: glhermine

Colombia 2014

Presidential elections were held in Colombia on May 25 and June 15, 2014. The President is the head of state and government of Colombia, which is a presidential republic.

The President of Colombia is elected to a four-year term in office, renewable once (with no possibility for non-consecutive reelection after two terms in office) by a two-round system. In the first round, a candidate needs to win 50%+1 of the valid votes cast – in Colombia, there is a blank vote (voto en blanco) option on all ballots which is counted in the final tally of valid votes. If no candidate meets this threshold, a second round is held between the top two candidates – once again because of the voto en blanco option, a candidate only needs to win a plurality of the vote in the second round to be elected. Like in the United States, the presidential candidate runs on a ticket with a running-mate, who becomes Vice President if the ticket wins and accedes to the Presidency if the office falls vacant.

These elections followed congressional elections held on March 9. I covered the results of the congressional elections in extensive detail here, and right before that I covered Colombia’s political history and the background to these elections in a preview post.

Background

President Juan Manuel Santos was elected to the presidency in 2010, as the somewhat natural successor of two-term President Álvaro Uribe, who was elected in 2002. Uribe, a former Liberal who had been governor of Antioquia department (centered around Medellín) in the 1990s, was widely known in Colombia and abroad for his tough, uncompromising stance (known as seguridad democrática or ‘democratic security’) against the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia, FARC), the leftist guerrillas-cum-narcoterrorists who have been the most active and violent anti-governmental guerrilla group in Colombia since the mid-1960s.

When Uribe took office in 2002, Colombia was in a chaotic state: guerrilla violence had increased significantly since the late 1990s, in the forms of murders, kidnappings, extortion; at the other extreme, far-right paramilitaries, financed by drug trafficking and assisted by many in government and the military, had grown in size, power and influence and were behind the massacres of hundreds of civilians in the countryside. Between 1998 and 2002, President Andrés Pastrana’s attempt to reach a negotiated settlement with the FARC in exchange for the concession of a large demilitarized zone to the FARC had ended in disaster: the FARC used the DMZ to rearm, train and continue their campaign of terror. Just months before the 2002 election, the exasperated Colombian government ordered the army to retake the DMZ. Uribe promised a hard line against the FARC – there would be no peace until armed groups agreed to demobilize on the state’s terms. Uribe was elected in a landslide. In 2006, having managed to amend the constitution to allow consecutive reelection, he was reelected in a landslide again.

Uribe successfully managed to significantly reduce the toll of political violence on the country – under his two terms in office, the homicide rate fell significantly (70.2 in 2002 to 33.4 in 2010). The largest paramilitary group, the United Self-Defenses of Colombia (Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia, AUC), were demobilized gradually between 2003 and 2006. Uribe’s government claimed success and argued it had balanced the considerations of peace and justice. However, the demobilization was rife with controversy: the government was found to be lenient on the paramilitaries and a 2005 ‘justice and peace law’ passed by Congress offered shortened jail sentences to paramilitary leaders if they confessed (even if only partially) some of their crimes. Since the demobilization, many demobilized paramilitaries have recycled themselves in new criminal gangs, which may have as many as 6,000-10,000 members. Beginning in 2006, the parapolítica (parapolitics) scandal revealed to the general public the extent of ties between the murderous paramilitaries and high-ranking politicians (ministers, governors, congressmen, military officers). Most of those politicians implicated in the parapolitics scandal were supporters of President Uribe.

The government’s military strategy against the FARC paid off, especially in 2008: in March, a cross-border raid in Ecuador killed the FARC’s second-in-command, Raúl Reyes (sparking a diplomatic row with Ecuador and Venezuela); in July, the military successfully rescued several FARC hostages, including the most well known of them, Ingrid Betancourt, a 2002 presidential candidate who had been held captive by the FARC since 2002. However, by the time Uribe left office, the FARC was still nowhere close to total defeat: they remained a real and potent threat, with a strong offensive capacity and robust bases in remote regions. However, Uribe’s security policies were also criticized – there remains strong concerns regarding human rights violations by the military, tragically exemplified by the ‘false positives’ scandal – a long-standing practice (revealed in 2008) of extrajudicial assassinations of civilians by the army to present them as guerrillas killed in action, to embellish the army’s record.

Human rights concerns were often cited by American lawmakers seeking to reduce the hefty multi-million dollar US military aid to Colombia (officially in the name of the war on drugs, and, post-9/11, in the ‘war on terror’ against the guerrillas). Under Uribe’s presidency, Colombia became the Bush administration’s strongest ally in Latin America in the context of the ‘pink wave’. Washington significantly expanded its contribution to Plan Colombia, blurring the lines between counternarcotics and counterinsurgency operations. In return, the Uribe administration extradited a growing number of its citizens to face trial in the US. Latin American left-wingers, notably Hugo Chávez, strongly criticized Uribe’s pro-American stance and Bogotá’s military alliance with the US – a 2009 Defense Cooperation Agreement with the US led to a diplomatic crisis with Venezuela, which charged that Bogotá was preparing for an invasion of Venezuela with US assistance. In turn, Uribe’s government often suspected that Chávez was harbouring or assisting the FARC, a view confirmed when the Colombian military seized a laptop from Raúl Reyes’ headquarters and found files detailing meetings between FARC leaders and Venezuelan military officers or the existence of ‘safe areas’ in Venezuela.

Uribe attracted controversy on a wide number of fronts, including his own autocratic style. During the parapolítica scandal, in which over 70 congressmen were implicated, Uribe tried to short-circuit the judiciary’s work by mulling amnesties, reduced sentences for those who confessed and confronting the Supreme Court over an alleged judicial conspiracy against Uribe (which was likely fabricated by Uribe himself). Between 2008 and 2010, Uribe’s allies in Congress tried to hold a referendum to amend the constitution to allow him to run for a third consecutive term in office in 2010. These attempts were highly controversial, but the Constitutional Court killed Congress’ referendum bill, declaring both the bill and the legislative process deeply flawed and unconstitutional.

Uribe’s high levels of popularity rested not only on his democratic security policies, but also on the country’s robust economic growth during his two terms – the economy grew by as much as 7% in 2007 and, unlike Brazil and Venezuela, did not go in recession in 2009. In office, Uribe generally favoured neoliberal and free-market policies, with a focus on improving public finances, reforming government and reducing inflation. The government claimed to have made progress in reducing poverty and income inequality in one of the region’s most unequal and class stratified countries. In 2010, 37% of Colombians still lived under the national poverty line and 39.5% lived on less than $4 a day.

Unable to run for reelection himself, Uribe endorsed Juan Manuel Santos, his defense minister (2006-2009) and the scion of a prominent Colombian family – his uncle, Eduardo Santos Montejo, was a Liberal president from 1938 to 1942, and his family owned El Tiempo, Colombia’s largest newspaper, for generations. Santos left the Liberal Party along with other uribistas and later helped created the Party of the U (Partido de la U, formally known as the Social Party of National Unity/Partido Social de la Unidad Nacional or PSUN) to rally many uribistas in Congress. As defense minister, Santos was directly responsible for approving the operations which killed Raúl Reyes and freed Ingrid Betancourt; in his tenure, he also made real efforts to enforce respect for human rights in military actions and handled the ‘false positives’ well (by forcing an end to such actions, and not attempting to whitewash it). Santos was widely seen as Uribe’s preferred candidate (although Uribe’s real favourite was his agriculture minister Andrés Felipe Arias, who was defeated by Noemí Sanín in the Conservative primaries), and his campaign repeatedly emphasized both Uribe’s record and his own record as his defense minister.

Santos dominated the first round on May 30 with 46.7% against only 21.5% for Antanas Mockus, a former mayor of Bogotá (1995-1997, 2001-2003) and eccentric outsider running for the newly-created Green Party (Partido Verde, PV). A month later, Santos was handily elected President with 69.1% against 27.5% for Mockus. The election was disturbed by a severe diplomatic crisis with Venezuela – Chávez lashed out at Santos, who he called a ‘real military threat’, a ‘mafioso’ and a pawn of the ‘Yankee imperialists’, and that ‘there would be war’ if Santos won. Colombia revealed proof that of the presence of FARC and ELN (Ejército de Liberación Nacional, a smaller guerrilla organization founded in 1964 and originally inspired by the Cuban Revolution and Liberation Theology) guerrillas in Venezuela, to which Caracas responded by breaking off diplomatic relations with Colombia and moving troops to border regions. Upon taking office, Santos successfully defused the crisis by meeting with Chávez.

Upon taking office, Santos continued the military strategy against the FARC, but he also said that the door to peace talks with the FARC was not closed. However, in 2010, the FARC’s answer to Santos’ more conciliatory attitude was a wave of attacks and ambushes. In September 2010, the military scored a major success in a large-scale and well-orchestrated operation which killed ‘Mono Jojoy’, one of the FARC’s top military leaders. His death was hailed by both the government and the media as a significant blow to the FARC, given that Mono Jojoy was considered as one of the FARC’s leading military commanders and a key person in the organization. In November 2011, in another major blow to the FARC, the military killed Alfonso Cano, Marulanda’s successor as the political leader of the FARC.

Soon after taking office, Santos’ government proposed legislation to address the issue of land ownership – restoring land stolen or purchased under duress by paramilitaries and guerrillas. Unequal land distribution has been both a cause and consequence of the conflict, with some 16,000 people in 2005 owning over 62% of the land and about 6 million hectares illegally or violently seized. The government’s law proposed to return the land to their original owners, placing the burden of proof on owners. The law was passed in 2011, but application has been slow and claimants have lived in fear of neo-paramilitary groups, which have killed or threatened those claiming land.

The law was part of a wider landmark ‘Victims and Land Restitution Law’. The law was welcomed because, for the first time, the government recognized the existence of an ‘armed conflict’ and its legal, humanitarian implications. Secondly, the law also allowed for compensation to those who had been victims of abuses by state forces – not only the FARC and paramilitaries. An Amnesty International report, however, cited major concerns with the law including: definition of victims (excluding those who continue to suffer abuses from neo-paramilitaries, unrecognized as such by the government), the exclusion of many displaced persons from the process and playing down state responsibility. The analysis also looked into barriers to the restitution of land, clauses which may legitimize land theft and inadequate support for victims.

Santos has taken a more diplomatic demeanor in his relations with his neighbors; under Uribe, relations with Chávez’s Venezuela and Rafael Correa’s Ecuador were often strained while relations with left-wing governments in Brazil and Argentina were barely any better. In office, Santos restored diplomatic ties with Ecuador and Venezuela, effecting an unofficial truce with Venezuela. In exchange for Venezuela extraditing Colombian guerrillas, Bogotá extradited a Venezuelan accused of drug trafficking to Venezuela instead of the US. In August 2010, after the Constitutional Court struck down the 2009 defense cooperation agreement as unconstitutional, Santos did nothing to revive the contentious agreement which had soured Bogotá’s regional ties.

Santos’ foreign policy has been only one issue which has soured relations with Uribe. Santos has never been Uribe’s puppet, even when he was his ostensibly loyal defense minister, but relations between the two men started going south in 2011. Uribe faulted Santos for his cordial ties with Chávez, claiming that Colombia could not have diplomatic relations with a country which harboured terrorists. Uribe also began criticizing his successor’s domestic policies – he found Santos’ security policy ineffective and soft, he opposed the land restitution law, he opposed amending a bill to remove responsibility for judging abuses by security forces from military courts and strongly opposed any talks of negotiations with the FARC. The government’s tax reform in 2012 was seen as an attack on Uribe, given that it sought to remove tax breaks and incentives for companies created by Uribe. Finally, Santos welcomed two 2010 presidential candidates known as critics of Uribe into his cabinet: Germán Vargas Lleras became Minister of the Interior (until May 2012, later Minister of Housing) and Rafael Pardo, the Liberal candidate in 2010, was appointed Minister of Labour.

Several high-ranking allies of Uribe have also been prosecuted in corruption cases. Andrés Felipe Arias, Uribe’s agriculture minister, was arrested in 2011 for his role in the Agro Ingreso Seguro, an agricultural subsidy which ended up in the hands of powerful landowners and even a beauty queen. Uribe’s former chief of staff was also arrested for his role in a DAS wiretapping scandal. Uribe has stood by his allies, claiming they were victims of political persecution.

In June 2012, Santos ran into controversy over a proposed judicial reform which started out with fairly good intentions but turned, thanks to Congress, into a disaster for the government. The judiciary opposed the government’s early projects, but the situation became chaotic when Congress approved the bill including various advantages for corrupt congressmen/ex-congressmen: notably stripping the Supreme Court of its power to investigate corruption cases involving legislators. The Minister of Justice announced his resignation in disgust, there were several opposition protests against the bill and the left clamored for a referendum on the bill. Bowing to the enormous pressure, Santos convened Congress to repeal the law only a few days after it was passed.

Santos’ government has felt that, to secure peace, it needed to offer the guerrillas incentives to negotiate. In May 2012, Congress passed a law giving itself the power to decide the criteria determining which crimes would be investigated by prosecutors and which would be investigated by others. The bill was opposed by both Uribe and human rights groups, the latter claiming that it guaranteed impunity for those who committed crimes against humanity. Now that Colombia is a full member of the ICC, crimes against humanity and war crimes are the full jurisdiction of the ICC and amnesty could be challenged there.

In September 2012, Santos publicly confirmed that Colombian officials had been engaged in secret negotiations with the FARC in Cuba and Norway. The talks, in secret, likely began in January and by October, the two parties reached agreement on a framework for those talks. Santos claimed that they had learned the mistakes of the past and they would not be repeated; notably, the talks are being held abroad, and there is no concession of a DMZ to the FARC within Colombian territory. The talks were accompanied with a two-month ceasefire from the FARC, which they generally respected; but in 2013, the FARC returned to kidnappings (albeit many hostages were quickly released) and killing police officers. Some saw the attacks as a way for the FARC to prove that they remain a potent threat, without undermining the peace talks

In May 2013, agreement was reached on the first topic under discussion: rural development. The agreement talked of loans and technical help for small farmers, but nothing will be implemented until there is a final agreement on all matters. Other issues on the list are political participation (allowing the FARC to participate in the political process, while guaranteeing their safety, after drug lords and paramilitaries mowed down UP leaders and members in the 1980s), ending the conflict (the FARC surrendering their weapons and demobilizing), the issue of drugs and drug trafficking (Santos has come out in favour of considering the legalization of soft drugs) and finally victims (both of FARC and government atrocities).

In August, talks were hiccuped when the FARC felt that the government was rushing the talks forward in a (failed) attempt to reach a final deal before the March 2014 elections. But after a three-day walkout, the FARC returned to the table. In November, after reaching tentative agreement on political participation, the talks were rocked by revelations of a FARC plot to assassinate Uribe and other politicians (although it wasn’t clear if they were current plans). The issue of justice and the future of FARC leaders, who may face charges of crimes against humanity, will be very difficult.

Uribe has strongly opposed negotiations with the FARC, viewing it as akin to surrendering to terrorists. He used his Twitter account to publicize, on one occasion with a graphic picture, the FARC’s guerrilla attacks and their victims.

In February 2014, Semana, a popular magazine, reported that a military intelligence unit had been spying on the government’s negotiating team in the FARC peace talks for over a year. Uribe denied being on the receiving end of confidential information; his disclosure of confidential information (in August 2012, announcing the secret negotiations; in 2013, tweeting the coordinates of where an helicopter was picking up negotiators in a jungle clearing) in the past had raised questions. Two weeks after the revelations, Santos fired General Leonardo Barrero, the commander of the military; this time in links to Semana publicizing a transcript of a conversation the general had with a colonel facing charges for the extrajudicial killing of civilians.

Santos has been considerably less popular than his predecessor. There were student protests against a controversial education reform in 2011. In August 2013, large protests including miners, truckers, coffee growers, milk producers, public healthcare workers, students and others erupted in several departments. Both Uribe and the FARC, opportunistically, threw their support behind the protests. The protesters had different gripes: coffee growers demanding government assistance to counter dropping prices, farmers protested disadvantageous export prices and restrictions on the use of Colombian seeds (over foreign seeds, under the FTA), truckers demanding investment in infrastructure to fix Colombia’s bad roads, others opposing the terms of the FTA with the US which was finally ratified in 2011. Mining contracts with foreign mining giants have often led to local protests, motivated by fears that mining would hurt local agriculture and the water supply. In the wake of the protests, Santos’ approval rating in September 2013 tumbled to the low 20s (from about 50%), with voters citing disapproval of the way Santos had handled the protests.

Colombia’s armed conflict, since the 1960s, has claimed the lives of up to 200,000 people and displaced nearly 5 million people, as campesinos were forced to migrate towards the cities by the guerrillas, forced recruitment of family members or paramilitaries/landowners forcibly expropriating millions of hectares. However, the armed conflict has rarely prevented economic growth in Colombia, which has only been in recession one year since 1980. In 2014, the economy will continue to grow by 4.5%, a stronger growth rate than either Argentina or Brazil. Unemployment has come down from 12% in 2010 to 9% today, the macroeconomic outlook is healthy and poverty is down (but 33% of the population remains poor, according to a recent CEPAL study, and over half of the labour force is employed in the informal sector) – the upbeat government is selling Colombia as open for business, especially in the energy and mining sectors. However, income inequality remains a huge issue in Colombia – one of the world’s most unequal countries according to the Gini index (55.9)

Candidates

Juan Manuel Santos, the incumbent President, was the candidate of the Unidad Nacional (National Unity) coalition, which is formally made up of the Party of the U, the Liberal Party and Germán Vargas Lleras’ Radical Change (Cambio Radical) party.

Santos is affiliated with the Party of the U, originally founded in 2005 by uribista Liberal dissidents (like Santos). Although the U never became a ‘party of power’ (unlike Chávez’s PSUV) but it evolved into a santista party since 2010 as Santos cemented his control over the party. As such, the party has shifted ideologically from a conservative and strongly hawkish position to a more moderate and pragmatic positions. Santos is, if such terms can be used, on the centre-right and declares himself to be an admirer of Tony Blair’s Third Way.

The Liberal Party (Partido Liberal Colombiano, PLC) is one of Colombia’s two historically dominant parties, alongside the Conservatives, and exist since the 1840s. Until 1957, with some exceptions, the Liberals and Conservatives alternated in power not through elections but rather through bloody civil wars. The last such civil war between the two parties, La Violencia, was so violent and destructive – lasting from 1948 until 1957 and killing 200,000-300,000 – that the Liberals and Conservatives agreed to share power and alternate in the presidency. This arrangement, the National Front, which lasted until 1974 (but power-sharing of government jobs lasted until 1990), signaled the end of sharp distinctions between the two parties who were no longer separated by any one issue and agreeing on most issues of the day. The Liberals were hit particularly hard by the defection of several of their members, first and foremost Uribe himself, to uribismo after 2002. The Liberal leadership joined the ranks of the opposition to Uribe; although they retained a fairly significant (if much reduced) bench in Congress, the Liberals have performed terribly in presidential elections since 2002: 11.8% in 2006 and 4.4% in 2010. The Liberals have long since lost all ideological content, and remain largely an assemblage of caciques and veteran politicians – granted, all Colombian parties are like that.

The Radical Change party (CR) was founded in 1998 by Liberal dissidents, supporters of assassinated Liberal politician Luis Carlos Galán (killed by Pablo Escobar’s Medellín cartel in 1989). In 2002, Germán Vargas Lleras, the grandson of a former President and Senator (1998-2008), joined the party along with his personalist outfit, ‘Colombia Siempre‘ (Colombia Always). In the Senate, Vargas Lleras was a noted opponent of the government’s peace talks with the FARC in 1998-2002 and, as such, he grew closer to another opponent, Álvaro Uribe. The CR came to become an uribista party, but it was also very much implicated in the parapolitics scandal – 8 of its 33 congressmen in the 2006-2010 term were arrested, investigated or ordered to be arrested by the Supreme Court and the Attorney General. Vargas Lleras opposed Uribe’s reelection for a third term and ran for president in 2010, placing third with 10.1% of the vote. Vargas Lleras later joined Santos’ cabinet (serving in the interior and later housing portfolios), and he was Santos’ running-mate.

Juan Manuel Santos is an ambitious, wily politician who has always managed to work himself into favourable positions politically, despite a lack of any electoral experience until his election to the presidency in 2010. Santos, as aforementioned, comes from a leading family of the Colombian (Liberal) elite and he received a top-notch foreign education in the United States (University of Kansas and Harvard) and the United Kingdom (LSE). Álvaro Uribe, on the other hand, comes from a much less elitist background (unlike Santos, Uribe is not from Bogotá but from Medellín in Antioquia), which gives him a more populist touch and makes him seem ‘closer to the people’ than the cosmopolitan and elitist Santos. Ideologically, while Uribe is dogmatic, ideologically conservative and inflexible; Santos is at heart a pragmatist if not an opportunist. Santos is often criticized by his opponents of his longstanding political opportunism – he originally was a harsh critic of Andrés Pastrana’s government but joined Pastrana’s cabinet as Minister of Finance in 2000, he opposed Uribe from 2002 until early 2005 (as late as January 2005, Santos penned an op-ed in El Tiempo opposing Uribe’s reelection) before working his way into Uribe’s cabinet as Minister of Defense and taking control of the Party of the U. Nowadays, he is often criticized for having little qualms in allying with corrupt politicians, ex-parapolitics congressmen, powerful local caciques and party bosses.

Santos’ main campaign issue were the peace negotiations with the FARC/ELN and the promise of peace during a second term, which Santos claimed would create a stronger country and argued that peace could create over a million jobs in Colombia. At the same time, Santos also promised to increase safety in the country by increasing sanctions for misdemeanors, intervening in troubled urban areas to restore order, increasing law enforcement capabilities and focusing more closely on domestic violence and sexual crimes. Santos promised to make Colombia a regional centre for outsourcing, call centres and IT; he also supported investments to help young entrepreneurs, facilitating access to credit for new businesses, helping SMEs and job creation in all sectors. He also heavily promoted an ambitious large-scale infrastructure plan to massively expand highways, railways, ports and public transit. The incumbent promised to eliminate extreme poverty by 2020 by building over 1 million new houses (including free housing), promoting traineeships for poor youths, increasing existing subsidies/benefits, providing low-cost housing opportunities and improving education. Like most other candidates, Santos’ platform included promises to improve healthcare access, heavily strengthening and improving education (a major focus as of late for the Colombian government), bolstering Colombia’s regional and international standing and protecting the environment (through financial incentives for businesses).

In March 2014, the three parties of the National Unity coalition won 47 senators (21 U, 17 Liberal, 9 CR) and 92 representatives (39 Liberal, 37 U, 16 CR) – so, a majority in the latter but only a plurality in the former.

Having failed to regain control of the U, Álvaro Uribe has created his own party to oppose Santos’ government, the Democratic Centre (Centro Democrático, CD) in 2013. The CD’s presidential candidate was Óscar Iván Zuluaga, Uribe’s former Minister of Finance and Public Credit (2007-2010) and an uribista Senator prior to that, from 2002 to 2006.

The CD is very much a personalist party built around and entirely dominated by Uribe: it was actually first known as the ‘Uribe Democratic Centre’ and the party’s original logo was Uribe’s face (the current logo is a man’s silhouette, which looks similar to Uribe). The party’s slogan, which is part of its official electoral name, is Uribe’s emblematic 2002 slogan – mano firme, corazón grande (firm hand, big heart). The CD include uribistas from other parties, notably the U and the Conservatives. Prominent members of the CD include Uribe’s Vice President Francisco ‘Pacho’ Santos Calderón (who is also the President’s first cousin) and the former governor of Antioquia Luis Alfredo Ramos. Zuluaga and these two men have been linked to the parapolitics scandal: ‘Pacho’ Santos is under investigation for a meeting with AUC leaders in which he allegedly suggested that the AUC creates a front in Bogotá; in August 2013, Ramos was arrested on orders of the Attorney General for his presumed ties to paramilitaries; Zuluaga was investigated by the Attorney General in 2007 for a 2003 picture of him at an event for a former paramilitary running for mayor.

Zuluaga was nominated as the CD’s presidential candidate in October 2013, defeating ‘Pacho’ Santos and Carlos Holmes Trujillo (a senior diplomat under Uribe) – the latter was later selected as Zuluaga’s running mate.

In March, Álvaro Uribe was the CD’s top candidate for the Senate, where the CD narrowly missed out on first place – winning 14.3% of the vote and 19 seats. In the lower house, however, the CD won only 9.5% and 18 seats.

What differentiated Zuluaga from Santos – and many of the other candidates as well – was his virulent opposition to peace talks with the FARC/ELN, which has been the major point of disagreement between Uribe and Santos. When that admittedly top issue is ignored for a moment, both Santos and Zuluaga actually agreed on a lot of other major topics including the economy, jobs, healthcare, education, the environment, citizen safety, poverty and judicial reform.

On the issue of peace, Zuluaga conditioned the continuation of negotiations with the ‘terrorist groups’ (as the FARC/ELN are called by uribistas) to their an unilateral ceasefire including a rapidly verifiable disarming and demobilization (conditions which the FARC would refuse). He strongly opposed any constituent assembly, demobilization of the Colombian armed forces, demanded that FARC criminals face tough judicial sentences and refused to allow former FARC leader to participate in politics. Defending Uribe’s famous and popular policy of seguridad democrática, Zuluaga also called on strengthening the armed forces at a regional level, conditional release of military personnel imprisoned for certain types of offenses, raising military salaries and strengthening a network of civilian ‘cooperators’. He also proposed a large-scale plan to disarm individuals and groups, with compensation if necessary.

On other issues, as aforementioned, Zuluaga came close to Santos – once you take away the fluff and policy focus differences – on other major issues. Zuluaga appeared less ambitious (more realistic?) with regards to infrastructure and tangible job creation but went further than Santos on healthcare accessibility and fighting rural poverty. The two did differ on minority rights (with Santos being a proponent of stronger self-government for the indigenous and Afro-Colombian minorities, while Zuluaga focused on affirmative action and improving education) and political reform (Santos going further with ideas to abolish reelection, electoral reform and anti-corruption measures; while Zuluaga focused on reducing costs and improving efficiency in government).

La Silla Vacía had an excellent feature allowing you to compare the candidates’ stances on the major issues, and comparing where Santos and Zuluaga in particular stood on these issues (in Spanish, por supuesto).

Marta Lucía Ramírez was the candidate of the Conservative Party (Partido Conservador Colombiano, PCC). Ramírez, an ambitious and determined politician, served as Minister of Foreign Trade under President Andrés Pastrana (1998-2002) and as Minister of Defense under Álvaro Uribe (2002-2006). In the latter job, her aggressive style and daring ideas (centralizing military procurement) clashed with the military, which was already very cool towards a civilian woman as minister. Elected to the Senate for the Party of the U in 2006, she left the U in 2009 to run, unsuccessfully, for the Conservative presidential nomination in 2010.

The Conservatives were, with the Liberals, the other dominant party for over a century. The Conservatives dominated much of the early twentieth century (until 1930) in Colombia, following the collapse of federalism and the adoption of a highly centralist and strongly conservative constitution in 1886. Like the Liberals, the Conservatives have always been a complex web of competing clans and factions – often led by mutually antagonistic caciques. The Conservatives last held the Colombian presidency between 1998 and 2002, with Andrés Pastrana, most famous for the failed peace negotiations with the FARC which very much weakened the Conservatives in the 2002 elections – so much that they ran no candidates and backed Uribe, while taking a major hit in Congress. Joining the uribista coalition, the Conservatives enjoyed a brief resurgence in congressional elections in 2006 and 2010, but their presidential candidate in 2010, former ambassador and two-time (1998, 2002) independent presidential candidate Noemí Sanín, won only 6.1% and fifth place. The party was very much divided over the current government and its strategy for 2014: most of its congressional candidates were santista, but the party has a strong pro-Uribe group – Alejando Ordóñez, the somewhat controversial Inspector General, is a Conservative and close ally of Uribe, known for conservative and Catholic positions on social issues. Ramírez is a moderate uribista and anti-santista, who was nominated despite the best efforts of Conservative caciques. She had the backing of only 6-8 of the Conservative Party’s 19 senators – in general, the base and local structures were in her favour, but congressmen were largely santista (the government having been good at providing congressmen with ‘marmalade’).

Ramírez landed between the ‘doves’ and the ‘hawks’ on the peace issue – she said that she would set a strict four month to finalize negotiations and insisted that the FARC comply with certain immediate conditions: stop recruiting child soldiers, immediate stop to all war crimes and cooperation in the eradication of minefields. Ramírez also promised that there would be a referendum on the deals which had already been reached with the FARC. Her campaign also focused on improving education, expanding access to post-secondary education and boosting youth entrepreneurship.

Clara López ran for the Democratic Alternative Pole (Polo Democrático Alternativo, PDA), the largest left-wing party in Colombia. The country stands out from its neighbors because the left has always been weak: the ties (real or imagined) of many left-wingers to the FARC have brought the leftist brand into disrepute while paramilitaries and drug cartels have often assassinated left-wing politicians – in the 1980s, for example, the pro-FARC Patriotic Union (UP), was more or less exterminated by the cartels and paramilitaries in the 1980s and 1990s until it was forced stop participating in elections. The Polo was founded in 2005, by the merger of two parties. Since then, it has been one of the few parties unambiguously in opposition to both Uribe and Santos. Many of its politicians were members or sympathized with armed guerrilla movements in the 1970s and 1980s, especially the demobilized (in 1990) M-19 group.

In 2006, the Polo benefited from a polarization of public opinion and its candidate, Carlos Gaviria (called a communist by Uribe), won 22% and placed a distant second to Uribe. However, it won only a few seats in Congress (10 in the Senate, 8 in the Chamber). In Congress, however, many Polo leaders over time have gained notoriety for leading charges against the government – under Uribe, then-senator Gustavo Petro blew the whistle in the parapolitics case and the Polo opposed the FTA with the US and backed same-sex marriage bills. In 2010, the party was weakened by rising internal dissent between moderates (clearly anti-FARC) and leftists (some with lingering sympathies for the FARC); the Polo lost seats in the congressional elections (8 and 5 seats in the two respective houses) and the party’s candidate, moderate senator Gustavo Petro, won 9%. After the election, a major internal crisis led to moderates around Petro quitting the party, which is now led by Clara López.

López is the niece of former President Alfonso López Michelsen (1974-1978), a left-wing Liberal who opposed the National Front arrangement with the Conservatives, and López herself made her first steps in local politics in Bogotá under the banner of Luis Carlos Galán’s New Liberalism in the mid-1980s before moving towards the left and the UP. She was a close ally of former Bogotá mayor Samuel Moreno (2008-2011), who was removed from office by the Inspector General because of corruption scandals (construction kickbacks). She became acting mayor of Bogotá for six months in 2011 after Moreno’s removal from office, and she made a very good impression. After having been Gustavo Petro’s running-mate in 2010, López became a harsh critic of Petro, especially after his 2011 election as mayor of Bogotá and subsequent controversial policies of his administration.

The Polo agreed with the government on the peace process, and López promised to honour whatever agreements the Santos government had reached. The Polo, however, disagrees with Santos on most other issues. López promised substantial state investments in housing, a judicial reform to make it more democratic and transparent, a restructuring of the health system, reforming private health insurers (who manage public healthcare funds), free education to the university level, doubling spending on education, stricter regulation of big mining companies and banning big mining projects in fragile natural ecosystems.

López shifted her campaign towards the centre, trying to appeal to a wider crowd of unhappy voters rather than the narrower left-wing base. She placed more emphasis on issues which differentiated her from Santos – education, healthcare – and argued that he was disconnected from the reality.

The Polo’s 2014 strategy revolved around harnessing the 2013 social protest movements. Many of its congressional candidates in March were recruited from social movements (miners, truckers, healthcare, academia, agriculture) or trade unions. López’s candidacy was endorsed by the main teacher’s union (Fecode) and the largest trade union confederation in the country (CUT), and supported by the UP (which was recreated in 2013) – López’s running mate was from the UP.

Senator Jorge Enrique Robledo, a former coffee worker union leader from Tolima, was the Polo’s top candidate for Senate in March and was the single most voted candidate in the country (191,910 votes or 1.3% of the total votes cast), although that didn’t stop the party from losing a total of 5 seats in both houses of Congress. Robledo gained notoriety and popularity for being an active, competent legislator and as a vocal congressional opponent to Uribe and Santos (free trade, defense agreement with the US, agricultural policy). He was investigated by the Attorney General for presumed ties to the FARC, but it is widely believed that the investigation, now dropped, was politically-motivated.

Enrique Peñalosa was the candidate of the Green Alliance (Alianza Verde) – or perhaps more accurately, the Green Party (Partido Verde, PV). Peñalosa won the Green Alliance’s nomination in a successful open primary organized alongside the congressional elections in March.

The Green Alliance is the result of the September 2013 alliance of the Green Party with the Progressives Movement (Movimiento Progresistas). Located in the centre of the spectrum, the Greens adopted their name in 2009 (although they were founded in 2005) and did, all things considered, remarkably well in the 2010 presidential election with the candidacy of the eccentric former mayor of Bogotá, Antanas Mockus. Mockus placed a very distant second with 21.5% in the first round, but lost heavily in the second round (27.5%). In Congress, however, the Greens won few seats in 2010 – 5 senators and 3 representatives. The Greens are something of a big-tent party, with little ideological cohesion – pro-government voices (the Greens were considered part of the governing coalition until recently), some close to Uribe and others on the left opposed the government.

Enrique Peñalosa, who comes from a political family (his father was a Liberal cabinet minister in the 1960s and a diplomat), was elected mayor of Bogotá as an independent Liberal dissident in 1997 (on his third try) and held the office until 2000, when he was replaced by Antanas Mockus, the gadfly maverick who had defeated him in 1994. Given his background in urban studies, Peñalosa’s administration liked big infrastructure projects and expanding public spaces. Peñalosa is hard to define ideologically – he leans to the left on matters such as social equality but strongly supports law-and-order, which made him sympathize with the legal paramilitary groups/private militias (CONVIVIR) in the 1990s (that idea went about just as well as you’d expect it, before it was ruled unconstitutional in 1997) and, later, with Álvaro Uribe’s security policies. In his 2007 mayoral candidacy, Peñalosa was supported by the Liberal Party and the uribista coalition, but lost 28.2% to 43.7% to Samuel Moreno, the left-wing Polo candidate. In 2011, Peñalosa ran for mayor, losing against Gustavo Petro, but Uribe’s endorsement of Peñalosa’s candidacy split the Greens and led Mockus to leave the party.

The Progressives Movement was founded in 2011 by the Polo’s 2010 presidential candidate and former Senator Gustavo Petro, who represented a moderate (social democratic, notably pro-FTA with the US) and more resolutely anti-FARC wing of the fractious left-wing party. Petro left the Polo shortly after the 2010 election, after having lost the leadership of the party to his former running mate, Clara López, and strongly criticizing the corrupt municipal administration of Bogotá mayor Samuel Moreno. Petro was elected mayor of Bogotá in 2011; he has been unpopular with some voters (he has a personality which can alienate some) and was criticized for a trash removal crisis in 2012 (he decided to not renew the city’s contract with private companies, and instead hand it over to a public company, but errors by the government and the resistance by the unhappy private firms led to a chaotic trash crisis). He was facing a recall vote.

In early December 2013, the Inspector General’s office removed him from office and banned him from holding public office for a period of 15 years, on the grounds that his actions in the waste collection crisis had violated the constitution. The decision, which was later temporarily suspended by a court awaiting judgement from a higher court, reeked of political persecution (as Petro claims): the decision was unexpectedly severe (especially the long ban from holding office; Moreno faced only a year-long ban from office), the Inspector General, Alejandro Ordóñez, is a conservative supporter of Uribe and opponent of the peace talks. In March, the Superior Council of the Judiciary and the Council of State struck down the court’s decision and confirmed the Inspector General’s ruling, but later that month, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights ordered the immediate suspension of his removal from office, but President Santos ignored the decision. In late April, a higher court in Bogotá ordered the government to comply with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights’ ruling and immediately reinstated Petro. It is unclear if the recall referendum, originally scheduled for April 6, will still be held.

The primary was a major success, with over 4.2 million votes being cast (over 3 million of them valid).  Enrique Peñalosa handily won the primary, taking 47% and 2 million votes, against only 17% for Progressives Senator Camilo Romero and 8.2% for ‘Mockusian’ Green John Sudarsky. However, Peñalosa’s victory continued to divide the newborn alliance – his proximity to Uribe totally alienates a good deal of the left from him. Sudarsky immediately announced that he would not support Peñalosa, adding that he considered Peñalosa’s victory to be illegitimate because he was, he claimed, elected with Uribe’s votes. Two week before the first round, Gustavo Petro and his party announced that they would support Santos, to endorse the peace process.

Despite his left-wing opponents’ constant emphasis of his friendship-alliance with Uribe, Peñalosa still supported the peace process – but criticized the government for playing politics with the issue, and stressing that FARC members should face sanctions in accordance with international law. Peñalosa also focused heavily on education issues, promising to increase teachers’ pay and build more schools. On environmental issues, Peñalosa supported ‘sustainable mining’ respectful of the environment, because such projects would provide resources to fund infrastructure projects; he also supported the use of sustainable methods of public transit in urban areas and measures to protect natural environments.

Results – First Round

The first round was held on May 25. Turnout was 40.09%, down from 49% in 2010 and 43.6% in the March congressional elections.

Turnout in Colombia has generally been very low – in fact, 40% is by no means a record low or even particularly unusual – turnout was about 33% in 1994, and turnout in presidential elections has not been over 50% since 1998, and it had already been quite low since the 1960s. The armed conflict, in which the Colombian government often lacked total sovereignty over its own territory and which saw armed groups bar voters from voting, has played a major role in Colombia’s very low turnout. Areas controlled by the FARC have historically had very low turnout, although on the other hand, in some regions controlled by paramilitaries, turnout was often quite high as a result of some paramilitaries supporting candidates and marshaling voters to the polls. In addition, since the 1960s-1970s, discontent with the political system – seen as corrupt and with few differences between the parties – has likely played a major role in reducing turnout further. All in all, Colombia’s history has meant that there is no strong civic culture promoting electoral participation.

In total, 13.2 million out of 32.975 million potential voters participated. 12.87 million votes (97.3%) were valid – that is, votes for a candidate (94% of the valid votes) or a voto en blanco (6%). Not counted in these totals are invalid votes (2.3% of all votes cast) and unmarked ballots (0.3%). The number of voto en blancos has increased significantly since 2010, when only 1.5% of the valid votes were invalid (about 223k) – but it is down from the congressional elections (in the Senate election, 10.4% of ballots were invalid, 5.9% were returned unmarked and 6.2% of valid votes were votos en blanco. Results are calculated as a percentage of valid votes.

Óscar Iván Zuluaga (CD) 29.28%
Juan Manuel Santos (UN) 25.72%
Marta Lucía Ramírez (Conservative) 15.52%
Clara López (Polo-UP) 15.21%
Enrique Peñalosa (Green) 8.27%
Votos en blanco 5.98%

Colombia 2014 [R1]

The results of the first round shook up the incumbent President’s campaign. Santos placed second, with only 25.7%, behind uribista candidate Óscar Iván Zuluaga, who won 29.3%. The actual result was not a surprise or totally unexpected, however. When I wrote my post on the congressional elections, it still seemed as if Santos would win reelection fairly easily, because none of his opponents had managed to stand out by then. He had a double digit lead over his main opponents at the time – Zuluaga and/or Peñalosa, although Santos was only in the high 20s or low 30s himself in those polls. This indicated that Santos was weak himself, because of his relative unpopularity, but remained the favourite because of the weakness of his opponents. Many felt that Santos would win, but that there would be a huge number of blank votes in protest.

Zuluaga’s position was looking so weak at the time, unable to break through, that there was lots of talk in uribista circles about dumping him with a better candidate (who?). Furthermore, from the congressional elections, if anybody came out with momentum, it was certainly Enrique Peñalosa – notwithstanding the bad blood in the Green Alliance – who had won over 2 million votes in the Green primary, nearly as many as the Uribe-led CD list for the Senate. Indeed, Peñalosa did enjoy a surge in the polls after the congressional elections, with polls showing him leading in a runoff against Santos and looking as the strongest candidate against the incumbent President in all runoff scenarios. However, Peñalosa’s surge proved to be short lived, and quickly petered out while Zuluaga finally broke through and cemented himself as Santos’ top rival. Final polls showed the two in a dead heat in the first and second rounds.

Juan Manuel Santos had become unpopular because of some controversial policies (the failed judicial reform, education), his handling of the strikes and social movements in 2013 and the general sense that, since 2010, Santos hadn’t accomplished much at all either in terms of socioeconomic issues or security. He struggled to find a message for his campaign, he showed himself to be somewhat disdainful of the Unidad Nacional‘s caciques and Germán Vargas Lleras’ pick as his running mate created problems within the coalition. At any rate, Vargas Lleras proved to be a disappointment as a running mate and lead figure for the Santos campaign, which meant that he was kept away from the runoff campaign. This also means that his potential presidential candidacy in 2018 might not be such a sure thing anymore.

Results of the first round by municipality – % margin of victory (source: Saint Brendan’s Island)

On the issue of peace, many voters agreed with aspects of both Santos and Zuluaga’s platforms – the vague idea of peace (Santos) appealed, but many voters disliked the idea of political rights for former FARC rebels or letting them get off the hook easy. Many voters who disliked Santos finally found a home with Zuluaga, whose 3.769 million votes far surpassed the 2.045 million votes won by the Uribe-led CD list for the Senate in March. This is not surprising, because it was clear that the CD had not won the support of all uribistas – Uribe continues to be quite popular with a majority of the electorate. On the other hand, Santos failed to match the 4,975,869 votes won by the U+PLC+CR in the senatorial race in March (he won 3,310,794 in the first round) – which, again, is not surprising because a lot of those votes were votes for local senatorial candidates-caciques from these parties rather than votes for the President. A number of Liberal or other strongholds failed to show up for Santos and the personal strongholds of pro-Santos strongmen around the country didn’t follow their local boss. Turnout was very low in the Caribbean coastal region, departments which are strongholds of the Unidad Nacional, and particularly of powerful pro-Santos caciques. Although turnout is usually low in this region, it was very low in the first round – only 24% in La Guajira, 24.3% in Atlántico or 26.7% in Bolívar – indicating that the local caciques might have sat on their hands. The central regions, where Zuluaga won, had higher turnout and – unlike the Costa – tend to show up more for presidential elections than congressional elections.

Marta Lucía Ramírez came out much stronger from the presidential election, despite placing third. With 15.5% and nearly 2 million votes on her name, she definitely proved her naysayers and opponents in the Conservative Party wrong. Despite lacking the support of many Conservative caciques, who preferred to back their benefactor (Santos), she managed to win more votes than her party had won in the senatorial race in March (1.944 million, she won 1,997,980) – keeping in mind that a lot of those Conservative votes were for Conservative caciques who backed Santos. In 2010, Noemí Sanín’s disappointing campaign only won some 893k votes. Her success boosts her profile and standing within the Conservative Party, and places her in a good position to become the party’s leading contender for the presidency in 2018 – however, the party remains internally divided.

Clara López was another winner, which, like with Ramírez, comes out strengthened while her – which was revealed to be internally divided over López’s strategy and its attitude vis-á-vis Santos – is weakened. López won 1.958 million votes, far more than the 540,000 or so votes received by the Polo’s candidates for Senate in March. She still falls far short of the 2.6 million votes received by the Polo against Uribe in 2006, but still more than the 1.3 million leftist base held by the Polo in 2010. Her ‘reinvention’ – a more centrist outlook (despite an alliance with the markedly left-wing UP), an attempt to broaden the party’s reach beyond the narrow left and a physical makeover for the candidate (see this article from La Silla Vacía) – certainly played some role in her success.

The other main loser was Enrique Peñalosa, whose much-vaunted campaign turned out to be a damp rag which quickly petered out. He was hurt by his inability to impose his leadership either within the Green Alliance – which finds itself more or less dead with Petro’s friends backing Santos from the first round – and in the first round campaign. He had a real opportunity to make himself into Santos’ top opponent, but his support ended up collapsing quickly and largely moving (probably) towards Zuluaga. In the Green primary, Peñalosa had won 2 million votes himself, but in the election he lost a bit less than half of that – only left with a bit over 1 million votea. He did not endorse any candidate in the runoff and kept silent – maybe an honourable thing to do, but politically stupid because he became irrelevant (while Ramírez and López kept their relevance).

The first round ‘defeat’ shook up the Santos campaign – it proved to be a major warning call to the President’s reelection campaign, which seems to have awoken them to the risk that he could lose reelection if things didn’t change. Germán Vargas Lleras, who was more centre stage in the first round campaign, was sidelined and former President César Gaviria (1990-1994) – who has retained a major role in Liberal backrooms since then – took the reins of the campaign, which proved to be a good thing for the campaign (and a boon for the Liberal Party, which had kind of gotten shafted when Santos picked Vargas Lleras his running mate). The Santos campaign more or less adopted two, quite contradictory, strategies: appealing to the left (on the theme of peace) and bolstering the positions of the Unidad Nacional‘s caciques in the reelection campaign (as the congressional elections showed, they are the main strength of the U and the other parties, rather than any high-profile national stars). The message also became extremely clear: peace. Santos’ campaign sought to draw a black-white dichotomy between Santos (peace) and Zuluaga (war) – in campaign ads, like the one shown below, the message was that there was ‘only one choice’ – between peace (associated with flowery and colourful images of happy daily life or Colombia’s beauty) and war (a shock, grayscale image of a body bag or rows of graves in a cemetery). Santos’ supporters in the press often painted Uribe as a fascist warmonger, a ‘criollo Rasputin’ or ‘Terminator’ and his allies as obedient sheep. On the other hand, though, Uribe’s allies in the press insinuated that Santos was going to surrender to the FARC.

Ramírez, López and their respective parties found themselves as the main kingmakers for a very closely disputed second round. It also happened that both of their parties were deeply divided, and that the candidate’s word was not gold.

Ramírez’s rivals within the Conservative Party were taken aback by her success, but they remained firmly in the santista camp. Ramírez and her ramirista followers pushed for an official endorsement of Zuluaga by the party, claiming that there was more common ground with him than there was with Santos and because they opposed Santos’ reelection. Santos’ supporters in the party sought to prevent the Conservatives from officially endorsing Zuluaga, which would give them more leeway to use their machines to back Santos. Furthermore, these congressmen have little to no experience in actually being in the opposition, given that they’ve been in government (officially or unofficially) for the good part of the last 15 years, and that they have no taste to abandon the perks of power. Many santista Conservatives also feared that if Ramírez broke all bridges with the Unidad Nacional by endorsing Zuluaga, angry members of the Unidad Nacional coalition would be out for blood and would punish Conservative congressmen by denying them committee chairmanships or the like. Ultimately, the different factions of the Conservative Party resolved to go their separate ways. On May 28, over 30 Conservative congressmen officially endorsed Santos. Ramírez officially endorsed Zuluaga. As a result of Ramírez’s endorsement, Zuluaga took a more moderate and pragmatic tone on the issue of the peace talks – the text of the deal signed between the two candidates made no mention of Zuluaga’s previous maximalist conditions (giving the FARC an unrealistic 8 days to declare a verifiable and permanent cease-fire), and instead read that the new government would evaluate the agreements reached to date and ask the FARC to show goodwill to continue the talks (these ‘signs of goodwill’ being more or less the conditions which Ramírez’s first round campaign had laid out). Zuluaga downplayed the implications of his pragmatic shift, styling his (new) policy as ‘peace without impunity’. Many noted that Zuluaga’s less dogmatic stances threatened to weaken Santos’ runoff argument that it was a black and white battle between war and peace.

As this graphic shows, a large chunk of the Conservative caucus sided with Santos – powerful veteran Senator Roberto Gerlein (from Atlántico, he has served since 1974), Senator Efraín Cepeda (Atlántico), Senator Hernán Andrade and Senator-elect Laureano Acuña (also from Atlántico). Ramírez-Zuluaga’s supporters included senators Nora García Burgos, Myriam Paredes, Javier Mauricio Delgado, Jorge Hernando Pedraza and Conservative leader Ómar Yepes.

The Polo was similarly divided between those who wanted to endorse Santos to defend the peace negotiations and those who opposed any endorsement of the incumbent because of ideological differences (usually economic issues). Senator Jorge Enrique Robledo, the most voted senator in March, led those who argued that Santos and Zuluaga were two sides of the same coin and that the Polo, therefore, should endorse no candidate (Robledo personally endorsed a voto en blanco). Senator Iván Cepeda led those members of the Polo, more focused on peace issues than economic issues, who supported Santos’ reelection to protect the prospect of peace. A few days after the first round, the Polo officially decided to not endorse any candidates and leave their voters free to choose. This position sought to conciliate the two opposing tendencies within the parties – the anti-santista one led by Robledo, emphasizing the lack of common ground with Santos on economic issues (who argue that peace is not sufficient reason to endorse Santos); and one led by Iván Cepeda and Clara López, emphasizing the shared commitment to peace (arguing that there is a real, historic need to defend the peace process, and to keep the uribistas out). López’s running mate, Aída Avella, who comes from the UP, shared the latter position.

Clara López, however, decided not only to publicly endorse Santos but to campaign for him and appear in a TV ad for him. Robledo, understandably angry, accused her of breaking the Polo’s agreement, but even soft strategic santistas/anti-uribistas within the Polo were visibly bothered by López’s very public support of the incumbent President. Others in the Polo criticized López and Santos for appropriating the symbols and logo of the party for Santos’ runoff campaign – for instance, there was lots of unease about the use of the Polo’s logo on Santos campaign banners.

Santos was therefore quite successful in giving his runoff campaign the appearance of a broad, civic movement for peace backed by parts of the left and the right. In addition to Clara López and other members of the Polo/UP, the Santos campaign publicized the endorsements of Antanas Mockus (who had been defeated by Santos in 2010), well-known former FARC hostage and 2002 presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt, Progressives Senator Antonio Navarro Wolff (one of the Colombian left’s most well-known figures, a former member of the M-19 guerrilla group until its 1990 demobilization who became a leading politician afterwards) and Green Senator-elect Claudia López (the most voted Green candidate in March, who has worked on election observation and investigating corruption and parapolitics). Claudia López, however, in her campaign ad for Santos, underlined that she was only endorsing the President to support the peace talks.

The other, much less publicized aspect of Santos’ reelection campaign was activating the Unidad Nacional‘s lucrative and powerful network of party bosses and regional caciques – including strategic, opportunistic alliances with corrupt caciques which the Santos campaign did not want to be made public. Under Santos’ administration, millions in state funds have been doled out to congressmen by ministries, parastatals and government agencies – the (in)famous mermelada (marmalade), as it has been known in Colombia. The system, described in great detailed by an article from La Silla Vacía, works as follows: government officials negotiate directly with individual congressmen, giving them a ‘quota’ in pork-barrel spending; the congressmen turn around and inform local mayors of the amounts conceded so that they may submit project requests (which get approved and funded from various public sources); the contractor who wins the contract is usually pre-determined and is a local ally who pays a commission to the congressmen. The system operates so that it benefits everybody: the government effectively ‘buys’ the votes of congressmen with marmalade, the local mayors return the favour by getting out the vote for their local cacique and contractors usually get a good deal as well. The government defends itself by saying that marmalade is no different from traditional public investment – of course, omitting to mention that marmalade is a very opaque process and absolutely not transparent. U Senators Ñoño Elías and Musa Besaile, political bosses from the Caribbean department of Córdoba, are usually known as being the ‘champions’ of marmlades (ingesting millions of dollars in marmalade). To prove how well it pays off, both men were the most voted U senators nationally in March – with particular strength in Córdoba (where they allowed the U to win 41.2%), although Musa Besaile has used his share of marmalade to build personal networks in other Caribbean departments (Sucre, Magdalena, Bolívar) and parts of Antioquia. The aforecited article details how these two senators increased their preferential votes in March 2014 in the municipalities treated to their marmalade.

Ñoño Elías and Musa Besaile were both shunned by the Santos campaign in the first round, because Santos did not want to show himself publicly with these two controversial posterchild of corruption. One even more embarrassing ally of the reelection campaign was Yahir Acuña, a representative-elect from Sucre and leader of his own family enterprise-cum-party, 100% Colombia (which won the most votes in Sucre in the election for representatives in March). Yahir Acuña, who also controls the two representatives for the Afro-Colombian minority in the Chamber, is a fascinating (and very controversial) figure: he is the former protégé of former governor Salvador Arana (now a convicted murderer in the parapolitics scandal, serving 40 years), has close ties to other unsavoury figures of local politics (local businesswoman ‘La Gata’, now convicted for links to paramilitaries and for homicide) and is himself suspected of parapolitics (ties with the local AUC). Acuña aptly built alliances with no less than seven senatorial candidates in March 2014 (which is rare: usually, in Colombia, senators are the ones who back candidates for the lower house), allegedly offering them votes in exchange for money; in the congressional elections, Acuña convincingly imposed himself as the new cacique of Sucre (displacing the clan behind former senator Álvaro ‘El Gordo’ García and his wife, senator Teresita García; ‘El Gordo’ is serving a 40-year jail sentence for links to paramilitaries and masterminding a 2000 massacre which killed 15). Acuña managed to force his way into a first round campaign event with Germán Vargas Lleras (and appear in a picture with him), much to the displeasure of other santistas and Vargas Lleras.

Santos himself is personal friends with former U senator Piedad Zuccardi (currently on trial for parapolitics) and other figures of the García clan in Bolívar department (Juan José García, a former senator and original godfather of the clan – convicted for corruption and paramilitary ties, who is the brother of ‘El Gordo’ and in-laws with an extradited drug trafficker; their son, Andrés García Zuccardi, was elected to the Senate for the U in March). Despite the fact that both husband and wife are convicted or on trial for parapolitics, they were welcomed to the Santos campaign and attended several campaign events and ‘Juancho’ García retains significant influence (he successfully managed to get José David Name elected as President of the Senate – backed in this effort by former U senator Dilian Francisca Toro, indicted for money laundering on behalf of the Cali cartel).

Both Zuluaga and Santos courted the Civic Option, the latest incarnation of the National Integration Party (PIN), a ‘party’ founded and led by politicians tied to paramilitaries or relatives of such politicians. The party, which remains to this day a haven for convicted or suspected ‘parapoliticians’, their families and other criminals, still has 5 senators and 6 representatives. Zuluaga met with the Santander caucus of Civic Option (chaired by Senator Nerthink Mauricio Aguilar, the brother of current governor Richard Aguilar and the son of former governor Hugo Aguilar, arrested for parapolitics in 2011; the Aguilar clan are the local rivals of Liberal strongman Horacio Serpa), but he refused to ally with the Caribbean caucus of the party (which includes Teresita García, Acuña’s ally Julio Miguel Guerra and ‘La Gata”s ally Antonio Correa). The Civic Option gave no endorsement and decided to give its ‘members’ freedom to choose in the runoff – the costeños supported Santos, Mauricio Aguilar endorsed Zuluaga but his brother endorsed Santos (I guess the family wanted to put their eggs in both baskets).

Results – Second Round

The second round was held on June 15. Turnout was 47.89%, up from 40% in the first round and higher than the turnout in March or the last three presidential decisive rounds (runoff in 2010, first rounds in 2002 and 2006).

In total, 15.79 million out of 32.975 million potential voters participated. 15.34 million votes (97.1%) were valid – that is, votes for a candidate (96% of the valid votes) or a voto en blanco (4%). Not counted in these totals are invalid votes (2.6% of all votes cast) and unmarked ballots (0.3%). Results are calculated as a percentage of valid votes.

Juan Manuel Santos (UN) 50.95%
Óscar Iván Zuluaga (CD) 45.00%
Votos en blanco 4.03%

Colombia 2014 [R2]

After a tough first round, President Juan Manuel Santos was reelected by a comfortable margin of about 6 points, defeating uribista candidate Óscar Iván Zuluaga. However, the victory came at a heavy price for Santos: the campaign showed him to be a fairly week politician and administrator (especially when compared to Álvaro Uribe), he comes out of the 2014 electoral cycle with a much weaker majority in Congress and a reduced majority for himself and the opposition which comes out of 2014 is much stronger than the disparate mess of an opposition which come out of 2010.

The final section of this post (geographic analysis) will provide a detailed answer to the factors which allowed for Santos’ reelection, but to put it quickly, Santos owes his victory to the successful mobilization of first round left-wing voters in his favour in urban areas (especially in Bogotá, one of the few departments which switched from the first round, in his favour) and the Unidad Nacional‘s caciques showing their muscle and mobilizing their powerful political machines (above all in the Costa-Caribbean region) in the President’s favour (after many caciques had only half-assed it in the first round). Much of the turnout increased benefited the incumbent, especially in the Costa. Between the two rounds, Santos’ vote total increased from 3.3 million to 7.81 million – a gain of over 4.5 million votes, from abstention and the Polo, Greens or Conservatives.

Therefore, Santos is indebted to a lot of people as he begins his second term: the caciques (who is not fond of, but must live with), the left (whose support was only strategic and ephemeral) and the Liberal Party (thanks to César Gaviria and other Liberal bosses, who contributed a lot to his victory).

The reelected President faces a number of major challenges in the next four years: a difficult and tortuous peace process with the FARC/ELN, which he would like to finalize before 2015; economic challenges including inequalities and natural resources and corruption. He will need to face these challenges with a reduced congressional majority, and a much stronger and vocal opposition led from the Senate by Uribe himself.

Álvaro Uribe, and Zuluaga, were winners despite losing. Lacking almost all the advantages of the Unidad Nacional – the state apparatus, the political machinery of the caciques, access to the marmalade, the support of most of the media and a good part of the business circles, Uribe’s CD nevertheless managed to impose itself as the leading opposition party to Santos, winning 6.9 million votes (45%) in the second round – that is, an additional gain of over 3.1 million votes from Zuluaga’s first round total (3.75 million), despite most of the left (Polo) and Greens being against him and his potential reserve (Ramírez’s Conservative votes) being only a bit less than 2 million. The 2015 regional and municipal elections will likely confirm the CD as the leading opposition force in Colombia, especially on the back of the CD’s strong results in Antioquia and Medellín. Some have suggested that the emergence of a clear, ideologically coherent right-wing around uribismo and the CD will lead to a realignment of Colombian politics, perhaps following the model of post-Pinochet Chilean politics with the broad-based Concertación coalition opposing a right which is off-putting to many. At the same time, however, given that the caciques and their politics of clientelism were the other main winners of 2014, it is unlikely that Colombia will move towards Chile’s tradition of strongly ideological and party-based politics (which remains fairly unique for South America).

Geographic analysis

Results of the second round by municipality – % margin of victory (source: Saint Brendan’s Island)

Crucial to Santos’ support in both rounds were the patronage machines of the caciques in the Costa region (departments of La Guajira, Cesar, Magdalena, Atlántico, Bolívar, Sucre and Córdoba). Santos won all of these departments by comfortable margins in both rounds – the main, key difference being that turnout in the Costa in May was low (lower than in March) and Santos failed to capture all the votes cast for the Unidad Nacional in March. For example, in the department of Córdoba, the U – with senators Ñoño Elías and Musa Besaile – had won over 270,000 votes in March but Santos won only 206,000. In the second round, the most notable increases in turnout were registered in the Costa (according to the Observatorio de Procesos Electorales, turnout increased from 30% to 44% in the region); an analysis by the Foro Ecónomico found a very strong positive correlation between higher turnout and support for the President (estimating that about 90% of ‘new voters’ backed Santos).

Santos won his best result in the second round in Atlántico, where he won 78.2% against 20.1% for Zuluaga (he had already won 48% in May) – between the two rounds, Santos increased his vote intake from a bit less than 195k to about 541.5k (including an increase from 81.8k to 267.6k in Barranquilla, the departmental capital). Turnout, which was only 24.3% in May, surged to 41.4% in June. While Zuluaga also increased his own vote share from May, it is quite clear that Santos’ massive gains between both rounds in the department played a key role to his regional and national victory (his margin of victory in Atlántico came close to cancelling out Zuluaga’s margin of victory in Antioquia – the second most populous department, while Atlántico is only the fifth). In Atlántico, Santos had the support of the entire local political machinery and caciques – Conservative senators Roberto Gerlein, Efraín Cepeda, Laureano Acuña; the Char dynasty (now represented by CR senator Arturo Char); U senators José David Name and Miguel Amín Escaf and Liberal senator Álvaro Ashton. La Silla Vacía examined the Atlántico ‘phenomenon which gave the victory to Santos’, and cited other factors including government investments following 2010 floods, fear of paramilitaries and a voto de opinión (ideological vote, not ‘tied down’ by the caciques) in Barranquilla (where López won over 16% in the first round).

Santos also triumphed in the second round by wide margins in Magdalena (67.7% vs 30.7%), La Guajira (71.1% vs 27.3%), Cesar (60.6% vs 37.3%), Sucre (60.1% vs 38.3%) and Córdoba (63.6% vs 34.9%), while his tightest margin came from Bolívar (58% vs 39.7%). The President had already done well in the first round, percentage-wise, breaking 50% in Córdoba and Magdalena, but a significant increase in turnout (from 36% to 52.3% in Córdoba) in these departments meant that Santos built up his margin of victory. It was largely thanks to the support of the region’s powerful caciques: Ñoño Elías and Musa Besaile (U, Córdoba), the García-Zuccardi clan (U, Bolívar), Yahir Acuña (100% Colombia, Sucre), the Gnecco clan (Cesar, led by U senator José Alfredo Gnecco, allied with former governor of La Guajira ‘Kiko’ Gómez, arrested for murder in 2013), Sandra Villadiego (U, Bolívar, wife of parapolitician Miguel Ángel Rangel), Yamina Pestana (Conservative, Sucre/Córdoba, heir of her imprisoned brother) and the inconvenient allies from the Civic Option (from Sucre: Julio Miguel Guerra Sotto, Teresita García Romero and La Gata’s senator Antonio Correa). After being snubbed by the President in the first round, the reelection campaign kicked into full gear and activated these cacique’s powerful GOTV operations.

Of course, not all the costeño vote comes from caciques and not all caciques are costeños. There was a significant voto de opinión for Zuluaga and López in the region – Zuluaga, in the first round, placed first in Cartagena (30.1% vs. 24.9% for Santos and a solid 20.1% for López; he lost 41 to 55 on June 15) and López won solid results in Cartagena, Barranquilla and Santa Marta. Zuluaga had much less machine support (he had some from Conservatives Nora García and David Barguil in Córdoba, a part of the Guerra clan in Sucre around CD senator Maria del Rosario) although he did have some solid bases with cattle ranchers and businessmen in the cities. In the second round, Santos successfully built an amusing alliance uniting the caciques with left-wing activists.

The strongest uribista margin came from the department of Antioquia, the second-most populous department in Colombia centered around Medellín and its valley. The department, which is Uribe’s home turf (he was governor of Antioquia before becoming President), is the stronghold of the CD – uribismo and anti-santismo are very strong in the department, the CD’s senatorial bench is large here (6 senators, led by Álvaro Uribe himself), uribismo is supported by the networks of former governor Luis Alfredo Ramos (now in jail, his son is a CD senator) and the ideological draw of Uribe easily cancelled out the weak machinery backing Santos. In the first round, Zuluaga won 37.5% in Antioquia against 16.2% for Santos, who landed third behind Ramírez (18.9%); in Medellín, Santos placed fourth with only 10% behind Zuluaga at 39.5%, Ramírez at 19.5% and López at 16.2%. In the Medellín suburbs of Bello and Itagüí – despite backing from local Conservative senators – Santos only placed fourth. However, thanks to a mobilization of the vote led by César Gaviria, Santos did manage to close the gap in the second round – Zuluaga still won clearly, 57.8% to 35.8% (and 63% to 29% in Medellín), but Santos grew his vote from 286k to 704.1k, and made some significant gains in Medellín’s metro Valle de Aburrá. However, despite support from parts of the Conservative machines in the Medellín metro and Oriente, Santos still lost badly – uribismo was stronger than any machine support (which was weak and disorganized, compared to the massive GOTV efforts in the Costa). The incumbent President dominated the more remote regions of Urabá and the Bajo Cauca (the far west and north of the department respectively), where the political machines are stronger.

Bogotá, Colombia’s capital and largest city, was the major battleground and a major factor in Santos’ reelection. In the first round, it was practically a free-for-all in the capital: Zuluaga won 22.1% (although this was a poor result, below the CD’s senatorial result in March), López won 20.4% (and placed first in several neighborhoods), Santos won 18.1%, former Green mayor Enrique Peñalosa won 16% and Ramírez won 14.9% (considered a strong result given Conservative weakness in the city). Like in other regions, Santos’ first round campaign was a mess but the runoff campaign was much better coordinated and orderly – around Carlos Fernando Galán (CR senator, son of Luis Carlos Galán), Gina Parody (2011 mayoral candidate, now minister of education), David Luna (an adviser to the President), Armando Benedetti (U senator, known as an advocate of progressive causes and LGBT rights in the U), Germán Varón (CR senator) and others from the Liberal Party. The runoff campaign could also count on strong support from the left – mayor Gustavo Petro, who endorsed Santos before the first round, Clara López (who is now often cited as a leading mayoral candidate for 2015) and other organizations (the UP, Marcha Patriótica, some Greens, trade unions, LGBT rights movements). Zuluaga could count on the support of ‘Pacho’ Santos (a potential mayoral candidate for the CD in 2015), the anti-Petro movement in the capital and the second round endorsement of Marta Lucía Ramírez – on top of the image of Álvaro Uribe, popular in Bogotá like in much of Colombia.

In the second round, both candidates made impressive gains in Bogotá – Santos from 444k to 1.337 million and Zuluaga from 542.4k to 1.075 million – but Santos won, 52.5% to 42.2%, making Bogotá one of the few close races in the country.

Bogotá’s result symbolized the other key aspect of the Santos reelection: attracting voters who had supported the left in the first round, as well as some Conservatives. In other regions of Colombia where López had done well in the first round, Santos clearly dominated in the runoff. In the first round, López had placed first in a number of communities in the Catatumbo region of the Norte de Santander department, the region of campesino leader (and now Polo senator) Alberto Castilla; in the runoff, Santos won over 80% in the three municipalities won by López. As a result, Santos, who had lost the department by 3 to Zuluaga in May won it by 4 in June. In the first round, the Polo’s candidate had placed first in the oil refineries city of Barrancabermeja in Santander (with 32.1% against 29.2% for Santos); in the runoff, Santos won 74.2% in the city. The department of Santander, where Santos could also rely on the old (but weakened) networks of Liberal boss Horacio Serpa, was another department which switched from Zuluaga to Santos (53.2% to 43.1% for the CD candidate).

In the department of Cundinamarca, Santos – while losing 41.4% to 54.2% for Zuluaga – still made substantial gains from the first round, where he won only 17.9% and third place. Ramírez, the Conservative candidate, did very well in the department – 23.1% and second, and she thoroughly dominated most of the Bogotá savanna municipalities located in the high plateau north of the capital (which seems to be her native region). Her support extended in the department of Boyacá, where she won 20.6% (López actually placed second here, with 21%, thanks to the 2013 agrarian strike movement in the department). In both regions, while Ramírez’s vote largely went to Zuluaga (and López’s support for Santos), it is clear that the Conservative vote in May didn’t unanimously support Zuluaga.

Correlation between Santos 2010 and Santos 2014, and Santos 2010 and Zuluaga 2014 at the municipal level (source: Foro Económico)

The Foro Económico’s analysis, linked above, estimated that over 80% of López’s voters backed Santos in the runoff. Ramírez’s voters split, in majority, in Zuluaga’s favour but Santos attracted a fair share of her voters in the second round. Surprisingly, it also estimated that Peñalosa’s supporters largely supported Zuluaga.

Zuluaga dominated much of central and inland Colombia – besides Antioquia and Cundinamarca, he also dominated the Eje Cafetero (Caldas, Risaralda, Quindío), the Andean region (Tolima, Huila), the Llanos (Meta, Casanare, Vichada; defeated narrowly in Arauca) and parts of the Amazonian region (Caquetá, Guaviare and Amazonas). Most of these regions are strongly uribista, where the CD had already done well in March, and where the Unidad Nacional‘s machines are weaker or lack the GOTV capacity (although in many cases, including the Zuluaga bastions of Casanare and Huila, much of the local machines backed the President). In addition to the weakness of the local pro-government machines, Zuluaga also benefited from some support from local Conservatives – Samy Merheg (Risaralda, the brother of former senator Habib Merheg, under investigation for parapolitics), for example. Zuluaga’s second-best national result came from Huila (70.8%), an Andean department which was particularly hit by FARC violence in the past decade. His best result was from Casanare, a Llanos department (where I assume Zuluaga was supported by cattle ranchers and the oil industry), where he won 77.7% (Santos won less than 10% in Casanare in the first round) – Casanare was ironically Santos’ best department in 2010. Departments like Huila, Casanare, Meta and Arauca were also on the losing side of a recent royalties reform, which may have hurt relations between locals, mayors and the central government.

La Silla Vacía analyzed, after the first round, all departments won by Zuluaga and suggested some reasons for his success in each of them.

Casanare reveals a rather ironic, albeit unsurprising, aspect of this election: there was a negative correlation between Santos’ support in 2010 and his 2014 vote, but there was a strong positive correlation between Zuluaga’s 2014 support and Santos’ 2010 vote. This confirms that Santos’ 2010 vote – at least half of it (since Santos lost half of his 2010 vote in the first round) was an uribista vote which voted for Santos as he was Uribe’s candidate in 2010, but abandoned him to back Uribe’s candidate in 2014. Santos’ 2014 support was very different from his 2010 support – four years ago, he had an uribista map while this year he has a new santista map, including huge numbers in departments (such as Atlántico, Chocó, La Guajira etc) which were always rather anti-uribista and/or of Liberal tradition (while Zuluaga won most, but not all, of the core uribista departments and/or those with a Conservative tradition).

Zuluaga won in departments such as Caquetá, Casanare, Meta, Tolima and Huila which have been hurt by the armed conflict and FARC activity, but a closer analysis by La Silla Vacía of the results in the 76 municipalities which are the most affected by FARC violence actually backed Santos more heavily in both rounds (even in departments which voted for Zuluaga, such as Antioquia). In another analysis of atypical results at the local level, La Silla Vacía identified a few cases of FARC pressure in Santos’ favour in Nariño (on the Pacific coast). After the election, the CD denounced ‘over 200′ municipal results in which they claimed that there was FARC influence in Santos’ favour, but the CD’s numbers are clearly big over-exaggerations.

The other Amazonian departments were more supportive of Santos – the President won 70.5% in Vaupés and 54.6% in Guainía, and won the jungle in Amazonas (Zuluaga won thanks to the Amazon port city of Leticia) and most of Vichada. This may be due to strong support from indigenous organizations – about two-thirds of the population of Vaupés and Guainía are indigenous (the highest in the country), and other regions of Colombia with significant indigenous populations also backed Santos (La Guajira, which is 45% indigenous, and Cauca, which is 21.5% indigenous) thanks to strong support from indigenous organizations (ASI in Guainía, MAIS in Cauca).

On the Pacific coast, Santos clearly dominated. He won than 63.4% in Chocó, a remote and impoverished department with an overwhelmingly (82%) Afro-Colombian population; 72.1% in Cauca, which has large indigenous and Afro-Colombian minorities which heavily backed Santos; 66% in Nariño and – most importantly – 61.5% in the Valle del Cauca, the third-most populous department in the country (it includes the city of Cali).

In the Valle, Santos had won a mediocre 27.4% in the first round, with decent results from Ramírez (19.6%, who had support from local Conservatives), López (18.7%, who won second in Cali with 20.5% and Buenaventura) and Zuluaga (19%). Zuluaga received support from local Conservatives in the second round – freshman senator Javier Mauricio Delgado (the nephew of Conservative governor Ubeimar Delgado and the heir of his uncle senator César Tulio Delgado), who did well in March (especially in the Norte del Valle, culturally integrated with the uribista regions of the Eje Cafetero and Antioquia), and it would appear that a lot of Ramírez’s Conservative votes in the Norte del Valle did indeed flow well to Zuluaga on June 15. Santos, however, was supported by U senator-elect Roosevelt Rodríguez, who is the candidate of former U senator Dilian Francisca Toro, under investigation for money laundering of drug trafficking proceeds for the Cali cartel. With Toro’s machinery, Roosevelt Rodríguez was the most popular candidate in the Valle in March. In the runoff, Santos won thanks to the unification of the left-wing vote behind his candidacy – especially in Cali, where with López’s support (and part of Peñalosa’s 12%) he jumped from 24% to 61.8%; and strong support in the coastal city of Buenaventura (79.3%), a troubled Pacific port city which is overwhelmingly Afro-Colombian (89%) and unfortunately famous for the rife criminality, drug trafficking and its sky-high homicide rate.

Results of the 2002 presidential election by department (own map)

Results of the 2002 presidential election by department (own map)

In Cauca and Nariño, Santos won several near-unanimity results in several municipalities (over 90% of the vote), thanks to a mix of factors: Afro-Colombian support for Santos (desire for peace and autonomy), indigenous support (see above), Liberal machines, FARC influence (either pressure or a desire for peace) and a left-wing base in some places (Carlos Lozano, the leader of the Communist Party and Green senatorial candidate in March, did quite well in a few municipalities in Cauca).

Compared to the results of past presidential elections, particularly Uribe’s 2002 victory against Liberal candidate Horacio Serpa, there is an imperfect but still very perceptible correlation between anti-uribismo or Liberal votes and Santos’ support in 2014 (at the departmental, macro-level). The Caribbean departments are shown to be Liberal – in 2002, Horacio Serpa carried all of them, with the exception of Magdalena (which still voted for the Liberals in 1994 and 1998); Antioquia and, to a lesser extent, Bogotá and Cundinamarca are Conservative and uribista in 2002; the Eje Cafetero was traditionally Conservative prior to 2002 and voted very heavily for Uribe in 2002; Boyacá and Norte de Santander are Conservative; the Valle del Cauca voted Uribe by a wide margin in 2002 but had leaned to the Liberals in elections past; the Pacific coast, except Conservative Nariño, were Liberal (especially Chocó) and the Amazon regions were solidly Liberal until Uribe made major gains in 2002. In 2014, most departments which supported the Liberals over Uribe in 2002 voted for Santos while Zuluaga won most of Uribe’s 2002 departments, again with the leading uribista stronghold being Antioquia.

Colombia is certainly at a key moment in its history, with the peace negotiations with the FARC offering the prospect of some kind of peace while, politically, the return of uribismo as a major electoral force signals an interesting shakeup of the political system.

EU 2014: Spain and Sweden

ep2014

Finally, I can wrap up this summer-long analysis of the results of the EP elections in the EU’s 28 member-states, with a final look at the last two member-states in this series – Spain and Sweden.

Spain

Turnout: 43.81% (-1.09%)
Seats: 54 (nc)
Electoral system: Closed list PR, no threshold (national constituency)

PP (EPP) 26.09% (-16.03%) winning 16 seats (-8)
PSOE (S&D) 23.01% (-15.77%) winning 14 seats (-9)
Izquierda Plural (GUE/NGL) 10.03% (+6.32%) winning 6 seats (+4)
Podemos (GUE/NGL) 7.98% (+7.98%) winning 5 seats (+5)
UPyD (ALDE) 6.51% (+3.66%) winning 4 seats (+3)
CEU (ALDE/EPP) 5.42% (+0.32%) winning 3 seats (nc)
EPDD (G-EFA) 4.01% (+1.52%) winning 2 seats (+1)
C’s (ALDE) 3.16% (+3.02%) winning 2 seats (+2)
LPD (GUE/NGL) 2.08% (+0.96%) winning 1 seat (+1)
PE (G-EFA) 1.92% (+1.92%) winning 1 seat (+1)
Vox 1.57% (+1.57%) winning 0 seats (nc)
PACMA 1.13% (+0.87%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Others 4.79% (+2.81%) winning 0 seats (nc)

 

Map source: Wikipedia

Spain is the EU’s fifth largest economy and also its fifth most populous member-state. Since 2008, Spain has been hit hard by the economic crisis, and the country’s protracted economic and social crisis has had significant political ramifications.

Spain enjoyed several years of solid economic growth at the turn of the century, including five consecutive years (2003 to 2007) of growth over 3%. The roots of this growth – and, subsequently, the collapse and prolonged economic crisis – was a rapid property boom between 1997 and 2007, characterized by an exponential increase in housing prices and a booming construction industry. The housing bubble was caused by a strong push towards home ownership in Spain during the transition to democracy, which was promoted by government policies (15% of mortgage payments were tax-deductible, and the liberalization of land use and construction regulations), low interest rates, the lax terms on mortgage loans granted by banks to individuals and businesses. Between 1997 and 2007, the average price by square metre increased from just over €1000/m² to just under €3000/m². To accede to property ownership, many households became heavily indebted – in 2007, when the bubble burst, household debt stood at nearly 130% of income. Although all the warning signs of a housing bubble and its inevitable explosion had been there for several years, successive governments – both José María Aznar’s conservative People’s Party (PP) government from 1996 to 2004 and José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero’s first Socialist (PSOE) government from 2004 to 2008 – kept whistling the problem away, insisting that Spain’s growth was built on very solid and sustainable foundations, and promoted the myth that Spanish banks were the strongest in western Europe. Politicians, banks, the construction industry and Spanish homeowners in general were all complicit in the bubble. Similar to the subprime mortgage crisis in the United States, Spanish banks – especially the cajas de ahorro (savings banks) – granted mortgage loans on extremely lax terms. Politicians invested heavily in the housing sector, and took advantage of the low interest rates and the cajas‘ terms to indulge in ambitious and lavish pet projects – new highways, new airports, new housing developments, new cultural centres and museums, expansion of the high-speed rail network (AVE) and other projects which have become white elephants, symbols to the optimism and illusions of the bubble years. Regional governments – Spain’s seventeen comunidades autónomas (autonomous communities) account for 35-40% of total spending and have extensive powers on matters such as healthcare and education – borrowed and spent heavily. Some of the regions which became the most heavily indebted were the coastal boom regions of the Valencian Community, Catalonia, the Balearic Islands, Murcia and Andalusia but also interior regions such as Castilla-La Mancha.

In the 2008 electoral campaign, the governing PSOE ran heavily on the idea that Spain was an economic champion, dismissed the opposition PP’s warnings as fear-mongering and made several promises to voters (notably a cheque bebé - a €2500 grant for every Spanish baby). Pedro Solbes, the Socialist finance minister at the time, repeatedly dismissed all warning signs of the impeding collapse as being extremely exaggerated. In any case, the PSOE was reelected with a plurality of seats, and responded to the ‘deceleration’ of the Spanish economy with a stimulus package which injected millions of euros into the banks, public works projects and goodies. However, with GDP growth collapsing to only 0.9% in 2008, the Socialist government was quickly forced to admit that there was a crisis and to adopt austerity measures, which became increasingly hard-hitting and stringent as time passed and the slowdown became a full-blown crisis. Between the third quarter of 2009 and the first quarter of 2010, for example, the unemployment rate increased dramatically from 11.2% to 17.2%. Several cajas threatened to go under, having invested heavily in the construction industry, and the government intervened to inject liquidity into several of them beginning in 2009. Between 2009 and 2011, the Socialist government passed several austerity packages which included tax hikes (a 2% increase in the VAT to 18% in 2009), wage cuts for public servants, a pension freeze, the elimination of the cheque bebé and spending cuts. In 2010, a labour reform which included a shorter term for severance pay and strengthened the employer’s ability to unilaterally modify working conditions led to a general strike in September 2010. In 2011, finally, the government’s pension reform increased the retirement age to 67.

The PSOE’s popularity collapsed in 2010 and 2011, and the party suffered extremely several loses in the regional and municipal elections in May 2011. In July 2011, Zapatero announced snap elections would be held in November 2011 and that he would not be the PSOE’s candidate for the presidency of the government (in Spain, the ‘Prime Minister’ is known as the Presidente del Gobierno). Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba, who had been the First Vice President of the government under Zapatero, led a demoralized and pessimistic PSOE into the election. Zapatero left behind a catastrophic economic and social situation: unemployment now stood at over 21%, the deficit had ballooned to 9.6% of GDP (between 2005 and 2008, the government had run a surplus), Spain’s low-ish public debt had increased to 70.5% from 40% in 2008 and growth was going red again after a short-lived period of growth in early 2011 (Spain was in recession in 2009 and 2010, with -3.8% and -0.2%; growth was 0.1% in 2011). In this context, the opposition PP – despite its deadwood leader, Mariano Rajoy, having lost two successive elections (in 2004 and 2008) and the party failing to generate much enthusiasm at all, was the runaway favourite to win. In order to maximize its chances of winning, the right-wing PP promised ill-defined ‘change’ and ‘austerity without pain’ – no tax hikes, a revaluation of pensions or cuts where it would hurt (education, healthcare, social services). In fact, the PP even attacked the PSOE for the government’s cuts to social benefits. Regardless of what one might say about this kind of campaigning, the voters trusted the PP on the issues which mattered (the economy and jobs), and the PSOE suffered an historic rout. The PP won 44.6% and 186 in the Congress of Deputies, giving it an absolute majority and its best result in any election. The PSOE, however, won only 28.8%, its worst result in the party’s post-Francoist history. The election also saw an uptick in support for the United Left (IU), the old radical left coalition around the Communist Party (PCE) – which won 11 seats, up 9; the centrist anti-nationalist Union, Progress and Democracy (UPyD) led by former Socialist Rosa Díez, which won 5 seats. In the regions, the Catalan Socialists (PSC) suffered an historic defeat at the hands of the moderate nationalist Convergence and Union (CiU) coalition, which had regained power regionally a year prior; in the Basque Country, the abertzale left (nationalist left) Amaiur coalition placed second with an historically high level of support – the nationalist left in Euskadi has been benefiting splendidly from the 2010 cease-fire and now “definitive cessation of armed activity” (since October 2011) announced by the terrorist separatist organization Euskadi Ta Askatasuna (ETA), which has signaled the conclusion of violence in the region after over 50 years.

The economy plunged back into recession in the second quarter of 2011, and remained mired in recession until the third quarter of 2013. On taking power, Mariano Rajoy soon had to deal with the harsh reality of power and the Spanish economy. In its first austerity package in December 2011, the government increased income and land value taxes, froze the minimum wage and public sector wages, froze public sector hiring (except in the security forces, education and healthcare) and cut spending by €8.9 billion; but it still had some goodies to offer – a revaluation of pensions by 1%, continuing a €400 subsidy to the long-term unemployed and the mortgage tax deduction. Madrid, for now, was committed to reducing its deficit to 4.4% in 2012 (from 9.6% in 2011), as agreed upon with the EU, but it soon became clear that Spain would miss its deficit target and that the amount of cuts required to meet the target were unrealistic. In March 2012, Rajoy changed Spain’s deficit target to 5.8%. The government’s first budget, announced at the end of March 2012, announcing savings to reduce the deficit by €27 billion – including the largest spending cuts in the history of Spanish democracy. However, while the government cut spending and raised taxes, it doggedly refused to increase the VAT, cut public servants’ wages or touch pensions and unemployment benefits. The government later changed course, and announced a 3% increase in the VAT to 21%, after having previously refused to raise it. In April, the government also announced further cuts worth €10 billion, mostly in education and healthcare (which meant co-pays in healthcare, increased class sizes, increase in tuition fees), and these cuts led to an historic strike by public education employees in May 2012.

The PP government’s labour law reform in February 2012 aimed at increasing ‘flexibility’ by making it easier for employers to layoff employees by further reducing the duration of severance pay (20 days’ pay for each year worked, for a maximum of 12 months for ‘appropriate dismissals'; and down from 45 to 33 days’ wages for each year worked for a maximum of 24 months for inappropriate dismissals), loosening the reasons for which employees may be laid off (employees must now prove that the dismissal was inappropriate), facilitating collective dismissals including in the public sector and allowing for employers to make unilateral decisions on working conditions in certain cases. Considering it as an attack on workers’ rights, all leading labour unions called for a general strike on March 29.

The government faced another major challenge: the banking sector, which was shackled by ‘toxic assets’ and a high number of bad loans, left overs from the ‘debt binge’ of the real estate boom years when households and contractors took out loans on lax terms. After the bubble burst, banks acquired properties from developers before the loans which supported them went bad. Foreclosures mounted as recession set in, leaving Spanish banks as the owners of a very large stock of empty homes. Many felt that Rajoy’s government evaluated the crisis the wrong way – it treated public finances as the cause of the economic crisis, rather than the symptom, and wasted precious time by attacking the deficit when it should have cleaned up the banking sector. In the spring and summer of 2012, Spain faced a banking crisis, which forced the government to take decisive action. Two financial reforms were approved in February and May 2012, both with the aims of cleaning up the banking sector and restructuring the myriad of failing cajas into stronger, larger financial entities. The state had previously been forced to intervene in several cajas, by nationalizing or recapitalizing them, and despite the financial reforms, would be forced to intervene when Bankia – a large bank created by the merger of seven cajas, badly exposed to the housing bubble, in 2011 – needed injections of €10 billion in public funds, which soon spiraled upwards to €23.5 billion and was nationalized by the state. Rodrigo Rato, the former Managing Director of the IMF and Spain’s economy and/or finance minister under Aznar’s government, had previously resigned as president of Bankia. In the wake of Bankia, in a ‘black Monday’, other Spanish banks saw their shares drop and risk premiums reached all-time highs, close to the levels at which Greece, Portugal and Ireland had been forced to seek EU-IMF bailouts; yet, Rajoy insisted that there would be no need for a bailout of Spain’s banking sector. The government’s handling of the crisis was criticized by the ECB’s Mario Draghi and PSOE leader Rubalcaba.

After other banks required public money, an IMF report estimated the total costs of recapitalizing the banking sector at €40 billion. Despite constant claims that there would be no need for a bailout, in early June 2012, the government announced that it had negotiated a €100 billion rescue package for the banks, to be held by the state through the government’s Fondo de reestructuración ordenada bancaria (FROB), the banking bailout and restructuring fund. The money would go directly to the banks rather than through the government, would not count as sovereign debt, would come from the new European Stability Mechanism (ESM) and would be directly supervised by the Troika. Rajoy and his minister of the economy, Luis de Guindos, refused to call the loan a ‘bailout’. The loan agreement did little little to alleviate the crisis and even sparked another credit rating downgrade and a surge in risk premium values to even higher levels. In August 2012, the Spanish government set up a ‘bad bank’ to isolate the toxic assets.

In July 2012, the EC agreed to raise the 2012 deficit objective to 6.3% of GDP, in return for immediate cuts to reach this objective. Rajoy announced another massive austerity package of €65 billion in cuts over two years to reach the deficit targets, including further cuts in social benefits, an immediate increase in the VAT, cuts in long-term unemployment benefits, the cancellation of the mortgage tax deduction and public servants’ Christmas bonus and more tax hikes. The health ministry announced a list of drugs which would no longer be covered by social security and abolished free healthcare assistance for illegal immigrants. The government continued the policy of spending cuts and tax increases in 2013, culminating with a pension reform in late 2013. The reform, opposed by all other parties, dissociates inflation from the calculation of pensions, takes into account the expenses and revenues of social security in a new revaluation formula and adds a ‘sustainability factor’ (life expectancy) to determine the size of the pension.

Despite the relaxed deficit target, Spain’s deficit in 2012 – excluding the cost of the bank bailout – still overshot the target, at about 7% of GDP (10.6% with the bailout). For 2013 and 2013, the EC set looser targets of 6.5% and 5.8%, with the aim being to achieve the EU’s 3% deficit limit in 2016. In 2013, Eurostat reported the deficit at 7.1% and the EC projects a 5.6% deficit in 2014.

The last few months of 2013, however, saw the first signs of a very fragile economic recovery. The last two quarters of 2013 saw positive quarter-on-quarter growth rates, and official statistics indicate the growth is steadily picking up – the EC predicts 1.1% growth this year and 2.1% growth in 2012, which means that Spain will finally exit its prolonged economic slump after over two years in recession. Unemployment increased during the año negro of 2012, from 22.6% in the last quarter of 2011 to a peak of 26.9% in the first quarter of 2013. Unemployment has been declining, slowly, since early 2013, falling to 24.5% in the second quarter of 2014, the lowest in two years. However, with over 5.6 million unemployed, Spain has the second highest unemployment rate in the EU after Greece. And, like in Greece, it will take years for unemployment to return to pre-crisis levels (8%) – the EC projects 24% unemployment in 2015. Exports have been growing, turning the external current account from a deficit to a surplus, suggesting that Spain is regaining competitiveness and providing the backbone of recovery. In December 2013, after receiving €41.3 billion, the ESM bailout program for Spanish banks ended on schedule.

Given that Spain’s autonomous communities account for a good deal of public spending in Spain, and that many of them became heavily indebted and were running large deficits when the crisis hit, they too have faced a tough time as they try to reduce their debts and deficits. On the latest figures, the total debts owed by Spain’s 17 regions was equivalent to 21.7% of the national GDP; while their deficits in 2013 represented 1.5% of the country’s GDP – down from 2.9% in 2010 and 2011. The most heavily indebted communities remain the Valencian Community (34.8% of regional GDP), Castilla-La Mancha (33.5%), Catalonia (31%), the Balearic Islands (27%) and Murcia (23%); while the regions with the largest deficits in 2013 were Murcia (3.2%), the Valencian Community (2.3%), Castilla-La Mancha (2.1%), Aragon (2.1%) and Catalonia (2%). The region’s failures to meet the deficit targets set by the central government contributed heavily to Spain’s budget overshoots in the last few years. The central government pressed the regional governments to make major cuts and reforms to reduce their debts and deficits to Madrid’s target, a tough task somewhat simplified by the fact that there was less central-regional feuds because most regions are governed by the PP since 2011. However, the PSOE government of Andalusia and the CiU government of Catalonia both argued that the targets set by Madrid were unrealistic and excessively rigid, and that meeting them would require them to make even deeper cuts. Regional governments – especially those in Catalonia, the Valencian Community or Castilla-La Mancha (among others) – have implemented stringent austerity measures, cutting benefits, public spending, selling public assets and rising taxes as they could. Yet, most regions, like the central government, have continuously overshot the targets.

The government’s austerity measures have been unpopular and led to several protests. After the general strike in March 2012 and the historic general strike in public education in May 2012, several sectoral strikes and anti-austerity protests followed in 2012, ending with another general strike in November 2012. Some movements took even more radical actions – in Andalusia, the Sindicato Andaluz de Trabajadores (SAT), a Andalusian nationalist and anti-capitalist union whose most prominent figure is Juan Manuel Sánchez Gordillo, an IU regional deputy and mayor of the anarcho-syndicalist/communist stronghold of Marinaleda since 1979, organized spectacular ‘Robin Hood’ raids on supermarkets in the region, ‘expropriating’ basic foodstuffs or school supplies to redistribute to poor families. The increase in the number of evictions since the housing bubble burst has led to social despair and several highly-publicized suicides.

Education minister José Ignacio Wert’s education reform (LOMCE) in late 2013 has extremely unpopular on the left and with students. The new reform is criticized for introducing standardized testing at the end of each educational level, the greater place given to religious education in the curriculum, the central government’s power to determine subjects and curricula and the reduced place for co-official regional languages (Catalan, Basque, Galician). Coming during the debate over an independence referendum in Catalonia, Wert’s declaration in October 2012 that his aim was to españolizar a los niños catalanes (‘hispanicize Catalan children’) added fuel to the fire, providing the Catalan nationalists with yet another example of how Catalonia is allegedly mistreated by the rest of Spain. The left, which has promised to repeal the LOMCE if elected, has claimed that the PP is ‘dismantling’ public education. The cuts and the PP’s enthusiasm for controversial schemes to contract out managements of hospitals to private companies has led to claims that the government is out to dismantle public services.

Adding to the growing social discontent and dissatisfaction with both major parties have been a series of high-profile corruption cases, involving both major parties but also the monarchy.

Spanish monarch Juan Carlos I, who abdicated shortly after the EP elections on June 2 in favour of his son Prince Felipe, has seen his legendary popularity tumble following royal missteps and corruption scandals, most notably his ill-advised hunting trip to Botswana in 2012 (in addition to revelations of his womanizing). The former King’s daughter, Infanta Cristina de Borbón, and her husband Iñaki Urdangarin have been embroiled in a major corruption scandal relating to kickbacks Urdangarin received from regional governments. The infanta Cristina was charged with corruption in January 2014.

Over the last few years, several politicians from both major parties have been accused of corruption. In the Valencian Community, a stronghold of the PP, the regional president Francisco Camps – an ally of Rajoy – was finally forced to resign in June 2011 after years of scandal surrounding his involvement in a huge kickbacks-for-contracts scheme (Caso Gürtel). Camps was later acquitted, but the Caso Gürtel continues to linger in the background. In the same region, millions in international development funds were embezzled by businesses and fraudulent ‘NGOs’ with the cooperation and support of a high-ranking member of the regional government and local PP, who was finally sentenced to jail in May 2014. In Andalusia, which has been ruled by the PSOE since the creation of regional government in 1978, millions of euros were fraudulently siphoned off in government-subsidized illegal early retirement deals. The PP had hoped to benefit from the EREgate scandal and Andalusia’s catastrophic economic situation in the March 2012 regional elections, and polls indicated that Javier Arenas’ PP was on track to win an historic absolute majority in the left-wing stronghold. However, the PP, albeit winning the most votes in a regional election for the first time in its history, failed to win a majority and PSOE incumbent José Antonio Griñán was reelected in coalition with IU (which made significant gains). The PP’s surprise ‘defeat’ in Andalusia was seen as an early warning sign for Rajoy.

Controversially, judge Baltasar Garzón, Spain’s most famous magistrate who led judicial investigations into domestic and international cases (most notably the attempted persecution of former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet), was expelled from the judiciary in 2012 for illegally wiretapping conversations (ruled as perverting the course of justice) between inmates and their lawyers in the Caso Gürtel. This sparked an outcry on the left, judging that the ruling against Garzón was excessive and that he was being persecuted by his peers and other enemies in the judiciary.

The biggest scandal, however, has been the caso Bárcenas, first revealed to the public eye in January 2013. El País published handwritten notes belonging to Luis Bárcenas, the former treasurer of the PP (until 2009), then under investigation in the Caso Gürtel (where he was accused of pocketing millions in illegal donations from businessmen). These notes indicated the existence of a parallel, illegal financing system in the PP between 1990 and 2009 and suggested that regular cash payments had been made from a slush fund (whose donors were mostly construction magnates) to several leading members of the PP including current Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy. Rajoy himself allegedly received €25,000 a year for eleven years; other leading figures of the PP including former Prime Minister José María Aznar, Rodrigo Rato (finance minister under Aznar), Ángel Acebes (interior minister under Aznar), Javier Arenas (labour minister, later minister of the presidency under Aznar, and current leader of the Andalusian PP), Jaime Mayor Oreja (MEP and former interior minister under Aznar from the PP’s far-right) and María Dolores de Cospedal (current president of Castilla-La Mancha and secretary-general of the PP) are also suspected of having benefited from illegal party bonuses. Although the bulk of those suspected denied involvement, their credibility was dealt a blow when Pío García Escudero, the president of the Senate, admitted that he had received a bonus from the PP.

Rajoy desperately tried to avoid making a statement on the scandal, and repeatedly denied having taken illegal funds. However, the proof he presented was widely judged to be unconvincing and still left much to be desired. The PP tried to its best to make the scandal go away, but it made a comeback in July, with juicy admissions from Bárcenas that the PP had been financed illegally for the last 20 years and revelations by El Mundo that Rajoy was in contact with Bárcenas until March 2012 in the form of text messages privately lending support to Bárcenas (even after it was made public that Bárcenas had millions of euros stashed away in a Swiss bank account). Forced to respond, Rajoy again denied allegations and obviously refused to resign.

Major corruption cases such as the Caso Gürtel, the Caso Bárcenas and EREgate revealed a corrupt system, involving all governing parties (in Catalonia, the CiU has also been involved in scandals, with allegations that the current President of the Generalitat Artur Mas and Jordi Pujol, the former leader of the region, both have secret Swiss bank accounts), characterized by opaqueness in the awarding of contracts and toxic ties between politicians and businessmen. The responses of both parties to such cases have been quite terrible – denying all involvement or loudly denouncing a ‘conspiracy’ against them. For instance, in the Bárcenas scandal, Rajoy implicitly accused anyone who believed Bárcenas’ accounts of a lack of patriotism and threw his former party colleague under the bus, calling him an inveterate liar just months after he had offered him his private backing. It appears as if the public has become much less tolerant of political corruption since the economic crisis.

Since 2011, the issue of domestic Basque separatist terrorism and ETA has slowly faded away, but the final fate of ETA and particularly ETA prisoners in Spanish jails continues to be a highly contentious issue. Historically, the PP has tended to favour a very tough hard line against ETA, refusing any negotiations with the terrorist organization unless it disarms and repents. In good part, Rajoy’s government has continued on the same general line – refusing to extend a hand to ETA unless the organizations dissolves itself, to the chagrin of many Basque nationalists – including the moderate and anti-violence Basque Nationalist Party (PNV), which has always had an ambiguous and conflicted attitude towards ETA. However, Rajoy’s government has shied away from being overly hawkish, leaving many of its most conservative anti-ETA supporters quite disappointed. In 2012, the PP and PSOE defeated a UPyD motion to ban Amaiur, the abertzale coalition in the Cortes Generales which is seen by many opponents of ETA as the latest political front for the terrorist movement. In doing so, the PP began viewing the issue of ETA as being both military and political, which it had not done in the past. The government has supported a strategy of conditional ‘individual reinsertion’ of ETA prisioners, which is opposed by the Association of Victims of Terrorism (AVT), an association for victims of terrorism and staunch opponents of any negotiations with ETA. Nevertheless, the government publicly manifested its disapproval after the Constitutional Tribunal lifted the ban on Sortu in 2012, a political party banned in 2011 as it was seen as the latest incarnation of ETA and its illegal political wing Batasuna. Other members of the PP were even more acerbic in their reactions to the decision – Esperanza Aguirre, the then-president of the Community of Madrid, mulled abolishing the Constitutional Tribunal; ABC, a very conservative newspaper, proclaimed that the Tribunal surrendered to ETA supporters.

The prospects for negotiations between the government and ETA’s remnants are low. The government insists that ETA dissolves, disarms and apologize to their victims; ETA’s prisoners have renounced violence and embraced democratic ways, but seeks amnesty, self-determination for Euskadi and does not want a ‘one-sided’ apology which they insist ignores the victims of state repression, the Spanish government’s ‘dirty war’ against ETA in the 1980s and the fate of ‘political prisoners’ (like Arnaldo Otegi, the former spokesperson of Batasuna and current secretary-general of Sortu, who remains imprisoned).

Politically, the abertzale left, which has unambiguously rejected any kind of violence – including that of ETA – and seeks a democratic path to a ‘socialist, independent Euskal Herria’, has met unprecedented success at the polls since 2011, united under the electoral coalition Euskal Herria Bildu (EH Bildu). EH Bildu includes Sortu, the old left-wing/anti-violence Eusko Alkartasuna (EA) founded in 1986 by PNV dissidents, the left-wing/anti-violence Aralar founded in 2001 by Herri Batasuna members who opposed ETA’s violence and intransigence, and Alterniba (a splinter from what was then the local Basque section of IU, EB-B). In the 2012 Basque regional elections, EH Bildu won 25% and 21 seats – placing a very strong second behind the old PNV, which won 34.6% and regained control of the Basque autonomous government (which it had lost, for the first time since its creation in 1980, to the Socialists allied with the PP in 2009). Successive local, provincial, national and regional elections since 2011 have confirmed that the abertzale left, at unprecedented levels of support, has established itself as the second largest party in the Basque autonomous community after the PNV but ahead of both the local Socialists (PSE-EE) and PP.

Unquestionably, however, the most pronounced challenge to the Spanish state has come from Catalonia and a spectacular upsurge in a more explicitly separatist and assertive brand of Catalan nationalism. This represents a sea change in Spain’s peripheral nationalisms – historically, Catalan nationalism was seen as the most moderate and pragmatic (seny catalá) while Basque nationalism was more radical, violent and polarizing. In the historical tradition of the nationalist Catalan bourgeoisie, Jordi Pujol’s Convergence and Union (CiU) nationalist alliance – which controlled the Generalitat (the autonomous government) between 1980 and 2003 – was deliberately ambiguous about the question of independence/sovereignty for Catalonia and instead always sought more devolution and powers for Catalonia, applied a stringent linguistic policy to promote Catalan over Spanish in public and cultural life, used sabre-rattling nationalist rhetoric (Espanya ens roba - ‘Spain robs Catalonia’). This differentiated the CiU from the old Republican Left of Catalonia (ERC), which has always explicitly supported the independence of the greater Països Catalans (Catalan-speaking territories including the Valencian Community, the Balearic Islands and Northern Catalonia in France).

Catalan nationalism received its first boost in June 2010, with the ruling of the Constitutional Tribunal on the new Statute of Autonomy adopted by the Catalan government (made up of the Socialists, ERC and radical left/eco-socialist ICV-EUiA) in 2006. The PP had appeal the new Statute after its approval by the Spanish Congress and in a Catalan referendum; the PP took issue with the definition of Catalonia as a ‘nation’, the preferential status for the Catalan language, the further devolution of powers and the ‘bilateral principle’ (bilateral talks between Madrid and the Generalitat, excluding other regions) among other contentious clauses. The Constitutional Tribunal ruled that the declaration of Catalonia as a nation lacked legal standing, struck down 14 articles as unconstitutional (notably the decentralization of justice) and 27 were upheld. Although the ruling did not mark a loss of autonomy, the Catalan reaction was livid – it was widely seen as the decision of a partisan, ‘Spanish’ court which was the final straw on top of ‘anti-Catalan’ campaigns from the Spanish right. Shortly after the ruling, a large nationalist rally in Catalonia, Som una nació. Nosaltres decidim, supported by the governing parties and CiU rallied between 500k and 1.5 million people. However, the ruling was the final blow to the much-weakened PSC-led Tripartite government. In the November 2010 regional elections, the PSC was badly defeated by Artur Mas’ CiU, with 62 out of 135 seats. Mas’ CiU had campaigned on the Catalan people’s right to decide (derecho a decidir, or dret a decidir) and his landmark promise was a ‘fiscal pact’ with Madrid, which would allow Catalonia to raise and administer its own taxes – similar to the Concierto Económico held by Navarre and the Basque Country.

The economic crisis has reignited Catalan nationalism. The old issue of the ‘fiscal deficit’ – Catalonia’s old complaint that it pays more in taxes to the central government than it receives in investments, representing an estimated ‘loss’ of 6-9% of the regional GDP and often seen as ‘subsidizing’ poorer region – has returned to the forefront of political debate. Many nationalists feel that an independent state would offer relief from the Spanish recession. With the Generalitat struggling to reduce its deficit and the debt asphyxiating the region, Mas has been accused of opportunistically shifting towards nationalism to distract attention from his unpopular austerity policies and the region’s bad economic situation – arguing that the current financing of autonomous communities is unfair, and Catalonia would recover quickly if its taxes weren’t being used by Madrid to subsidize poorer regions. On September 11, 2012 – the Diada, Catalonia’s national day (commemorating the loss of Catalan autonomy with the 1714 defeat of the pro-Habsburg Catalan forces by the Spanish Bourbons during the Spanish War of Succession), the huge size of the nationalist rally (Catalunya, nou estat d’Europa) organized by the extra-parliamentary separatist Catalan National Assembly (ANC) took Mas by surprise – between 600,000 and 2 million participants turned out. After Mas failed to get Rajoy’s support for his ‘fiscal pact’ and using the nationalist momentum of the Diada, Mas called for early elections for November 2012. Mas announced that he would hold a referendum (even if he lacked legal backing) within the term of the next legislature on Catalonia’s institutional future, and the Catalan Parliament adopted (before its dissolution) a motion calling for a consultation on Catalonia’s future. Mas failed to win an absolute majority – the CiU even fell back, losing 12 seats; but the elections saw strong gains by the separatist ERC (21 seats, up 11 and second in seats ahead of the PSC) and the election of 3 members from the far-left separatist Candidatura d’Unitat Popular (CUP). The elections, however, also showed a polarization of political opinions – the divided PSC, defending a vague and unappealing federalist ‘third way’, was crushed (an all-time low of 14.4% and 20 seats), while the staunchly anti-independence Catalan PP (19 seats, up 1) and Ciutadans (C’s, 9 seats, up 6) made gains.

In December 2012, Mas signed a deal with the ERC, in which the ERC supported Mas’ reelection as president in return for the ERC’s input on a referendum to be held as soon as possible. In January 2013, the Catalan Parliament approved a motion recognizing the Catalan people as ‘sovereign’ and holding the ‘right to decide’, with the votes of the CiU, ERC and the left-wing Initiative for Catalonia Greens-United and Alternative Left (ICV-EUiA) and the opposition of the PP, C’s and 15 deputies from the PSC. The Constitutional Tribunal struck down the motion in March 2014. After another highly successful nationalist show of force on the Diada in 2013 (an impressive human chain stretching the entire length of Catalonia), Mas announced in December 2013 that a referendum would be held on November 9, 2014 and that voters would answer two questions: “do you want Catalonia to be a state?” and “in case of affirmative answer, do you want this state to be independent?” The two-question structure of the referendum was widely criticized, as were the very ambiguous questions set by the Generalitat – there is no straight up question on sovereignty (a word which Mas is still not keen towards) or separation, and the words ‘state’ and ‘independent’ can be rather ambiguous and twisted different ways. The ERC and CUP wanted a straight up yes/no question on independence, but the ICV-EUiA and the moderate junior party in the CiU (Josep Duran i Lleida’s conservative autonomist Democratic Union of Catalonia, UDC) opposed a straight choice. Nationalists insist that Catalonia would remain in the EU and Eurozone following independence, but most agree that, in the eventuality of Catalan independence, Catalonia would not automatically remain in the EU.

The Spanish government immediately announced that the vote would not take place. The PP, joined by the PSOE, UPyD and C’s, argues that the organization of such a referendum in unconstitutional. On this matter, the Constitution is quite clear: only the Spanish State has the authority to organize a referendum (Article 149.1) and national sovereignty resides in the Spanish people (Article 1.2). The PP denies the Generalitat’s claim that Article 150.2, which allows for the transfer or delegation of the State’s powers to autonomous communities, can be read as allowing for the State to authorize a referendum in Catalonia.

The referendum debate has succeeded in one thing, at least: deeply dividing the PSOE and PSC. The national PSOE has been less centralist than the PP, especially under Zapatero, but has strongly opposed any attempts to hold referendums on independence or declarations of a region’s ‘right to decide'; the PSC, on the other hand, has always been at the very least Catalanist (supportive of a Catalan national identity and extensive self-government) and a significant minority within the PSC has openly supported the ‘right to decide’, the organization of a referendum and even supporting full independence. The PSC’s hapless leader, Pere Navarro, has defended a quite vague and unappealing idea of a federalist ‘third way’ and opposed the organization of a referendum. In January 2014, 3 PSC deputies in the Catalan Parliament voted in favour of the Generalitat’s petition to organize a referendum, disobeying the party line; the PSC deputies in the Congress disobeyed the PSOE’s party line in February 2013 by supporting a CiU-ERC-ICV resolution calling on the government to negotiate with the Generalitat on the organization of a referendum. Some members of the PSOE, notably veteran Socialist leader Alfonso Guerra (the Vice President of the government between 1982 and 1991 under Felipe Gonzáles), openly supported breaking ties with the PSC and founding a clearly anti-independence section of the PSOE in the region. In July 2013, to paper over the cracks, the PSOE adopted the Declaration of Granada, supporting federalism with clearly defined responsibilities, a federalist reform of the Senate and a reform of the financing of the regions. However, federalism has failed to convince many people, and the divisions remain – the PSOE is unwilling to loudly proclaim its federalist conversion by fear of alienating more centralist types in its base and membership, while the PSC supports federalism but some are tempted to go even further. In October 2013, the PSOE voted in favour of a UPyD motion proclaiming that ‘the right to decide resides with all Spaniards’, rendering the PSC (which abstained) even more uncomfortable and kind of casting doubts on what the PSOE’s federalism really means.

The government created another firestorm with justice minister Alberto Ruiz-Gallardón’s changes to the abortion law. In 2010, Zapatero’s Socialist government, as part of its series of socially liberal reforms which alienated the PP and the Catholic Church, removed all restrictions on abortion (which was legal in cases of danger to the mother’s physical or mental health, rape and fetal malformations or defects since 1985), legalizing it on demand in the first 14 weeks of pregnancy and allowing minors 16-18 to have an abortion without requiring parental consent. In 2011, the PP’s platform promised to amend the abortion law and Alberto Ruiz-Gallardón reiterated the new government’s commitment towards changing the law. In December 2013, the government announced its draft law – abortion would be illegal except in cases of rape and ‘serious risk to the physical or mental health’ of the mother (malformation of the fetus by itself would not be grounds for an abortion, unless the mother proves that it has a serious impact on her mental health), two doctors (who would not perform the abortion or work for the clinic where it is performed) would judge if these conditions exist, minors will require parental consent and only doctors would be punished for the ‘crime’. The government claimed that its law defends the rights of the unborn and protects mothers, but the new law – which has yet to be passed by Congress – is widely unpopular. Many criticize the PP for starting a useless ‘culture war’ only to satisfy its restless and critical hard-right base (which is less than enamored with most of Rajoy’s policies), and Alberto Ruiz-Gallardón’s popularity has dwindled, making him the second least popular minister, after Wert. The abortion law came alongside a new public safety law from interior minister Jorge Fernández Díaz which would give the police to fine ‘offenses or insults to Spain’ or dissolves unauthorized rallies in front of the Parliament buildings.

There have been regional elections in five regions since 2011 – Andalucia, Asturias (both in March 2012, both resulted in PSOE governments), Galicia and Euskadi (in late 2012, the reelection of the PP majority in Galicia and the PNV’s return in Euskadi) and Catalonia (see above); these EP elections are the first national elections since the 2011 general election, and it kicks off a series of high-stakes elections in 2015 – regional and municipal elections around May, followed by a general election before December 2015. Parties are clearly gearing up for the 2015 elections, which are likely to be the most open-ended, unpredictable and exciting elections in modern Spain. Dealing with a recession, one of the highest unemployment rates in the EU, a terrible deficit, the unpopularity of its austerity policies, controversial legislation, a ‘separatist threat’ in Catalonia, corruption all around and corruption within the government itself, the PP has seen its support fall significantly since 2011. From an all-time high of 45%, the PP’s support fell to about 29-32% in the polls, which would be the PP’s lowest level since the early 1990s (around the time when the old AP shifted away from Manuel Fraga’s toxic past association with Franco, and José María Aznar’s successful construction of a big tent party after 1990).

In opposition, the PSOE has continued to struggle after its all-time low result in 2011. The PSOE’s leader (at the time of the EP elections), Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba, has been a very unpopular opposition leader who has struggled to find a voice for the PSOE in opposition and define a new path for the PSOE after the Zapatero era (which is, fairly or unfairly, widely judged to have been a trainwreck by voters). Rubalcaba’s support in the PSOE has also been less than unanimous: Rubalcaba was elected leader of the PSOE at the party’s XXXVIII Congress in February 2012, with 487 delegates against 465 delegates for Carme Chacón, a popular defense minister under Zapatero and a Catalan Socialist. Rubalcaba was supported by the bulk of the PSOE’s old guard – former Prime Minister Felipe Gonzáles, the old regional barons José Bono (Castilla-La Mancha), Manuel Chaves (Andalusia), Juan Carlos Rodríguez Ibarra (Extremadura); Chacón, the outsider, was supported by the likes of Juan Fernando López Aguilar, Josep Borrell, María Teresa Fernández de la Vega, Tómas Gómez and Susana Díaz (who became leader of the Andalusian PSOE and president of Andalusia in September 2013). Rubalcaba has generally moved the party towards the left, opposing the PP’s austerity policies (but many remember that Zapatero was the one who began austerity, and many compare the government’s austerity policies to those of the PSOE), supporting bank and wealth taxes, less power for the Catholic Church and – as aforementioned – a fairly vague ‘federalism’. In polls, the PSOE was at or below its 2011 result – 25 to 28%, which meant that the PP remained ahead of the PSOE in all but a handful of polls (although the gap closed significantly in early 2014).

The IU and UPyD, nationally, have achieved strong polling numbers since 2011 – the IU’s support peaked at nearly 15% before coming down a bit to 10-12% in early 2014; UPyD increased to about 7-11%.

The PP leadership appointed Miguel Arias Cañete, Minister of Agriculture, Food and the Environment (until his resignation on April 28 to run in the EP election) as the PP’s top candidate. Arias Cañete, one of the most popular members of the government (although still in the red), was fairly uncontroversial in his job and has EU experience in dealing with the Common Agricultural Policy. Ramón Luis Valcárcel, the PP president of Murcia from 1995 to 2014, was sixth on the PP’s list. The PSOE leadership appointed Elena Valenciano, the deputy leader of the PSOE and a Rubalcaba ally, who served in the EP from 1999 to 2008, as top candidate. Ramón Jáuregi, a Basque Socialist politician and Minister of the Presidency (2010-2011) was second; Juan Fernando López Aguilar, the top candidate in 2009 and former Minister of Justice (2004-2007), was fourth.

La Izquierda Plural (The Plural Left) was the coalition spearheaded by the IU, led by two-term PCE/IU MEP Willy Meyer. The IU is the old coalition of the Spanish radical left, in which the Communist Party (PCE) has always been the largest although not necessarily dominant component. Since 2008, under the leadership of Cayo Lara, the PCE has regained the upper hand in the IU, after the eight-year leadership of Gaspar Llamazares, who was more independent of the PCE. Under Cayo Lara, the IU has further distanced itself from the PSOE (Llamazares had less confrontational relations with the Socialists) and proclaimed the IU as anti-capitalist and anti-neoliberal.

In Catalonia, La Izquierda Plural was led by the Initiative for Catalonia Greens (ICV) and the United and Alternative Left (EUiA), with the ICV’s Ernest Urtasun as the third candidate on the national list. ICV, the largest of the two, grew out of the old Unified Socialist Party of Catalonia (PSUC) in the 1980s and transformed into an ecosocialist centralized party – more independent of the national IU – in the mid-1990s. EUiA, which has been ICV’s perennial electoral ally since 2003, was founded in 1998 by traditionalist communists (notably the anti-Eurocommunist PCC and a faction of the old PSUC hostile to the green shift of the ICV) and it is the official Catalan wing of IU. The ICV-EUiA supports Catalan self-determination, but the ICV is split between federalists and separatists. In Galicia, La Izquierda Plural was led by the new alliance of the local United Left (EU) and Anova-Irmandade Nacionalista. Anova is an alliance of Galician regionalist/nationalist left-wing parties born from factions which split from the Galician Nationalist Bloc (BNG) after Xosé Manuel Beiras – a leading figure of Galician nationalism and former leader of the BNG – lost an internal election to the dominant Union of the Galician People (UPG) in 2012. Led by Beiras, the EU-Anova alliance (Alternativa Galega de Esquerda, AGE) in the October 2012 regional elections in Galicia did very well, winning 14% and 9 seats – third ahead of the BNG, a result made more impressive if one considers the weakness of the communist movement in the conservative region. In Euskadi, the local branch of IU (Ezker Anitza, after a nasty split in 2012) was allied with Iratzarri, a small splinter of Aralar; in Navarre, IU was allied with Batzarre, a far-left nationalist party whose roots can be traced to the two major obrerista splinters from ETA during Franco’s regime (ETA Berri in 1966 and ETA-VI in 1970). La Izquierda Plural, finally, also included some members from tiny green parties.

UPyD’s list was led by its sole incumbent MEP, Francisco Sosa Wagner. The centrist liberal UPyD is strongly pro-European, arguing in favour of deeper European integration (it proposes a common immigration policy, banking union, abolishing the inter-governmental European Council to promote EU supranationalism, integrated European defense etc) and warning of the dangers of nationalism. In Spain, UPyD is a fierce opponent of peripheral nationalists – it supports reducing the powers of the autonomous communities, clearly setting out the powers of all levels of government, abolishing the foral rights (conciertos) of Euskadi and Navarre and creating a symmetric, centralized federal state. However, because of its stances, UPyD has been described by critics as centralist and Spanish nationalist. The party has common ground with the PP on issues such as terrorism, centralism and even some structural reforms in the economy but the UPyD’s secularism, mild social liberalism and more centrist economic policies are off-putting to many populares. The party’s reputation is mixed, many accusing it of populism and personalism behind UPyD’s founding leader, former PSOE MEP Rosa Díez.

UPyD is nearly indistinguishable from the Ciudadanos-Ciutadans (C’s), with the exception that the C’s have tended to be a regional party in Catalonia with little presence outside the region, although that is changing. The C’s, like UPyD, are anti-(peripheral) nationalist and support greater centralization, and has also taken strong stances in favour of equal bilingualism between Spanish and Catalan (the Generalitat has tended to heavily promote and favour Catalan). A minor force in Catalan politics until 2010, the party benefited from the polarization of opinion around the issue of independence to gain 6 seats in the 2012 regional elections, winning a record 9 seats. It has provided C’s with an impetus to expand outside of Catalonia and consolidate its new strength in Catalonia. Compared to UPyD, C’s is a bit Eurosceptic and left-leaning – in 2012, C’s took rather populist and left-wing positions on socioeconomic issues; but the main difference remains one of personalities – C’s leader, Albert Rivera, doesn’t get along with Rosa Díez.

The moderate peripheral regionalist and nationalist parties – led by the CiU and the PNV – formed the Coalición por Europa, the same name as a similar alliance for the 2009 EP elections. The coalition included the CiU – more accurately, its two component parties, Artur Mas’ larger nationalist Democratic Convergence of Catalonia (CDC) and the autonomist conservative Democratic Union of Catalonia (UDC), with the former in the ALDE and the latter in the EPP and the PNV, which is with the CDC in ALDE. The coalition was joined, like in 2009, by the Canarian Coalition (CC) – a makeshift coalition of various insular parties (Canarian politics are extremely insular) which is the governing party in the Canaries since 1993 which, unlike the PNV or CiU, is not as much a nationalist party (although it defines itself as one) as an autonomist and Canarian regionalist party seeking various concessions from the central government. In Galicia, the coalition was joined by Compromise for Galicia (CxG), a small centre-left nationalist party (1% in the 2012 regionals) founded by another faction of BNG dissidents in 2012 (from the Máis Galiza faction of the BNG) and small nationalist parties (the liberal PNG-PG, notably). In Catalonia, the Reagrupment - a small separatist movement – joined the coalition, after moving towards the CDC in 2013. Incumbent MEP Ramon Tremosa (CDC) was the lead candidate, followed by Izaskun Bilbao MEP (PNV) and Francesc Gambús (UDC).

The ERC allied with two small Catalan nationalist parties (Catalunya Sí and Nova Esquerra Catalana – a party led by Ernest Maragall, the brother of former PSC President of the Generalitat Pasqual Maragall) to form L’Esquerra pel Dret a Decidir (EPDD, ‘The Left for the Right to Decide’), running on a strongly nationalist platform endorsing Catalan independence within the EU. The ERC had previously mulled an historic broad nationalist front with the CiU or an alliance with the Basque EH Bildu.

EH Bildu formed a coalition with the Galician BNG (weakened by splits, and led by the communist UPG), a small Canarian separatist party (ANC), the Asturian nationalists, the Aragonese nationalist Puyalón and another small party; the list, led by EH Bildu’s Josu Juaristi, was called Los Pueblos Deciden (The Peoples Decide, LPD). Interestingly, EH Bildu-LPD’s platform was not as separatist as anti-neoliberal and left-wing, with much of it devoted to a left-wing critique of neoliberalism and the economic crisis rather than nationalist calls for self-determination (although they were in there).

Primavera Europea (PE, European Spring) was a coalition spearheaded by the left-wing/green Valencian regionalist Coalició Compromís, a young (2010) alliance of various Valencian nationalist (BLOC) and regional left-wing or green parties. Compromís, which has adopted the ‘third way’ between the warring theoretical schools of Valencian nationalism (Joan Fuster’s pan-Catalanism and the anti-Catalan blaverismo), has been quite successful electorally – 7% and 6 seats in the 2011 regional election, the election of one deputy to Madrid in 2011. It allied, as in November 2011, with EQUO – Spain’s new, but rather unsuccessful, green party; the Chunta Aragonesista (CHA), Aragon’s main left-wing nationalist party; and other small parties.

In January 2014, several academics and civil society actors founded Podemos (‘we can’), a left-wing, anti-establishment movement which would oppose Madrid and the EU’s austerity policies and seek to build on the Spanish indignados movements. Podemos’ list was led by Pablo Iglesias, a 35-year old polisci professor at the Complutense University of Madrid and a regular guest on TV shows; Iglesias’ face was the logo chosen by Podemos to identify itself on ballot papers, a decision which Podemos justified by Iglesias’ greater notoriety and name (face?) recognition. Pablo Iglesias, who was named after the founder of the PSOE and the UGT Pablo Iglesias (1850-1925), was a member of the PCE’s youth wing between the ages of 14 and 21.

Podemos’ platform focuses on six overarching themes: economic recovery, ‘conquering liberty, fraternity and equality’, redefining sovereignty and recovering the land. On economic issues, Podemos supports job creation through public policies and public investments (it opposes the PP’s labour and pension reforms, and calls for a 35-hour workweek and a retirement age at 60, a higher minimum wage and a new maximum wage; it would promote SMEs), an audit of the debt, democratization of the ECB (which would be focused on creation of ‘decent jobs’ and the public financing of member-states by directly buying public debt on the markets), reorienting the financial system to consolidate ‘ethical and cooperative’ banks, public ownership in strategic sectors (communications, energy, food, transport, health, education, pharmaceuticals), subjecting all privatizations to a referendum, cracking down on tax evasion and tax fraud by multinationals, wealth taxes and a minimum basic income.

On the theme of ‘conquering liberty’, Podemos advocates for tougher anti-corruption measures, greater use of legislative initiative referendums and direct democracy, electoral reform, participative budgeting, control of  lobbyists, campaign finance regulations, anti-monopoly measures in communications, the defense of basic freedoms (freedom of speech, assembly, association etc), abolishing ‘anti-terrorism’ legislation which restricts civil liberties and LGBTI rights. On the issue of ‘conquering equality’, Podemos supports defending social and cultural rights, defending public services, gender equality in the workplace, a right to free universal healthcare throughout the EU, a right to free public and secular education including university, a right to decent housing (a moratorium on mortgage debts for low-income families, freezing evictions, legalization of squatting in unoccupied places), defending sexual and reproductive rights and a right of free and secure access to information. By ‘conquering fraternity’, Podemos argues in favour of increasing citizen participation, pro-immigration policies, increasing immigrants’ rights, self-determination (right to decide) and a foreign policy based on international development and peace. Podemos supports abrogating the Treaty of Lisbon, abandoning TAFTA, renegotiating free-trade agreements, mandatory popular ratification of all constitutional amendments and various political reforms (transparency, term limits, possibility for recall, less generous benefits and salaries for politicians). Finally, Podemos endorses a new sustainable development policy for the EU, a right to access water, food security, reducing GHG emissions by 55% by 2030, green energies (45% of energy must be from renewable sources by 2030) and rural development. Similar to Italy’s Beppe Grillo, although with much less radical and inflammatory rhetoric, Podemos presents itself as a new party ‘close to citizens’ and not professionals politicians. Several media reports have noted the importance of social media to Podemos.

Podemos’ list was supported by several small parties, the most notable of which was the far-left Trotskyist Anticapitalist Left (Izquierda Anticapitalista), a small movement which was a part of IU from 1995 to 2007.

The PP faced a challenge to its right from a splinter party founded in 2013, Vox. The party was founded by some right-wing rebels in the PP. The party’s right has been uneasy or on bad terms with Rajoy since 2008, when the right unsuccessfully tried to remove him as leader following the PP’s defeat in 2008. Since taking power, some members of the PP’s right have decried Rajoy as a ‘sellout’, a ‘pansy’ and even a ‘social democrat’ – they dislike his tax increases, his handling of Catalonia and his less confrontational stance with terrorism. Vox seeks to return to the PP’s roots – neoliberalism/Thatcherism, visceral opposition to peripheral nationalism and strong support for ‘national unity’. The party’s leader and most prominent figure is Alejo Vidal-Quadras, a three-term MEP and leader of the Catalan PP from 1991 to 1996. A leading opponent of Catalan nationalism and Jordi Pujol’s CiU governments in the 1990s – comparing its linguistic policies to apartheid – and recently called on the Guardia Civil to intervene if Mas’ government continued its ‘rebellion’. Vox was also joined by Santiago Abascal, a former Basque regional deputy (2004-2009) close to former Basque PP leader María San Gil; and José Antonio Ortega Lara, a ETA hostage for 532 days in the 1990s. Other members of the PP’s right, somewhat estranged from the leadership, such as Esperanza Aguirre (who resigned as president of the Community of Madrid in 2012) and Jaime Mayor Oreja (the PP’s top candidate in the 2009 EP elections who declined to run for reelection) have not joined the new party.

Results

The major losers of the election were Spain’s two major parties – the PP and PSOE – who lost over 15% of the vote each from the 2009 EP election. Together, the two parties won just 49.1% of the vote compared to 73.3% in 2011, 80.9% in 2009 (EP) and 83.7% in 2008. It is the first time in the history of modern Spanish democracy that the two largest parties (the PP/AP and PSOE since 1982, the PSOE and UCD from 1977 to 1982) in the country have not won over 50% of the vote. Falling even lower than its disastrous 2011 result (28.7%), the PSOE’s puny 23% sets another record as the PSOE’s lowest result in any national election. The PP’s result – 26.1% – is down 18.5% from 2011 and it is the PP’s lowest result in any national election since the 1991 municipal elections (25.3%). El País summarized the elections with the headline pierde el bipartidismo (the two-party system loses) – as far as summaries go, it’s a very good one given that the election has confirmed what polls have said since about 2012 – Spain’s two-party system (at a national level, mind you) which has endured since the Transition is at its lowest ebb, with both the right and left feeling pressure from new parties, peripheral nationalists and parties to their left.

The PP can take some solace (and it has) in that it placed first – a Pyrrhic victory, but the PP has said that a victory is a victory and it has expressed much satisfaction (publicly) with its result. As far as it’s concerned, the PP managed to place first and beat the PSOE – which remains its only serious rival for government – in a midterm election despite unpopular austerity policies, recortes (cuts) and a difficult economic situation. The PP hopes that the nascent recovery will help it improve its poll standings, although it is another question whether most voters are actually feeling a recovery and if they’re willing to re-embrace the PP after everything. The other good news for the PP is that, despite its major loses, it still faces no major challenge on its right flank – Vox won only 1.6%. If anything, polls indicate that the PP’s loses have come from more centrist voters, while it has held on to more conservative supporters.

Never mind that its first place showing owes more to the division of its opponents in general and the left in particular, and never mind that the PP’s results hide some very preoccupying (negative) trends and indications – the PP would like to think that its ‘victory’ of sorts in the EP election shores up Rajoy and is good omen for 2015. The PP likely seeks to distract attention from its very severe loses, which saw its raw vote fall from 6.670 million in 2009/10.866 million in 2011 to only 4.098 million votes in 2014. The PP’s results are only decent when compared to those of the PSOE.

If there can be only one loser of these elections, it is undeniably the PSOE. The Socialists suffered an historic defeat – just 23% and 3.6 million votes in the whole of Spain – and this despite being the leading opposition party during an economic crisis (oftentimes, regardless of the actual competence or strength of the main opposition party, it is in a good position to be the main beneficiary of a government’s unpopularity in a midterm vote – ask the Portuguese PS right now). The PSOE has been unable to make a clean break with Zapatero’s toxic legacy (Rubalcaba hasn’t helped matters), and many voters still blame Zapatero and the PSOE for Spain’s economic mess. Despite shifting to the left since 2011, the PSOE still lacks credibility and legitimacy to many voters, and its leftwards shift has mainly come off as opportunism and insincere (many remember Zapatero’s own austerity policies). Additionally, the PSOE has been badly divided since 2011, and the issue of Catalonia’s derecho a decidir and the territorial organization of Spain has been a huge headache for the PSOE.

Following the EP election, PSOE leader Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba announced his immediate resignation as secretary-general and that he would not be a candidate in the presidential (prime ministerial) primaries planned for November 2014. His leadership had clearly become unsustainable and un-salvageable following the EP thumping. An extraordinary congress to elect his successor was held on July 13. Pedro Sánchez, a 42-year old deputy (2009-2011, and since January 2013) who worked with José Blanco (one of Zapatero’s allies) in the centrist wing of the party, was elected with 48.7% against 36.3% for Eduardo Madina (who is 38), a Basque Socialist who has led the PSOE group in Congress since 2009. José Antonio Pérez Tapias, from the party’s most leftist faction, took 15.1%. Pedro Sánchez, who has promised to build the grassroots and transform the PSOE into the party of ‘change’ for 2015, had strong support in all federations – even in Euskadi – but crucial to his victory was his above-average support in Andalusia, the powerhouse in PSOE politics, where Sánchez was supported by Susana Díaz, the regional president who is becoming one of the new major barons in the PSOE. Sánchez, an economist, was a fairly obscure backbencher until not so long ago; one of his first decisions was to instruct PSOE MEPs not to vote for Jean-Claude Juncker’s confirmation. So far, polls have not indicated much of a ‘leadership boost’ for the PSOE after Sánchez’s victory. The PSOE’s next major event will be the presidential primary in November 2014, where it is possible that Carme Chacón will return from her political hiatus (teaching in Miami), although her position has been rendered more fragile with the Catalan situation and the PSC’s decrepit state.

Both the PP and PSOE were significantly overestimated in the polls – according to the last polls, the PP stood at about 31-34% while the PSOE was between 26% and 30%. Both parties’ poor performance on election day was the first major surprise.

The PP and PSOE lost many – if not most – of its 2011 support to abstention, with over half of Spanish voters not showing up to vote. But, with turnout nationally down only 1% from 2009, the PP and PSOE both lost support to other parties, who were, taken as a whole, the main winners of the election.

The major winner was Podemos, which won a remarkable 8% and 5 MEPs. Podemos’ success was quite unexpected – although some late polls had given it up to 1 (even 2) MEPs and about 2-3% of the vote – because few people believed that it would manage to do all that well. Podemos achieved its result despite few financial resources, and a campaign largely built on social media appeal, word of mouth and Pablo Iglesias’ personal notoriety. The new party has been said to have taken a good chunk of the Socialist vote, but Podemos’ success is also cause for concern for IU – without Podemos, many of its supporters would likely have supported IU.

Podemos appeals because it presents a fresh, left-wing and anti-establishment image, and there is definitely a market for Podemos’ anti-politician, anti-system creed. The PSOE is discredited and lacks legitimacy, still licking its wounds from 2011 and trying to figure out where to go from there. IU has gained support thanks to the PSOE’s sad state and the loss of left-wing voters who had supported the PSOE in the first decade of the 21st century, but IU has problems of its own – it is a fairly bureaucratic traditional party itself, it is quite divided internally and its lacks a charismatic or popular leader with Alexis Tsipras (or Pablo Iglesias)’ stature (Cayo Lara is not very popular). Podemos represents a real threat to the PSOE, because it potentially has what it takes to seriously challenge the PSOE’s ‘leadership’ of the broader Spanish left. Podemos is bad news for both IU and UPyD, because it steals both of these parties’ anti-bipartidismo thunder. Its fourth place showing in the EP election already caused UPyD to fall into fifth place. This also frustrates IU and UPyD’s bids to establish themselves as kingmakers ahead of next year’s open-ended municipal, regional and general elections.

Polls taken since the EP election have shown that Podemos came out of the EP election with the most momentum and has become a ‘phenomenon’. It has surged into third place and double digits, ranging between 12% and 15% in most polls, sending the IU into fourth with only 6-8% and UPyD into fifth with 5-7%; the PSOE polls between 21% and 24%.

The most recent poll by CIS (July 2014), often considered as a gold standard in Spanish polling, had the PP leading the PSOE by 8.8% – 30% to 21.2%, with Podemos a strong third with 15.3%, followed by IU (8.2%) and UPyD (5.9%). In the ‘spontaneous’ answers, including undecideds/non-voters, the PP leads Podemos by 0.9% (12.8% to 11.9%), with the PSOE in third (10.6%). Over 80% of respondents still rate the economy as bad or very bad, a bit less than half think that the economy has neither improved nor worsened in the past year and only 25% think it will get better in the next year. Two-thirds of respondents rate the PP government as bad or very bad, and over 85% have little or no confidence in Rajoy.

Although because of the little ideological proximity it has with the PP, Podemos does not threaten the PP directly, but the PP has been leading the charge to kill it in the egg. Esperanza Aguirre has accused Iglesias of being a friend of castrismo, chavismo (one of Podemos’ main figures, fellow polisci prof Juan Carlos Monedero, is a chavista and in fact a former adviser to Chávez) and ETA and some in the PP have alleged that Podemos is financed by Venezuela (Podemos says it is financed through crowdfunding). Rosa Díez has said that she sees elements of SYRIZA, the Italian M5S and the FN in Podemos.

IU, with 10%, actually won its best result in any national election since 1996 (10.5%) and significantly improves on its catastrophic 2009 EP result (3.7%). IU’s gains in the 2011 election – it won 6.9%, up from 3.7% in 2008 – ended a near-constant decline which begun in 1994. UPyD won 6.5%, which is also the party’s best result in its short history, while C’s won 3.1% of the vote. However, the success of IU and UPyD was overshadowed by the Podemos phenomenon, and the surprising result of Podemos – and its implications for both IU and UPyD – tampered the optimism and enthusiasm of these two parties. With at least 1% of the vote in all regions except Euskadi, and at least 2% in 11 regions, C’s showed that they too have national appeal outside of their Catalan cradle.

Overall, the radical left – IU and Podemos – won about 18% of the vote, a record high result for parties to the radical left in Spanish history. Together, UPyD and C’s won 9.7%, also something of a record.

The regionalist and nationalist parties performed, in general, quite well. The biggest success, and one of the more remarkable result, came from Catalonia. In the turbulent region, turnout was up 9.3% from the 2009 EP election (when only 36.9% voted) and reached 46.2%. The increased turnout came as a result of higher nationalist mobilization to defend the planned November 9 referendum, after nationalist parties had called on voters to turn out in large numbers to bring European attention to the referendum and the Catalan issue. The victor was the ERC, with an historic result of 23.7% (9% in 2009) and its first victory in Catalonia since 1936 (during the Second Republic). CiU, with 21.8% – down from a mediocre result of 22.4% in 2009 – did poorly, although Mas tried to spin the issue away by emphasizing the convincing victory of nationalist parties – together, ERC and CiU won 45.5%, compared to only 31.6% in 2009; with the addition of ICV, the pro-referendum vote reaches no less than 55.8% (compared to 37.7% in 2009). In the 2012 regional election, the ERC-CiU-ICV referendum majority won a similar result (which goes up to 58% if the CUP, which didn’t run in the EP election, is included). The ERC won three provinces – Barcelona (21.9%), Tarragona (25.3%) and Gerona (32.9%) while the CiU narrowly won Lleida (31.8% vs. 29.7% for ERC). In the city of Barcelona itself, ERC won 21.8% against 20.9% for the CiU; third place went to ICV (12.6%) ahead of the PSC (12.2%). The main loser in Catalonia was the PSC, whose 14.3% is the lowest result in the PSC’s history (even lower than 2012) and is down massively from the 36% the Socialists took in the region in 2009.

On the anti-nationalist side, the PP did poorly as well (9.8%, its worst national result), losing about half of its support from 2009 (when it did well with 18%) but not as bad if compared with its 2012 result (13%). C’s failed to beat the PP or PSC, as some regional election polls have suggested it may do, but did quite well with 7% of the vote – down slightly from the 7.6% it won in 2012. UPyD won only 1.1% in the region. Podemos, with 4.7%, had one of its worst results in the country.

ERC did well in the Balearic Islands as well, taking 7.3% in the region, where it was supported (unofficially) by Més per Mallorca, a left-wing regionalist coalition on the island of Majorca. The PP won 27.5% against 22% for the Balearic PSOE.

In Euskadi, the results confirmed the new political dispensation which began in 2011. The PNV placed first, with 27.5%, an average result (for an EP election, the PNV does far better in regional elections) down about 1% from 2009 and tied with its 2011 general election showing. In second place, EH Bildu won 23.4%, at the lower end of what the abertzale left has been polling in Euskadi since 2011 (24% in 2011, 24.6% in 2012); but up from the 16% won by a comparable list supported by the illegal abertzale left in 2009 (the Iniciativa Internacionalista, 16% in Euskadi). At the provincial level, the PNV was only victory in Bizkaia, the heartland of moderate Christian democratic Basque nationalism, with a 12-point victory over EH Bildu (31.7% to 19.9%); EH Bildu won by 6.6% in Gipuzkoa, the most nationalist province and hotbed of the abertzale left forever (with 31.2% against 24.6% for the PNV) and took a narrow victory in Álava/Araba, with 18.9% to the PNV’s 17.2%, in the least nationalist and most ‘Spanish’ of the three provinces of Euskadi. In Navarra, EH Bildu was – by far – the dominant Basque nationalist party, with a strong second place and 20.1%, while the PNV won only 2.5% – the PNV has been a tiny rump in Navarra since the 1980s, after being badly hurt by the EA/PNV split in 1986 and the PNV’s participation in a pact with the Spanish and Navarrese right (both strongly opposed to Navarra’s unification with Euskadi). In Euskadi, both the PSE-EE and PP did poorly – with 13.8% and 10.2% respectively – down from 27.8% and 16% in 2009 and 18.9% and 11.6% in 2012.

The CDC and PNV suffered a significant group in the ALDE group, where they were unable to block the admission of UPyD’s 4 MEPs and C’s 2 MEPs to the group, despite the ALDE’s past statements in favour of the Catalan referendum. The CDC and PNV were the only ALDE members to oppose the two Spanish centralist parties’ admission to the group.

In Galicia, where the PP won 35.2% to the PSdeG’s 21.7%, the IP-Anova nationalist left did quite well (10.5%) and Podemos (8.3%) arrived ahead of the BNG (7.9%), which ran a weak and shoestring campaign. Allied with the CiU and PNV, the CxG won only 1%. In the Canaries, the CC placed a poor third with 12.2%, against 23.3% for the PP and 22.2% for the PSOE. Even in the CC stronghold of Santa Cruz de Tenerife province, the CC won only 14.8%. Podemos, with 11% of the vote in the Canaries, won one of its best results in the country. In Aragon, CHA, in the PE coalition, won only 4.5%. In Ceuta, PE won 9%, thanks to the support of Coalición Caballas, a left-wing party representing the city’s significant Arab-Muslim population.

The PP won the Valencian Community with a 7.5% margin, but the results in what has been one of the PP’s major strongholds since the mid-1990s were terrible. With 29.1%, the PP won its worst result in the Valencian Community since the 1991 regional elections (the last election in which the PP did not top the poll in the region). In the last regional election, the PP won yet another absolute majority with 49.4% (despite the Caso Gürtel) and it did even better (53.3%) a few months later in the general election. The EP results confirm what the polls in the region have been saying: the PP leads, but is down significantly from its pre-2011 levels; the Socialists have utterly failed to benefit, winning only 21.6% (an historic low), with the main winners being IU/EU (10.4%), UPyD (8.5%), Compromís (7.9%) and – this year – Podemos (8.2%). If replicated next spring in the regional elections, the PP would lose its absolute majority in the Corts, which it has held since 1999. While the Socialists would remain the leading opposition party, because of the division of its opponents, it could potentially form a coalition with EU, Compromís and potentially UPyD (and now Podemos?).

Another result which should be cause for panic is Madrid, which has been governed by the PP since 1995 and with an absolute majority since then (excluding the first, disputed, regional election in May 2003). In 2009, the PP won 48.6% and it won 51.7% in the 2011 regional elections. This year, the PP’s support collapsed to only 29.9% – although, because of the PSOE’s decrepitude, it still won the region by over 11%. The PSOE, with 18.9%, won its worst ever result. Significantly, Podemos placed third in the Community of Madrid, taking 11.3% against 10.6% for UPyD and 10.5% for IU. With 4.8%, C’s won their best result outside of Catalonia. Madrid was also Vox’s best region (with 3.6%), although it won 6% in the small North African city of Melilla, where Vox was endorsed by a local party of PP dissidents represented in the local assembly.

The PP also did badly in Murcia, one of the PP’s safest regions, but where the populares crumbled to 37.5% – they had won 61.5% in 2009 and 64.2% in November 2011. Although of less symbolic importance and national weight than the populares bastions of Madrid and Valencia, the numbers indicate that the PP could lose its absolute majority in the Regional Assembly in 2015 (it has governed the region with an absolute majority since 1995). It’s a similar story in other regions where the two-party system has historically been extremely dominant – in the conservative stronghold of Castile-León, where the PP and PSOE won about 90% of the vote in 2009, the PP’s support fell from 52% in 2009 to 37.6% in 2014, and combined with the PSOE (23.4%), won only 61% of the regional vote (with UPyD, IU and Podemos each winning about 8%). In Castila-La Mancha, where the two parties took 91% in 2009, they accounted for only two-thirds of the vote in 2014 – with 37.7% for the PP and 28.7% for the PSOE. In Cantabria, where the PP+PSOE won 90% in 2009, they won only 59% this year, split between the PP (34.7%) and the PSOE (24.3%). If replicated in regional elections, the PP’s absolute majorities in several regions would crumble down, leaving them all vulnerable to opposition coalitions.

One of the few bright spots from the PSOE came from the left-wing citadel of Andalusia, where the PSOE won by 9% against the PP – taking 35.1% (a poor result, but comparable to its 2011 and 2012 results) against only 25.9% for the PP, successfully warding off a PP offensive. With 11.6%, IU did well, although it would have done even better without Podemos coming into the picture (with 7%, tied with UPyD). The PSOE was the largest party in every Andalusian province except Almería, the conservative stronghold in the region. The PSOE even won over 40% in Jaén and Huelva provinces, and 37.2% in the Socialist powerhouse of Seville province. The PSOE only managed to be the largest party in two other regions, both of them traditionally left-leaning: Extremadura, which the PP gained from the PSOE for the first time ever in 2011, taking 38.7% to the PP’s 35.5%; and the northern region of Asturias, governed by the PSOE in a tenuous and unstable coalition since 2012, where the Socialists won 26.1% against 24.1% for the PP. With 13.7%, Asturias – an old communist stronghold – was also Podemos’ best region, and IU (12.9%) also won its best national result in the region (where it is in government with the PSOE).

The national and regional results all confirm El País‘ headline – pierde el bipartidismo. Història Electoral, the leading archive for Spanish election data, has projected the potential results of a general election if the EP results were to be replicated: the PP won win 139 seats (its worst result since 1989), the PSOE would fall again to only 105 seats (110 in 2011, already its worst result) while IU would win a record 25 seats, Podemos would send 19 deputies and UPyD 10. In Catalonia, the ERC would elect 15 members against 13 for the CiU (and the C’s would elect 4 deputies). From the Basque parties, EH Bildu would gain one seat (to win 8) while the PNV would gain 2 (to win 7). In Valencia, Compromís would increase its representation to 2 seats. The remaining seats would be split between CC (2) and Vox (1, in low-threshold Madrid). While the PP will likely perform better, and the PSOE may consolidate some of the left-wing vote as well (if it resists to Podemos), it looks very unlikely that either the PP or PSOE will win a majority or even a large enough minority to govern without a coalition or formal confidence-and-supply deal with small parties. Thus, the 2015 regional and general elections will be exceptionally interesting.

Sweden

Turnout: 51.07% (+5.54%)
Seats: 20 (nc from Lisbon)
Electoral system: Semi-open list PR, 4% threshold (national constituency, may cast a preference vote for a candidate)

S (S&D) 24.19% (-0.22%) winning 5 seats (-1)
Mp (G-EFA) 15.41% (+4.39%) winning 4 seats (+2)
M (EPP) 13.65% (-5.18%) winning 3 seats (-1)
Fp (ALDE) 9.91% (-3.67%) winning 2 seats (-1)
SD (EFDD) 9.67% (+6.4%) winning 2 seats (+2)
C (ALDE) 6.49% (+1.01%) winning 1 seat (±0)
V (GUE/NGL) 6.3% (+0.65%) winning 1 seat (±0)
KD (EPP) 5.93% (+1.26%) winning 1 seat (±0)
F! (S&D) 5.49% (+3.27%) winning 1 seat (+1)
Pirates (G-EFA) 2.23% (-4.9%) winning 0 seats (-2)
Others 0.73% (-3.0%) winning 0 seats (±0)

Sweden 2014 - EP

The Swedish EP elections came only a few months before general elections (local and county council elections are also held the same day) on September 14.

Since 2006, Sweden has been governed by a four-party centre-right coalition (formally known as the Alliance for Sweden, colloquially known as the ‘bourgeois bloc’) led by Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt, the leader of the senior governing party, the Moderates (M). In the past, Reinfeldt had been very much on the right, authoring a book highly critical of Sweden’s mythical cradle-to-grave welfare state and calling for neoliberal reforms in the 1990s; but following the Moderates’ disastrous performance on the back of a botched low-tax platform in 2002 (15.3% of the v0te), Reinfeldt won the party’s leadership and moved to reinvent the party. Under Reinfeldt, the Moderates, traditionally the most right-wing party in the country, moved to the centre and focused their policies on fine-tuning and reforming, rather than dismantling, the welfare state by encouraging employment through tax reforms. The Moderates have taken to calling themselves ‘the New Moderates’, similar to Tony Blair’s New Labour and presenting themselves as a centrist, modern, competent, responsible and compassionate party. In the 2006 election, Reinfeldt, who had formed a pre-election coalition with three other parties on the right – the Liberal People’s Party (Fp), the Centre Party (C) and the Christian Democrats (KD), defeated Prime Minister Göran Persson’s tired Social Democrats (S), who had governed Sweden since 1994.

In power, the centre-right has largely been pragmatic and moderate, aiming to present an image of ideological moderation and responsibility. The government’s landmark policy achievement, which has been quite popular, is the earned income tax credit, a tax credit targeting low and middle-income workers which reduces the tax to be paid on income from employment. The government’s goal was to increase the after-tax income of those who work compared to those reliant on transfer payments and social benefits – in short, to increase the incentives for those outside the labour market (the unemployed) to proactively look for a job and ultimately increase employment. At the same time, the government tightened the criteria for unemployment benefits, trimmed the numbers on sickness benefits, increased employee contributions to unemployment funds and abolished tax credits for trade union or insurance fund membership – policies which were unpopular in the short term and caused a severe slump in the right’s poll ratings after taking office in 2006. The Alliance government, in its first term, also abolished a wealth tax and replaced a state property tax with a tax at the municipal level.

Although Sweden is often depicted as a left-wing, socialist utopia because of its famously generous universal welfare regime, the ‘Swedish model’ has gone through a lot of changes in recent years – to the point where free-market reformists, such as The Economist, often look to Sweden as an example. The size of Sweden’s public sector has been significantly reduced – Social Democratic governments in the post-war eras famously created a large public sector and in the mid-1990s, government spending accounted for over 65% of GDP. Today, it accounts for 50% or so of GDP. The top marginal tax rate, still very high by international standards, has been reduced significantly since the 1980s, corporate tax has been cut to 22% recently while wealth and inheritance taxes have been scrapped. The retirement age in Sweden is 67, which is high compared to many other EU member-states.

In 1992, school vouchers were introduced under a previous right-wing government (led by Carl Bildt, who has returned to politics as Reinfeldt’s foreign minister) and Swedish parents now have the choice to send their children to public schools or publicly-funded but privately-run free schools which may operate as non-profit or for profit. Much has been made of the centre-right government’s reforms to ‘make work pay’, and Sweden has been cited as inspiration for similar reforms (notably ‘free schools’) under David Cameron’s government in the United Kingdom. However, education remains a hot topic of debate in Sweden to this day. It is playing a major role in this year’s electoral campaign, after the last PISA schools ranking showed that Sweden has fallen quite a bit.

The ‘marketization’ of public services – such as education and healthcare – has also not been without controversy in Sweden. In 2013, there were several scandals about privately-run (but with taxpayer funding) aged care facilities which cut back on staff and services to increase their profit margins, opening a major political debate on profit in the welfare sector. The centre-right parties are generally favourable to for-profit activities by these private companies in the welfare sector, but the Social Democrats (S) resolved to significantly limit profit and allowing municipalities and counties to determine whether they want for-profit companies operating services and the Left Party (V) wants to ban profit in welfare altogether. Outside of V, however, few politicians left or right question the private sector’s role in providing some welfare/public services. Generally, voters still tend to side predominantly with the left when it comes to defending the welfare state.

In 2008-2009, the Alliance was badly hurt by the economic crisis which saw Sweden fall into a two-year recession (-0.6% and -5% growth in 2008-2009, and rising unemployment) but the government was saved by a spectacular economic recovery in 2010, which saw Sweden’s economy grow by 6.6% – the highest growth rate in the EU that year. Running on the creed of sound, responsible stewardship of the economy, the Reinfeldt government roared back in time for the 2010 election. The government was helped by the centre-left opposition’s sorry state. The Social Democrats, who have been the largest party in every general election since 1917 and have been one of Europe’s most successful parties (in the post-war era, the Social Democrats governed – often without coalition partners – from 1936 to 1976, 1982 to 1991 and from 1994 to 2006), had a tough time finding a leader after their 2006 defeat as many A-list candidates declined (notably Sweden’s well-liked then-European Commissioner Margot Wallström) and they settled on Mona Sahlin, who quickly lost popularity when she faced scrutiny. She built a formal alliance, the Red-Greens, with the Green Party (Mp) and the Left Party (V); the inclusion of V, which grew out of the old Communist Party and is still derided as communist by its opponents (although since 1990 it is a more modern and progressive radical left rather than paleo-communists – although former V leader Lars Ohly had a communist past and was widely depicted as a secret communist sympathizer), was controversial and scared centrist middle-class voters away from S. The opposition presented a botched alternative budget in early 2010, which proved to be its undoing. The centre-right took the lead, with S’ support collapsing and M surging. In 2010, S saved face by placing first, but with only 30.7% the party won its worst result since 1911, while the Moderates won 30.1% – the party’s best result since 1914.

The other major result of the 2010 election was the success of the far-right Sweden Democrats (SD), who won 5.7% of the vote and elected its first 20 MPs to the Riksdag. The SD’s success meant that, while the Alliance won more votes than the Red-Greens (49.3% against 43.6%), it lost its absolute majority in the Riksdag and was reduced to a minority government. Unlike the far-right/populist right in Sweden’s Scandinavian neighbors – which emerged from anti-tax movements (Norway and Denmark) or agrarian protest (Finland), the SD – founded in 1988 – finds its roots in openly racist or neo-Nazi movements (although SD itself was never Nazi, it did have Nazi sympathizers in its ranks), but the SD moved away from the beyond-the-pale far-right towards the FN/FPÖ far-right in the mid-to-late 1990s, and SDs current leader, Jimmie Åkesson (since 2005) has continued to modernize the party to make it more respectable (for example, the old torch logo is now an innocuous-looking anemone hepatica flower). The party’s support increased to 3% in 2006 and they finally broke through in 2010, much later than most of the Scandinavian populist right. Sweden has a large foreign-born population, making up about 15 to 20% of Sweden’s entire population, and the past decades have seen an increase in immigration from the Middle East (notably Iraq, the second-largest immigrant population behind Finns); Swedish immigration and asylum policies have been quite liberal. The integration of immigrants has been problematic in Sweden – many (non-European) immigrants live concentrated in high-rise apartments or social housing projects in low-income and neglected neighborhoods of the major cities and their suburbs (Rosengård in Malmö, Spånga-Testa in Stockholm, Botkyrka outside Stockholm), areas which concentrate many social and economic problems (poverty, unemployment, low education, criminality) and which have sometimes been called ghettos. Non-European immigrants in Sweden make up about half of the unemployed, and about 4 out 10 are poor. The Sweden Democrats are against multiculturalism, seeks to significantly reduce immigration and insists that immigrants should assimiliate fully with Swedish culture; the party is also socially conservative, anti-EU, anti-Euro and defines itself as democratic nationalist (while affirming that they are non-racist and their nation is culturally rather than ethnically-based). The SDs have seen their support increase to new highs since 2010, despite some controversies, but the party remains widely despised by a vast majority of Swedes who often describe it as racist and xenophobic. The SDs have tried to sanitize its image and make itself more respectable, but the media and other political parties remain very much against SD (although the parties can be more pragmatic if needs be); compared to Denmark’s DF and Norway’s Frp, the SD appear to be more radical and less respectable although it is tough to say if this is a result of their policies or the different national environments (both Danish and Norwegian political cultures have become far more accepting of their populist right). For example, despite being in a potential kingmaker situation, SD has been unable to push the Alliance government to more hardline immigration policies (like DF did with the Danish right) – in fact, Reinfeldt preferred to deal with the Greens on immigration and asylum issues, much to Åkesson’s displeasure.

After its 2010 defeat, the Social Democrats went through some very tough patches. Mona Sahlin resigned in March 2011, and after a convoluted and chaotic process, the party selected Håkan Juholt (mostly known for supposedly being S’ defense specialist) as her successor. Juholt turned out to be a dud who dragged down S’ numbers with his gaffes, before he was finally forced out in January 2012 with a scandal concerning an allowance he received from Parliament to pay for his apartment (he received too much money and was forced to pay back some of it. Under Juholt, S’ support in polls fell to as low as 22%. He was replaced by Stefan Löfven, the former head of the metalworkers union in the Swedish Trade Union Confederation (LO), the largest trade union and an informal ally of the party. Löfven has successfully kept a low-profile, not attracting controversy and appearing as reassuring, competent and pragmatic.

One of the centre-right government’s strongest points in the past had been its responsible stewardship of the economy – often emphasizing that Sweden was, compared to other EU member-states, performing very well economically. Both Reinfeldt and his popular finance minister, Anders Borg, have received high marks from voters when it comes to economic management. Since 2010, however, while Sweden has been performing well, there has been a clear economic slowdown because of lower demand and a strong krona hurting Swedish exports. The economy grew by only 0.9% in 2012 and 1.6% in 2013. Unemployment has remained higher than at pre-recession levels – frustratingly stable at about 8% (about 2% higher than in 2006, when the right won) and youth unemployment is very high (23.5% for those under 25, above the EU-28 average of 22%). While the centre-right government’s reforms to the welfare state have been lavishly praised by some, they’ve come under lots of criticism from the centre-left in Sweden, which argues that the government has prioritized tax cuts over welfare and that many people risk getting stuck in a ‘poverty trap’ with unskilled, low-wage jobs or unable to find a job altogether (therefore risking social exclusion). The Social Democrats have made youth unemployment, education and limiting profit in welfare services their key priorities in the September 2014 campaign.

Other scandals have taken their toll on the government’s popularity recently. The purchase of a Dutch energy company Nuon by state-owned energy company Vattenfall for 89 billion SEK in 2013 sparked controversy earlier this year, when it transpired that Vattenfall had likely paid more for Nuon than what it was worth (and that the government had actually been advised that the deal would be unprofitable, and Borg/Reinfeldt’s hardly believable claims that the deal was made by a former cabinet minister, former C leader Maud Olofsson, without their knowledge); in 2012, the defense minister was forced because of a secret deal where the Swedish government helped Saudi Arabia build a weapons factor.

One problem for the Alliance is that, in 2010, the centre-right’s success came only as a result of M’s strong showing (+3.8% and 30.1%) while its three junior partners all lost votes: the Fp (7.1%, -0.5%), C (6.6%, -1.3%) and KD (5.6%, -1%). Although all four centre-right parties came from different traditions and histories, they have lost their distinctiveness in recent years and it has become increasingly tough to tell them apart except in the details: M has become more similar to the liberal Fp, C sells itself as a ‘green libertarian party’ to appeal to an elusive and small young urban clientele while KD is hardly ‘socially conservative’ and is just a standard conservative party nowadays; generally, they have largely become differentiated by their niche clientele and issues. The old Nordic agrarian Centre Party went through a tough patch recently with a botched attempt to transform itself into low-tax (quasi-Thatcherite), pro-immigration libertarian party (egged on by a youth wing often seen by outsiders as being hardcore libertarian), which led to significant infighting and terrible polling numbers. C’s leader Annie Lööf, once seen as a young rising star (at 31) has definitely not lived up to the hype (while she hasn’t been a disaster, her leadership has been pretty poor at best and she was hurt by the infighting and libertarian-shift).

EP elections in Sweden tend to see different results than general elections – generally with the major parties weaker in EP elections and minor parties quite a bit stronger. In 1995, as the leading anti-EU list in Sweden’s first elections after joining the EU, the Greens (Mp) won 17.2%; the Left Party (V) peaked at nearly 16% in 1999; in 2004, the Eurosceptic June List won 14.5% but collapsed to 3.5% in 2009; in 2009, the Pirates surged to win 7.1% but the party’s support petered out by the time the 2010 general elections rolled around. In contrast, both S and M have done poorly – S has never won over 30% in a EP election, while M won only 18% or so of the vote in 2004 and 2009.

The Social Democrats topped the poll this year, although with only 24.2% of the vote – a very mediocre result down 0.2% (but up about 125,000 votes) from 2009, when S had already done poorly with only 24.4%. While the Social Democrats will do better in September, and remain the favourites to win the election and lead the next government, the party’s support has been declining for a few months now – from pre-campaign heights of 33-34% to only 29-31% today. As the campaign heats up and voters scrutinize the parties more closely, a few are finding S’ pragmatic, inoffensive and generic platform to be a bit uninspiring. The party has bled support to the Greens and Feminists (F!), so its lost votes seem to be staying within the broader left-wing coalition rather than spilling over to the unpopular government. It is likely that S’ performance in September will be quite mediocre – hardly higher than its bad result in 2010 (30.7%) in any case.

The major losers of the election, however, were the Moderates. The government, which continues to trail the combined left by at least 10% if not more, is rather unpopular – the economic slowdown, concern with unemployment and the left’s renewed ability to find popular issues with the electorate haven’t helped, but what seems to be the general opinion in Sweden is that the government is out of steam, out of ideas and largely running on empty. Reinfeldt and Borg remain somewhat popular, but they have lost their advantage over the opposition’s leader (Löfven) and their personal appeal no longer suffices. The Moderates in particular have been out of steam, with the party’s electoral campaign – if one even exists – largely consisting of rehashing the government’s successes, vaguely promising to keep doing what has worked and little else. Their EP campaign was said to be terrible, and the end result was that M collapsed to 13.7% and third place (down about 5.2% from the last EP election) – an unexpectedly horrible result. While M will do better in September, it won’t do much better – the party, which resisted fairly well in polls for a long stretch, is collapsing with support down to 19-23%. The liberal Fp, who had won a strong 13.6% in 2009, failed to benefit from M’s collapse, as they too fell back to 9.9%.

The only silver lining for the Alliance is the strong performance from the Centre and Christian Democrats, two parties which were hovering dangerously close to (or even below) the 4% threshold for parliamentary representation, leading to fears that one or both of these parties may find themselves thrown out of the Riksdag in September. With their positive EP results – 6.5% and 5.9% and up from 2009 – their position in the Riksdag is looking far more secure. While it is too early for them to celebrate, polls have been showing C consistently above the threshold now and KD is also looking more likely than not to make it as well. Optimistic C and KD supporters joked that they might be the ones who’ll need to vote strategically to save M (M voters have sometimes tended to vote strategically for C or KD to allow them to pass the threshold). KD is pro-EU while C has traditionally been rather Eurosceptic – it still opposes the Euro and its platform was titled ‘a leaner yet sharper EU’.

There were three winners in this elections: the Greens (Mp), the Sweden Democrats (SD) and the Feminist Initiative (F!). The Greens surprised many by placing second, with 15.4% of the vote. Voters, from the left mostly but also (it would seem) from the right, rewarded the Greens for their clear focus, their realistic EU-focused campaign and the publicized work of Green MEP Isabella Lövin in changing the EU’s fisheries policies. Unlike many of its allies in Europe, the Swedish Greens are historically quite Eurosceptic and while they now support the EU, they remain EU-critical and opposed to European federalism and the adoption of the Euro (however, with the Eurozone crisis, Sweden has rallied massively behind the krona and the issue of the Euro has been dropped, including by its original advocates such as Fp and M).

The far-right SD did extremely well – a record high 9.7% and nearly 360,000 votes. The far-right is clearly on the rise in Sweden, although it still has a fairly low ceiling compared to similar parties in the rest of Scandinavia and Sweden is not really on the verge of living a ‘Danish/Norwegian scenario’ where the far-right is able to push the government towards adopting hardline immigration policies. Few politicians have been moving towards the SD on immigration issues – the centre-right parties and most of their activists remain strongly opposed to SD and retain pro-immigration positions (in 2002, Fp famously proposed language tests for immigrants, but Fp is back to being strongly pro-immigration), the centre-left remains broadly pro-immigration (although the former S mayor of Malmö Ilmar Reepalu proposed ‘conditional’ citizenship for new immigrants, setting up a probationary period where these newly-naturalized ‘citizens’ could still be stripped of their citizenship and deported). The SDs likely benefited from several days of rioting in immigrant-heavy low-income suburbs in Stockholm back in May 2013, during which several cars were burned and properties vandalized (allegedly by outside vandals). SD’s two new MEPs have joined the EFDD group, along with Denmark’s DF. SD was sometimes cited as a member of Marine Le Pen’s EAF, although I believe that SD never officially joined her alliance and only SD’s youth wing was active in the EAF. Joining the EFDD instead of teaming up with Le Pen is likely an attempt by SD to further normalize and clean up its image.

The Feminist Initiative (F!), a party founded in 2005 by former V leader Gudrun Schyman (who was forced to resign V’s leadership in 2003 for a tax fraud offense and left V a year later) which won just over 2% of the vote in the 2009 EP election but less than 1% in the 2006 and 2010 elections despite the significant domestic and foreign attention the party attracted in 2006. F! is a left-wing/radical left feminist party – its general orientation on issues should be fairly obvious, opposing male dominance of politics, gender inequality, gender norms and heteronormativity. It has a detailed platform, but the main areas of focus for F! tend to be fighting discrimination, sexual liberation, reproductive rights/sexual health for women, LGBTQ rights, fighting the patriarchal economic structure, very strong support for liberal immigration and asylum laws and addressing violence against women. F! appears to be broadly pro-European although critical of the EU’s workings, with its European policy focused on increasing women’s rights across Europe, democratizing the EU and liberalizing asylum policies in the EU. F! calls itself feminist and anti-racist; its critic often describe it as living up to the stereotype of radical left-wing feminists held by right-wingers (in the past, F! proposed to abolish marriage in favour of a new form of cohabitation which would possibly open itself to polygamy). F! surged during the EP campaign, likely because of significant media attention on gender issues and a active campaign by Gudrun Schyman (who, however, did not run herself); F!’s virulently anti-SD rhetoric may also have helped pick up a few voters on the left who hate the SDs. F!’s new MEP is Soraya Post, who is of mixed Jewish and Roma ancestry. She has joined, somewhat surprisingly, the S&D group over the GUE/NGL.

The Pirates, the big sensation of 2009, collapsed to 2.2% and lost both their seats, as was widely expected. The Pirates’ short-lived success in 2009 was associated with events at the time (the Pirate Bay trial and the guilty verdict in the district court in April 2009, and other domestic events related to intelligence, privacy and copyright laws) and on the back of young protest voters – some of whom may now be voting SD. The party’s star faded quickly and in 2010 it won just 0.7%.

The results in September will certainly be more ‘normal’, but the centre-left opposition (Red-Greens, even if there is no formal alliance) are the favourites to win and are still leading the Alliance by at least 10% in all polls. Mp and V are both likely to increase on their 2010 results (7.3% and 5.6% respectively), all four Alliance parties will likely lose votes (M being the main victim, but with KD still not totally in the clear with the threshold) and SD will likely repeat its result from the EP election or even break 10%. The Alliance could, like in 2010, close the gap further – but, one month or so out, it seems too late for them to turn the ship around barring a surprise. F! is a wildcard – the EP result gave them momentum, and polls in June indicated that F! could win over 4%, but the latest numbers in July and early August suggest that F!’s momentum is already fading and they are unlikely to win over 4%. Certainly the Red-Greens would prefer that – a fourth left-wing party would only complicate things for them.

The main question remains whether or not, with SD doing so well, the Red-Greens will win an absolute majority. A S-Mp-V victory is likely, but it could very well end up only with a minority, with SD in a strong position between the two blocs and creating a chaotic situation. For the first time, it looks very unlikely that S will form a government alone – the most likely option is a S+Mp government, with V providing critical support from the outside (V may seek to join cabinet itself, but both S and Mp seem to be hostile to that idea – and V being outside serves S better). There is also a lot of speculation about the odds of one of the junior Alliance parties defecting – Fp is seen as the likeliest candidate (C has seemingly gone too far down the libertarian road), because Fp leader Jan Björklund has talked about cooperating with the centre-left on some issues. It is worth noting that C governs with S+Mp in Gävleborg County; Fp governs with S+Mp in Södermanland County; Mp governs with the Alliance in Halland, Jönköping, Scania, Värmland and Västernorrland counties. However, nationally, after eight years in the Alliance, Fp (or C) would likely find it hard to jump over – and that might require change of leadership in the parties.

Finally, for the first time this year, the new Prime Minister will require a formal vote of confidence, replacing Sweden’s negative parliamentarianism, which allowed one to govern until a majority votes against the government. Therefore, Reinfeldt will not be able to hang on in the case that no alliance has a majority – unless, of course, he manages to get the Greens over to his side, but that is very unlikely in 2014.

The broad patterns of Swedish electoral geography were unchanged, the odd results of the election notwithstanding. The Social Democrats owned the north, with over 40% of the vote in Norrbotten County, 39.8% in Västernorrland County, 34.9% in Jämtland County and 32.8% in Västerbotten County. It also polled well in inland central Sweden – over 30% in Västmanland, Örebro and Värmland counties. This traditional pattern corresponds to the diffuse nature of Sweden’s resource-based industrialization – meaning that most major industrial centres are outside the major cities (Stockholm never really was, and certainly isn’t today, an industrial city). Remote and sparsely populated northern Sweden is an old industrial region (mining, forestry, steel and iron works; nowadays the public sector is the main employer), making it a blue-collar and fairly poor region which has leaned heavily left (with the exception of the liberal tradition of the free churches, a pattern which has mostly died out anyhow).

Stockholm County is usually the right’s stronghold, but even there M failed to place first. The Greens won first place with 19.4% against 17.6% for M (its best result in the country) and 17.1% for S (its worst result in the country); in Stockholm itself, the Greens won 21.8% against 16.3% for M and 15.1% for S. With 10.5%, F! broke double-digits in the Swedish capital. M retained first place in the county’s most affluent suburban municipalities – Danderyd (36.5% M), Lidingö (30.2% M) and Täby (27.5%); but looking at the results in these places, and specifically the strong gains made by the Greens (as well as C and KD), we can presume that Mp gained some M (and Fp) voters from 2009, as did C and KD. Inside Stockholm itself, M remained ahead in the very affluent central Norrmalm-Östermalm-Gamla Stan district and the affluent Bromma-Kungsholmen district; the Greens’ best result came from Södermalm-Enskede district (Södermalm is a gentrified central district and traditional Green stronghold), with 26.3% – with F! in second with 14.8%. The Social Democrats topped the poll in Yttre Västerort district, with 26.1% against 18% for the Greens; that outer district includes the low-income immigrant-heavy neighborhoods of Spånga-Testa and Rinkeby (areas where S often wins over 50%, if not 60%, of the vote). Outside the city, S also topped the poll in Botkyrka (31% S) – the north of the municipality is a large immigrant-heavy area and in Södertälje (28.5%).

The Greens and Feminists did well in Uppsala County (18.4% and 6.8% respectively) – specifically in the university city of Uppsala (Greens largest party with 21.3%, F! at 8.4%), with the Greens and Feminists again doing well in the same kind of places (university residences/student districts especially – where Mp and F! were often first and second!).

The Sweden Democrats did best in Blekinge County (14%) and Scania/Skåne County (13.4%). Scania, at the southern end of Sweden, is one of the country’s most distinctive regions and tends to have a strong regional identity; it has undergone major demographic transformations in recent years, suffering from deindustrialization in parts while other more affluent parts are increasingly suburban and attracting cross-Øresund commuters/immigrants from Denmark. The SDs’ first successes at the polls, prior to 2010, came from Scania and it can be considered as SD’s main stronghold (Blekinge County, which borders Scania, is quite small). SD performs best in lower middle-class suburban areas (with low percentages of foreigners) and old industrial towns (which have swung hard against the left/S) – generally (and simplifying a lot), as in other Scandinavian countries, SD attracts young blue-collar males with low education who are frustrated about immigration, taxes and/or jobs. SD does poorly in highly-educated places – for instance, SD won only 6% in Lund (a major university town).

On a final, lighter note, the record of write-in votes in the election is quite hilarious: a handful of votes for the ‘Satanist Initiative’ (not sure if this is a parody of F!), a few for Jesus, a number of ‘out-of-the-EU’/’no to EU’/’EUSSR’/’fuck EU’ type protest ballots, a number of write-ins for the pan-European parties or EP groups (ALDE, Greens, G-EFA, PES, EPP), 2 for a ‘Hell’s Angels Freedom Party’… and 3 votes for UKIP!

This concludes my review of the May 2014 European Parliament elections – with much delay, unfortunately, but it’s done as it should be: each country analyzed separately in their own national context. I hope you’ve enjoyed the analysis provided, and that you’ll forgive me for missing a number of elections along the way: I will try to cover a few of them in the next few weeks, without making promises! Enjoy the summer or winter!

Slovenia 2014

Legislative elections were held in Slovenia on July 13, 2014. This followed the EP election held in Slovenia on May 25, 2014.

All 90 members of the National Assembly (Državni zbor) were up for reelection. 88 of the National Assembly’s 90 members are elected by proportional representation, with a 4% national threshold. The country is subdivided into eight electoral constituencies (electing 11 members each), which are then further subdivided into 11 electoral districts. The seat allocation between the parties who passed the threshold is done nationally, following the d’Hondt method, but the individual parliamentarians are chosen in the constituencies – and, in principle, each district should have one member representing it (but this is not the case) – using the Droop quota. The Italian and Hungarian minorities each elect one MP, who is elected by ranked voting using the Borda count. The Italian and Hungarian minorities are not the largest ethnic minorities in the country – the Serbian, Croatian and Bosniak minorities are significantly larger – but these communities have substantial privileges including language use and representation in the National Assembly by members with a veto power over legislation affecting their communities. This year, about 2,600 Italians and 6,200 Hungarians were eligible to elect their representatives; they also have the right to vote for the other 88 members of the National Assembly.

Slovenia is ‘incompletely bicameral’ – there is a kind of upper house, the National Council (Državni svet), which is a corporatist-type body representing social, economic, professional and local interest groups. The 40 members represent local interests (22), the non-commercial sector including education, healthcare, research, culture/sports and social care (6), employees (4), employers (4) and farmers/craftsmen (4), all being indirectly elected to five-year terms by Slovenian residents (not only citizens!) working in those sectors or, in the case of local representatives, by municipal councillors. The National Council may advise the National Assembly to pass or initiate a bill, give the National Assembly its opinion, require the National Assembly to reconsider a bill one last time (suspensive veto), call a referendum and hold inquiries.

Slovenia has a rather developed system of direct democracy. According to the most recent rules, 40,000 citizens may petition to hold a referendum on legislation and the legislation is rejected if a majority of voters reject it and 20% of registered voters reject it. These new rules are a reaction to the (very) low turnout in most of these referendums, which in the past had allowed 20% of the electorate or so to hold final say on important pieces of legislation.

Background

Slovenia followed a rather unusual and distinctive path compared to other former communist states in the former Yugoslavia and Eastern Europe in general. Compared to other Yugoslav republics, there was next to no conflict or civil war following the declaration of independence and the country has remained a peaceful and stable country. Compared to most former communist states, Slovenia quickly became a robust liberal democracy. Finally, there was no ‘shock therapy’, messy mass privatizations or economic restructuring in Slovenia. However, since 2004, many of the features which made Slovenia rather unique compared to its neighbors have been lost. Politically, for example, Slovenes were remarkably pro-incumbent in the 1990s but since 2008 or so, Slovenian politics have become very volatile.

Slovenia had never been an independent state prior to independence in 1991. The territory of present-day Slovenia was disputed between the great powers (Italy, Austria, Germany) until 1945, when Slovenia became a republic within socialist Yugoslavia. It was Yugoslavia’s wealthiest, most developed and advanced republic which punched above its weight (it generated about 20% of the Yugoslav GDP while making up only 8% of the SFRY’s population) and enjoyed a fairly comfortable position in Socialist Yugoslavia. In the 1980s, Slovenia – including the Slovene Communists (LCS) became concerned by the rise of Serbian nationalism, while an active civil society and human rights groups clashed with the communist regime and strongly opposed the actions of Slobodan Milošević in Serbia and Kosovo. As tensions rose, the reformist leadership of the League of Communists under Milan Kučan reacted, in September 1989, by passing constitutional amendments which turned Slovenia into a parliamentary democracy and foreshadowed future events by recognizing the republic’s right to unilateral secession. In April 1990, the Slovene opposition – a diverse bunch grouped in the Democratic Opposition of Slovenia (DEMOS) coalition – defeated the reformed ex-communists (Party of Democratic Renewal) with around 51% of the vote, but Milan Kučan was elected President, defeating a DEMOS candidate. Lojze Peterle, from the Christian Democrats (SKD), became Prime Minister of a five-party cabinet.

Slovenia declared its independence on June 25, 1991 – the first republic, followed within hours by Croatia, to secede from the SFRY and trigger the breakup of the multinational state. The Yugoslav military attempted to regain control of the republic, but was forced to withdraw from Slovenia after ten days of fighting (which claimed few casualties, compared to subsequent bloody conflicts in Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo). Because of its geographic location, the relative ethnic homogeneity (Slovenia is largely ethnically Slovene, lacking the Serbian minorities which were found in Croatia, Bosnia, Kosovo and Montenegro) and Milošević’s interest in other issues, Slovenia gained its independence quickly and with little bloodshed.

The DEMOS coalition soon unraveled under the weight of differences between the parties, and Peterle’s government fell in May 1992. Janez Drnovšek became Prime Minister. Drnovšek came from the Liberal Democratic Party, which began Liberal Democracy of Slovenia (LDS) in 1994, a party which emerged from the Union of Socialist Youth of Slovenia, a youth organization which strayed from the old regime’s line quickly and embraced democracy, human rights and civil liberties. In 1990, the LDS had won 14.5%, making it the second largest single party. Drnovšek formed his first coalition government with parties from the opposition (the post-communist Party of Democratic Renewal, which would become the United List of Social Democrats; the Socialist Party, which merged with the LDS in 1994) and the old DEMOS (the Social Democratic Party of Slovenia, or SDS, which would shift hard to the right after 1993 under the leadership of prominent former dissident Janez Janša; the Democratic Party and the Greens, both of which would collapse soon). In December 1992, Drnovšek was reelected, with the LDS placing first with 23.5% and 22 seats (+10). Drnovšek formed a Grand Coalition with the Christian Democrats, the United List (which left in January 1996) and the SDS (which left in 1994, after Janša was forced to resign from his defense portfolio following a military scandal). In the 1996 elections, the LDS was further strengthened, winning 27% and 25 seats. The right-wing opposition, however, gained in strength: the SDS placed third with 16% and gained 12 seats, while the right-wing agrarian Slovenian People’s Party (SLS), whose name referred to the pre-war SLS, a clerical conservative party which dominated Slovene politics under Austrian and later Yugoslavian rule (although the SKD was the actual successor party to the pre-war SLS!), won 19.4% and gained 9 seats to become the second largest party. Drnovšek held on to government by a whisker, forming a coalition with the SLS and the new Democratic Party of Pensioners of Slovenia (DeSUS). In 2000, Drnovšek’s cabinet fell after the SLS withdrew from the government, and instead shifted support to a right-wing coalition led by Andrej Bajuk, made up of the SLS+SKD (in the process of merging) and the SDS. However, the government lasted barely five months, collapsing after the government sought to push through a new electoral system (in 1996, in a referendum, voters voted in favour of a two-round system but the government disregarded the result, until 1998, when the Constitutional Court ruled that the referendum was valid, a decision ignored until the new right-wing government took over in 2000), but the SLS+SKD caucus rebelled and voted against the change. Bajuk later left the SLS and founded his own splinter party, New Slovenia (NSi). In the October 2000 elections, the LDS won a record-high 36.3% and 34 seats, against 14 for the SDS and 11 for the United List; the SLS+SKD lost 20 seats, winning only 9 (against 8 for Bajuk’s NSi). Drnovšek formed another Grand Coalition, with the United List, SLS+SKD, DeSUS and the Youth Party (SMS), which governed until Drnovšek was elected President in 2002 and replaced by Anton Rop.

The LDS governed Slovenia between 1992 and 2004, with the exception of five months in 2000, and its electoral support increased consistently throughout the 1990s. This is, of course, in stark contrast with the patterns of anti-incumbency found in many other former communist states (Bulgaria). The LDS era was characterized by several notable aspects, which defined Slovenia as fairly unique: a moderate and consensual government which focused on EU-NATO integration and diversifying trading partners, a gradualist approach to economic reform (no ‘shock therapy’ or messy mass privatizations of parastatals), the domination of politics and the economy by a reformist ex-communist elite (while the right represented, largely, the disenfranchised and upstarts who were outside the elite) and high levels of social dialogue with social partners (employers, employees, the state) similar to a German model. The results were mixed: Slovenia became a well-functioning, affluent and egalitarian liberal democracy which did not suffer from the post-Cold War upheavals faced by other Eastern Bloc countries and peacefully overcame its communist legacy. The country experienced several years of stable 3-5% economic growth after 1990, high levels of employment protection, low inequality (it has one of the lowest Gini index in the world, after the Scandinavian states) and Slovenia had strong labour unions into the post-communist era. In 2004, Slovenia became the first former Yugoslav republic to join the EU and NATO, and in 2007 it was the first ex-communist state to join the Eurozone. Slovenia is the wealthiest of the former communist states in the EU – its GDP per capita is 84% of the EU average (it also ranks above Greece and Portugal on this measure).

Politics under LDS rule rested on robust social dialogue with social partners, which played a considerable role in the formulation and approval of economic and social policy – notably through the quasi-compulsory Economic and Social Council (made up of representatives from unions, employers’ organizations and the government), which worked in tandem with Parliament on matters such as labour laws, contracts, wages, insurance, employment policy and job security. Other similar boards dealt with pensions and healthcare. The government’s gradualist approach towards reform meant that privatization was slow, gradual and incomplete – the state retained control of several sectors; foreign investment was low; several sectors – such as banking and financial services – were inefficient and corrupt; structural reforms were diluted and political immobilism was commonplace under the LDS’ Grand Coalitions. The consensual and ‘boring’ political system and elite reproduction under LDS rule led to rent-seeking behaviour and corruption. With the current economic crisis and the banking crisis in Slovenia, many have suggested that state control of the three major banks and flawed corporate governance poisoned by insider trading and cozy relations with the economic elite are the cause of Slovenia’s economic troubles.

Drnovšek’s election to the presidency in 2002, a largely ceremonial and soft-power office, was the LDS’ last hurrah. The LDS suffered its first defeat, at the hands of NSi, in the l0w-turnout 2004 EP elections and in October 2004, the LDS lost the general election to Janez Janša’s SDS (renamed Slovenian Democratic Party, to finally break all ties with the SDS’ centre-left roots, in 2003). The SDS won 29.1% and 29 seats against 22.8% and 23 seats for the LDS, with the Social Democrats (SD, renamed from United List) remaining a weak third with 10.2% and 10 seats. Janša formed a right-wing coalition with the socially conservative/clerical NSi (9.1% and 9 seats), agrarian SLS (6.8%, 7 seats) and DeSUS (4%, 4 seats). Janša’s first government, the first government to last for the Assembly’s entire four-year term since Drnovšek’s second cabinet (1992-1996), represented a sea-change in Slovenian politics – a shift towards more adversarial and polarized politics, with a decline in social dialogue and political consensus. Under Janša, the unions and employers’ organizations lost their influence in the social dialogue process, which began breaking down under the weight of Janša’s poor relations with them. Membership in employers’ organizations became voluntary, the Economic and Social Council declined in influence and the unions/employers’ organization became less relevant and lost legitimacy in the eyes of their members. Janša came into office with a neoliberal agenda, promising privatizations, deregulation and economic reforms which would break with the LDS era. Once in office, he moved quickly – too quickly, perhaps – to shake up the economy and public sector (his ‘cadre tsunami’ to break socioeconomic power networks was controversial), but the government veered towards economic populism as it chose to ride the wave of economic growth which followed EU membership (5.8% in 2006, 7% in 2007) and did not build budget surpluses. Janša became a polarizing politician – in a way, the modern Janša is very reminiscent of Berlusconi – he has a strong base of supporters who see in him a strong leader and buy into his anti-communist rhetoric, while his opponents see him as arrogant and abrasive. He proved to be quite off-putting to voters in his first term. The right’s candidate, Lojze Peterle, lost the 2007 presidential runoff 32% to 68% to Danilo Türk, the left-wing candidate.

The 2008 elections saw major changes to the political system. Since its defeat in 2004, the LDS – a terrible fit in opposition after having been a party of power – collapsed, with weak leadership (Katarina Kresal, who was largely unknown) and divisions – Gregor Golobič, a former adviser to Drnovšek, became leader of the social liberal splinter party Zares in 2007; former Prime Minister Anton Rop and others joined the Social Democrats; President Drnovšek became a hippie (quite literally) in 2005 and left the LDS. Instead, the 2008 election turned into a battle between Janša’s SDS and the Social Democrats, led since 1997 by the ‘third way’ centrist Borut Pahor. Just a few weeks prior to the vote, the Finnish public broadcaster Yle aired an investigation which alleged that Slovenian defense ministry officials and Janša had received €21 million in bribes for a €278 million arms contract with Finnish weapons company Patria (in which the Finnish government has a majority stake) for an armored vehicles contract in 2006. Janša denied all accusations and went ballistic – the government sued the Finnish journalists, tried to pressure the Finnish government to intervene with Yle, claimed that he was the victim of a political witch-hunt and insinuated that there was conspiracy between the Finnish and Slovenian Social Democrats to discredit him.

Borut Pahor’s SD narrowly won the 2008 election, winning 30.5% and 29 seats against 29.3% and 28 seats for the SDS. Zares placed third with 9.4% and 9 seats, easily beating out the LDS, which barely saved itself by winning 5.2% and 5 seats. Pahor formed a left-leaning coalition with Zares, the LDS and DeSUS (which was making a place for itself as the kingmaker, and a party which punched above its weight). His government coincided with the beginning of the economic crisis, which hit Slovenia particularly hard. In Slovenia, the crisis came from the banks – bankers lent large sums to friends in business, who used the cash to buy the companies they ran using assets as collateral, which meant that banks were stuck with mounting loses on their loans and high levels of non-performing loans (Slovenia, in 2013, had the third highest ratio of non-performing loans in the Eurozone after Greece and Ireland, at 17%). In 2009, Slovenia’s GDP collapsed by 7.9% and grew by only 1.3% in 2010 and 0.7% in 2011. Unemployment increased from 4% in 2008 to nearly 9% when Pahor’s government left office at the end of 2011. The deficit soared from 2% of GDP in 2008 to 8% in 2009, although it fell back to 4.1% of GDP by 2011. Slovenia’s low public debt increased from 22% to 47% during Pahor’s administration. Pahor presented an unpopular agenda of austerity measures (wage and pension freezes, cuts in social benefits), structural reforms (pensions, healthcare, labour laws) and institutional adjustments, which he was determined to move along quickly. Despite claims to the contrary, the tradition of social partnership hardly improved during Pahor’s government.

Pahor’s main success was the arbitration of a border dispute with Croatia, which had been delaying Croatia’s accession to the EU. The old dispute concerned land and water control in the small Bay of Piran, which is Slovenia’s only access to the sea, and Slovenia’s lack of access to international waters. The right, which decried a ‘pro-Croatian capitulation’ (Janša and other right-wing parties have often made nationalist and irredentist claims), forced a referendum on the issue in June 2010, which was narrowly ratified by 51.5% of voters on 42.7% turnout.

Pahor’s undoing proved to be a pension reform in 2010, which the IMF had said was necessary for the country, whose aging population and economy demanded a long-overdue reform of the pension system. The Pahor government acted with excessive haste and without any constructive dialogue with social partners. The reform increased the retirement age from 63 (men)/61 (women) to 65 (for all), rejigged the pension benefit formula and changed rules to access private pensions. The unions proved to be fairly dogmatically anti-reform, while Pahor’s coalition partner DeSUS voted against the pension reform and a budget which froze the indexation of pensions – the government only passed the bill with the support of the opposition SLS. DeSUS left the coalition in April 2011.

In 2011, the government lost a whole string of referendums. In April 2011, on 34% turnout, 80% voted against a new part-time work law which would have allowed unemployed people, students and pensioners to work up to 60 hours/month and 720 hours/year with lower pay, less employment rights, no annual leave, no severance pay and no sick/parental leave. In June 2011, on 40% turnout, voters rejected three laws by wide margins – first and foremost among then, the controversial pension reform. In June 2011, following the pension reform’s defeat at the polls, Zares left the coalition. By this point, Pahor’s government was extremely unpopular and the writing was on the wall, but Pahor desperately tried to cling to power for as long as he could. Zares, a flash in the pan, had been in freefall since 2009, when Zares leader Gregor Golobič was mixed up in a corruption scandal concerning investments he made in an IT company and misleading the public about his real role in that company during the 2008 campaign. The moribund LDS continued imploding in government, and the LDS’ leader and interior minister Katarina Kresal was indicted in a real estate scandal and was forced to resign from the cabinet in August 2011. Pahor was accused of sliding his feet on her case, likely because he was afraid that it would be his government’s demise. Indeed it was – in September 2011, Pahor was topped in a confidence vote, with only his party and the LDS voting for the government and the right and ex-coalition partners (DeSUS and Zares) voting against him.

The 2011 election saw further political upheavals, confirming that the post-2004/post-LDS era has been characterized by anti-incumbency, polarization and high levels of electoral volatility. The one constant remains Janez Janša, whose teflon-like ability to withstand attacks and scandals is quite remarkable. Like Silvio Berlusconi, Janša has become a love-or-hate figure in Slovenian politics – he has many opponents who see him as a corrupt, abrasive demagogue with scant respect for democratic institutions; at the same time, he maintains a high level of support. A part of it comes from Janša’s past: he left the communist movement in the mid-1980s and became a dissident journalist for the left-wing and hard-hitting Mladina news magazine. Janša wrote articles very critical of the Yugoslav military and arms contracts (ironically), and was arrested with three other journalists and an army sergeant in 1988 for exposing military secrets. His in camera military trial, conducted in Serbo-Croatian rather than Slovenian (which was illegal), and his sentencing to 18 months imprisonment (he served 6) led to a public outcry and became a rallying point for the anti-communist dissident movement (the Slovenian Spring), and precipitated the local communists’ shift towards reform. From this experience, Janša retains a high degree of hatred for then-communist boss Milan Kučan (Janša claims that Kučan agreed to the army’s request for his arrest).

The SDS was the favourite to win the 2011 election and its support remained rather stable throughout the campaign. The SDS’ campaign insinuated that austerity would be the order of the day, but it avoided shouting that from the rooftops and couched it in the rhetoric of job creation (by cutting taxes on businesses). Once again, however, Janša and the SDS were faced with the Patria case – in 2010, prosecutors had laid charges against Janša and a bribery trial began in September 2011, with five defendants including Janša and Austrian-Canadian middleman Walter Wolf, who had been identified by Yle as the man who handed out the money to the Slovenians. Once again, Janša claimed to be the victim of political persecution and that the case was designed to interfere with the election.

The 2011 election was the year of newcomers. Prime Minister Pahor’s SD had collapsed to single digits, although a late mini-surge edged them over the 10% line. Zares and LDS had both imploded. Two new parties attracted attention and significant support. On the centre-right, former Janša cabinet minister Gregor Virant founded the Civic List (LGV, later DL), a centre-right liberal party which initially excited a lot of voters and became a major contender. Virant’s momentum took a major blow after revelations that he had received thousands of euros in unemployment benefits while receiving salaries as a lecturer and consultant. The other new party was Positive Slovenia (PS), a new party founded and led by Zoran Janković, a wealthy businessman and popular mayor of Ljubljana (since 2006). Janković, who is of mixed Serbian and Slovene ancestry, was director of Mercator, the largest retail chain in Slovenia (with stores in other Balkan states), between 1997 and 2005 (when he was allegedly forced out by Janša). Janković became very popular as an independent mayor of Ljubljana, for redesigning the city core, improving public transit, building new apartments and a new stadium. In 2011,  Janković was already facing corruption allegations, accused of using his mayoral powers to financially benefit his sons. PS is a centre-left, left-liberal or social democratic party; in 2011, Janković was supported by former President Milan Kučan, who is sometimes noted as being Janković’s political mentor.

It was a major surprise when Janković’s PS narrowly defeated the SDS, winning 28.5% and 28 seats against 26.2% and 26 seats for Janša. The governing parties, except single-issue DeSUS, all collapsed: the Social Democrats won 10.5% (10 seats), while LDS (1.5%) and Zares (0.7%) fell out of Parliament entirely. Gregor Virant’s list held on to 8.4% and won 8 seats, DeSUS won 7% and 6 seats, the SLS won 6.8% and 6 seats while NSi returned to Parliament with 4.9% and 4 seats (one academic analysis cited NSi’s vocal opposition to a new law which would allow for same-sex marriage in all but name). The far-right Slovenian National Party (SNS), a fixture of Parliament since 1992, won only 1.8% and lost all seats. Janković’s narrow victory owed to strong support in Ljubljana and tactical voting on the left against Janša; PS more or less replaced the S on the left of the spectrum.

As leader of the largest party, Janković was widely expected to become Prime Minister, likely in a left-liberal coalition with the SD, Virant and (of course) DeSUS. However, Janković was apparently unwilling to submit himself to the deal-making of coalition politics, so Virant withdrew his support from the potential government right before a coalition agreement was due to be officialized in January 2012, and Janković lost the parliamentary vote for Prime Minister. President Danilo Türk refused to appoint Janša as his alternative candidate (because Türk did not trust – or like – Janša and said he lacked legitimacy because of his indictment in the Patria scandal), despite Janša having formed a coalition around him with the support of Virant, DeSUS, the SLS and NSi. Instead, Janša was nominated as a candidate by his coalition in the National Assembly and received the support of the National Assembly at the end of January. Janša returned to power, at the helm of a right-wing coalition with the SLS, NSi, DeSUS and Gregor Virant’s Civic List.

Janša’s government came into power as the country was still battered by the economic crisis, and the coalition agreement was largely devoted to shoring up public finances by cutting public expenditures (notably public sector wages), speeding up privatizations and tackling corruption, but under the weight of king-maker DeSUS, pension reform was placed on the back-burner. To justify his austerity policies, Janša sounded an alarmist (but also rather realistic) note by publicly saying that, unless something was done, Slovenia would face a ‘Greek scenario’ – that is, a EU-IMF bailout. The government was forced to pump €380 million – or 1% of the country’s GDP – into the Nova Ljubljanska Banka, Slovenia’s largest bank and lender in July 2012. The Janša government planned to create a state holding company to speed up privatizations and to set up a ‘bad bank’ where the banks would deposit their bad loans.

As the country remained mired in recession (-2.5% in 2012, -1.1% in 2013), rising unemployment (9% in 2012, 10% in 2013), large deficits (-4% in 2012, -14.7% in 2013) and growing debt (54% in 2012, 72% in 2013), popular anger against austerity measures and especially an increasingly corrupt political elite reached boiling point. Several protests around the country between November 2012 and March 2013 gathered up to a few thousand demonstrators – they began as a local protest against the corrupt mayor of Maribor, but later became general protests against political corruption and austerity. Janša refused to even acknowledge their demands, claiming that protesters, the ‘left-wing media’ (he quickly became quite enamored with the term ‘left-wing fascism’) and education/cultural sectors were under the influence of the old communist regime or, his favourite boogeyman, the ‘Udbomafia’ (referring to UDBA, the secret police of Yugoslavia).

It was in this context that the presidential elections took place in November and December 2012. Incumbent President Danilo Türk, supported by PS and DeSUS, had had very bad relations with Janša and generally opposed the government’s austerity policies. He faced Milan Zver, an MEP supported by the SDS and NSi; and former Prime Minister Borut Pahor, who had lost the leadership of his party in June 2012 and moved to the right, preaching ‘national unity’ (read: get along better with Janša) in times of economic stress. Zver won only 24.3% in the first round and was eliminated; Pahor surprised by placing first, with 39.9%, against a paltry 35.9% for Türk, whose second place showing (when he was expected to place first) largely killed his campaign. Pahor, with the right and Janša’s support, trounced the incumbent in the runoff, winning 67.4% to 32.6%. However, turnout was below 50% in both the first and second rounds.

A complete mess

In early January 2013, the Commission for the Prevention of Corruption of the Republic of Slovenia’s report on party leaders’ assets was a massive bombshell which hit both the government and the opposition. The anti-corruption commission cleared all party leaders except two: Janša and Janković, who the commission said had both systematically and repeatedly broken the law. Janša was asked to explain the origin and use of €200,000 in income from an ‘unknown origin’ and failed to report a real estate deal and various other cases of failing to report his assets. Janković failed to report total assets of €2.4 million over 6 years to the commission and was asked to provide details on several financial transactions between his sons’ companies and companies doing business with the municipal government. Interestingly, the commission’s findings only touched the tip of the iceberg: Janša was on trial for the Patria affair and is alleged to have partook in various arms deal, while Janković is usually known for murky real estate deals and nepotism. Both men denied all the allegations – Janša came out swinging, accusing the commission of being illegitimate and politically motivated, while his party lashed out at the communists, UDBA spies and ‘left-wing fascists’ who were pursuing a campaign against their man; Janković was slightly less insane, but denied all corrupt activity and, like the Prime Minister, initially refused to resign. In the government, Janša’s ‘ally’ Gregor Virant called on both men to resign but was later found waffling on the issue with reports that Virant’s party (DL) was divided.

In mid-January, Janković ‘froze’ (rather than resign) his leadership of PS; a few days later, Virant took a stand and issued an ultimatum to Janša, which was predictably thrown out by the Prime Minister. On January 24, Virant walked out of the coalition and reduced the government to a minority. DeSUS and the SLS, two of the other four original coalition partners, also began making noise about leaving the cabinet, leaving Janša with only NSi, the most loyal of the SDS’ allies. In typical Janša style, instead of acting consensual to patch his coalition back together, he began dumping acid on Virant – making it clear that he was determined to cling to power, at all costs (in Slovenia, a resignation is usually an admission of guilt). However, the bottom fell out of the remnants of his government after February 22, when DeSUS quit the coalition and was followed, three days later, by the SLS. By that point, the opposition PS had been getting its act together, with acting president Alenka Bratušek calling for an interim government while the Social Democrats, leading in polls, were keener on snap elections. Faced with a no confidence vote, the SDS resorted to sexism – in a controversial tweet, the party vowed that a Bratušek government would last as long as her skirt.

On February 27, Janša lost a no-confidence vote 55 to 33 – with an hastily assembled coalition of the PS, SD, DL, DeSUS and most of SLS voting against Janša and installing Alenka Bratušek as Prime Minister. She formed a government with PS, SD, DL and DeSUS.

The government continued to be faced with the same problem: the economy, particularly Slovenia’s banking sector and the persistent speculation that Slovenia would be the next Eurozone member to need a bailout from the Troika. Unlike Janša, Bratušek remained insistent that Slovenia was not ‘the next Greece’ and that the country would not require a bailout. Despite vague promises to be more ‘pro-growth’ than Janša had been, Bratušek’s government – pressured by the EU and IMF – had little choice but to continue her predecessors’ austerity policies, although with the focus being on raising taxes and privatization. The government raised the VAT by 2%, but a new real estate tax was nixed by the Constitutional Court; it also laid out plans for the privatization of the Nova Kreditna Banka Maribor (the second-largest bank), Telekom Slovenije, Ljubljana airport and Adria Airways.

A crucial moment for the government was an external stress test on the banking sector’s bad loan crisis. In December 2013, the review found that the Slovenian banking system had a total capital shortfall of €4.8 billion and the government was required to pump €3.2 billion to recapitalize the three main banks. The cost of recapitalizing the three main banks was equivalent to 10.3% of the small country’s GDP, and explains the large deficit in 2013 (14.7% of GDP). The country seems to have narrowly avoided a bailout, and there are early signs that recovery may finally be on the horizon: the credit rating outlook was raised to ‘stable’ in May, and the EC is now projecting 0.8% growth in 2014 and the reduction of the deficit to 3.1% by 2015, although unemployment will remain at 10% for some time to come.

In June 2013, a court found Janša (and two other men) guilty in the Patria case and sentenced him to 22 months in prison. The decision was appealed, but in the meantime, Janša became increasingly detached from reality and his rants became even more amusing – the usual boogeyman of the ‘Udbomafia’, ‘left-wing fascism’, the communists, and an international decades-long communist conspiracy against Janša; a bizarre tweet from Janša saying that the DEMOS candidate in the 1990 presidential elections actually got far more votes than the official tally indicates (implying that Milan Kučan was an impostor and that Slovenian elections are probably rigged by the communists) and deciding to unearth old illegal activities of the UDBA to smear Kučan. In fact, the use of the state archives – particularly those records dealing with the communist period – has become something of an obsession for the SDS, after the government passed a law providing for the anonymisation of personal data of people working for and victims of the Yugoslav-era secret services (which did indeed include some questionable and controversial points), which the SDS claimed would allow for excessive redaction. The party’s critics point out that the SDS got in hot water in 2011, after party cadres were caught red-handed fooling around with archives documents in a bid to concoct documents which would tie then-President Türk to a 1970s secret police op in Carinthia, meaning that the SDS’ archive obsession was motivated by petty partisan objectives. The SDS, in any event, successfully collected 40,000 signatures for a referendum on the archive law, the first held under the stricter quorum referendum laws – held on June 8 between the EP election and the general election, 11.7% (or barely 200,000) of voters showed up and two-thirds rejected the law, but the new rules invalidates the results.

Meanwhile, in the main ruling party – PS – Janković slowly broke with Bratušek beginning in August 2013, culminating in October with Janković announcing that he would run for the presidency of the party. The party’s founder and suspended leader did not attack Bratušek directly, but claimed that he was doing this to bring PS – which, by the way, was very low in polls – to its original, more left-wing, roots after the harsh experience of power with the Bratušek government. Although the PS congress was finally delayed till April 2014, Janković’s return to the forefront of party politics opened up yet another coalition crisis. All three junior coalition partners, who had agreed to team up with Bratušek earlier in the year only in exchange for Janković clarifying that he was indeed resigning, immediately indicated that they would leave the government if Janković returned as PS leader.

It was a tough contest. On the one hand, Janković is far more charismatic and ‘politician-like’ than Bratušek, who is more of a colourless technocrat. On the other hand, Janković faced several challenges – he had lost the support of former President Milan Kučan and in February 2014 he was indicted over a scandal related to the new stadium in Ljubljana. However, on April 26, Janković won the PS leadership against Bratušek (422-338). True to her word, she resigned as Prime Minister quickly thereafter (realizing that she could not have realistically hoped to hold on, given that relations with Virant already weren’t so swell) and it turned out that Virant et al weren’t bluffing – they reiterated that they would not work with Janković, opening the way for snap elections. The PS, which was already polling very low, divided in the aftermath of the congress, with 13 deputies staying with PS and 11 splitting to form their own group.

Around the same time, the high court upheld the court’s ruling on Janša and the Patria case. Since June 20, Janša is serving a 22-month jail sentence. Predictably, the SDS’ reaction to these developments have been rather interesting: on his Twitter account, Janša’s bio blurb reads ‘political prisoner during Yugoslav 1989 and SLO 2014 communist regime'; the SDS claimed that these elections would not be free and fair; and the English version of SDS’ website includes articles about ‘communist justice’, the ‘leftist government intimidating the opposition [etc] with fabricated court proceedings’ and a grand claim that Slovenia is controlled by a communist network of oligarchs led by Milan Kučan. Apparently, ‘free Janez Janša’ and – gasp – ‘#freeJJ‘ are now things.

The messy political situation was further complicated by the creation of new parties. On the left, activists from civil society and the 2012-13 protest movement founded, in late 2013, Solidarnost (Solidarity), which is anti-neoliberal and made vague noises about strengthening democracy. Also on the left, the former President of the Court of Auditors, Igor Šoltes, founded Verjamem (I believe), which largely talked about change, political reform and ethics with a lot of flowery and feel-good rhetoric. Šoltes, who is the grandson of Slovene communist leader Edvard Kardelj, had been in contention earlier in 2014 for the health ministry, but SD scuttled his nomination. On the radical left, three minor parties (the Initiative for Democratic Socialism, founded in 2014; Party for the Sustainable Development of Slovenia, founded in 2011; and the Democratic Labour Party, founded in 2010) got together in March 2014 to form the United Left (ZL). The new coalition, often compared to the Greek SYRIZA and which supported Alexis Tsipras’ ‘candidacy’ in the 2014 EP elections, defines its ideology as ‘democratic ecological socialism’. Its platform is anti-austerity, anti-neoliberal and anti-privatization; it supported higher taxes on the rich, workers’ self-management, public oversight of banks, an audit of the debt, Eurobonds, defending the welfare state, direct democracy, environmental transformation, minority rights (including LGBT rights) and – its last plank – demanded that Germany pays Slovenia €3.5 billion in war debt for World War II.

It was in this context that the first election – by far the least important one – was held, to elect Slovenia’s MEPs. It was pretty much a non-campaign, with no mention of EU issues and all attention focused on the EP elections as a dress rehearsal for the July 13 legislative elections.

Turnout: 24.55% (-3.82%)
MEPs: 8 (nc from Lisbon)
Electoral system: Semi-open list PR, no threshold (national constituency)

SDS (EPP) 24.78% (-1.88%) winning 3 seats (nc)
SLS-NSi (EPP) 16.6% (-3.56%) winning 2 seats (+1)
Verjamem! (G-EFA) 10.33% (+10.33%) winning 1 seat (+1)
DeSUS (ALDE) 8.12% (+0.94%) winning 1 seat (+1)
SD (S&D) 8.08% (-10.35%) winning 1 seat (-1)
PS 6.63% (+6.63%) winning 0 seats (nc)
ZL (GUE/NGL) 5.47% (+5.47%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Jelko Kacin (ALDE) 4.92% (-6.56%) winning 0 seats (-1)
SNS 4.03% (+1.18%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Sanjska služba 3.54% (+3.54%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Pirates 2.56% (+2.56%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Solidarnost 1.67% (+1.67%) winning 0 seats (nc)
DL (ALDE) 1.14% (+1.14%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Zares (ALDE) 0.95% (-8.81%) winning 0 seats (-1)
Greens (G-EFA) 0.83% (+0.1%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Slovenski narod 0.36% (+0.36%) winning 0 seats (nc)

There were many losers in the EP elections. The biggest of them were the Social Democrats (SD), who, notwithstanding their lead in polls for most of 2013, received a major thumping and SD leader Igor Lukšič – who had controversially more or less imposed himself as the SD’ candidate in the EP election (and he got defeated personally by SD MEP Tanja Fajon, who got more preferential votes than he did) – was the main victim of the EP elections, being shown the door by his party’s executive. SD and Lukšič were caught woefully unprepared in the whirlwind of Slovenian politics which preceded the EP vote, with the disintegration of the government/PS and the emergence of several new parties on the left. The Slovenian liberal constellation, which has turned from dominant force to hopelessly divided and weak irrelevance, also did very poorly. Jelko Kacin, the incumbent MEP from the quasi-dead LDS, ran for reelection on his own independent list and won 4.9%. Zares lost its sole MEP, Ivo Vaigjl, to DeSUS (but he himself apparently forgot that, saying that he was a Zares candidate in a debate when in fact he was now with DeSUS), and the remnants of the flash-in-the-pan liberal party won only 1%. Gregor Virant’s Civic List (DL) won only 1.1%. As a result of their ass-whooping, the leaders of DL (Virant) and Zares both resigned. On the broader liberal-left, the only winners were the newcomers: Igor Šoltes, despite not having founded his party at the time, won third place with 10.3% and was elected to the EP. The United Left fell short, but 5.5% was a strong result for them.

Results of the 2014 EP election in Slovenia by electoral district (source: uselectionatlas.org)

The two main winners were the SDS and SLS-NSi (who ran a common list), although parties lost vote. The SLS-NSi common list was led by incumbent MEP and former Prime Minister Lojze Peterle. However, the only real winner was abstention – over three-quarters of Slovenes did not vote, which speaks volume both to the wider disinterest in EU affairs and the general disgust with the political leadership in Slovenia. Slovenia had one of the lowest turnouts in the EU.

The EP election was not even, in the end, a dress rehearsal for anything – because the game was turned upside down only a few days later, on June 2, with the creation of a new party – announced as Pahor formally dissolved the National Assembly for early elections on July 13. Miro Cerar, a distinguished law professor and recognized expert in constitutional law, who had previously been brought up as a potential technocratic ‘national unity’ Prime Minister in 2013 after Janša’s fall, founded his own party – the Miro Cerar Party (Stranka Mira Cerarja, SMC). Cerar also comes from a fairly famous family in Slovenia – his father, Miroslav Cerar, is a former Olympic gymnast who won gold on the pommel horse in Tokyo 1964 and Mexico City 1968; his mother, Zdenka Cerar, is a former youth gymnast who became prosecutor general and later justice minister for a few months in 2004. She was a member of the LDS.

The SMC immediately became the darling of Slovenian voters – an extremely vague anti-corruption, ‘pro-change’ party led by a respected individual, who managed to become what his different voters wanted him to be. Usually, running on platitudes only gets you so far, but in this context, Cerar deliberately went out of his way to keep the SMC as an ideology-free zone and to campaign entirely on platitudes and vague general stances. The party’s platform (in Slovenian) largely stated valence issues as political opinions and policy measures (better education, fighting corruption, efficient and responsive government and other general topics of the kind). It took moderate stances on contentious issues – it may support liberalizing the economy, but speaks only of ‘optimizing’ government and of ‘controlled’ privatization where vital infrastructure will remain with the state (one of the rare clear stances taken by the SMC was opposition to the privatization of Telekom Slovenije – although Cerar still said he’d only try to stop that if possible). In a concerted bid not to offend anyone at all, the SMC refused to sign a LGBT group’s pledge to support extending the full scope of rights enjoyed by heterosexual couples to homosexual couples – saying that they refused to back the human rights of ‘only specific groups’. With its platform and talk of bridging the left-right divide, the SMC appears to me as a Moderate Hero party – that is, a party which takes the middle ground on every issue just for the sake of appearing ‘moderate’ and ‘reasonable’ (and, in the case of the SMC, appealing broadly while offending few).

Around the same, caretaker Prime Minister Alenka Bratušek formalized her split from PS and founded her own party, the Alliance of Alenka Bratušek (ZaAB). Like the SMC, the ZaAB appears to be centrist and moderate, although obviously Bratušek is far less popular than Cerar and by being an established politician, it was harder for her to appeal broadly. ZaAB’s goal was to get into Parliament and/or to win more votes than the remnants of PS, led by Janković.

Results

Turnout on July 13 was 51.73%, down from 65.6% in 2011. This is, by far, the lowest turnout in a legislative election in Slovenia since the fall of communism, with the previous low being 60.6% in 2004 and the record high being over 85% in 1992. This other aspect of the election results hasn’t been picked up much in the analysis – the election is notable not only for the results of the parties, but also for the fact that just under 49% of Slovenians did not vote in what is traditionally the highest-stakes elections in the country which brings out a large majority of voters. Slovenia’s political elites – but also other social actors, including the Catholic Church (already unpopular with some for its thinly-veiled endorsements of Janša, it has faced major financial scandals), trade unions, the judiciary – have lost a lot of their legitimacy, as they appear to be either incompetent or corrupt (or both at the same time) while the collapse of the LDS era social order poses several challenges to Slovenian governments (which have generally failed to respond to them adequately).

SMC 34.49% (+34.49%) winning 36 seats (+36)
SDS 20.71% (-5.48%) winning 21 seats (-5)
DeSUS 10.18% (+3.21%) winning 10 seats (+4)
SD 5.98% (-4.54%) winning 6 seats (-4)
ZL 5.97% (+4.1%) winning 6 seats (+6)
NSi 5.59% (+0.71%) winning 5 seats (+1)
ZaAB 4.38% (+4.38%) winning 4 seats (+4)
SLS 3.95% (-2.88%) winning 0 seats (-6)
PS 2.97% (-25.54%) winning 0 seats (-28)
SNS 2.20% (+0.4%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Pirates 1.34% (+1.34%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Verjamem! 0.78% (+0.78%) winning 0 seats (nc)
DL 0.64% (-7.73%) winning 0 seats (-8)
Others 0.83% (-3.22%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Italian and Hungarian minorities winning 2 seats (nc)

Results of the 2014 election by electoral district (source: uselectionatlas.org)

The huge winner of the election was Miro Cerar and the SMC, who took 34.5% and 36 seats – that’s the second highest vote share for a party in Slovenia’s democratic history (the LDS won 36% in 2000) and the highest seat count for a single party in any election (in 2000, LDS won 34 seats). Cerar’s remarkable victory owes to what he represented to a lot of people – a respected, modest, introverted and well-known public figure (but not politician) who was completely untainted (by corruption or the unpopularity of previous governments), a political novice who can overcome the political stalemate and polarized political system in place since 2004. In other words, an inspirational figure who offers an attractive (but undefined) idea of ‘change’ and ‘reform’ – while being reasonable, intelligent – and a break with the discredited political elite.

As noted above, Cerar deliberately strove to be an ideology-free zone, who offered a nice mix of flowery rhetoric, soft populism and vague objectives to strive towards. Although many people not totally sold with Cerar rightly pointed out that he took very few specific stances on the issues and avoided addressing the tough questions, it must be understood that this ambiguity was calculated and is at the root of the SMC’s victory. As with other new parties, voters can project their own personal hopes and aspirations on Cerar and the SMC, and Cerar more or less offered them mirror reflections of these projections. Cerar won by such a large margin because he was able to be all things to everybody, appealing to the centre-left (in majority) and the centre-right.

The SDS took a major thumping – one which was quite a bit bigger than most people had expected. It’s the party’s worst result since 2000, when the SDS had won only 15.8%. The SDS has the most loyal electorate of all parties (and the pensioners’ DeSUS, unsurprisingly, has the second most loyal electorate), which explains why the SDS has remained a major party despite Janša’s general unpopularity and his countless travails. However, for a party with a supposedly solid core, the loss of over 5% from its 2011 result is quite spectacular. The party’s campaign was heavily focused on Janša, with regular demands that he be released from prison and loudly proclaiming that the elections weren’t free and fair in his absence, but that apparently did not convince the entirety of the SDS’ base. According to some transfer analysis here and here (dismiss the misleading headline), the SDS’ loses were largely to abstention – according to the first link, about 4.7% of the total 2011 electorate went from SDS to abstention in 2014. Even worse, perhaps, for the SDS is that some of their vote went to other parties (1.9% of the total 2011 electorate went from the SDS to the SMC).

The party dismissed the election results out of hand, saying – again – that the elections weren’t free and fair and, thus, the result was not legitimate. This news release, in English, from the SDS, is quite a read: it quickly shifts to comparing Janša’s fate to the arrest of opposition leaders in Iran, Ukraine, Belarus and Russia, detailing the various official visits by Slovenian officials to these countries (and China, for good measure), quoting Churchill on ‘the fascism of the new era’ being called anti-fascism, “the omnipresence of neo-communist ideology” in Slovenia, a weird line about “unbelievable media and capitalist monopoly”, saying that the next Prime Minister will be a Slovenian Lukashenko and a vow to “fight for the consequences of the illegitimate elections to be removed”. The SDS initially indicated that they may even boycott Parliament, but when they realized the implications thereof (and of their silliness), they did a U-turn. The SDS continues, for now, to be officially led from prison by Janez Janša, who interestingly was unable to vote but got a brief prison furlough to attend the inaugural session of Parliament. With Janša stuck in prison for the foreseeable short-term future, and the SDS in a weakened state, there is a chance that the party’s unity will begin cracking.

The Social Democrats were badly trounced, completing a collapse from 29 seats (2008) to a mere five seats in 2014. This result is even more incredible when you take into account that the SD actually led the polls for quite some time in 2013 and even early 2014, and were said to be one of the parties who would benefit from early elections as recently as in January. What happened next, however, confirms that left-wing voters were only parking their votes with SD for the time being, in the absence of a more convincing alternative. Before the SMC and ZL came up, the SD were basically the only option on the left – PS had been hurt by Janković and the austerity policies of the Bratušek government, and had nothing to offer to left-wing voters. The SMC, identified by most voters as being centre-left, had the strongest appeal to the centre-left which faced a dearth of options: PS was dead, Bratušek was now too centrist, SD was murdered in the EP election and were thoroughly unconvincing and uninspiring. The SMC’s surge also killed another party – Verjamem!, one of the main winners of the EP elections less than two months before, won only 0.8% of the vote. Verjamem, in the EP elections so at a much lower level, likely attracted left-wing voters who abandoned PS/SD, but these people then left in droves to back Cerar.

% vote for the 6 largest parties by electoral district (source: uselectionatlas.org)

According to the aforecited poll numbers, the bulk of SMC’s support came from people who had voted PS or SD (or DL) in 2011 – RTVSLO reports that 29% of SMC’s voters had voted PS in 2011 and 25.5% had voted SD, compared to only 6% who had voted SDS. The SMC also gained some voters from people who hadn’t turned out in 2011. The geography of the result also confirms that the SMC won most centre-left votes: the party’s support was well distributed throughout the country, but won 37.6% in Ljubljana Centre constituency and 35.9% in Ljubljana Bežigrad constituency, which lean to the left, and also performed better in left-leaning urban areas (Maribor, Koper, Piran).

Another major winner (and it was quite surprising) on the left was the United Left (ZL), thanks to a strong debate performance from young co-leader Luka Mesec. ZL, from a small hard-left base which had voted for two of its current component parties in 2011, added defectors from PS and SD and some other parties.

One of the few existing parties to hold their ground very well was DeSUS, who actually won a record-high result of 10.2% and 10 seats, confirming DeSUS as the world’s strongest (and most influential) pensioners’ party. After the SDS, DeSUS has the second most loyal base, and DeSUS leader Karl Erjavec has a Teflon-like like ability to withstand several corruption allegations in the past and his reputation as less-than-stellar foreign minister under the outgoing government. With its position as the kingmaker in any government, left or right, DeSUS has carved a very strong place in the system for itself, and as a result of its very large influence, it has managed to defend its clientele (pensioners) well by opposing or watering down any pension reform in the past. As a niche party, it doesn’t have a very good reputation with those who don’t vote for it, being seen as opportunist and narrow-minded, but it has tremendous influence on governments.

On the right, the old SLS was thrown out of Parliament, falling just below the 4% threshold while NSi stayed put and won 5 seats. SLS lost votes to Cerar and abstention, while NSi attracted defectors from the SDS and DL.

Alenka Bratušek achieved what she had set out to achieve – to beat PS, which itself was thoroughly decimated, with the Janković-led rump taking only 3% of the vote, which is down over 25.5% from the 2011 election. Although Janković still managed around 5% of the vote in the capital, where he is still mayor, he faces a lot of troubles – both legal and political – in the future. With local elections coming up later this year, Janković, who hitherto had faced no serious challenge from the right or left to his municipal regime, now appears extremely vulnerable. What a difference three years can make…

As it so happens, the other of the ‘new parties’ from 2011 – Gregor Virant’s DL – was killed off, in even more spectacular fashion. Virant’s group, which isn’t even led by Virant since the EP election, collapsed to 0.6%. DL’s support had begun falling even before the 2011 election, and the party proceeded to collapse as it entered government and made a pretty bad impression as a junior partner. The old centrist, vaguely centre-left liberal family of Slovenian politics is definitely a pitiful shadow of its former self: Zares and LDS didn’t even bother running, DL is joining them in the dustbin of history, PS is also set on eventually joining them there in a few months/years, and only Bratušek’s alliance can be considered as representing the liberal centre/centre-left of Slovenian politics – although Miro Cerar is actually rather reminiscent of the old consensual, pragmatic, moderate and inoffensive liberal style which ruled Slovenia with the LDS and remains favoured by a lot of voters.

The hard work begins now for Cerar, who faces the difficult task of not squandering his victory and of transforming very vague promises into tangible action in the tough and thankless world of politics. He is Prime Minister-presumptive, and all the talk is that Cerar will form a coalition with DeSUS (technically, Cerar would have a thin majority in a small coalition only with DeSUS, but Erjavec would be too picky and dangerous in such a setup), SD and ZaAB. There is an outside chance that NSi could join as well. In one of his few clear pronouncements during the campaign, Cerar excluded a coalition with the SDS, although here again he was just reacting to Janša ruling out a coalition with Cerar. If he so chooses, Cerar also has the ability to keep DeSUS out and form a government with SD, ZaAB and maybe NSi, a coalition which would have the advantage of being less dependent on DeSUS and fulfilling his ‘uniting left and right’ mantra.

However, the new coalition-in-waiting (whatever it ends up being) has been facing its first problems over the partisan horsetrading and wrangling over Slovenia’s European Commissioner, in the new Juncker commission. Cerar has insisted that, as PM-presumptive, he should be actively involved and kept in the loop on this business, even though he has no legal standing as of yet and Slovenia remains governed by Bratušek’s caretaker cabinet. DeSUS has been playing hardball, demanding the office of speaker of the National Assembly (although that office has just gone to a SMC MP) and speculation that Erjavec would be interested in the Commissioner job. However, SD would like to put forward their MEP, Tanja Fajon, as their candidate for Brussels and Alenka Bratušek is also a likely contender, who may even be favoured by Brussels.

Once in office, Cerar will be dealing with a difficult reality: a fragile economy which has just begun recovering, a large debt and deficit, high unemployment, trust in politics and other institutions at very low levels and several corruption scandals involving politicians. His laudable aims, vague goals and feel-good objectives will need to adapt themselves to the reality of government. It remains to be seen if Cerar, a political novice, will have what it takes to be a successful politician and head of government. It also remains to be seen how far his party, whose appeal is wide but also rather fragile, can survive as it goes from a moderate, anti-establishment outsider party to being the party of government. New parties of this kind often tend to collapse as they lose their novelty and outsider/non-political status. Slovenian politics remain in an unpredictable and highly interesting state of flux…

EU 2014: Poland to Slovakia

ep2014

This next post on the May EP elections covers Poland, Portugal, Romania and Slovakia – Slovenia, which had legislative elections on July 13, will be covered separately.

Note to readers: I am aware of the terrible backlog, but covering the EP elections in 28 countries in detail takes a very long time. I will most likely cover, with significant delay, the results of recent/upcoming elections in Colombia (May 25-June 15), Ontario (June 12), Indonesia (July 9), Slovenia (July 13) and additional elections which may have been missed. I still welcome any guest posts with open arms :) Thanks to all readers!

Poland

Turnout: 23.83% (-0.7%)
MEPs: 51 (nc from Lisbon)
Electoral system: Open-list PR, 5% threshold (13 EP constituencies)

PO (EPP) 32.13% (-12.3%) winning 19 seats (-6)
PiS (ECR) 31.78% (+4.38%) winning 19 seats (+4)
SLD-UP (S&D) 9.44% (-2.9%) winning 5 seats (-2)
KNP (NI) 7.15% (+7.15%) winning 4 seats (+4)
PSL (EPP) 6.8% (-0.21%) winning 4 seats (nc)
SP (EFD) 3.98% (+3.98%) winning 0 seats (nc)
E+ – TR (S&D/ALDE) 3.58% (+3.58%) winning 0 seats (nc)
PR (ECR) 3.16% (+3.16%) winning 0 seats (nc)
RN 1.4% (+1.4%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Greens (G-EFA) 0.32% (+0.32%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Direct Democracy 0.23% (+0.23%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Samoobrona 0.04% (-1.42%) winning 0 seats (nc)

Poland 2014 - EP

Poland, the sixth most populous country in the EU and the largest of the ‘new’ member-states from the Eastern enlargements, has become one of the major players in the EU and certainly the most important of the new member-states. Although Poland’s GDP per capita does not make it the ‘richest’ of the post-2004 member-states, it has the biggest economy of all post-2004 members (and the eight-largest in the EU). Under the present Polish government, more pro-European than its predecessor, Poland has taken a leading role in European politics, especially on matters related to Eastern Europe and Russia.

From 1991 until about 2007, Polish politics – similar to that of most other Eastern European post-communist states – were unstable, characterized by weak political parties coming and going, unpopular governments governing in difficult circumstances leading to a very high degree of anti-incumbency (until 2011, no incumbent government won reelection) and very large swings from election to election. The story of Poland’s post-communist left, led by the Democratic Left Alliance (SLD), is an excellent example of this instability. The left enjoyed a resurgence in the 1990s, with the election of Aleksander Kwaśniewski to the presidency in 1995, defeating incumbent President and anti-communist resistance icon Lech Wałęsa; and then with the landslide victory of Leszek Miller’s SLD in the 2001 legislative elections, where the left won 41% of the vote against a divided and demoralized incumbent right (the incumbent right-wing government, Jerzy Buzek’s AWS, won only 5.6% and lost all 201 of its seats). However, Prime Minister Leszek Miller and his party quickly became extremely unpopular due to economic policies enacted to counter high unemployment, debt and economic stagnation and by major corruption scandals, notably Rywingate (the bribery of senior politicians, likely acting on behalf of Miller and his government). Therefore, in the 2005 legislative elections, the SLD collapsed to 11% and the left has been unable to recover from its defeat.

Since 2007, politics have stabilized around two major parties complemented by minor parties; both major parties are on the right of the spectrum, although grouping the two together as ‘conservative’ parties is deceptive and obscures the wide schism – ideological and cultural – between the two parties and their supporters. Prime Minister Donald Tusk’s Civic Platform (PO), which has held government since 2007 and the presidency since 2010, is a centre-right liberal conservative and pro-European party. At the outset, PO, which was founded in 2001, was a very liberal (neoliberal) party promoting aggressive economic reforms including privatizations, a flat tax, decentralization, reduction of the size of government and structural reforms. In government, however, Tusk’s party has widely been accused of having morphed into a centrist ‘party of power’ having lost its initial reformist zeal and instead motivated only by securing reelection – which it did in 2011, becoming the first Polish government to win reelection. To some extent, Tusk’s PO has been unwillingly assisted by his main opponent, Law and Justice (PiS), a nationalist-conservative, socially conservative and fairly Eurosceptic party led by former Prime Minister Jarosław Kaczyński (2006-2007), the identical twin brother of former President Lech Kaczyński (2005-2010), who was killed in April 2010 when his presidential plane crashed while landing in Smolensk (Russia), killing all 96 passengers and crew. PiS’s very conservative and nationalist rhetoric, influenced by the very powerful and traditionalist Catholic Church in Poland, appeals to a particular segment of the Polish electorate, but at the same time it is very off-putting to the other half of the Polish electorate. PiS has not won a national election in Poland since 2007.

Therefore, although both PO and PiS are parties of the right, there are real and important ideological differences between the two. Economically, PO ostensibly supports European liberal policies, including privatizations, low taxes, compliance with EU budgetary rules and, in the long-term, adoption of the euro; on the other hand, PiS has, since its 2007 defeat, shifted towards interventionist and populist policies and opposed the government’s reforms (although, it should be noted, PiS was quite economically liberal in its own right when in power). The PO is strongly pro-European, and Prime Minister Donald Tusk’s name comes up every now and again in speculation for a potential top EU job. PiS is a Eurosceptic or anti-federalist party – it does not support withdrawing from the EU (a fringe opinion in Poland) but, similar to the British Tories (PiS are the Tories’ most important European allies), opposes a ‘federalist’ EU and often argues against further devolution of national powers to the EU in the name of Polish sovereignty. PiS was placed in an awkward position last year, as an ECR member and Tory partner, after David Cameron said that he would work to change EU regulations to withhold welfare benefit payments to EU migrants working in the UK with their families back home (and specifically mentioned Poles, one of the largest migrant communities in the UK).

PiS is often strongly nationalist – it has regularly engaged in anti-German and anti-Russian rhetoric, and a good chunk of the party – including Jarosław Kaczyński – believe that the plane crash which killed President Lech Kaczyński in Russia in 2010 was a Russian conspiracy. Law and Justice is vociferously anti-communist – it wishes to take lustration even further, by banning all university professors, lawyers, journalists and managers of large companies from holding their jobs if they are found to have collaborated with the communist-era secret service. Poland is one of the EU’s most socially conservative countries, and the Catholic Church – which in Poland tends to be highly conservative and somewhat politically active – retains a good deal of influence, although there is a strong secular or anti-clerical movement as well. PiS is the most socially conservative party, strongly opposed to abortion (which is already illegal with exceptions maternal life, mental health, health, rape, and/or fetal defects), same-sex marriage (and oftentimes hostile to homosexuality in itself) and IVF; PO is internally divided, with a powerful conservative faction opposed to abortion and same-sex marriage, meaning that PO has – until recently – largely made sure to not alienate the Church or conservatives in the party.

Poland was the only EU member-state to escape recession in 2009, with +1.6% growth, according to The Economist “thanks partly to luck and partly to a mixture of deft fiscal and monetary policies, a flexible exchange rate for the zloty, a still modest exposure to international trade and low household and corporate debt”. Poland benefited greatly from EU accession in 2004, and continues to receive billions of euros worth of development funds. Fairly strong growth in 2010-2012 (averaging about 4%), a fairly low debt (51% of GDP in 2009, now 57%) and a government generally well regarded by its EU partners (notably neighboring Germany) have given Poland extra weight in the EU.

In 2011, Prime Minister Donald Tusk’s PO was reelected to an unprecedented second term, winning 39.2% against 29.9% for PiS, with both parties losing about 2% of the vote from the 2007 election. Tusk retained power, in coalition with the small agrarian Polish People’s Party (PSL), a venal and opportunistic party which is amenable to a coalition with anybody to protect its rural voters’ interests and its own ministerial portfolios. In 2010, the PO had won the presidency in snap elections held after the death of President Lech Kaczyński. PO candidate Bronisław Komorowski defeated Jarosław Kaczyński 53% to 47%, and his election has inaugurated a much calmer relation between the Prime Minister and the President – between 2007 and 2010, Tusk had often clashed with his nemesis, Lech Kaczyński, and used the latter’s intransigence and vetoes to deflect blame for the lack of reformist vigour from his government.

Tusk’s reelection, and a friendly relationship between the presidency and government, boosted hopes that the new government would prove more ambitious in its agenda. Upon his reelection, Tusk outlined a reformist agenda with austerity measures to reduce Poland’s large deficit (7.8% in 2010 and 5.1% in 2011) and structural reforms, notably to the pension system. In 2012, the government passed a pension reform which will increase and equalize the retirement age for men and women to 67 by 2040 (currently, men retire at 65 and women at 60), despite major protests outside Parliament. PiS leader Jarosław Kaczyński embraced the protests, enthusiastically proclaiming that the crowds reminded him of his earlier glory days in the anti-communist Solidarity trade union. The opposition criticized PO for reneging on an election promise and forcing reform without consultation, but the opposition’s motion to hold a referendum on the reform was shut down by the PSL, the loyal ally which sided with PO in exchange for minor concessions on early partial retirement. Other reforms were also met with significant push-back: measures to cut the previleges of protected workers (journalists, professors), moves to liberalize a number of regulated professions while a bill to allow the state to partially cover IVF costs for both married and unmarried women faced significant opposition from the Catholic Church but also a socially conservative faction of PO led by then-justice minister Jarosław Gowin. The hardliners in the Catholic Church had at one time threatened to excommunicate any MPs who voted for anything other than banning IVF, which they described as ‘refined abortion’.

The government faced a very tough time in 2013. Economic growth has slowed, to 2% in 2013 and a projected 1.6% in 2014. The government has been assailed from every angle for a whole number of reasons. PO has again been accused of having lost its reformist energy, and focusing increasingly on what it set to be a tough fit for reelection for 2015 and eschewing more ambitious structural reforms. A recent OECD report called on Warsaw to close the productivity gap, severely trim a bloated public sector, invest in growing industries, boost productivity, liberalize labour laws to make it easier to fire employees, push Polish firms to become globally competitive and improve the ease of doing business in Poland (the country often gets poor marks, compared to its Eastern European partners, on ‘business-friendliness’ or ‘ease of doing business’ indexes) by tackling corruption and reducing red tape. Labour force participation remains low by EU levels, and Poland faces a demographic problem in the long-term because of its low birth rate and emigration which is still high. The OECD and liberal economists have also faulted the government for dragging its feet on privatization, criticizing its tendency to declare large parastatals as ‘strategic’ to prevent them from being privatized. While foreign investors and financial institutions point out the lack of reformist energy, at home, the government is criticized for the content of its austerity-minded policies and reforms (notably to labour laws). With an increasingly sluggish economy and high unemployment (9.6%, was over 10% for most of 2012 and 2013), Poles have been gloomy about the economy and increasingly unhappy with a government which seems to spend more time on ineffective crisis management than long-term reforms.

Tusk also needed to attend to divisions within his party and to take care of an increasingly prickly and inconvenient justice minister, Jarosław Gowin, the leader of a socially conservative strand in PO which clashed with Tusk and liberals on issues such as IVF and civil unions. In February 2013, Poland’s lower house, the Sejm, debated three civil union bills, and all three bills (one of which was proposed by a PO member) were voted down, with Gowin leading 46 PO MPs to vote against the PO proposal. The debate was marked by homophobic comments from PiS MPs. In April 2013, Gowin was finally sacked after he said that German scientists were buying Polish embryos from IVF procedures and using them for scientific experiments. His insensitive (especially given history between Poland and Germany) and provocative statement rattled Germany and was the last straw for Tusk, who dismissed Gowin from cabinet a week later. Gowin challenged Tusk for the PO leadership later in 2013, winning 20% of the vote, and left the party shortly thereafter. In December 2013, Gowin founded a new splinter party, Poland Together (PR). The party claims to represent the PO’s original social conservative and neoliberal (tax cuts, deregulation, fiscal orthodoxy) roots, with an added dose of so-called ‘Eurorealism’. It teamed up with recently-disbanded Poland Comes First (PJN), a failed 2010 moderate free-market splinter from PiS (2.2% in the 2011 elections).  PR had four MEPs in the old EP – one from PO, one from PiS and two from PJN – who sat in the ECR group.

Responding to the troubles, Tusk tightened his grip on the PO by sidelining PO deputy leader Grzegorz Schetyna and then shuffling his cabinet in November 2013. Jacek Rostowski, his finance minister since 2007, who had received credit for his good management of the economy in the 2008-9 global recession but was facing flack for unpopular reforms, was replaced (only months after a February promotion to Deputy Prime Minister) by Mateusz Szczurek, a young economist. Elżbieta Bieńkowska, the minister of regional development, received a major promotion to Deputy Minister and a super portfolio of infrastructure and development, focused on managing new EU funds (Poland was a major beneficiary in the latest EU 2014-2020 budget).

The opposition PiS has made major gains over the past year, with a consistent advantage over PO in polls and two victories in senatorial by-elections in 2013. However, Kaczyński’s party has hesitated between tried-and-true inflammatory and polarizing rhetoric or trying its hand at a soothing, conciliatory strategy. Playing on the unpopularity of the government’s reforms, PiS reached out to those threatened by lay-offs by promising to roll back Tusk’s reforms and increased benefits for the poor – a populist and dirigiste platform similar to that which PiS had in 2011 (it had promised tax cuts for families, a two-layered income tax to replace the flat tax and opposed cutting welfare spending). In 2013, PiS successfully focused on ‘bread and butter’ socioeconomic concerns and landed some heavy blows on the government. However, there’s still been plenty of drama and traditional fire-breathing stuff from PiS. Every now and again, Kaczyński or a PiS parliamentarian brings up the 2010 Smolensk plane crash which killed Lech Kaczyński and alleges a Russian conspiracy. A good chunk of PiS’ base loves the Russian conspiracy theories, but to other voters, it often comes out as craziness. Because Kaczyński continues to be a polarizing figure, PO has managed to retain sizable support despite a clear dip in its popularity.

Kaczyński did fight off a challenge from his right, from Zbigniew Ziobro, a former justice minister and MEP originally seen as Kaczyński’s dauphin. However, after the 2011 defeat, as Ziobro criticized Kaczyński’s leadership, he and some colleagues were expelled from PiS. Ziobro founded Solidary Poland/United Poland (SP) in March 2012, a hardline social conservative (pro-life, anti-gay marriage) and Eurosceptic party. The party had 4 MEPs in the old EP, including Ziobro, and they had left the PiS’ ECR group to join EFD, because of ECR’s liberal stances on gay marriage and belief in global warming.

On the embattled left, the SLD suffered a historic defeat in 2011, with only 8.2% and fifth place behind the Palikot Movement, a new flash-in-the-pan anti-clerical and very socially liberal (pro-gay marriage, drug legalization, free condoms, legalizing abortion) led by eccentric maverick PO dissident Janusz Palikot, which finished third with 10% and 40 seats. Former Prime Minister Leszek Miller (2001-2004), whose tenure as Prime Minister was marked by unpopular orthodox liberal economic polices, pro-American stances (along with centre-left President Kwaśniewski, Poland joined the American-led coalition in the invasion of Iraq in 2003) and corruption scandals, returned to active politics and the SLD as the party’s leader. Miller has criticized the government’s policies from the left and taken on a calm and predictable image, but there were constant rumours that the SLD would join the governing coalition. This did not materialize, due to reluctance on the part of both the PO and the SLD, but there are still rumours that it’s only been delayed till after the 2015 elections.

The Ukraine crisis shuffled the cards ahead of the EP elections. Poland has a difficult history with Russia, and the country has been a strong supporter of an independent Ukraine since 1991, has actively spearheaded efforts for EU engagements with Eastern European countries such as Ukraine and successive Polish governments have usually taken strongly pro-American positions. Prime Minister Donald Tusk’s government usually was friendlier and more diplomatic towards Russia than the opposition PiS, and the 2010 Smolensk plane crash led to a significant thaw in Warsaw-Moscow ties – President Kaczyński and senior Polish politicians, bureaucrats and military personnel on the flight had been travelling to a memorial for the 70th anniversary of the 1940 Katyn massacre. After the tragedy, the Russian State Duma passed a motion recognizing that Joseph Stalin had personally ordered the massacre. With the Ukrainian crisis and the Russian annexation of Crimea, Warsaw has taken a tough line against Russia.

Politically, inter-party unity soon disappeared as both the PO and PiS tried to benefit electorally from the Ukrainian crisis. Tusk, as the incumbent Prime Minister, took the lead to assume the role of a ‘strong leader’ and refocused the PO’s EP campaign around the issue of Polish and European security. He aptly invited Vitali Klitschko, a leading Ukrainian opposition leader (and now mayor of Kiev) to PO’s campaign launch and signed a cooperation agreement with Klitschko’s party, UDAR. The Prime Minister and other leading PO officials, such as foreign minister Radosław Sikorski, began adopting a PiS-like nationalist and anti-Russian tone which often drew parallels with Poland’s painful and tragic history during World War II. Finally, the government argued that the Ukrainian crisis highlighted its effectiveness in promoting Polish interests abroad by active membership in a strong, united and integrated EU without being Russophobic. In response, PiS claimed that the events in Ukraine vindicated its assertive policy vis-à-vis Russia and attacked Tusk’s apparently naive and shortsighted approach. PiS has long advocated a tough stance against Russia, notably during the 2008 Georgian/South Ossetian conflict, to counter Russian expansionism. However, voters largely sided with the incumbents, and PiS’ lead in polls tightened up significantly.

Although Ukraine was a major point of political debate, it failed to motivate voters to turn out in the EP elections. Poland saw, once again, some of the lowest turnout in the EU – only 23.8% of voters turned out to vote, down a bit less than 1% from 2009. Turnout was higher in the cities than in rural areas, with 35% turnout in the 4th constituency, which covers Warsaw and its adjacent suburban counties, 32.7% turnout in the city of Poznań, 35.9% turnout in the city of Gdańsk and 31.1% in Katowice.

The ruling PO won an extremely narrow victory over the opposition PiS, winning 32.1% against 31.8% for PiS – a difference of 24,325 votes. In terms of seats, both PO and PiS elected 19 MEPs. It is a significant victory, albeit narrow, for the ruling party. Although the low turnout means that these elections cannot be worth much, it is a symbolic victory for an embattled governing party in elections which are generally hard on incumbents. Like across the EU, EP elections in Poland are ‘second order’ elections in which voters often use the opportunity to punish incumbents without taking any risks, and as such they tend to be difficult for the incumbents – although in the 2009 EP election, the PO government – although at that time a young and popular government – had won a landslide, with 44.4% against only 27.4% for PiS. The symbolic victory is also important because these EP elections kicked off a string of four elections – the EP elections in May, followed by local elections in November, presidential elections in the spring of 2015 and finally parliamentary elections in the fall of 2015.

Nevertheless, it is far from all roses for PO: its EP victory has been assigned to the effects of the Ukrainian crisis, and the concomitant boost in the government’s popularity. However, as the Ukrainian crisis drags on and only worsens, the government’s popularity on the issue has fallen and the issue is ‘normalizing’ and no longer benefits the PO – in the long term, it’s hard to see Ukraine becoming a game-changing issue for the government – although the victory could provide momentum. PiS’ counter-offensive, attacking the PO’s credibility on security topics and trying to reemphasize domestic concerns, may have helped to reduce the government’s momentum, although PiS led (within the margin of error) most of the last polls before the election. Furthermore, regardless of the results, PO’s share of the vote is down significantly not only from its 2009 high-water mark but also its 2011 result.

Since the EP elections, the government has been hit by a firestorm surrounding a newspaper’s publication, in June, of secret tape recordings of several months’ worth of conversations involving current/former ministers. The interior minister asked the governor of the ostensibly independent National Bank for help in stimulating the economy and financing the deficit, and warned that investors would flee if PiS won in 2015; in exchange, the governor asked for the head of finance minister Jacek Rostowski. In another, foreign minister Radosław Sikorski – one of the leading foreign ministers in the EU – said that Poland’s alliance with the US was worthless and said that Poles had low self-esteem. The government and the secret service have searched the newspaper’s editorial office to identify the leaker and unsuccessfully tried to confiscate the editor’s laptop. Tusk has since regained control, somewhat, and won a confidence vote 237 to 203. He has resisted pressure to dismiss the interior minister and foreign minister and downplayed the significance and ethical issues raised by the recordings. PiS lost the advantage and was unable to get the opposition parties to agree with its proposal for a technocratic national unity government led by Piotr Gliński. Still, the issue has hurt and may continue to hurt the government. A June poll showed PiS leading by 9. A blow, but likely not a fatal blow for PO.

PiS’ narrow defeat is quite disappointing. Its losing streaks in national election continues – it hasn’t won a single national election since 2007, although this is likely the closest they’ve gotten to winning. Expecting to win handily because the government’s unpopularity and the traditional nature of EP elections, PiS found itself wrong-footed by PO’s skillful use of the Ukraine issue.

In additional good news for the government, PO’s quiet and undemanding junior partner, the agrarian PSL, had a decent election – holding its 2009 levels and its four MEPs – and the PSL’s new leader, Janusz Piechociński, who won the PSL’s leadership in 2012 after defeating longtime leader and former Prime Minister (in the early 1990s, with the ex-communist left) Waldemar Pawlak, survived his first electoral test. Janusz Piechociński, the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of the Economy, had been criticized over his soft-mannered style and apparent failure to make an impact or make his party’s voice heard in government. Many in the PSL felt that the PSL was isolated in Tusk’s government since 2012, citing the lack of consultation with the PSL’s leader in the cabinet shuffles in February and November 2013. In general, the PSL has been rather undemanding and ‘constructive’ partner – basically, as long as the PO doesn’t touch the PSL’s ministerial portfolios or reform (as is said to be much-needed) the state-subsidized farmers’ social security system (a key niche topic for the PSL and its rural, agrarian base), the PSL doesn’t care much. Given internal dissatisfaction, the EP elections were seen as a first and decisive electoral test for Piechociński’s leadership. The PSL hovered dangerously close to the 5% threshold in some polls, leading to fears that it may fall below – but, as always, it held up well (despite low turnout in the PSL’s rural bases) and Piechociński can be happy.

On the left, the SLD did fairly poorly. The SLD won 9.4% of the vote and lost 2 MEPs, down from 12.3% and not performing much better than it did in 2011. Miller was likely hoping for a strong result in the vicinity of 15%, which would have boosted the SLD’s standings and allowed it to be taken more seriously ahead of the key elections next year (in which the SLD may be seeking to enter government). However, the silver lining for SLD here is that it has recovered its ‘traditional’ (post-2005) third place position in Polish politics. In 2015, it is very unlikely that either PO or PiS will secure an absolute majority – and if PiS wins, it is a major problem for them, because, as the makeup of regional executives show (PO leads or participates in 15 out of 16 voivodeship governments), PiS is politically isolated and has few allies (its prickly and insane far-right coalition partners from 2005-2007, the clerico-nationalist LPR and populist-nationalist Samoobrona, have both died off).

The SLD has also won the battle for control of the left, against the Europa Plus – Your Movement (E+ TR) coalition. The E+ coalition was launched by Janusz Palikot’s party – renamed Your Movement (TR) recently – and joined forces with smaller parties on the left and, most importantly, former centre-left President Aleksander Kwaśniewski (1995-2005). Kwaśniewski remains fairly popular at home and had an international standing while President, so there were high hopes for the alliance. However, Palikot faced criticism that he was uninterested by the actual coalition itself and just using it to build support for his own movement, while Kwaśniewski – who was not a candidate himself – seemed to give only half-hearted attention to the election (in April, he showed up to a campaign event reportedly under the influence of alcohol) and most recognized that, while still popular, Kwaśniewski is from a by-gone era and he has lost his appeal to Polish voters. The alliance began foundering as minor parties were wooed over by the SLD instead (such as the Labour Union, UP) and the alliance failed to attract many star candidates. Palikot’s own appeal since 2011 has predictably decreased significantly as well – his flamboyant, provocative and coarse style lost its charm quickly, and the party was embroiled in a few controversies (it lost the support of feminists after it dumped Wanda Nowicka, a pro-choice campaigner who was elected Vice Marshal of the Sejm, and Palikot removed her from the caucus and accused her of ‘wanting to be raped’).

Below the threshold, both Gowin and Ziobro’s right-wing political projects failed their first test. Ziobro’s SP did best, with just about 4%, while Gowin’s PR won only 3.2%.

The election was marked, finally, by the sudden success of Janusz Korwin-Mikke’s Congress of the New Right (KNP), an anti-establishment, anti-EU and right-libertarian movement. The KNP is the latest political avatar for Janusz Korwin-Mikke, a veteran enfant terrible of Polish politics since the 1990s. In the 2010 presidential election, he won 3.5%. He may be Europe’s closest thing to American libertarianism and Ron Paul – his support with young voters on the internet, his conservative and isolationist brand of libertarianism and his history of controversial statements. His very unusual and colourful views on political issues include: hardline opposition to the ‘communist project’ which is the EU, styling outgoing EC president Barroso a ‘Maoist’, saying that democracy is the stupidest form of government (he is a monarchist), proposing to turn the EC building into a brothel, opposition to women’s suffrage (because he says women are dumber than men), eating his tax return to protest taxes, saying that women often fake rape, arguing that the difference between rape and consensual sex was very subtle, agreeing with Putin that Poland had trained ‘Ukrainian terrorists’ and arguing that there was no proof that Hitler was aware of the Holocaust. The KNP wants to reduce the government to its very bare minimum (notably by abolishing income taxes, privatizing almost everything, abolishing tax redistribution and downsizing government), but is socially conservative – it supports the death penalty, opposes abortion, contraception, IVF, euthanasia and civil unions.

The KNP owes its success – 7.2% and 4 MEPs – to young voters. It won 28.5% of the vote with those 18 to 25. This blog post said that “some sociologists have argued that many of these voters are drawn from what social commentators sometimes refer to as ‘Generation Y’: the large numbers of young and fairly well-educated unemployed in Poland who live at home with their parents and are frustrated that the country has not developed more rapidly, with an apparent ‘glass ceiling’ of vested interests and corrupt networks stifling their opportunities.” These voters face the choice of emigration or low-skilled jobs at home. These well-educated young voters are highly active on the internet, and Korwin-Mikke is a big hit on Facebook and YouTube. Because it was an EP election, the KNP may be a flash-in-the-pan, but the KNP will try to use its success and Korwin-Mikke will use his platform in the EP (he has already promised to raise hell) to win seats in 2015 – but in a higher-turnout and high-stakes election, it is unlikely that the marginal KNP will find similar levels of support and Korwin-Mikke’s insane statements will likely be scrutinized closer by voters. Poland certainly has a long list of fleetingly successful minor protest parties who are one-hit-wonders but disappear quickly thereafter – like everybody’s favourite Beer Lovers’ Party in 1990!

There is a strong and fascinating regional dichotomy in Polish politics. The ruling centre-right PO’s support, in orange on the map above, is largely concentrated in territories which were ruled by Prussia/Germany until 1918/1945 (what is rather interesting is how PO’s support does not correlate with the western borders of interwar Poland but rather with those of the Kaiserreich in 1914); PiS’ support, in blue on the map, is concentrated in territories which were ruled by Russia and Austria (Galicia) until 1918. Overlaying the map of the 2014 EP election on the map of the region one hundred years ago, in 1914, would produce a near-perfect correlation between German territories for PO and Russian/Austrian territories for PiS. The lingering effects of the partition of Poland as it stood in 1914 is not a mere historical coincidence: all three former imperial powers ruled their Polish territories in their own distinctive ways, built (or not) infrastructure and industry and tolerated (or not) Polish institutions such as the Catholic Church. The German territories of western Poland were slightly more urban than those in Russia or Austrian Galicia, but the infrastructure was significantly more developed and industry slightly more important (notably with coal mining and the industrial basin of Silesia, although the textile town of Łódź was Russian) resulting in a significant gap in wealth and development between the German and Russian/Austrian regions, which remained far less developed, poorer and predominantly agricultural (largely in the form of small-scale, subsistence farms). The west/east divide is extremely perceptible in 1950s maps of the Polish rail network (and even in the modern rail network). However, the 1914 German territories are no longer ethnically German – Poland’s German minority nowadays only counts about 150,000 people largely in Opole Voivodeship (formerly German Upper Silesia) – and western Poland was extensively resettled after World War II – the large German population was forcibly expelled to Germany and the region was resettled by Poles, largely from the eastern territories of interwar Poland annexed by the Soviet Union in 1945. Therefore, the modern population of most of the PO-voting western regions – especially those which were German until 1945 – have only been settled by their current inhabitants for 70 years or so. The western population therefore is far less rooted in the region, while the population of Galicia and the Russian territories have seen no comparable demographic upheavals. The former German territories, partly because of Bismarck’s kulturkampf, have been less clerical than the Austrian and Russian territories, where local authorities tolerated the influence and authority of the Polish Catholic Church; under communist rule, therefore, the communist regime likely faced less clerical resistance and challenges in the ‘recovered territories’ of the west. Under communist rule, the east also tended to remain less developed – for example, collectivization of agriculture was abandoned early on in the east but was more ‘successful’ in the west. In conclusion, earlier and more thorough industrialization, better infrastructure, relative affluence, high population mobility and lower religiosity have led to more liberal and pro-European views in western Poland while a traditional agricultural past, higher poverty, high religiosity and clerical influence, low population mobility and poor infrastructure have led to social conservatism and traditionalist views in eastern Poland. To this day, eastern Poland remains poorer than urban and western Poland, although eastern Poland has been drawing in a lot of EU funds.

This divide, however, is not absolute (not all parties, far from it, have a east-west map) or frozen in time. Nor is the “German PO vs Russian/Austrian PiS” a universal rule. The east-west divide partly covers a strong urban-rural divide. Warsaw, which was in Russian eastern Poland, is a PO stronghold: the party won 43.8% against 26.5% for PiS in the Polish capital this year (a much larger margin, I will add, than those in ‘rural’ western counties). Other large eastern cities join the western cities in voting for PO, often by significant margins. The eastern city of Łódź gave 46.4% to PO against 28.4% for PiS this year. In Kraków, PO won 37.8% against 25.7% for PiS. In all three cases, these dots of orange on the map stand out from their very conservative surroundings. Lublin and Białystok, however, both went to PiS with margins over 10%. PO won some of its best results nationally in the cities of Gdánsk (54.2%), Gdynia (53.5%), Chorzów (50.8%), Opole (50.4%), Katowice (48.8%), Poznań (44.5%), Wrocław (42.9%) and Szczecin (42.7%).

One major exception to the east-west rule in the form of a ‘blue island’ in the formerly German west is the region around Polkowice, Głogów and Lubin counties in the Lower Silesian Voivodeship, the heart of the Legnica-Lubin-Głogów copper mining district, home to a major (but struggling) copper mining industry.

Portugal

Turnout: 33.84% (-2.93%)
MEPs: 21 (-1)
Electoral system: Closed-list PR (d’Hondt), no threshold (national constituency)

PS (S&D) 31.46% (+4.88%) winning 8 seats (+1)
Aliança Portugal PSD/CDS-PP (EPP) 27.71% (-12.37%) winning 7 seats (-3)
PCP-PEV (GUE/NGL) 12.68% (+2.02%) winning 3 seats (+1)
MPT (ALDE) 7.14% (+6.48%) winning 2 seats (+2)
BE (GUE/NGL) 4.56% (-6.17%) winning 1 seat (-2)
Livre (G-EFA) 2.18% (+2.18%) winning 0 seats (nc)
PAN 1.72% (+1.72%) winning 0 seats (nc)
PCTP/MRPP 1.66% (+0.45%) winning 0 seats (nc)
PND 0.7% (+0.7%) winning 0 seats (nc)
PTP 0.69% (+0.69%) winning 0 seats (nc)
PPM 0.54% (+0.15%) winning 0 seats (nc)
PNR 0.46% (+0.09%) winning 0 seats (nc)
MAS 0.38% (+0.38%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Pro-Vida 0.37% (+0.37%) winning 0 seats (nc)
PDA 0.16% (+0.16%) winning 0 seats (nc)
POUS 0.11% (-0.03%) winning 0 seats (nc)

Portugal 2014 - EP

Portugal has been hit hard by the economic crisis – it was one of the so-called ‘PIGS’/’PIIGS’ countries along with Italy, Ireland, Greece and Spain (and now Cyprus) and it received a bailout from the ‘Troika’. However, unlike in Greece, Spain or Italy, the economic and social crisis in Portugal has not triggered major changes in the Portuguese political or party system.

Since the Carnation Revolution in 1974, which overthrew the Estado Novo dictatorship (1933-1974), Portuguese governments usually ran deficits above and beyond the EU’s 3% deficit limit – in 2009, Portugal’s deficit was 10.2% of GDP and 9.8% of GDP in 2010 – and the size of the public sector grew exponentially (the number of public servants increased from 372,000 in 1979 to a peak of 663,100 in 2010, surpassing the average number of public servants per inhabitant in the rest of the EU). Furthermore, Portugal – which was the EU’s poorest member-state prior to the 2004 enlargement (and has since fallen even further behind) suffered from sluggish economic growth in the years leading up to the global recession and Eurozone debt crisis. For example, in 2005 and 2006, the Portuguese economy grew by only 0.8% and 1.4% (because of competition from China and Asia for the traditional textile and footwear industries) while the EU-27 grew at rates of 2.2% and 3.4% in those pre-crisis years. Portugal also had very high levels of household debt. Despite all that, governments spent quite lavishly on public works projects, bonuses and wages for public sector and parastatal bosses and mismanaged EU funds. In 2009, Portugal’s GDP fell by 2.9% and the government was forced to bailout and nationalize two major banks – the Banco Português de Negócios and Banco Privado Português – who had been accumulating loses due to bad investments, embezzlement and accounting fraud. The BPN’s president, who had close ties to several politicians including President (and former Prime Minister) Aníbal Cavaco Silva, was later arrested for suspected tax fraud, money laundering and forgery.

The Socialist Party (PS), led by moderate Prime Minister José Sócrates, was the incumbent government when the Eurozone debt crisis hit Portugal beginning in 2010. Sócrates’ PS had been elected in a landslide (winning an absolute majority by itself) in 2005, on the heels of the unpopular governments of Prime Ministers José Manuel Barroso (2002-2004) and Pedro Santana Lopes (2004-2005). Sócrates’ government was accused by the centre-right opposition of having failed to anticipate the economic crisis when he took office in 2005 and general economic mismanagement. Pressured by financial markets and the EU, the Sócrates government passed three successive austerity packages in 2004 which included tax increases, pay cuts for public servants and spending cuts. These policies did little to alleviate the crisis, as Portugal’s credit rating was downgraded and risk premiums on Portuguese bonds reached record highs. Nevertheless, the Sócrates government resisted pressure to seek European help. In the spring of 2011, Portugal was left with little option but to seek a EU bailout. However, in March 2011, the opposition parties on the left and right – which held a majority in the National Assembly – joined to reject a fourth austerity package put forward by the PS minority government and Sócrates resigned, prompting early elections in June 2011. As a caretaker Prime Minister, Sócrates finally admitted the need for a €78 billion Troika bailout.

The main party of the Portuguese centre-right is the misnamed Social Democratic Party (PSD). Portugal has an acute case of sinistrisme, where what passes as the right elsewhere in Europe shies away from adopting labels such as ‘right’, ‘conservative’ or even ‘liberal’ due to the association with the Estado Novo dictatorship in general and Salazar’s regime in particular. The PSD’s name also reflects the party’s origins and mythical founding leader, Francisco Sá Carneiro (died in 1980), a ‘Portuguese social democrat’ who developed a moderate, anti-collectivist and anti-statist form of social democracy adapted to the Portuguese context, influenced both by Catholic social teachings (humanism and Emmanuel Mounier’s personalism) and German social democracy. The PSD even applied to join the Socialist International. However, after Sá Carneiro’s death in 1980, the PSD clearly shifted to the mainstream European right (although the PSD would deny it) under Prime Ministers Aníbal Cavaco Silva (1985-1995) and José Manuel Barroso (2002-2005), who both implemented liberal economic policies. The PSD originally joined the liberal family in the EP, before leaving it for the Christian democratic EPP family in 1996. The PSD’s traditional junior ally, the People’s Party (CDS-PP), identifies with ‘centrism’ (the party’s original name – CDS – stood for ‘Social and Democratic Centre’) but lies further to the PSD’s right – socially conservative, softly Eurosceptic, mildly nationalistic and somewhat populist. The PS, PSD and CDS-PP are ideologically similar, moderate parties which have governed from the centre and found common cause in opposing the left-wing revolutionary movement in the chaotic transition years of 1974-1976 (the Processo Revolucionário em Curso, PREC), which was spearheaded by the Communist Party (PCP) and left-wing sectors in the military.

The PSD seized on anti-incumbency and the unpopularity of the PS government associated with the economic collapse to win the 2011 elections, with Pedro Passos Coelho’s PSD ultimately defeating Sócrates by an unexpectedly comfortable 10.6% margin (38.6% to 28.1%). Polls had indicated a much closer contest, but the PS ended up badly underperforming its polling. Pedro Passos Coelho, in contrast with the right-wing opposition parties in Spain and Greece, ran a brutally honest pro-austerity (and pro-bailout) campaign – most notably, Passos Coelho said that he would go beyond what the EU-IMF were asking from Lisbon, determined to make Portugal stand out (from Greece, notably) as the ‘good pupil’ of austerity in southern Europe. The PSD formed a coalition with Paulo Portas’ CDS-PP.

Portugal received a €78-billion bailout from the ‘Troika’, in return for austerity measures and structural reforms. Passos Coelho set out to go further and be even more ambitious than what the Troika asked, to meet the EU-IMF’s demands ahead of schedule and to complete the bailout program within the planned timeframe. The PSD’s platform in 2011 was unusually right-wing and neoliberal for a traditionally left-of-centre country like Portugal, including proposals for constitutional reforms which would allow private sector participation in healthcare, education, social security and the privatization of water and postal services. The government quickly set out to introduce tough austerity measures including: spending cuts (notably in education and healthcare); income and corporate tax increases; abolishing the ’13th and 14th month’ bonuses (for Christmas and July) for public servants; a continued pay freeze for public servants (and a fall in real wages from 2010); privatizations; halting public work projects (notably a high-speed railway); selling the state’s golden shares in the electricity, telecommunications and energy companies; significant hikes in electricity prices due to a major increase on the VAT on energy (from 6% to the standard rate of 23%); reduction of the public sector payroll through attrition; public transit fare increases; an increase in working hours (30 minutes per day, unpaid); devolution of powers to local governments but cuts in fiscal transfers to these same local governments and the elimination of four public holidays. Passos Coelho originally claimed that even deeper austerity was necessary because his government had discovered a €2 billion ‘hole’ in the budget left behind by the PS, but the opposition parties claimed that it was only an excuse for deeper cuts.

These austerity policies had little success in creating economic growth or even reducing the deficit. In 2011, it was revealed that the autonomous region of Madeira – the personal preserve of PSD baron Alberto João Jardim since 1978 – had been under-reporting its public debt since 2008, hiding a total of €1.218 billion in debt between 2008 and 2010, while the regional government had a total debt of €6.328 billion. Despite the scandal, Alberto João Jardim was reelected to a ninth full term in office with yet another absolute majority in October 2011, although the PSD’s support fell by 15.7%. The deficit was brought down to 4.3% of GDP in 2011 but increased again to 6.4% in 2012, before falling to 4.9% in 2013 (but, in 2011, the original Troika demand had been pushing for a 3% deficit in 2013). Portugal has been in recession since 2011, with -1.3% in 2011, -3.2% in 2012 and -1.4% in 2013. The government’s forecasts had initially predicted positive growth in 2013, but current estimates show that the economy might finally grow again only this year (+1.2% predicted by the EC). The government had more trouble than it had expected because its austerity policies in 2011 and 2012 led to a major collapse in consumer spending, and lower than expected revenues for the state. Furthermore, despite the austerity, Portugal’s bond yields remained high and refused to budge for most of 2012 (in contrast to Ireland or Spain) and Portugal’s credit rating was again downgraded – the country currently has a negative outlook BB rating from Standard & Poor’s.

The unemployment rate soared from 12.6% when the PSD took office in June 2011 to a high of 17.4% in early 2013, although it has since begun declining to stand at 14.3% in May 2014. In September 2012, ostensibly to reduce unemployment, Passos Coelho announced cuts in the social security paid by employers (from 23.25% to 18%) – financed by a concomitant increase in social security contributions from employees (from 11% to 18%), which meant a clear fall in employees’ take-home pay. The Prime Minister’s policy unleashed a firestorm of criticism – it united the radical left, trade unions and the PS against the government, and was criticized on the right by a former PSD leader (Manuela Ferreira Leite) while Paulo Portas, the leader of the CDS-PP and foreign minister, indicated his disagreement with the idea and raised the specter of a coalition crisis between the PSD and its junior partner. In late September, after a very successful strike and protest movement against the government, it was finally forced to scrap the idea of toying around with social security contributions. But forced to meet the Troika’s demands, the government chose to raise taxes. Even after the decision, the CDS-PP continued to show its thinly-veiled displeasure with the government, although the government’s junior member still voted in favour of the budget in October 2012.

However, in January 2013, President Aníbal Cavaco Silva – a member of the PSD, but who has often acted as he saw fit while President (an unconventional and often interventionist style which has won him many critics and low approval ratings for a Portuguese head of state) – announced that he would take several items from the 2013 budget to the Constitutional Court for a decision on their constitutionality. In April 2013, the court ruled that three items from the budget were unconstitutional: abolishing the ’13th and 14th month’ bonuses for public servants (on the grounds of not respecting equality between public and private employees), abolishing the ’13th and 14th month’ bonuses for retirees and a special tax on unemployment and sickness benefits. It upheld, however, a ‘solidarity tax’ on pensions over €1,350 a month. The court (who declared its ruling to be retroactive) blew a €1.3 billion ‘hole’ in the budget. The government was livid and its attacks on the court’s ruling were unexpectedly violent – accusing it of placing the country’s stability in jeopardy and fueling rumours that Portugal would need a second bailout. Yet, forced to conform, Passos Coelho announced that spending cuts would replace tax hikes in 2013. The court has continued to reject austerity measures proposed by the government, heightening tensions between the government and the judiciary. The government would like to open the constitution to amend clauses and allow for more spending cuts and a reorganization of state-provided health services and public education, as the IMF has proposed, but the PS has refused to discuss such reforms.

In July 2013, the government faced another crisis – this time within its own ranks. It began with the resignation of Vítor Gaspar, the technocrat finance minister (embattled by the failure of austerity policies which failed to meet targets), and his replacement by María Luis Albuquerque, from the PSD. Paulo Portas, the leader of the CDS-PP and foreign minister, handed his resignation to the Prime Minister – and said it was ‘irreversible’. However, Passos Coelho refused to accept his resignation and created a political crisis with an uncertain resolution – Passos Coelho tried to mediate the crisis internally by promoting Paulo Portas to Deputy Prime Minister (a new title) while the President reiterated his old demand for a ‘national salvation’ government with the PS and snap elections in 2014 after the bailout program’s conclusion. The PS quickly shut the door on any ‘national salvation’ coalition, and Cavaco Silva was forced to accept the reshuffled coalition cabinet with Portas now sitting as Deputy Prime Minister.

Portugal’s economic health has only just begun improving. The economy should grow in 2014, for the first time since 2010; bond yields have fallen; unemployment should keep falling; the debt has peaked at 129% of GDP and should begin decreasing and Lisbon is projected to finally meet the EU’s 3% deficit limit in 2013. Part of the growth has come thanks to exports, as the country now boasts a current account surplus. The country managed to successfully exit the Troika bailout program on schedule in May 2014, without a safety net line of credit. The successful exit from the bailout program was a big victory for the government, which had repeatedly insisted that Portugal would complete its structural adjustment program within schedule. The EC praised the ‘efforts’ made by Lisbon but at the same time warned against complacency and underlined the need to continue pushing forward with structural reforms. The centre-right cabinet wishes to simplify rules to set up businesses, loosen a rigid labour market and lighten the burden on firms shackled by high charges from the protected non-traded sectors (utilities etc). The OECD says such measures could lead to a significant increase in the GDP by 2020.

However, the Portuguese mood remains overwhelmingly pessimistic and gloomy, with over 90% of respondents in the most recent Eurobarometer saying that the country’s economy is in bad shape (a level similar to Greece) and a significant number of Portuguese who are unconvinced that recovery is here for the long-term. The pessimism with regards to the economy has also been mixed with anger against the government and austerity. Since November 2011, the government has faced several strikes and large protest movements (of varying success), led by trade unions. The CGTP-IS, the largest trade union confederation and an ally of the Communist Party (PCP), has usually been the most inflexible of the unions and been on the frontlines of all anti-austerity and anti-government protests. However, the effectiveness of the unions has been weakened by divisions in the wider movement – for example, in early 2012, the more moderate UGT (linked to the PS), refused to join the CGTP-IS in another strike. Many workers also stayed away from picket lines, unwilling to lose a day’s pay in a bad economy. In contrast to Greece, where protests since 2010 have often been heated, all protests in Portugal have been well-disciplined and peaceful.

Unlike in Greece but also Italy, Spain and even Ireland, the economic crisis in Portugal has not seen major changes in the political system. In addition to pessimism and anti-government feelings, common to all ‘PIIGS’ countries, Portugal has also been hit by apathy and general resignation in the face of the crisis. Voters unhappy with the government has not turned to new parties (there really aren’t any), far-right populists (like in Spain, the far-right in Portugal is an irrelevant joke) or even minor parties – instead, they’ve reacted with run-of-the-mill anti-incumbency and supported either the PS or the Communists. The PS – quite unlike the Spanish Socialists – has recovered quite nicely from its 2011 defeat under the new leadership of António José Seguro. There is little enthusiasm for the PS – in fact, most know that a PS government would apply similar austerity policies anyway (the PS has opposed the current government’s austerity policies, harshly at times but more softly than the radical left at other times) – but the PS seems to benefit from anti-incumbency and the lack of strong alternatives on the left.

The PS won the local elections in September 2013 – although the PS’ vote share fell slightly (by about 1%) from 2009, the PS won 36.3% of the vote for the municipal executives and won 149 municipalities, a gain of 17. The PS easily held Lisbon with over 50.9% of the vote, and the PS gained cities including Coimbra, Vila Nova de Gaia, Sintra, Vila Real and the Madeiran capital of Funchal (an historic defeat for the PSD). On the other hand, the PS lost Braga and Guarda to the PSD and lost three major municipalities (Loures, Beja, Évora) to the Communists. An independent candidate backed by the CDS-PP gained Porto from a term-limited PSD mayor, winning about 39.3% against 22.7% for the PS and only 21.1% to the PS.

The PS won the EP elections with a fairly strong result (31.5%). However, the narrow margin of victory (3.8%) and the underperformance compared to polling (the PS was polling about 36-38% and predicted to win between 9 and 10 MEPs) in a context which should have been quite favourable to the opposition, makes it a very bitter victory indeed for the PS. With elections due in 2015, António José Seguro, the PS leader, may face a leadership challenge from António Costa, the popular PS mayor of Lisbon. That being said, the result can hardly be considered a victory for the centre-right governing parties, who ran a common list (like in the 2004 EP elections) known as Aliança Portugal. The two parties won only 27.7% of the vote, compared to 40.1% for the two parties running separately in the 2009 EP elections (a surprise victory for the PSD over the then-governing PS) and 50.4% in the 2011 election. The right’s result is so catastrophic that it is even lower than the result of the PSD alone in either 2011 (38.7%) or 2009 (31.7%), and the Aliança Portugal coalition also badly underperformed its polling (29-30%, predicted to win between 7 and 9 seats). The centre-right parties returned only 7 MEPs – 6 from the PSD and 1 from the CDS-PP – compared to 10 in 2009.

One of the main winners of the election was the Democratic Unitarian Coalition (CDU), the permanent coalition between the Portuguese Communist Party (PCP) and the Greens (PEV) – although the PCP is the dominant and only relevant party of the two, with the Greens more or less acting as the PCP’s section for environmental issues. The Communists remain fairly unreconstructed – the party’s logo still has the distinctive hammer and sickle and the PCP continues to issues communiqués praising communist regimes or denouncing ‘imperialism’ – although, in practice, the PCP largely offers fairly innocuous and standard-fare leftist populism around bread-and-butter issues (which makes the PCP more in touch with reality than the Greek Communists, who are completely in the 1950s). In the EP campaign, for example, the CDU called for a renegotiation of the debt, increasing national production, higher wages and pensions, higher taxes on capital gains and profits, defense of public services and defense of Portuguese national sovereignty against the EU and the Troika (held responsible for what it calls the ‘aggression pact’). The PCP The Communists have been on an upswing recently, having won their result since the late 1990s in the 2013 local elections (11%) and, with 12.7%, it has won its best result in an EP election since 1989. However, because of low turnout, the CDU’s result in terms of raw votes (416.4k votes) is lower than its 2011 intake (over 441 thousand votes, or 8%), so the result is likely one of differential turnout and the Communists’ ability to hold and turn out their loyal base. Nevertheless, the PCP did increase its raw vote in the 2013 local elections – both compared to the previous local elections in 2009 and 2011 – so the Communists have seen a real increase in support. However, their potential for growth is still fairly limited.

The Communists have retained a sizable and loyal electoral base since the Carnation Revolution, although it has seen its support decline somewhat from the 1970s and 1980s. The PCP’s electoral base is very regionalized – it retains very strong support, at all levels of government, in the Alentejo region and Lisbon’s industrial hinterland in the Setúbal Peninsula. In this election, the PCP was the largest party in the districts of Setúbal (29%) and Beja (35.3%) and placed a very strong and close second behind the PS in Évora (31.3%). In contrast, the Communists won less than 5% of the vote in the Azores, Madeira and northern districts such as Bragança and Viseu. Although Portugal is, politically and administratively, a heavily centralized state with only weak local governments, there is a real regional diversity in the country – politically, which reflects a social and economic diversity. The inland south, the Alentejo region (districts of Beja, Évora, Setúbal and Portalegre) – to the south of the Tagus river and to the north of coastal Algarve – was historically a poor region characterized by latifundios, big landowners, landless peasants, anti-clericalism and rural agitation. The Communists were well organized with landless peasants, and the party played a major role in the land seizures and aborted agrarian reform which immediately followed the Carnation Revolution. The region, which remains quite poor and increasingly dominant on the public sector (especially in suburban Lisbon), is a left-wing stronghold in which the PSD regularly places a poor third. Northern Portugal was historically a region of smallholders, small and dispersed private property and often depicted as being very Catholic. Catholic smallholders violently resisted communist collectivization and agrarian reform during the Carnation Revolution/PREC. The north has usually leaned to the PSD, but it is far from being politically homogeneous: the PS has significant support, notably in the cities – Porto, an old republican and liberal bastion and the north’s major industrial centre, but also Braga and Coimbra.

The other winner of this election – a surprise winner – was the Party of the Earth (MPT), a small centre-right green party (it is part of a rump, right-leaning green international in which the German/Bavarian ÖDP and the French MEI are the only other relevant members) founded in 1993 which has regularly participated in all elections but has never really achieved much success – in the 2009 EP elections, running as the Portuguese ally of Declan Ganley’s Libertas, the MPT won only 0.66% and in 2011 the MPT took 0.41%. Its sole parliamentarian was a regional deputy in Madeira, reelected in 2011, with 1.9% of the vote. Its success in the EP elections, with a exceptional 7.1% and nearly 235,000 votes, was totally unexpected. Nobody had predicted that the MPT would win one seat, let alone two. The MPT’s success likely owes to two factors: its top candidate and its populist, anti-establishment platform. The MPT’s top candidate on its list was Marinho Pinto, a fairly well-known Portuguese lawyer and former president of the Portuguese Bar Association, who has often attracted media attention because of his controversial statements (he famously said that Brazil’s main export to Portugal were prostitutes and he has ranted about the ‘gay lobby’ in the past). The MPT had a populist and anti-establishment platform – although a lot of the platform is mostly feel-good, touchy-feely white noise, the MPT called for a renewal of the political elite, criticized EU technocrats and their illegitimacy and attacked financial deregulation all while still being fairly pro-EU. The party’s vote distribution was fairly homogeneous – it polled quite well in Madeira and coastal districts on the mainland (Porto, Aveiro, Coimbra, Viana do Castelo), but its vote did not have any major peaks or troughs. Unlike the German ÖDP, which joined the G-EFA group, the MPT’s two new MEPs have joined the ALDE group.

A major loser was the Left Bloc (BE), a radical left party which often compares itself to Greece’s SYRIZA, and like the Greek party it was originally founded as an alliance of various hard-left movements and minor parties (Maoists, Trotskyists, anti-globalization activists, New Left, Marxists). Usually focused on social issues such as non-discrimination, abortion, same-sex marriage (both of which are now legalized and have largely dropped off the political radar), the BE quickly gained ground in the early 2000s as a hip, trendy and modern radical left party – peaking at 10.7% in the 2009 EP elections (or 9.8% in that year’s legislative elections), and surpassing the Communists. Since that high water mark, however, the BE’s support has declined as the party’s niche issues have become far less relevant and the party’s profile and credibility on economic issues is both weaker and less distinctive from the other parties (often seen as lacking ideas of its own). Quite unlike its Greek friends, the BE has been unable to benefit from the economic crisis. In the 2011 election, the BE’s support fell back to 5.2% and the party lost half of its seats. Since then, the BE’s support in polls has jumped around a bit, but it has not really made new inroads. The retirement of the BE’s longtime leader and MP (since 1999) Francisco Louçã in November 2012 and his replacement by two rather anonymous coordinators hasn’t helped. The BE also faces serious infighting. In 2011, MEP Rui Tavares defected and joined the G-EFA group in the EP, and went on to found Livre, an eco-socialist party. Other members of the BE has pressed, unsuccessfully, for the party to become a potential left-wing governing partner for the PS. On economic issues, at the forefront nowadays, the BE has trouble distinguishing itself from the PCP – it favours an audit and renegotiation of the debt, higher incomes, nationalization of bailed-out banks and rejects the Fiscal Compact – it only really breaks from the PCP in being pro-European and calling for a broad leftist government. However, the BE lacks the PCP’s advantages – the Communists have a loyal electorate, strong trade union roots and an old grassroots presence in the Alentejo and other regions. Livre, running independently with Rui Tavares, won 2.2% of the vote – a result which would allow it to win at least one seat in a legislative election.

Some small parties below the threshold did quite well too. The Party for Animals and Nature (PAN), an animal rights’ party which elected its first regional deputy in Madeira in 2011, won 1.7% nationally and 3.3% in Madeira. The Portuguese Labour Party (PTP), the fourth largest party in the regional parliament in Madeira now led by José Manuel Coelho, a populist and loudmouth critic of PSD boss Alberto João Jardim, won 6.6% and fourth place in Madeira. Nationally, the Portuguese Workers’ Communist Party (PCTP/MRPP), an old Maoist party (of which José Manuel Barroso was a member, before being expelled) last famous during the Carnation Revolution in 1974-5 for being an inflexible enemy of the PCP (a ‘social-fascist’ fraud funded by the CIA, it claimed), won 1.7%. The PCTP amusingly seems to be doing better than ever before, on the heels of a record high performance of 1.1% in 2011.

Political apathy bred by the crisis also expressed itself in the form of the lowest ever turnout in a Portuguese EP election – only 33.8% of voters turned out on May 25, compared to 36.8% in 2009. There was also a high number of white and invalid votes: 4.41% and 3.06%, compared to 4.63% and 2% in 2009.

Romania

Turnout: 32.44% (+4.77%)
MEPs: 32 (-1)
Electoral system: Closed-list PR, 5% threshold for parties only – doesn’t apply to independents (national constituency)

PSD-PC-UNPR (S&D) 37.6% (+6.53%) winning 16 seats (+5)
PNL (ALDE>EPP) 15% (+0.48%) winning 6 seats (+1)
PDL (EPP) 12.23% (-17.48%) winning 5 seats (-5)
Independent – Mircea Diaconu (ALDE) 6.81% (+6.81%) winning 1 seat (+1)
UDMR (EPP) 6.29% (-2.63%) winning 2 seats (-1)
PMP (EPP) 6.21% (+6.21%) winning 2 seats (+2)
PP-DD 3.67% (+3.67%) winning 0 seats (nc)
PRM (NI) 2.7% (-5.95%) winning 0 seats (-3)
Forța Civică (EPP) 2.6% (+2.2%) winning 0 seats (nc)
PER (G-EFA) 1.15% (+1.15%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Others 5.63% (-1.07%) winning 0 seats (-1)

Romania 2014 - EP

Romania is, after neighboring Bulgaria, the second poorest member-state in the EU and also one of its newest members, having joined the Union with Bulgaria in 2007. Romanian politics in the past few years have been marked by growing apathy and dissatisfaction with the political system, as seen by the declining turnout in national elections (41.8% in the 2012 legislative election, which was actually up from 39.2% in 2008!). Politics in Romania are far more personal than ideological – although there are parties, who have somewhat coherent ideologies and do line up with European ideologies, the political debate is often largely around personality rather than ideological issues. As such, politics have tended be quite bitter and acrimonious, and it has become increasingly so under President Traian Băsescu, who leaves office later this year after ten years as Romania’s head of state. Parties have little ideological differences, and should perhaps be understood as patronage machines or personal vehicles; in contrast with other post-communist countries, however, Romania has not really seen the rapid rise and subsequent collapse of new parties. Partisan loyalty has been increasingly thin, with an increasing number of politicians who have switched parties. The parties themselves have switched alliances repeatedly in the past years, making coalitions tenuous and governments increasingly unstable. Romania suffers from a toxic conflation of political and business elites, and the media – when it is not owned outright by politicians – is intensely partisan.

The Romanian Revolution in 1989, which overthrew Nicolae Ceaușescu’s brutal and ‘Sultanistic’ communist regime, is increasingly seen as an ‘internal coup’ in which second-tier Communist apparatchiks, such as President Ion Iliescu (1990-1996, 2000-2004), quickly moved in and seized power for themselves, replacing Ceaușescu’s personal clique with a new elite. This new elite proved to be corrupt, unwilling to engage in deep reform and autocratic – in power, it was predominantly concerned with shoring up its own power and settling scores with political opponents and the opposition parties. Since then, Romanian politicians and governments have often been more interested by personal vendettas against their opponents than dealing with issues such as corruption and economic reform. The National Salvation Front (FSN), the provisional government which replaced Ceaușescu and which was largely staffed by formerly sidelined Communist apparatchiks (like Iliescu) or second-tier regime and the ubiquitous secret police (Securitate), did not hold together for long and various factions alongside warring political bosses soon went their own ways. Iliescu’s faction, more allergic to reforms, eventually became the Social Democratic Party (PSD), a rather powerful collection of former communist officials, Securitate assets and corrupt local political barons. Although Iliescu’s administrations were largely marred by corruption and sluggish reforms, the PSD has become more reformist under recent leaders – critics would contend that the reforms were deceitful, aimed at tricking the EU into accepting Romania and putting up an outward appearance of change while a corrupt and autocratic elite blocked real change. The slightly more reformist and liberal faction of the FSN founded the Democratic Party (PD) in 1993, which merged with dissidents from the National Liberal Party (PNL) to become the Democratic Liberal Party (PDL).

In 2004, Traian Băsescu, a former ship captain and PD mayor of Bucharest, was narrowly elected President in alliance with the PNL, a centre-right liberal party (based on the powerful interwar party) supportive of economic reforms and neoliberal policies (such as the flat tax). Under the agreement, the PNL’s Călin Popescu-Tăriceanu became Prime Minister in coalition with the PD, the Hungarian minority party (the UDMR) and the small ‘Humanist Party’ (now the Conservative Party, PC). Băsescu, a right-leaning populist known for his hot temper and abrasive bully personality, was elected on an anti-corruption, anti-elitist and anti-communist platform. He has often lashed out at his political opponents and media critics in foul-mouthed tirades, or making offensive statements. His political opponents have repeatedly accused him of breaking or bending the constitution, and – like his predecessors – has often used his office to settle scores or wage war on his opponents. Băsescu utterly failed to live up to his promises – going after corruption in Romania is often a one-sided affair, mostly motivated by partisan ends, and Băsescu’s opponents claim that he has only used the presidency to replace an old guard with his cronies.

Given his hot temper, it is no surprise that relations between Băsescu and his first Prime Minister quickly broke down beginning in 2005-6 and culminated with Popescu-Tăriceanu dismissing all PDL ministers from his cabinet in April 2007, forming a minority government with the UDMR and PC which received support from the opposition PSD. Under the Romanian constitution, the President appoints but may not dismiss the Prime Minister, much to Băsescu’s chagrin. His opponents in Parliament voted to impeach him on fairly flimsy grounds in April 2007, but Băsescu survived the impeachment referendum in May 2007 – turnout was under 50% and thus invalid anyhow, and those who did vote opposed his impeachment with three-quarters against. In 2008, the PDL and PSD emerged from legislative elections as the two largest parties, with the PNL trailing in third. Băsescu successfully blocked the formation of an opposition PSD-PNL cabinet, and instead appointed a PDL-PSD coalition led by Emil Boc, the PDL mayor of Cluj-Napoca. However, relations between the two warring partners worsened with the very heated 2009 presidential election (in October 2009, the PSD joined the opposition parties in voting a no-confidence motion in Boc’s government), in which Băsescu faced a very difficult challenge from the PSD’s Mircea Geoană in the second round. The PNL’s first round candidate, Crin Antonescu, endorsed Geoană in the runoff. Băsescu was reelected in an extremely narrow election, with 50.33% of the vote and a 70,000 vote majority; the PSD cried wolf, but the Constitutional Court dismissed the PSD’s claims of vote rigging. Băsescu was returned to office, but the election had pushed the PSD and PNL even further away from him, creating a highly-charged and polarized political climate.

Băsescu’s Prime Minister, Emil Boc, now governing with the UDMR and opportunistic pro-Băsescu PSD-PNL dissidents, also needed to deal with a poor economy (-6.6% recession in 2009, -1.1% recession in 2010) and a large budget deficit (9% in 2009, 6.8% in 2010, 5.5% in 2011). The government received a €20.6 billion loan in 2009 from the IMF, in exchange for stringent austerity policies. Public sector wages were cut, spending was cut, the VAT was increased and social benefits were cut. These austerity policies brought a strong reaction from Romanians, who were tired of low wages and tax increases while politicians continued to line their pockets. They took to the streets in early 2012, initially to protest a health reform which would have cut benefits and privatized a good deal of the healthcare sector, but the protests later became a broad anti-government movement. They successfully obtained the resignation of Emil Boc in February 2012, who was replaced by Mihai Răzvan Ungureanu, a former boss of the foreign intelligence services, who tried to form a coalition based around the same parties. In late April 2012, however, Ungureanu’s cabinet was toppled by a no-confidence motion supported by the opposition – the PSD, PNL and PC had formed an electoral coalition, the Social Liberal Union (USL) in February 2011.

Băsescu was forced to appoint Victor Ponta, his sworn enemy and leader of the PSD, as Prime Minister at the helm of a clearly anti-Băsescu USL cabinet. The new cohabitation between the two enemies of Romanian politics unleashed a major constitutional crisis, where both sides acted like elementary school kids in a schoolyard brawl. Victor Ponta was accused of plagiarizing his doctoral thesis – over 80 pages of his thesis were plagiarized, lifting entire pages and arguments from other authors. Ponta – who dismissed the commission in charge of academic integrity and refused to resign – claimed that Băsescu’s allies had leaked the plagiarism scandal to the press to sully him, and reacted by leaking details of corruption allegations surrounding Băsescu. Matters got even worse when, at around the same time, Ponta’s doctoral thesis advisor and political mentor, former PSD Prime Minister Adrian Năstase (2000-2004, defeated by Băsescu in 2004), was found guilty of corruption and sentenced to two years in jail (and tried to commit suicide when the police came to escort him to jail).

In June 2012, the Constitutional Court ruled against Ponta in a dispute between him and Băsescu over who from Ponta and Băsescu should have represented the country at a European summit. In reaction to this judicial rebuke, Ponta went all-out against the judicial system, claiming that the courts were stacked with Băsescu loyalists. The government threatened to fire Constitutional Court judges, fired and replaced the ombudsman with a party loyalist, seized control of the official journal, replaced the heads of both chambers of Parliament and tried to remove the Constitutional Court’s ability to rule on parliamentary matters. Ponta’s attack on judicial independence and his autocratic behaviour were badly received by the EC and EU leaders, and many began painting Ponta as Romania’s own Viktor Orbán. The EC issued a stark warning to the Romanian government in early July, and Angela Merkel minced no words in condemning Ponta’s actions. The EC has debated which sanctions, if any, should be adopted against Romania. A freeze in EU transfers was seriously considered, but the crisis derailed or at least significantly delayed Romanian attempts to join the Schengen area. Unlike Orbán however, Ponta has not been defiant of  European institutions and moved to soothe fears that he was staging something akin to a coup d’état. Ponta claimed that there had been misunderstandings, and reassured that he would withdraw his controversial laws if they were to cause any trouble for Romania in the EU. The PSD’s allies in the S&D group in the EP lined up to defend Ponta, criticizing the EPP and the European centre-right governments of being biased against Ponta and unfairly attacking him, while pointing out that the EPP was far less vocal in attacking Orbán’s actions in Hungary (likely because Orbán’s Fidesz is a member of the EPP).

In July 2012, the Parliament voted to impeach the President, accusing him of usurping the Prime Minister’s powers, using the secret services against political enemies, refusing to appoint cabinet ministers, trying to influence prosecutors in criminal cases and engaging in illegal phone tapping. Băsescu has flatly denied these allegations, and regardless of their veracity, the case for his impeachment is constitutionally flimsy and is definitely politically motivated. Given that the impeachment of the President requires both support from a majority of those who voted and turnout over 50%, the government unsuccessfully tried to remove the turnout requirement to guarantee their chances of success. He was forced to reinstate the turnout requirement after domestic and European criticism. Băsescu, denouncing a constitutional coup d’état and a grave threat to democracy, called on his supporters to boycott the referendum (with the hope that less than 50% of voters would turn out and invalidate whatever the verdict was); but the referendum was a much more heated battle than the 2007 one, because Băsescu was now very unpopular – in June 2012, Băsescu’s PDL won only 15% against 50% for the USL in local elections. In the end, however, Ponta and the USL lost their gamble. Even if those who turned out overwhelmingly approved the turnout fell short of the 50% threshold required for the referendum to be valid (it was 46.5%). Ponta argued that the court should validate the result anyway, but ultimately – as expected – the courts invalidated the results before turnout was below 50%. The no-win outcome of the vote extended the political battle between Ponta and Băsescu to the December 2012 legislative elections.

Even if Ponta learned his lessons and shied away (somewhat) from overly controversial measures, his government rammed through a media bill which makes changes to the national council which regulates the mass media (considered as right-leaning); the bill seems destined at shoring up the business interests of one of the USL’s most prominent backers: Dan Voiculescu (the founder of the small ‘Conservative Party’), a former Securitate informer and a media mogul behind a large media conglomerate which owns several TV channels and print media. The PC is weak on its own, but remains a powerful and useful ally for the major parties, and it has tended to ally itself with the PSD more often than not and there’s very little sign of genuine right-wing politics or conservatism from them. The USL ran a populist campaign for the legislative elections, pledging to roll back austerity, increase the minimum wage and lower taxes (such as the VAT); the PNL’s leader, Crin Antonescu, alleged that Băsescu’s right-wing allies in the EU (Merkel) were discussing plans to ‘federalize’ Romania and warned that the country would not be the ‘servants’ of EU institutions – this rhetoric shows how little value we can attach to ideology in Romania, given that the PNL was often identified as the most pro-EU party (and the most economically liberal). The discredited and unpopular centre-right, led by the PDL, disingenuously presented themselves as defenders of Romanian democracy against a corrupt and authoritarian government.

It didn’t work, as the USL won about 60% of the vote against 16% for the PDL and its small allies, winning a two-thirds majority in both houses. The other winner of the election was the People’s Party – Dan Diaconescu (PP-DD), a new populist party founded by Dan Diaconescu, the owner of the OTV TV channel and the host of his own popular talk-show on OTV, a sensationalist and very populist ‘infotainment’ show. He had begun going after Băsescu in 2010, and grandly proclaimed himself (and OTV) to be the messiah and only opponent of Băsescu’s dictatorial-like regime. His going into politics was partly an attempt to escape sanctions for repeated violations of broadcasting rules and tax evasion. His party promised giving €20,000 to Romanians who start a business, raising all salaries and pensions and cutting salaries for MPs and top officials. The PP-DD won about 14% of the vote, electing 47 deputies and 21 senators, but Diaconescu himself was defeated – losing against Ponta in the Prime Minister’s district. Predictably, he lost interest quickly thereafter and Diaconescu’s OTV was shut down by the National Audiovisual Council in January 2013 after it was showed that OTV had not paid over 1 million lei in fines. Diaconescu was sentenced to three years in prison in December 2013 on the charge of blackmailing a mayor, and OTV has linked up with România TV, a channel owned by a PSD deputy.

Although the knives remained drawn between Băsescu and Ponta in the aftermath of the elections, with thinly-veiled threats from Băsescu that he would not appoint Ponta as Prime Minister and comments from Ponta warning that Băsescu’s time was over, both politicians ultimately agreed to settle down – guaranteeing institutional cooperation and a commitment to respect the constitution. Băsescu’s term is ending later this year, and he has seemingly shifted his attention to his own political future post-presidency and to infighting within the PDL. Ponta has not turned out to be a Viktor Orbán, although his autocratic penchants and corrupt political alliance is cause for concern. Nevertheless, the EU has been happier with Romania’s behaviour – in a recent report (by the EC Mechanism for Cooperation and Verification in Bulgaria and Romania), the EU praised the pace of judicial reform in Romania although it still listed concerns about judicial independence and anti-corruption measures.

Economically, Ponta’s government has largely continued the austerity policies and economic liberalization of his predecessors – Romania negotiated a second €6 billion loan from the IMF in 2011 and a third one worth €6.5 billion in 2013. However, the economy is now doing better – the deficit is now under the 3% limit, the economy grew by 3.5% in 2013 (and should grow by about 2.5% in 2014) and unemployment is low-ish at around 7%. In 2013, The Economist ran a piece titled ‘Romania is booming’, to allay Western European (especially British) fears of ‘massive’ Romanian and Bulgarian immigration as freedom of movement for workers came into effect for both countries in 2014. That being said, there remains significant political dissatisfaction in Romania, which has seen several major protests since 2013 from postal workers, railway employees, doctors, teachers, electricity employees, Jiu Valley miners, transport employees and students – mostly because of low wages, job insecurity, fears of mass layoffs, taxes, corruption, the IMF presence and a controversial new penal code (which would immunize politicians from corruption charges by removing their status as ‘public officials’). Although a few protests were partisan, a lot where both anti-Ponta and anti-Băsescu.

There have also been major protests around environmental issues – since September 2013, there have been large protests against an open-pit gold mining project in Roșia Montană (a concession was granted to the local subsidiary of a Canadian mining company) which managed to convince Parliament to reject the mining deal; since 2012, there have been many local protests against shale gas projects by Chevron. In both cases, protesters are angry with Ponta because he changed his mind, from initially opposing them while in opposition to supporting them while in government. In the shale gas protests, there have been accusations of police brutality against protesters.

Meanwhile, politicians shifted their attention to the presidential election in November 2014. Under the original USL agreement, Crin Antonescu was set to be the USL’s candidate for President in 2014. Once in power – and with the goal of removing Băsescu more or less done, however, the USL alliance began to show cracks in the form of tensions between the PSD and PNL, its two largest members. The USL was a ragtag alliance of diverse parties united by little more than shared opposition to Băsescu – for example, the USL included Gigi Becali, the owner of the Steaua Bucureşti football club and ultra-nationalist avowed admirer of the pre-war fascist Iron Guard movement. The PNL claimed that Ponta was trying to isolate and sideline the party, and tensions over the eventual presidential candidate increased. In February 2014, the PNL withdrew from the government and joined the opposition. Ponta formed a new government with the PSD, PC, the Hungarian UDMR and the National Union for the Progress of Romania (UNPR, founded by opportunistic PSD-PNL dissidents in 2010 who supported Băsescu but who fled back to the PSD as soon as Băsescu became a liability – I suppose it still exists because a party registration is quite lucrative and they’re intent on milking the cow for as long as possible). Thanks to defections from the PP-DD (which has retained only 15 of its 47 deputies) and other parties, the PSD-UNPR group in the Chamber of Deputies has 184 members – up from 159 after the elections.

Băsescu lost control of the PDL, which had behaved more or less as Băsescu’s party since 2004 – even though the President is not constitutionally able to join any party and must be politically neutral. In early 2013, Elena Udrea, a former minister of regional development and close confidante of the President, was defeated in a PDL leadership election by Vasile Blaga, a former president of the Senate who wished to follow a more independent line. After her defeat, Băsescu announced that he was cutting off ties with the PDL and he formed his own party, the People’s Movement Party (PMP). The right-leaning PMP has little ideology besides supporting Băsescu. The PMP’s ranks include other Băsescu loyalists including former foreign minister Teodor Baconschi, PSD/UNPR defector and former foreign minister Cristian Diaconescu and Băsescu’s daughter, outgoing MEP Elena Băsescu. Elena Băsescu was elected to the EP as an independent candidate (backed by her father and parts of the PDL, after she was denied the PDL nomination) in 2009; prior to her election, she had been a top model and ‘showgirl’ (compared to Paris Hilton) who was ridiculed for her bad grammar and incompetence. She joined the PDL upon her election, but has since joined her father’s party. Traian Băsescu attracted controversy with pictures of him wearing a t-shirt calling to vote for the PMP, something which is likely unconstitutional because the President, constitutionally, is a politically neutral mediator between state and society who may not join any party. Ponta indeed referred the issue to the courts, with an annoyed Băsescu responding by denying that he had broken the constitution because he was free to wear what he wanted and that he’d vote for the PMP because ‘voting is not illegal’. The court found in favour of the President.

The EP elections set the stage for the presidential elections, which will see higher turnout and more interest from voters. Prime Minister Victor Ponta’s PSD-PC-UNPR alliance won the EP elections by a wide margin, taking 37.6% against only 15% for their closest rival, the PNL. The PNL’s poor result – only 15% of the vote, unchanged on its 2009 result – prompted PNL president (and presidential candidate) Crin Antonescu to resign. The party’s new leader and presidential nominee is now Klaus Iohannis, the German mayor of Sibiu and former member of the Democratic Forum of Germans in Romania (FDGR); Iohannis has been mayor of Sibiu since 2000, even if the German minority in the town is now tiny, and has been reelected by huge margins in successive elections (most recently 77.9% in 2012). Victor Ponta has confirmed that he will be the PSD’s candidate in the presidential election, likely entering the race as the favourite.

On the right, the PDL was crushed – its result was done 17.5% in its 2009 performance, and it lost half of its MEPs. It lost support to President Băsescu’s PMP, which won 6.2% and elected 2 MEPs. The PDL’s defeat and the PNL’s mediocre result has ushered in a major realignment of the Romanian right – the PNL and PDL have announced that they will merge into one party, and the centre-right Civic Force (FC) party led by former apolitical Prime Minister Mihai Răzvan Ungureanu may join the new party as well. It will need to face the competition of Băsescu’s allies in the PMP, who will be supporting his former foreign minister Cristian Diaconescu in the November 2014 elections, although he is unlikely to be a top contender. Shortly after the EP elections, the PNL announced that its MEPs would be leaving the ALDE group to join the EPP group, on the grounds that they didn’t want a ‘socialist president’ of the EC (although I’m really not sure how being the EPP rather than ALDE would have made that less likely).

For the third successive time, Romanians elected one independent MEP – this year, it was Mircea Diaconu, a former actor and culture minister associated with the PNL. His candidacy was originally rejected by the electoral authorities, but reinstated by an appeals court. He ran as an independent politicians persecuted by a bureaucracy which wanted to keep him from office, and his independent candidacy allegedly received underhanded support from Ponta and the Intact Media Group of Dan Voiculescu, the PC founder. Diaconu placed second in Bucharest with 16% of the vote (the PMP also placed ahead of the PDL and PNL there), and the PNL has accused him of eating into their electorate. He has joined the ALDE group and has said that he will be an honest representative of Romanians in the EP, ‘speaking the truth’ about a country which is often depicted as backwards or dirt poor by the Western media.

The Democratic Union of Hungarians in Romania (UDMR), the centre-right party representing the Hungarian minority in Romania (6.5%), lost one seat and saw its vote share fall by about 2.6% from the 2009 election. The UDMR lost votes from the last EP election, although it may have suffered from turnout changes – in 2009, turnout in the heavily Hungarian counties of Covasna and Harghita in the Székely Land was significantly above national average. The UDMR is a crucial party in coalition politics, having governed with both the PSD and the centre-right parties (PDL) in the past; the party lobbies for Hungarian minority rights, most notably for regional autonomy for the Székely Land in eastern Transylvania (the largest concentration of ethnic Hungarians in Romania) – a contentious issue debated since 1990, but which has ended nowhere each time. The UDMR’s ethnic-nationalist campaign spoke of the need for Magyar MEPs to represent Hungarians’ interest, or else their place would be taken by Romanian MEPs.

Populist parties did poorly. Dan Diaconescu’s PP-DD has collapsed, winning only 3.7% of the vote. The far-right Greater Romania Party (PRM) led by the theatrical Corneliu Vadim Tudor, collapsed – winning only 2.7% and losing its three MEPs. Tudor’s PRM offers a weird mix of nostalgia for Ceaușescu’s national communism (Tudor began his career as a ‘court poet’ for Ceaușescu, writing sycophantic poetry praising the greatness of Ceaușescu), wartime pro-Nazi dictator Ion Antonescu, irredentism (regaining the formerly Romanian territories in Bessarabia and Bukovina which are now in Moldova and Ukraine) and – historically – crude anti-Semitism. The PRM’s heyday was in the late 1990s, culminating in the 2000 presidential election in which Tudor placed second in the first round and went on to the runoff against Iliescu, drawing obvious comparisons with the 2002 election in France and Jean-Marie Le Pen. It only won seats in the 2009 EP election due to low turnout; the PRM’s support has now collapsed entirely.

On a final note, inspired by the above write-up on Poland, I note that there’s an obvious historical map hiding in the electoral map in Romania (and this is nothing new) – the ‘old kingdom’ of Romania (minus Dobruja), which was Romanian prior to 1918, is the PSD’s base; while Transylvania, the Banat and so forth – which have been Romanian since 1918 – support the right (outside the Magyar regions). In this case, I have little explanation (and would be quite curious to hear anyone’s views).

Slovakia

Turnout: 13.05% (-7.59%)
MEPs: 13 (nc)
Electoral system: Semi open-list PR – preferential votes for one candidate, 5% threshold – candidates receiving at least 10% of their party’s votes are elected (national constituency)

Smer-SD (S&D) 24.09% (-7.92%) winning 4 seats (-1)
KDH (EPP) 13.21% (+2.34%) winning 2 seats (nc)
SDKÚ-DS (EPP) 7.75% (-9.24%) winning 2 seats (nc)
OĽaNO (ECR) 7.46% (+7.46%) winning 1 seat (+1)
NOVA-KDS-OKS (ECR) 6.83% (+4.73%) winning 1 seat (+1)
SaS (ALDE) 6.66% (+1.95%) winning 1 seat (+1)
SMK-MKP (EPP) 6.53% (-4.8%) winning 1 seat (-1)
Most-Híd (EPP) 5.83% (+5.83%) winning 1 seat (+1)
Strana TIP 3.69% (+3.69%) winning 0 seats (nc)
SNS (EFD) 3.61% (-1.94%) winning 0 seats (-1)
ĽSNS 1.73% (+1.73%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Others 12.45% (-3.93%) winning 0 seats (-1)

Slovakia 2014 - EP

Slovakia’s EP elections will largely be remembered for their extremely low turnout. In 2004 and 2009, Slovakia had already set the EU records for the lowest turnout in EP elections – 17% in 2004 and 19.6% in 2009 – and it did so again this year, with only 13.1% of voters (or barely 575,000 people out of a registered electorate of 4.4 million!) turning out, the lowest turnout in the EU in 2014 and the lowest turnout in any EP election ever. As in other Eastern European countries and new EU member-states, the stakes of the election and the purpose of the EP both seem extremely distant and unclear to Slovak voters; worsened this year the timing of the election – on May 24, it came right after high-stakes presidential elections on March 15 and 29 (the runoff attracted about half of registered voters), and it is likely that voters were tired of voting. Furthermore, because the presidential election and its results dominated the media’s focus, no attention was given to an extremely low-key EP campaign. As such, the above results of the EP election should – even more than the other results – be treated with caution.

One man has been at the centre of Slovak politics since 2006 – Robert Fico, the incumbent Prime Minister (2006-2010, 2012-) and leader of the ruling Smer-SD (Direction-Social Democracy) party. Fico had emerged as a forceful opponent of the second centre-right coalition government of Prime Minister Mikuláš Dzurinda (1998-2006). Dzurinda’s bold and ambitious liberal ‘pro-market’ reforms (a 19% flat tax in 1994, healthcare, pensions and labour reform, privatizations) and strongly pro-European outlook (the government guided Slovakia’s entrance into the OECD, the EU and NATO) were lauded in Brussels and Washington, they were criticized by Fico’s left-wing populist party for being overly one-sided (in favour of the wealthy elite and business community) and unfair. Fico is, at the end of the day, a pragmatist and skilled political tactician, but he may rub a lot of people the wrong way by virtue of being rather mouthy, caustic and autocratic. His party won the 2006 elections, becoming the largest party, but he lacked a majority. He formed a highly controversial coalition with Ján Slota’s far-right Slovak National Party (SNS) and former Prime Minister Vladimír Mečiar’s People’s Party-Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (ĽS-HZDS). Ján Slota’s party, which won a record-high result of 11.6% in 2006, is highly controversial because of its (now ex-) leader’s comments on topics such as the Hungarian minority in Slovakia/Hungary (‘a cancer on the Slovak nation’ or a ‘ugly Mongoloid people’, and he once drunkenly threatened to lead tanks to flatten Budapest), the Roma people (the best strategy for them was a ‘long whip in a small yard’) and the wartime Nazi client regime of Jozef Tiso (one of the most enthusiastic collaborators with the Nazi’s ‘Final Solution’ during the Holocaust, who was proclaimed by Slota as being one of Slovakia’s greatest sons); Slota also attracted controversy for priding himself on beating up a Hungarian or how he owned an expensive Bentley. Vladimír Mečiar’s HZDS, the largest party in Parliament between 1992 and 2006, ruled Slovakia for the vast majority of its early history as an independent state between 1992 and 1998. His mildly nationalist, authoritarian, corrupt and ‘crony capitalist’ administration made Slovakia a ‘pariah state’ in Europe and delayed the country’s European integration by several years. Mečiar lost control of government in 1998, when he was replaced by a pro-European and liberal coalition led by Dzurinda and in 1999, he lost a presidential runoff election. After his defeat, Mečiar tried to make his party more palatable – it tried to join all mainstream European political groups, finally settling down with the small liberal European Democratic Party and ALDE – but the HZDS’ downwards trend accelerated and tumbled from first to fifth in 2006.

Robert Fico’s alliance with the far-right earned him widespread condemnation, and Smer was suspended from the PES between 2006 and 2008. His first government had poor relations with the local media (there exists a mutual hatred between Fico and the Slovak media, and his government passed a new media law which was widely seen as curtailing the freedom of the press) and Hungary (because of Slota’s anti-Hungarian and disputes over issues such as Slovak language legislation), but Fico remained very popular at home – he reversed some of Dzurinda’s unpopular neoliberal policies and increased social spending, although he largely kept his predecessor’s pro-European and liberal outlook. Nevertheless, Fico polarized the political culture around him. The fragmented centre-right opposition accused him of being a populist autocrat, and claimed that Fico’s economic policies – which created a large deficit (8% in 2009 and 7.5% in 2010) and increased the public debt (41% of GDP in 2010) were unsustainable and reckless. In the 2010 elections, Smer increased its support to 35% and 62 (out of 150) seats, but the SNS lost 11 seats and Mečiar’s HZDS lost all seats. As a result, the divided centre-right opposition cobbled together a shaky four-party coalition led by Iveta Radičová including Radičová (and Dzurinda’s) mainstream liberal centre-right Slovak Democratic and Christian Union-Democratic Party (SDKÚ-DS), economist Richard Sulík’s new libertarian Freedom and Solidarity (SaS), the more clerical and conservative Christian Democratic Movement (KDH) and the new liberal Hungarian minority party Most-Híd (which replaced the older and more ethno-nationalist Party of the Hungarian Coalition, or SMK-MKP). The Radičová cabinet, fractious and torn by ideological differences between its members (notably between the pro-EU SDKÚ-DS and the more Eurosceptic SaS), followed a cautious (but austere) path and did not privatize or deregulate the economy as Fico warned that they would. Smer faulted the governing coalition for high unemployment (14%) and the rising cost of living.

The unstable government fell in October 2011, when SaS voted against the European Financial Stability Fund (EFSF) – a matter which Radičová tied to a vote of confidence – arguing that Slovakia, as one of the poorest Eurozone members, did not have the means to bailout richer countries. Smer strategically let the EFSF fail, in a bid to force the government to call snap elections – which it did – and then vote in favour of the EFSF in a later vote – which it did. Fico sailed smoothly through the 2012 campaign, as the voice of government stability and the defender of Slovaks’ way of living and a strong welfare state. The campaign was turned upside down by the Gorilla scandal – the revelation, based on hidden secret service wiretaps from 2005-6 alleging that elected officials received millions of euros in bribes from foreign multinationals and Slovak tycoons (notably the leading investment fund Penta, dubbed the ‘fifth partner’ of Mikuláš Dzurinda’s centre-right coalition from 2002 to 2006) to win public procurement contracts and privatization deals. Ministers, foreign investors, politicians and the four parties in Dzurinda’s old coalition (including the SDKÚ-DS and KDH) were all cited – as was Fico’s Smer, which allegedly met with members from Penta (but Fico claimed to have cut all ties with Penta since, and Fico is mostly known for acrimonious relations with big business). The Gorilla scandal ruined the centre-right, particularly the SDKÚ-DS. To make matters worse, Radičová – respected for her reformist, clean and anti-corruption image – retired and SDKÚ-DS’ leadership was reclaimed by Dzurinda, who by now was a corrupt old ‘gorilla’ of Slovak politics compromised by the scandal. The libertarian SaS tried to go on an anti-corruption crusade with this, but that blew up in their face when it turned out that SaS had the file back in 2010 and that, meanwhile, SaS’ defense minister order the wiretapping of a journalist and that Richard Sulík failed to inform police that one of his MPs had been offered a bribe to vote in favour of the prosecutor general’s renomination (the ‘Sea-flower scandal’).

Smer, mostly untainted by Gorilla and the voice of stability, won 44.4% of the vote and an absolute majority by itself, an historic feat. The SDKÚ-DS, traditionally the strongest party of the divided centre-right, collapsed from 15% to 6.1% and lost 17 seats, placing fifth. The KDH, which won 8.8%, placed a very distant second while third place was taken by Ordinary People (OĽaNO), a new conservative populist party which had been aligned with SaS in 2010. SaS won sixth place, falling from 22 to 11 seats. Most-Híd lost only one seat. The SNS lost its last 9 seats, while the SMK-MKP and ĽS-HZDS remained out of Parliament (the latter won 0.9%!) – ĽS-HZDS finally dissolved itself in 2014.

Robert Fico came into office for a second term with a much stronger governing majority (without any troubling or crazy coalition partners) and on a fairly pragmatic platform. It signaled its commitment to respecting the EU’s 3% limit for deficits (requiring savings of €1.85 billion), but Fico has slammed EU-wide austerity measures for being unable to support growth and job creation. Instead, the government chose to reduce the deficit by effectively abolishing Slovakia’s flat tax, introduced by the right in 2004, by increasing corporate taxes to 25% and creating a second income tax bracket of 25% for high income. It declined to raise the VAT by 1% as it originally proposed. According to EC data, Slovakia’s deficit was successfully reduced to 2.8% of GDP in 2013. Slovakia’s economic performance has been lackluster, because of low European demand for its exports. Growth slowed from 3% in 2011 to 1.8% in 2012 and 0.9% in 2013, unemployment has remained high at 14% (and youth unemployment is very high, at over 30%). On the whole, Fico has remained pragmatic and slightly less controversial than in his first term, but his nationalist penchants and pro-Russian sympathies irk a lot of his critics. In 2013, Fico said that Slovakia had been “established for Slovaks, not for minorities” (he later insisted his words were misinterpreted); his opponents claimed he was turning to minorities as an easy scapegoat to distract attention from the crisis and unemployment. He has also been criticized by the Roma and LGBT communities – he sarcastically dismissed opponents to his proposal for boarding schools for Roma children as ‘human rights angels’ and a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage was passed in June 2014 with the KDH’s support. Relations with Hungary have remained frosty, largely because Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s nationalism alienates many Slovaks, who often feel threatened by the large Hungarian minority in Slovakia (about 9% of the population, concentrated in the south along the Hungarian border) – in 1938, Nazi Germany had allowed Hungary to annex southern Slovakia (and, in 1939, Carpathian Ruthenia, which was then part of Czechoslovakia) – and are irked whenever Budapest makes noises about the Hungarian diaspora. In 2010, when Orbán passed a new citizenship law making it easier for ethnic Hungarians abroad to gain the Hungarian citizenship, Smer retaliated by amending Slovakia’s citizenship law to strip any Slovak citizenship of their citizenship if they acquired another citizenship.

Fico is a very polarizing figure, who is simultaneously the most popular and least popular politician in Slovakia. Fico recently ran for the largely ceremonial office of President in the March 2014 presidential election – a risky bet likely motivated by his wish to retain power for five more years (as Prime Minister, he may lose reelection in 2016) and ‘presidentialize’ Slovak politics like President Miloš Zeman has done in the Czech Republic since 2013. He was supported by outgoing term-limited President Ivan Gašparovič, and his own ruling Smer party. Fico’s potential victory concerned many Slovaks, in part because control of the presidency would give Smer near-total control of the country – the executive, legislative, regional government (it holds 6 out 8 regional governorships) and the courts; in turn, Fico pledged to be a President who would unite Slovaks, and cited Austria’s popular and consensual President Heinz Fischer as his model. In the first round, Fico performed poorly with only 28% (although he placed first) and was thrown in a difficult runoff against Andrej Kiska, an independent businessman-turned-philanthropist (he founded two companies in the 1990s which provided high-interest loans by allowing consumers to buy appliances in installments, and later sold these firms to found a charity providing help to families with children suffering from long-term illnesses and parents who have serious diseases) who won 24%. Radoslav Procházka, a conservative KDH dissident standing as an independent on a socially conservative platform, won 21.2%; Milan Kňažko, a former centre-right cabinet minister standing as an independent, won 12.9%; Hungarian SMK-MKP candidate Gyula Bárdos took 5.1% while Pavol Hrušovský, the official candidate backed by the KDH, SDKÚ-DS and Most-Híd won only 3.3%. The vote indicated uneasiness about Fico and the prospect of ‘presidentialized’ politics, but also the continued fragmentation of the right and the little trust in partisan politicians – Kiska emphasized his political and financial independence, and attacked corruption and a public sphere characterized by ‘selfishness, nepotism, political affiliation, strong elbows and cynicism’. The second round saw a bizarre attempt by Fico to tie Kiska to the Church of Scientology, apparently because one of Kiska’s old firms was called ‘Trinangel’ and the sign of the Scientology is a triangle(!). Kiska was endorsed by most defeated candidates, and the March 29 runoff was very much a referendum on Fico (Fico said so himself) – and he lost it badly, ending up with only 40.6% against 59.4% for his rival. It was the first major electoral defeat for Fico and really shook the ruling party – his defeat drew comparisons to Vladimír Mečiar’s defeat in the 1999 presidential runoff against a liberal independent candidate. Kiska, despite (or because?) being a political novice, appealed because of his independence and rhetoric of being a President who would unite Slovaks and provide a healthy counter-power to Fico.

The EP election had little at stake, the parties (and voters) were tired and there were no great debates or nasty brawls. The vote was won by Fico’s ruling Smer-SD, but with only 24.1% and the loss of one MEP from 2009, it was a very underwhelming result which is likely due to low turnout/differential turnout (turnout was slightly higher, at 18.6%, in Bratislava, a right-wing stronghold) and demobilization of the party’s base after the blow suffered in March 2014. The other seats were won by old and new parties from the right. The opposition KDH, the main opposition party since 2012, increased its support from the 2009 election by about 2%, while the SDKÚ-DS – still suffering from Gorilla and the big defeat in 2012 – saw its support fall by 9.2% from the 2009 election (but still held its 2 MEPs). One seat was taken by a new-ish centre-right alliance of three parties: The New Majority (NOVA), the Conservative Democrats (KDS) and the Civic Conservative Party (OKS). NOVA was founded in late 2012 by KDH (Daniel Lipšic) and SaS dissidents, and it has a reformist and liberal attitude (supporting direct democracy, FPTP, direct election of judges, e-government, reducing bureaucracy and cutting taxes) and is mildly anti-federalist. The KDS was founded in 2008 by another batch of KDH dissidents, while the OKS was founded in 2001 on a Eurosceptic platform similar to that of the British Tories or Czech ODS; both of these parties are weak, although the OKS held four MPs between 2010 and 2014 thanks to an alliance with Most-Híd. The NOVA-led list won 6.8%, and its MEP joined the ECR group

SaS, which had fallen just below the threshold with 4.7% in 2009, won its first MEP – party leader Richard Sulík – with 6.7% of the vote. The libertarian party is liberal on social and economic issues – supporting fiscal orthodoxy, small government, low taxes, liberalization, the flat tax but also same-sex marriage and cannabis decriminalization (unlike almost all Slovak parties) – and mildly Eurosceptic, having opposed the Greek bailout, the EFSF and Lisbon, although the party no longer wishes to withdraw from the Euro (which Slovakia adopted in 2009). Despite its Eurosceptic stances which might have made it a better fit for the ECR, Sulík ended up joining the pro-European ALDE. The Ordinary People (OĽaNO), a populist and anti-corruption right-wing party which was allied with SaS in 2010 and become Slovakia’s third largest party in 2012, won a single seat with 7.5% of the vote.

On the Hungarian side, Most-Híd, which was founded in 2009 by former SMK-MKP leader Béla Bugár – who claimed that his former party had become too ethno-nationalist, and instead emphasized inter-ethnic cooperation, won one MEP and 5.8% of the vote. However, the SMK-MKP still showed some signs of vitality, holding on to 6.5% and 1 MEP, which may suggest (as other polls have shown) that the old Hungarian minority party may return to Parliament in the next election. Together, both parties won more than the SMK-MKP had in 2009 – unsurprisingly, because Most-Híd has some Slovak support and members.

The far-right SNS, which gained one seat in the EP in 2009, lost it this year, falling to only 3.6% of the vote. Also notable was the failure of the neo-Nazi/neo-fascist People’s Party Our Slovakia (ĽSNS), a party which received international attention in late 2013 when leading party member Marian Kotleba was elected governor of Banská Bystrica Region with 55% of the vote (but 25% turnout). Kotleba referred to the Roma (‘gypsies’) as ‘parasites’ and, in the past, he had loudly praised Jozef Tiso’s Nazi client state during World War II and finishing his speeches with the salute of the Hlinka Guard, the paramilitary wing of the ruling party of the Slovak State. This likely confirms that his election was a one-off fluke.

Although turnout was very low and this ‘election’ is no more reliable than an opinion poll – it confirms that Smer is weakened, suffering from the blow of Fico’s defeat in the presidential race, but remains the strongest party. It will likely lose its absolute majority in the next election, meaning that it would again have a tough time finding coalition partners, but at the same time, the right is a mess. On these result, no less than seven right-wing parties would make it into Parliament, two more than in 2012. In addition, presidential candidate and KDH dissident Radoslav Procházka has founded his own party, SIEŤ (Network) on yet another right-wing, economically liberal platform. In polls so far, SIEŤ would win about 10-15% and place second, while Smer would be reduced to only a third or so of the vote. All right-wing parties could conceivably form a government, although it would be a fractious mess, or Smer may be able to form a coalition with a Hungarian party or the KDH (the two parties have cooperated in the past and formed alliances in some regions in the 2013 regional elections).

Next: Slovenia’s EP and legislative elections (May 25-July 13), Spain and Sweden’s EP elections

EU 2014: Latvia to the Netherlands

ep2014

The next installment in our overview of the May 2014 EP elections in the European Union takes us to several small member-states but also the Netherlands.

Note to readers: I am aware of the terrible backlog, but covering the EP elections in 28 countries in detail takes a very long time. I will most likely cover, with significant delay, the results of recent/upcoming elections in Colombia (May 25-June 15), Ontario (June 12), Canadian federal by-elections (June 30), Indonesia (July 9), Slovenia (July 13) and additional elections which may have been missed. I still welcome any guest posts with open arms :) Thanks to all readers!

Latvia

Turnout: 30.24% (-23.45%)
MEPs: 8 (-1)
Electoral system: Semi-open list PR (votes for party lists, voters may add a ‘plus’ to candidates they like on the list and strike through candidates they don’t like; votes for candidates = party list votes – # of strikes through + # pluses; most popular candidates on the list are elected), 5% threshold (national constituency)

Unity (EPP) 46.19% (+11.36%) winning 4 seats (nc)
National Alliance (ECR) 14.25% (+3.99%) winning 1 seat (nc)
SDP’S’ (S&D) 13.04% (-6.53%) winning 1 seat (+1)
ZZS (EFD) 8.26% (+4.54%) winning 1 seat (+1)
LRS (G-EFA) 6.38% (-3.28%) winning 1 seat (nc)
Alternative (S&D) 3.73% (+3.73%) winning 0 seats (-1)
Latvijas Reģionu apvienība 2.49% (+2.49%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Latvian Development 2.12% (+2.12%) winning 0 seats (nc)
LSP (GUE/NGL) 1.54% (+1.54%) winning 0 seats (-1)
LSDSP (S&D) 0.33% (-3.46%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Others 0.89% winning 0 seats (-1)

Latvia 2014 - EP

Latvia’s ruling centre-right party, Unity, won a very large victory in an election largely marked by very low turnout (30.2%). Latvian politics since its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991 have been highly unstable, and, in recent years, marred by rising voter apathy or cynicism due to difficult economic conditions and the widespread perception that Latvian politics are controlled by corrupt oligarchs. Latvian politics – more so than in Estonia or Lithuania – are also highly polarized around the very contentious issue of Latvia’s large Russian minority.

Latvia was hit extremely hard by the economic crisis beginning in 2008, the result of a housing bubble and easy credit market in the Baltic states. Latvia, which was hit the hardest of the three states, had enjoyed three consecutive years of economic growth over 10% between 2005 and 2008, thanks to economic (and political) integration with the European market since liberalization in the 1990s and the associated inflow of foreign investment, mostly in the form of credit from foreign parent banks (often Scandinavian). Most investment was directed towards the non-tradable goods sectors (real estate, construction, financial services) and domestic banks in the Baltics borrowed heavily, in Euros, from parent banks abroad on very low interest rates and were thus able to offer low-interest mortgage loans to local home-buyers. Latvian house prices expanded, on the EC’s house price index, from below 75 in early 2005 to a peak at 195.45 in the first quarter of 2008, the highest level of the three Baltic states. The Latvian case was further aggravated by higher inflation (15.3% in 2008, the highest in the EU) and greater economic mismanagement by the government, which was unwilling to do much (until late in 2007, by restricting credit) to address a rapidly overheating economy. The Latvian economy began collapsing in the third quarter of 2008, and GDP growth fell to a catastrophic -17.7% in 2009. Unemployment skyrocketed from 5.6% in December 2007 to a high of 10.8% in 2010, housing prices collapsed, the deficit ballooned from 0.7% in 2007 to 9.2% in 2009 and the country’s public debt increased from only 9% of GDP in 2007 to 44.5% in 2010.

When the recession struck in 2008, Latvia was governed – as has always been the case since 1991 – by a coalition of largely right-wing and vaguely populist parties, at the time led by Prime Minister Ivars Godmanis and the Latvia’s First Party/Latvian Way (LPP/LC), an alliance of two (corrupt and populist) right-wing parties. The government was forced to ask the EU and IMF for a €7.5 billion bailout (the World Bank, Nordic countries and EBRD also provided funds) in December 2008, with a first installement released in February 2009. The country’s catastrophic economic state in 2009, as well as the government’s woeful mismanagement of the economy resulted in large anti-government protests in January 2009 and eventually forced Godmanis to resign from office in late February 2009, after junior allies in his cabinet pulled the plug. Valdis Dombrovskis, a finance minister from 2002 to 2004 and MEP for the centre-right New Era Party, became Prime Minister in a broad right-wing coalition government which excluded the LPP/LC. The new government quickly implemented very severe and painful austerity measures, including significant increases in the VAT and excise taxes and deep cuts in public spending, wages and pensions. The government’s austerity policies impressed the IMF and the EU, and were endorsed by voters in the 2010 elections, which saw Dombrovskis’ new pro-austerity centre-right party, Unity (a merger of three parties, including the New Era and the Civic Union, which had won the 2009 EP elections), win 33 out of 100 seats. The oligarchs’ bloc – the LPP/LC and the People’s Party (TP), won only 7.8% and lost 25 seats.

Since 2010, the economy is clearly recovering (if not already recovered). Growth returned in 2011, with 5.3% growth after a three-year recession, and the economy is expected to grow by 3.8% in 2014. Unemployment, which sat at over 20% at the peak of the crisis, has since fallen to about 11.5% and is projected to drop into the single digits in 2015. As a result of the government’s austerity measures, the deficit has been reduced to only 1% of GDP in 2014. As a result, Latvia became the latest country to join the Euro, on January 1.

In 2011, a major political crisis led to snap elections in September 2011 – less than a year after the last elections – and further changes to the party system. The crisis began when then-President Valdis Zatlers used his constitutional prerogative to dissolve the Parliament (Saeima) after it had refused to lift the parliamentary immunity of Ainārs Šlesers, an oligarch-politician (a former cabinet minister) and leader of the LPP/LC who was the target of a corruption probe. As a result of Zatlers’ decision to dissolve the Saeima, he unexpectedly lost his reelection bid a few days later (the President is indirectly elected by the Saeima) and Andris Bērziņš, a politician from the Union of Greens and Farmers (ZZS) – itself an ‘oligarchs’ party’ whose top figure is Aivars Lembergs, the mayor of the port city of Ventspils since 1988 and one of Latvia’s wealthiest persons, was elected in his stead. As per the constitution, voters ratified the presidential dissolution in a July referendum. Zatlers formed his own party, Zatlers Reform Party (ZRP), to contest the 2011 polls on an anti-corruption and anti-oligarchs platforms. Zatlers cited Aivars Lembergs (ZZS), Ainārs Šlesers (LPP/LC) and former Prime Minister Andris Šķēle (whose party, the TP, dissolved before the 2011 elections) as the three leading oligarchs in Latvian politics. His campaign put the spotlight on the influence of powerful oligarchs/businessmen in Latvian politics and the opacity of political financing in the country, which was the only EU member without per-vote public subsidies until 2010. In the 2011 elections, the ZRP placed second with 20.8% and 22 seats, against 18.8% and 20 seats for Prime Minister Dombrovskis’ Unity party. The oligarchic parties did poorly – the ZZS lost 9 seats (it won 12.2%) while Šlesers was unable to buy his way into the Saeima again, the LPP/LC losing all seats with 2.4% of the vote (the party dissolved later, but Šlesers has returned to politics). Dombrovskis remained Prime Minister in a coalition government made up of Unity, the ZRP, independents and the nationalist National Alliance.

The largest party in the Saeima is currently the Harmony Centre (SC), a left-wing alliance which represent Latvia’s substantial Russian minority. The Russian minority in Latvia has been an extremely contentious and polarizing political issue in the country since independence. Like the other Baltic states, Latvia was annexed – illegally, say the current Baltic governments and most of the West – by the Soviet Union in 1940 and remained under Soviet rule until independence in 1991. A small Russian minority (about 11% of the population) of Old Believers and pre-war Russian immigrants existed prior to 1941, but the Soviet regime encouraged or forced ethnic Russians (and Ukrainians, Belarusian etc) to move to Latvia, settling largely in the cities to work in industry. The Russian population stood at 34% and the ethnic Latvian population at only 52% in 1989. The Republic of Latvia, upon independence, considered itself to be the legal continuation of the interwar independent Latvia, and therefore restored a 1919 citizenship law which meant that those who had moved to Latvia after June 1940 (and their descendants) were not considered Latvian citizen (unless they were ethnic Latvians) – they were widely viewed as illegal immigrants. Instead, residents lacking Latvian or any other citizenship are legally recognized as Latvian non-citizens, a status which grants them rights similar to Latvian citizens (living and working in Latvia, visa-free travel in the Schengen area, access to social services, constitutional protections) but they lack the right to vote or hold public office (even at the local level). Russia has vocally protested several times, considering them as ‘stateless persons’, a charge denied by Latvia, and organizations such as the OECD and Amnesty International have also been critical of the non-citizens status.

Today, according to the 2011 census, 62.1% of Latvian residents are ethnic Latvians and 26.9% are ethnic Russian, with smaller Russophone populations of Belarusian (3.3%), Ukrainians (2.2%) and Poles (2.2%). Since 1991, the Russian (and associated Belarusian and Ukrainian) population has decreased significantly (from 34% and 905.5k in 1989 to 586k in 2014). 33.8% of Latvians speak Russian most often at home, but only Latvian – the common language of 56.3% of the population – has official status. In 2012, a Russian group collected enough signatures to hold a referendum on the recognition of Russian as a co-official language, but the question was rejected by 74.8% of voters. The Russian population is largely concentrated in urban areas (notably in Riga, where they make up 40.2% against 46.3% of Latvians) and the poor eastern border region of Latgale, where 38.9% of the population is Russian (they make up a majority in Daugavpils city, which is less than 20% Latvian). According to the latest citizenship numbers (2014), there were over 282,000 Latvian non-citizens – or 13% of the resident population. 31.7% of Russians – and 51.9% of Belarusian and 52.3% of Ukrainians – are non-citizens, meaning (among other things) that they are not eligible to vote in Latvian elections. Compared to Russians in Estonia, there are less ‘non-citizens’ (38% of Estonian Russians have ‘undetermined citizenship’, although they have the right to vote in local elections) and while 21% of Estonian Russians are Russian citizens, only 7% of Latvian Russians hold a foreign (read: Russian) citizenship. The number of non-citizens has fallen considerably (from nearly a third of the population in 1991), due to naturalization and the access of children of non-citizens born after 1991 being eligible for citizenship fairly easily (since 2013, children born to non-citizens automatically gain citizenship if the parents wish). However, naturalization requirements are still quite stringent and may repel some: fluency in Latvian, knowledge of the basic principles of the Constitution, the national anthem and basic Latvian history and culture. However, since 1991, conditions for naturalization have been loosened significantly. For example, until 1998, there were strict windows limiting who could apply for citizenship when.

The Russian minority issue is a highly polarizing and politically-charged topic, as evidenced by the 2012 referendum. For many ethnic Latvians, the Baltic Russians are a symbol or reminder of the traumatic period of the Soviet occupation – an era associated not only with huge demographic changes, but also Stalinist terror, mass deportations and Russification policies. Therefore, the Russian minority bears the stigma of the Soviet occupation, and may be viewed by some ethnic Latvians as a ‘fifth column’ disloyal to the country. For example, the largest Russian party, SC, is accused of ties with Vladimir Putin’s United Russia and the SC – an alliance of parties – include unreconstructed communists. The Russian issue has a direct impact on Latvia’s political culture and party system. Because ‘the left’ is associated with communism and the Soviet Union, there is no strong ethnic Latvian left-wing party (the Russian minority parties, such as SC, are on the left, but attract little to no Latvian support) – even of a moderate, non-communist social democratic variant. Party politics are heavily conditioned by the Russian issue, with the Latvian majority voting for their parties and Russians voting for quasi-exclusively Russian parties, such as SC. No Russian minority party has ever been included in government, although there have been several attempts or talks to include SC in government. For now, the Russians’ positions on bilingualism and historical controversies (the recognition of the Soviet era as as ‘occupation’, which is not accepted by all Russians) bars them from government participation.

SC is the most successful Russian minority party in the young country’s history, and became the first such party to win the most votes in a national election (in 2011). SC leader Nils Ušakovs, an ethnic Russian, was elected mayor of Riga in 2009 and reelected in a landslide in 2013.

Prime Minister Valdis Dombrovskis resigned in November 2013, after the collapse of the roof of a Riga shopping centre killed 54 and injured 41, the worst disaster in six decades in the country. Dombrovskis took responsibility for the disaster, which was blamed on various factors including negligence and work safety violations by the private company and poor building inspection by the government. Some thought that Ušakovs should take responsibility, given the local government’s control over building quality, while others blamed the national government’s austerity budget cuts (which abolished the state building inspection). To many Latvians, the collapse spoke to larger issues such as political corruption, corporate abuse (the large supermarket chain was accused of providing poor safety training, several work safety violations and poor treatment of employees paid below minimum wage) and government failures. Dombrovskis was replaced by Laimdota Straujuma, a well-regarded agriculture minister and former economist who became the first woman to be Prime Minister. She formed a government with Unity, the Reform Party (as it is now known), the NA, independents and also the ZZS (excluded from Dombrovskis’ ‘anti-oligarchs’ government in 2011).

Latvia is preparing for a general election in October 2014, so the EP elections were of less importance although still an early test for the general elections in the fall. Turnout fell to only 30%, the lowest in the three EP elections held since 2004 (in 2009, turnout was a high 53.7% due to same-day local elections, but still stood at a ‘healthy’ 41.2%), and all parties except Unity lost votes from the 2011 election. Unity won an unexpectedly massive victory, scoring 46.2% of the votes and – as touched on – won more votes (204.9k) than in 2011 (172.5k). It is likely a vote of confidence for a fairly popular government, which has presided over a strong economic recovery (Unity ran on the need to stay the course with fiscal discipline) and has been generally less corrupt than past governments. Another factor which helped the governing party was the candidacy of former Prime Minister Valdis Dombrovskis, who personally received 148,056 plus votes and only 6,214 strike-throughs.

The National Alliance placed a surprise second, with a strong result of 14.3%. The party was founded in 2010-1 by the merger of two right-wing nationalist parties – the conservative right-wing For Fatherland and Freedom/LNNK (TB/LNNK) and the smaller far-right All for Latvia! (VL). It is a Latvian nationalist party, known for its anti-Russian positions and advocacy of tougher citizenship and language laws. The NA sits with the British Tories in the ECR group, an association which has caused headaches for the Tories since the NA’s members have participated in celebrations and commemorations for the Latvian Legion, a Waffen-SS formation of Latvian conscripts who fought the USSR during World War II. The NA’s two components have been branded as fascist or Holocaust deniers by the party’s opponents, although some of these claims are somewhat flimsy. Although the NA is somewhat Eurosceptic and anti-federalist, the Euroscepticism does not compare to the anti-EU views of far-right parties in older member-states and Latvian nationalists traditionally tend to be somewhat pro-NATO and pro-EU to oppose Russia. The party’s relative success in 2014 has been attributed to prevailing anxiety in the Baltics over events in Ukraine/Crimea, and the NA campaigned in favour of stronger pan-EU energy and foreign policies and strengthening the EU’s sanctions against Russia.

The main loser was the SC, which ran divided in this election. The largest and most moderate component of the SC alliance, the Social Democratic Party “Harmony” (SDP’S’), associated with the S&D, won 13% and only one seat, a poor result. Incumbent MEP Aleksandrs Mirskis left the SC and formed his own party, Alternative, which won 3.7% of the vote. The smaller and more radical component of the SC, the Latvian Socialist Party (LSP), ran separately this year (like in 2004 but unlike in 2009). The LSP is led by outgoing MEP Alfrēds Rubiks, a former hardline Communist Party apparatchik who opposed independence and was arrested in 1995 for ‘subverting state power’ and supporting the August 1991 coup attempt in Russia. Banned from running for or holding national office, Rubiks has been an MEP since 2009. The LSP won only 1.5% of the vote running independently, similar to its result in 2004. The Latvian Russian Union (LKS) – formerly For Human Rights in United Latvia (PCTVL) – held its sole MEPs, although its support declined further to 6.4%. The LKS/PCTVL was the most popular Russian party for a while in the 1990s, but it has gradually been decimated by the SC since 2006, and lost its last seats in the Saeima in 2010. The LKS was likely kept alive in the EP elections by its incumbent MEP, Tatjana Ždanoka, another former Communist Party apparatchik who has found herself banned from office in Latvia (former ‘active members’ of the Communist Party are still banned from public office nationally). The LKS sits with the European Free Alliance (EFA) in the G-EFA group, although there has been some recent unease between the two due to the G-EFA’s positions on the Crimean crisis.

% of Russian-speakers by municipality in Latvia, 2011 census (source: en.wikipedia)

Besides the division of the vote, the Russian parties were hurt by lower turnout from Russian voters. In Latgale region, for example, turnout was 23.4% (the lowest in the country). The SDP’S’ won only 23% against 38.7% in Riga, while in Latgale it faced strong competition from Aleksandrs Mirskis’ Alternative: the former won 20.9% and the latter won 20.3%. Alternative was the largest party in Daugavpils city and municipality, while the SDP’S’ was strongest in Zilupes, a municipality on the Russian border which is 54.9% Russian and 13.8% Belarusian, and in the city of Rēzekne, evenly split between Latvians and Russians. Alternative was weak in Riga (a bit over 2%) and totally absent from the Latvian countryside. Rubiks and the LSP retain a base in the old Ludzas District, with up to 16.6% in Ludza Municipality, a lone holdout of unreconstructed communists in Latgale. Overall, the Russian parties polled less than 5% together in most of the ethnically Latvian rural areas.

The Union of Greens and Farmers (ZZS), an alliance of the local Green Party and agrarian Latvian Farmers’ Union (LZU), which is more of an oligarchs’ party than anything (although it is generally eurosceptic and populist), won its first MEP, with 8.3% – a fairly disappointing result compared to 2011 and pre-election expectations. The party’s new MEP, who is from the LZU (the largest component, with 9 out of 13 MPs), will sit with the EFD group – the Greens, although to the right of other greens in the EU, are affiliated with the European Greens; many expected the LZU to sit with the ALDE, like Nordic agrarians in Scandinavia. A reason for the ZZS’ poor result – besides that it has tended to do much better in national elections – may be the ZZS’ poor result in and around oligarch Aivars Lembergs’ stronghold in Ventspils, where the ZZS won only 17% (in the city) and 25.9% (in the rural municipality) compared to 37.4% and 45.7% for Unity. The decrease in turnout and the NA’s gains were stronger around Ventspils. The ZZS is a predominantly rural-based party in ethnic Latvian regions, while the NA is stronger in urban and suburban Latvian regions.

Below the threshold, one of the most noted failures was that of ‘Latvian Development’, a centre-right neoliberal party founded by former New Era leader Einars Repše, a former Prime Minister (2002-2004) and later finance minister (2009-2010) behind the tough austerity measures during the crisis. The party spent an astronomical amount of money for one vote – about €54/vote (for all of 2.1%), beating previous records set by Šlesers in 2010 and 2011. Another new small party, the Latvian Association of Regions – a coalition of several local independents – won 2.5%, polling well in some of the strongholds of its local bosses, notably 20.7% in Preiļu Municipality in Latgale. The Reform Party, which seems to be in very bad shape, did not run.

Lithuania

Turnout: 47.35% (+26.37%)
MEPs: 11 (-1)
Electoral system: Semi-open list PR (preferential votes for up to 5 candidates), 5% threshold (national constituency)

TS-LKD (EPP) 17.43% (-8.73%) winning 2 seat (-2)
LSDP (S&D) 17.26% (-0.86%) winning 2 seats (-1)
LRLS (ALDE) 16.55% (+9.38%) winning 2 seats (+1)
TT (EFD) 14.25% (+2.35%) winning 2 seats (nc)
DP (ALDE) 12.81% (+4.25%) winning 1 seat (nc)
AWPL/LLRA-RA (ECR) 8.05% (-0.15%) winning 1 seat (nc)
LVŽS (G-EFA) 6.61% (+4.79%) winning 1 seat (+1)
Green Party (G-EFA) 3.56% (+3.56%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Nationalist Union 2% (+2%) winning 0 seats (nc)
LiCS 1.48% (-1.9%) winning 0 seats (nc)

Lithuania 2014 - EP

Coinciding with the second round of presidential elections which interested many more voters (but still only a minority), the EP elections saw significantly higher turnout than in 2009, when, as a stand-alone vote, only 21% of voters had bothered to vote – the second lowest in the EU.

Like Latvia, Lithuanian politics since 1991 have been marked by rapid government turnover, anti-incumbency and a highly fragmented party system in which new parties regularly emerge to perform quite well (before, in some cases, crashing and burning in seconds). In the past few years, politics may have stabilized somewhat, with less extreme anti-incumbent swings in elections and a Prime Minister (from 2008 to 2012) who became the first head of government to serve a full term in office. Lithuania’s political culture, however, is rather distinct from that of Estonia and Latvia. Because Lithuania’s Communist Party, in 1989, had broken from the CPSU and endorsed Lithuanian independence, the left has been less stigmatized by its communist past than in the other countries and it has been a significant force in national politics. The current Lithuanian Social Democratic Party (LSDP) was formed in 2000 by the merger of the original social democratic party (founded in 1896) and the stronger post-communist party born from the local Communist Party. Algirdas Brazauskas, the last leader of the local Communists, served as President (1993-1998) and Prime Minister (2001-2006) of Lithuania. Secondly, minority politics and issues are less contentious in Lithuania, which saw the least demographic upheavals of the Baltic states during Soviet rule. The Russian minority only makes up 5.8% of the population (and, at its peak in 1989, only made up 9% of the population against about 80% of ethnic Lithuanians) and is politically insignificant. The Polish minority (6.6%), far less controversial, is actually larger and more politically active. As a result, Lithuania adopted a fairly liberal citizenship law which effectively granted citizenship to all permanent residents in 1989.

Like Latvia and Estonia, Lithuania’s economy grew rapidly in the first years of the 21st century (growth didn’t falk under 7% between 2003 and 2008) because of the housing bubble and easy credit from abroad. Housing prices did not grow as much as in its two fellow Baltic neighbors, although the housing price index still surged from 102 in 2006 to a peak of 159 in 2008-Q2. Lithuania’s housing bubble burst slightly later and recession only hit in the last quarter of 2008, allowing Lithuania to be the only Baltic state to still record a positive GDP growth in 2008 (+3%). In 2009, however, housing prices tumbled and growth crashed to -14.8%. Unemployment likewise soared from 13.7% to 20.8% from January 2009 to January 2010. The country’s deficit blew up to 9.4% of GDP in 2009 and the country’s low government debt level increased from 15.5% in 2008 to 40.5% in 2012. Overall, the recession was less severe than in Latvia – and the country never needed to ask for a bailout from the EU-IMF, but to prevent such a scenario, the conservative government of Prime Minister Andrius Kubilius (2008-2012) implemented austerity measures including major spending cuts, public sector job cuts, some tax hikes and cuts to pensions and public sector wages. The government’s austerity policies suceeded in reducing the deficit to 3.2% of GDP in 2012 (and it dropped below the EU’s 3% limit in 2013) and the economy escaped recession as early as 2010 and recorded 3.7% growth in 2013. However, high unemployment (15-14% at the time of the 2012 election), the country’s very low minimum wage – the third lowest in the EU in 2012 and Kubilius’ perceived lack of empathy meant that the ruling centre-right Homeland Union-Lithuanian Christian Democrats (TS-LKD) paid the price for austerity in the 2012 election.

The TS-LKD won 15.1% of the vote and 33 seats in the 2012 election, a loss of 12 seats. The centre-left LSDP won 18.4% and 38 seats, becoming the largest party in the Seimas. The Labour Party (DP), an undefinable populist party led by shady Russian-born businessman Viktor Uspaskich (a ‘self-made man’ who made his money in pickles and gas), recorded significant gains from the 2008 election, placing first in the PR list vote with 19.8% and ending up with 29 seats in the Seimas. Uspaskich’s DP, founded just a year before, won the 2004 EP and legislative elections, and the DP formed a coalition with the LSDP and a social liberal party. Uspaskich resigned as finance minister in 2006 and fled to Russia, after being accused of false accounting for failing to declare over €4 million in income and expenditures. Upon his return to Lithuania in 2007, he was arrested and later released on bail. Uspaskich was shielded from prosecution by his parliamentary immunity as a MEP after 2009 and as a member of the Seimas since 2012. After the 2012 elections, the DP was was the focus of 10 judicial investigations into vote buying. Algirdas Butkevičius’ LSDP was set to form a coalition with the DP and another populist party, the vaguely right-wing Order and Justice (TT) party of impeached President Rolandas Paksas (2003-2004), who had been impeached for illegally granting Lithuanian citizenship to Russian businessman (and a contributor to his unlikely bid for President in 2003) Yuri Borisov, leaking confidential information to the same man and using his power to favour friends in a privatization deal. Paksas and Uspaskich have both denied the accusations against them, claiming that they are victims of political persecution. Both the DP and TT are anti-establishment populist parties, with only vague ideologies – the former, who sits in the ALDE group, has a distinctively left-wing name and left-wing populist positions; the latter, who sits in the EFD group (but is that group’s least loyal member), has a soft-Eurosceptic and law-and-order profile, but Paksas was previously a member of the LSDP, the TS-LKD and a liberal party. At times, the promises made by these populist parties are completely unrealistic – in 2012, Uspaskich promised to totally eliminate unemployment (0%) and resign if he didn’t.

Following the 2012 election, President Dalia Grybauskaitė, a very popular former European Commissioner who was elected to the presidency in a first round landslide in 2009, announced that she would reject any coalition with the DP, arguing that a party suspected of electoral fraud with a leader under investigation for false accounting and money laundering had no place in government. Nevertheless, Grybauskaitė appointed Butkevičius to form a government, in which the DP was included. Algirdas Butkevičius, a bland and uncharismatic politician, formed a coalition government with the participation of his party, the DP, the TT and the Electoral Action of Poles in Lithuania (AWPL/LLRA), the conservative party representing the Polish minority. Although she was unable to keep the DP out of government, Grybauskaitė intervened to keep high-profile portfolios out of the DP’s hands (they hold culture, agriculture, labour and education) while Uspaskich and his three key lieutenants are not in cabinet.

The government has appeared fairly unremarkable and uncontroversial so far. Vilnius aims to be the last Baltic state to join the Eurozone, in January 2015, and the government announced in early 2013 plans to raise taxes on high earners and property and move towards a progressive income and corporate tax to replace the existing 15% flat tax. The minimum wage was increased to 1,000 litas (€289.62/hour) and should be increased to 1,509 litas (€437.03). The DP has demanded an immediate increase in the minimum wage as a precondition for joining the euro, while the LSDP has warned that a rapid increase in one year would prevent the country for meeting the criteria for membership.

In July 2013, Viktor Uspaskich and his three associates were found guilty of false accounting (the DP avoided paying taxes and fees between 2004 and 2006 and hid up to €7 million in revenues) and he was sentenced to four year in jail. He briefly fled to Russia before returning home later in the month, and he has not served his jail sentence because of his parliamentary immunity. Furthermore, in these times of high tensions with Russia, Uspaskich’s murky business connections with Russian gas giant Gazprom and his suspected Russian sympathies have made him even more controversial. President Dalia Grybauskaitė, who has taken a very firm anti-Russian stance in the last few months – publicly saying that there is a real danger of war in Europe and that a new Cold War has begun, has excluded the DP from cabinet meetings where sensitive defense matters are discussed, suspecting that the DP is under Moscow’s influence.

In the first round of the presidential elections on May 11, President Dalia Grybauskaitė, running as an independent but supported by the opposition conservative TS-LKD and the Liberal Movement (LRLS), came out far ahead of the pack with 45.9% of the vote against only 13.6% for her closest rival, LSDP candidate Zigmantas Balčytis, who also led the LSDP’s list in the EP elections. The DP candidate, Artūras Paulauskas, a former Interim President and cabinet minister, won 12%. Former TS-LKD member Naglis Puteikis won 9.3%, the AWPL’s leader and MEP Valdemar Tomaševski won 8.2%, the mayor of Vilnius Artūras Zuokas won 5.2% and agrarian candidate Bronis Ropė won 4.1%. Although Grybauskaitė’s popularity has declined since her landslide victory in 2009, she remains highly popular, as a respected and competent strong-willed president. Recently, Grybauskaitė’s tough stances against the Russian invasion and annexation of Crimea and the events in Ukraine have boosted her popularity, in a country where there is very high anxiety and apprehension about Russia. In contrast, her Social Democratic opponent, Zigmantas Balčytis, urged diplomacy and conciliation with Russia while criticizing Grybauskaitė’s assertive style. The Lithuanian President has lost most of his/her power since independence, and is largely confined to a ceremonial and symbolic role while retaining some influence over foreign policy.

The second round of the presidential elections saw lower turnout than in the first round – 47.3% instead of 52.2% – but the relatively decent level of popular interest in the presidential election significantly boosted turnout in the EP election as a consequence. Lithuania has generally seen very low turnout, even in high-stakes national elections, so low-stakes elections held alone – like the EP elections in 2009 – can be expected to see very low turnout.

The opposition TS-LKD unexpectedly topped the polls, although with a paltry result of 17.4% which is down significantly on its result in 2009 (although because of turnout differences, it won far more votes than in 2009). Since its 2012 defeat, the TS-LKD went through a closely-fought internal leadership battle between former Prime Minister Andrius Kubilius, who eventually retained his job, and the party’s founder Vytautas Landsbergis. The right’s victory is likely due to differential turnout, with higher turnout recorded in the cities of Vilnius and Kaunas – where the conservatives traditionally do best/better. As in 2009, turnout was also significantly higher in Polish areas, with 57% turnout in Šalčininkai District Municipality, which is over 80% Polish. The higher turnout from Polish voters explains the AWPL’s strong performance, as in 2009: the Polish minority party received 8% of the vote, higher than the size of the Polish minority in Lithuania and higher than the AWPL’s 2012 result (5.8%, the party’s best result in a national legislative election). Some have also speculated that the TS-LKD and the Liberals (who won a very strong 16.6%) may have benefited from President Grybauskaitė’s unofficial support and potential coattails from her runoff victory, with 57.9% against 40.1% for the LSDP’s Zigmantas Balčytis.

The governing LSDP and DP both fell back from their 2012 results, with the DP falling from 19.8% in 2012 to 12.8% in 2014 – although its EP result this year is an improvement on its 2009 result, which had come on the heels of the DP’s poor showing in the 2008 legislative election. Order and Justice, with 14.3%, significantly improved on its 2009 and 2012 (7.3%) result; as did the LVŽS, the Peasant and Greens Union, whose result is up on 2009 and 2012 (3.9%). As in 2009, the DP and TT were led by their respective leaders, Viktor Uspaskich and Rolandas Paksas, both of whom were elected to the EP.

The electoral commission has some nice maps of the results of the EP results here and here (you can clarify some of the problems caused by the horrible shades on my map!). I’ve noticed a fairly strong regional dimension in Lithuanian elections, with parties having fairly well-defined regional bases of support. The TS-LKD tend to perform better in the cities of Kaunas and Vilnius; the Liberals do well in urban centres, but especially in the coastal city of Klaipeda (24.9% of the vote) and the resort town of Neringa (32.8%). The LSDP is weaker in Kaunas and Vilnius (only 12.1% in the latter), and stronger in more rural areas. The DP’s support, especially in 2014, was quite concentrated: the party won 38.9% in Kėdainiai District Municipality, which is the centre of Viktor Uspaskich’s business empire (his food processing, canning and pickles company ‘Vikonda’ is based in Kėdainiai and operates several plants in the region). TT is strongest in western Lithuania, with 32.8% of the vote in Paksas’ birthplace of Telšiai but also (for some reason unknown to me) 45.2% in Pagėgių municipality and 30.3% in the heavily Russian town of Visaginas (a town built for the largely Russian employees of the Ignalina Nuclear Power Plant, decommissioned in 2009). The AWPL, unsurprisingly, has very regionally-concentrated support as a minority party: it won 74.8% in Šalčininkai District Municipality (over 80% Polish), 54.6% in Vilnius District Municipality (53% Polish), 32.9% in the Russian town of Visaginas (the AWPL ran in coalition with the small Russian Alliance, a tiny party for the Russian minority), 22.4% in Trakai District Municipality, 17.7% in Švenčionys District Municipality and 15.9% in Vilnius city (which has a small Polish minority).

Luxembourg

Turnout: 95.92% (+5.16%)
MEPs: 6 (nc)
Electoral system: Preferential list PR with panachage (votes for a single party list of 6 candidates, or up to 2 votes per candidate or 6 different candidates from any lists), no threshold (national constituency) / mandatory voting enforced

CSV (EPP) 37.65% (+6.29%) winning 3 seats (nc)
The Greens (G-EFA) 15.01% (-1.82%) winning 1 seat (nc)
DP (ALDE) 14.77% (-3.89%) winning 1 seat (nc)
LSAP (S&D) 11.75% (-7.73%) winning 1 seat (nc)
ADR (ECR) 7.53% (+0.14%) winning 0 seats (nc)
The Left (GUE/NGL) 5.76% (+2.39%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Pirates 4.23% (+4.23%) winning 0 seats (nc)
PID 1.82% (+1.82%) winning 0 seats (nc)
KPL 1.49% (-0.05%) winning 0 seats (nc)

Luxembourg is the second smallest of the EU’s member-states both in terms of land area and population, but it manages to punch far above its weight in EU politics. Luxembourg, which occupies a strategic position in Western Europe between France, Germany and Belgium, has a long history of close ties to its neighbors (notably with Germany until 1918) and became a leading force in European diplomacy after World War II. The country was a founding member of the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC), which placed Luxembourg’s large steel resources under supranational control, and Luxembourg City hosted the seat of the ECSC’s High Authority. The country’s leaders have been keen  promote their country’s interests and ensure their representation in supranational institutions, to prevent larger domineering powers from overwhelming smaller member-states. Since then, Luxembourg has gained a reputation as an honest broker of compromises and trustworthy intermediary in European diplomacy. The country is the main seat of the Court of Justice, the Court of Auditors, the secretariat of the EP and a secondary meeting spot for the Council of Ministers. Luxembourgian politicians play a major role in EU politics: two former Prime Ministers, Gaston Thorn and Jacques Santer, have served as Presidents of the European Commission and now former Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker is set to become the next President of the European Commission. Juncker had previously been noted in his role as president of the Eurogroup. Luxembourg is said to be the most pro-European country in the EU. The country is also highly diverse and multilingual: Luxembourg has three official languages used interchangeably by a largely multilingual population, a majority of Luxembourgians speak English and 45% of the country’s residents are foreign citizens.

In stark contrast with the three previous countries I’ve looked at (Italy, Latvia, Lithuania), Luxembourgian politics have been tremendously stable for the past hundred years or so. It’s hardly surprising – it’s a small rich country where relatively little happens (outside of the two world wars). The Christian Social People’s Party (CSV), a Christian democratic centre-right party, has been Luxembourg’s traditional party of government – it has (or its pre-1944 predecessor) held the Prime Minister’s office since 1919 with the exception of 1925-1926, 1974-1979 and since 2013. However, all but one governments since 1919 have been coalition governments, traditionally led by the CSV in alliance with the two other major (albeit traditionally weaker) parties – the social democratic Socialist Workers’ Party (LSAP) or the liberal Democratic Party (DP). The CSV, LSAP and DP do differ on certain issues – the CSV remains influenced by a Catholic tradition while the DP and LSAP are secular (today, these differences are played out in attitudes towards religious education), the DP is usually the most liberal on economic issues favouring less government intervention (but is more interventionist than other European liberal parties and is hardly neoliberal) and the LSAP supports a strong welfare state and more government intervention (most recently its passionate defense of the indexation of wages to the cost of living/inflation) – but having often governed with one another, all three parties are moderate, pragmatic, strongly pro-European and fit in the broad centre of the political spectrum. The CSV, for example, has favoured Eurobonds (unlike Merkel) and preached solidarity by wealthier member-states. The CSV’s strongly federalist and even its more positions in favour of a more social and solidary Europe are somewhat at odds with the modern EPP mainstream. At the same time, Juncker has been criticized by the European left for staunchly defending Luxembourg’s status as something of a tax haven (after deindustrialization, Luxembourg reinvented itself as a major financial and corporate centre).

Leading party by commune – all won by the CSV (source: elections.public.lu)

Parties outside the three old parties have been more ideologically defined. The Greens, one of the strongest green parties in the EU, remain rather centrist and very pro-European (although they joined the smaller parties in opposing TAFTA). However, the right-wing Alternative Democratic Reform Party (ADR), a former pensioners’ party, has more right-wing stances – it is the most Eurosceptic of all parties (having opposed the 2005 Constitution and Lisbon), opposes voting rights for foreigners in national elections and has a populist focus on direct democracy and less bureaucracy. The ADR has fairly stable support at 8-11% in general elections (although it fell to only 6.6% in 2013), but that’s never been enough to elect an MEP. The Communist Party (KPL) survives as a more radical fringe party, being outpolled by the newer The Left, similar to Germany’s more well-known Die Linke (favouring redistribution, higher wages, more taxes on the wealthy) but less radical (it is not anti-EU).

Juncker was the EU’s longest-serving head of government until October 2013, having held the Prime Minister’s office continuously since 1995. He was forced to resign a year ahead of schedule, in July 2013, after a scandal in the state intelligence services (SREL). The SREL was accused of irregular and illegal activities including illegal wiretaps, bugging politicians, extrajudicial operations and maintaining files on citizens and politicians while Juncker, as minister responsible for the SREL, was accused by his junior partner (the LSAP) of failing to notice and report on illegal activities and deficiencies. For the first time in decades, voters went to the polls early in October 2013, meaning that these EP elections were the first which did not coincide with a general election. The CSV remained, as always, the largest party but lost 4.4% and 3 seats, while the liberal DP gained 3.3% and 4 seats – winning as many seats (13) as the LSAP, which won an all-time low result of only 20.3%. Xavier Bettel, the young openly gay mayor of Luxembourg City and DP leader, formed a coalition government with the LSAP and The Greens.

After last year’s ‘defeat’, the CSV roared back with a major victory in the EP elections while the governing DP and especially LSAP suffered substantial loses. Because the small country elects only six MEPs, these changes were still not large enough to produce changes in the distribution of seats. The CSV won 37.7%, a result up 6.3% on the CSV’s rather poor result in the 2009 EP election (down significantly from 2004, when Juncker also topped the CSV’s list in the EP elections) and up from 33.7% in last year’s national election. I wonder if the CSV may have benefited from a ‘Juncker effect’ which boosted its result, although because he wasn’t a candidate to the EP himself (unlike Schulz and Verhofstadt), that might be grasping at straws a bit. The CSV did have a popular candidate – Viviane Reding, a three-time European Commissioner (from 1999 to 2014), most recently at the justice portfolio, and a leading European federalist. She won the most votes of any candidate in Luxembourg – 126,888. Two incumbent CSV MEPs placed in fourth and fifth place nationally.

The DP won 14.8%, a result from 18.7% in 2009 and 18.3% in 2013. Incumbent MEP and former cabinet minister Charles Goerens was the second most popular candidate, winning 82,975 votes. The biggest loser of the election, however, was the LSAP – the party collapsed to a disastrous fourth place, winning only 11.8%, down from 20.3% in 2013 and 19.5% in 2009. The LSAP has been on a clear downwards trends for a number of years now, bleeding votes to the radical left, the Greens and other parties and suffering from poor and uninspiring leadership. The LSAP’s inability to claim the Prime Minister’s office in 2013 reflected poorly on Étienne Schneider, the LSAP’s leader and current Deputy PM. The LSAP also suffered from the lack of a popular candidate: its sole MEP, former education minister (and a fairly unpopular one at that) Mady Delvaux-Stehres, placed only ninth of all candidates nationally with 33,323 votes – all six of the CSV’s candidates polled more votes individually, as did the top candidates for the DP and The Greens.

The Greens, always stronger in EP than national elections, won an excellent 15%, although that’s down from an even stronger result of 16.8% in 2009. For comparison’s sake, the Greens won 10.1% in 2013.

All other parties failed to pass the threshold: for once, the ADR did better in the EP election than last year’s national election (6.6%); The Left improved from 3.4% in 2009 and 4.9% in 2013 and the Pirates, who won 2.9%, won a solid 4.2%. The Party for Integral Democracy (PID) is a party founded in 2012 by former ADR deputy Jean Colombera, a physician who practices homeopathic medicine, supports same-sex marriage and is under investigation for prescribing medical marijuana. In 2013, it won 1.5%, and increased its support to 1.8% with 9,314 votes for Colombera himself.

The CSV topped the poll in all 106 communes, even in traditionally Socialist regions in the Red Lands (southern Luxembourg), the heart of the country’s old iron ore and steel industry. In Luxembourg City, the CSV won 37.2% (+6.9%) against 17.5% for the DP (-4.64%), 16.3% for the Greens (-3.41%) and only 11.5% for the LSAP (-4.3%).

Malta

Turnout: 74.80% (-3.99%)
MEPs: 6 (nc)
Electoral system: STV, quota threshold (quota = votes cast ÷ seats + 1, national constituency)

Labour (S&D) 53.39% (-1.38%) winning 3 seats (-1)
Nationalist (EPP) 40.02% (-0.47%) winning 3 seats (+1)
AD (G-EFA) 2.95% (+0.61%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Imperium Europa 2.68% (+1.21%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Tal-Ajkla 0.48% (+0.48%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Alleanza Bidla 0.4% (+0.4%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Alleanza Liberali 0.08% (+0.08%) winning 0 seats (nc)

Malta is the EU’s smallest member-state both in terms of land area and population. Having joined the EU only in 2004, Malta has a very minor role and place in the EU (unlike Luxembourg) and its politics very rarely receive outside attention (something of a pity). Compared to other EU member-states – which largely have multi-party systems or at least some strong ‘third parties’ – Malta has a very solid and rigid two-party system (despite STV) marked by high voter loyalty to their parties, very limited spillover of preferences between the two parties, very high turnout (and it does not even have compulsory voting!), closely fought elections (losing parties rarely win less than 47% in general elections) and relative pro-incumbency. The two dominant parties are the Labour Party (MLP/PL) and the Nationalist Party (PN), two parties whose ideologies and identities have evolved significantly since their origins in the 1920s, when Malta was a British colony.

The PN was founded by Malta’s local pro-Italian elites, backed by the powerful Catholic Church, opposed to Anglicization measures; the MLP was originally a pro-British and anti-clerical party which supported Malta’s integration into the United Kingdom but later became pro-independence after integration failed in 1956. Dom Mintoff, Prime Minister of Malta between 1971 and 1984 and MLP leader since 1949, came to be the iconic figure of Maltese politics in the post-war years. A strong-willed, fiery and pugnacious leader, Mintoff defended his island’s independence and neutrality tooth-and-nail; his rule saw the negotiation of full independence as a republic, the scrapping of a defense agreement with the UK, the expulsion of the NATO commander, friendly ties with Gaddafi’s Libya and communist China, the growth of a modern and advanced welfare state, nationalization of key enterprises and major social reforms (gender equality, civil marriage and the decriminalization of homosexuality and adultery). Mintoff was not afraid to pick fights with his opponents, notably the Church, who interdicted the MLP between 1961 and 1964 (and Mintoff, in his last terms, tried to wrestle control of education and healthcare away from the Church) and his opponents claimed that he was an autocrat who bullied opponents, distributed patronage, gerrymandered districts and whose supporters even physically roughed up opponents. Mintoff remained in Parliament until 1998, and successfully plotted to have the Labour government of Prime Minister Alfred Sant (1996-1998) toppled from power in 1998. He died in 2012.

The PN has usually been pro-European and pro-Western since World War II, moderating its early pro-Italian and pro-fascist nationalism early on (in 1964, the PN negotiated independence for Malta – as a member of the Commonwealth retaining the Queen as head of state and a British Governor General, and signed a military agreement with NATO) and leading the charge for EU accession in the 1990s, with Labour opposed. In the 2003 accession referendum, Labour and Mintoff opposed EU membership and only 54% voted in favour in the end, although the MLP has since made its peace with the EU.

The PN governed Malta for all but two years (1996-1998) between 1987 and 2013, pursuing a fairly generic pro-European, pro-Western conservative centre-right policy. With the MLP abandoning its Euroscepticism and non-aligned foreign policy (although the new Labour government has been building better economic/business relations with the PR China) and the PN moderating its Catholic social conservative stances (although Malta remains extremely socially conservative by European standards: divorce was only legalized in 2011 and Malta is the only EU country where abortion remains technically illegal in all circumstances; but the new Labour government legalized same-sex civil unions and adoptions in April 2014 with PN abstentions), the differences between the MLP and PN have been blurred – but, unlike in other EU countries, this hasn’t led to major disalignment from the major parties or weakening in partisan identities. In the 2013 election, Nationalist Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi and Labour leader Joseph Muscat had fairly similar policy platforms. The MLP won the March 2013 elections by a ‘landslide margin’ by Maltese standards – 54.8% and 39 seats against 43.3% and 30 seats for the PN (a 35,000 vote margin and the largest victory for one party since 1955). Because Malta’s economy is performing quite well, the PN was the victim of voter fatigue, perceptions of Nationalist complacency and aloofness, corruption scandals, unpopular policy decisions and high utility prices. Joseph Muscat, who at the young age of 40 represents a new generation of pro-European and moderate ‘European’ social democrats in the MLP, became Prime Minister.

Muscat’s government does not seem to have done anything particularly unpopular or spectacular since taking office over a year ago, with the government claiming that it has created more jobs than the PN governments and was saving families money by cutting utility rates. In the summer of 2013, Muscat was embroiled in a row with the EU over his government’s controversial plan to turn back asylum seekers – because of its location, Malta is on the ‘frontline’ of waves of immigration from North Africa, who often seek to reach the EU in makeshift boats (who often capsize, with terrible loss of life). In November 2013, the PN attacked a government project to sell Maltese (=EU) citizenship to qualified applicants for €650,000 – targeting ‘high quality’ foreigners and investors. The EP elections were something of a test for the government and opposition: the last two elections to the EP in Malta were won by the then-opposition (MLP) by unusually large margins (a 4-2 seat split in the MLP’s favour in 2009), so the PN was optimistic about its chances and the party’s new leader, Simon Busuttil, set the objective of a 3-3 split in seats.

The ruling Labour Party won the elections, with a slightly reduced majority compared to the 2009 EP elections, while the opposition PN did poorly with a result similar to its very poor 2009 result (and below its 2013 result). However, the PN can mask its disappointing result in the popular vote by pointing out that it succeeded in its objective of gaining a seat from the MLP to get a 3-3 split in seats.

The last two MEPs – from the MLP and PN – were elected on the 28th count without a quota, with PN candidate Therese Comodini Cachia winning with 206 more votes than the unsuccessful MLP candidate. The University of Malta has Excel files with full count details and party transfers. I’m not sure what explains the PN’s success at gaining a third seat in the STV count: it might be the PN having one less candidate, intricacies in the efficiency of vote transfers from PN candidates (although both MLP and PN votes transferred to their colleagues at 94% efficiency; but one PN MEP elect had his votes transfer to the eventual final PN MEP-elect on the 26th count with 99.7% efficiency vs. 93.2% for the transfer of votes for a defeated MLP incumbent in the final 28th count) and a minor edge to the PN in transfers from the green AD (although 46.7% of the AD’s votes were non-transferable, 31.2% went to the PN against 22.2% for the MLP in the 21st count).

The election saw the political return of former MLP Prime Minister Alfred Sant, whose short-lived government froze EU accession talks in the 1990s and went on to lead Labour to defeat at the hands of the PN in the 1998, 2003 and 2008 elections (as well as in the 2003 EU referendum). He is somewhat controversial with parts of the Labour base, but retains significant support. In the end, he was elected on the first count with 48,739 first preference votes (19.4%), over 12.7 thousand votes over the quota.

Minor parties improved on their 2009 performances. The green centre-left AD, led by Arnold Cassola (an academic and former Italian Green MP for Italian expats in Europe from 2006 to 2008), won nearly 3% – up 0.6% from 2009. But in 2004, the AD had done exceptionally well with 9.3% (a huge result for a third party in Malta) and Cassola was only eliminated on the final count. The far-right Imperium Europa (likely one of the EU’s most bizarre far-right parties: it supports European unity but from a white supremacist/racial standpoint and fascist/neo-Nazi orientation; in its words “A Europid bond forged through Spirituality closely followed by Race, nurtured through High Culture, protected by High Politics, enforced by the The Elite”) won 2.7%, with 6,205 first prefs for party leader Normal Lowell, up from 1.5% in 2009.

Turnout hit an all-time low of 74.8%, which is extremely low by Maltese standards (although most European countries can only dream of achieving such levels of turnout without compulsory voting) – which saw a ‘low’ turnout of 93% in 2013 (!). In 2004, turnout was 82.4% and dropped to 78.8% in 2009.

Netherlands

Turnout: 37.32% (+0.57%)
MEPs: 26 (nc)
Electoral system: Semi-open list PR (vote for a party or a single vote for one candidate on the list), no threshold (candidates may be elected out of list order if they win 0.96% or more of the vote; electoral alliances between parties allowed – votes cast are pooled and treated as a whole), national constituency

D66 (ALDE) 15.48% (+4.16%) winning 4 seats (+1)
CDA (EPP) 15.18% (-4.87%) winning 5 seats (nc)
PVV (EAF) 13.32% (-3.65%) winning 4 seats (-1)
VVD (ALDE) 12.02% (+0.63%) winning 3 seats (nc)
SP (GUE/NGL) 9.64% (+2.54%) winning 2 seats (nc)
PvdA (S&D) 9.4% (-2.65%) winning 3 seats (nc)
CU-SGP (ECR/EFD > ECR) 7.67% (+0.85%) winning 2 seats (nc)
GroenLinks (G-EFA) 6.98% (-1.89%) winning 2 seats (-1)
PvdD (GUE/NGL) 4.21% (+0.75%) winning 1 seat (+1)
50PLUS 3.69% (+3.69%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Pirates 0.85% (+0.85%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Others 1.58% (-0.4%) winning 0 seats (nc)

2004-2009-2014

Map credit: Josse de Voogd

The Netherlands, since the mid-1960s, have gradually moved from having one of the most stable party systems in Europe to one of the most volatile, unpredictable and fragmented. Up until the 1960s, Dutch politics were divided by the strict and rigid system of pillarisation – voluntary religious, political and social segregation of society into four pillars, each with their own parties, trade union, newspaper, radio station, cultural activities/organizations, schools, hospitals and even sporting activities. These pillars were Protestant, Catholic, socialist and ‘general’ (liberal); the Protestants and Catholics’ parties united politically to rule the Netherlands for much of the twentieth century – at least one confessional party was in government between 1918 and 1994 (oftentimes all three major confessional parties were in), usually admitting the liberals or socialists to rule in coalition (for example the ‘Roman-Red’ coalitions spearheaded by the centre-left Labour Party and the Catholic party between 1946 and 1958; or the Christian democrats’ regular alliances with the liberals from 1959 to 1989), and held an absolute majority in Parliament between 1918 and 1967. The denominational pillars, especially the Catholic one, were the most organized and had the tightest grip on their masses; the liberal pillar, largely made up of irreligious or non-practicing Protestant educated middle-classes or elites, was the worst organized pillar. Voting shifts were relatively minor, and mostly happened between blocs – for example, the Communist Party (CPN) in the post-war years was gradually weakened while the Labour Party (PvdA) was strengthened. However, with the rise of a modern and increasingly deconfessionalized society in the mid-1960s, Dutch society was progressively ‘depillarised’ and the Protestant (ARP, CHU) and Catholic (KVP) lost many votes, while the right-liberals (People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy, VVD), Labour and new parties on the left and centre benefited (most notably Democrats 66, or D66, a new anti-pillarisation and left-liberal party advocating for democratic reform, which was founded – you guessed it – in 1966).

Beginning in the 1970s, Dutch politics – facilitated by one of the world’s most proportional electoral systems – became increasingly volatile and unpredictable, with larger swings from election to election – D66 has a famously ‘floating’ and highly volatile electorate, as the second-choice of many liberals and leftists it has a very high ceiling but lacking a solid, loyal clientele it has a very low floor, so it has tended to collapse when it is in government but able to surge to high levels when it is in the opposition. Nevertheless, until 1994, the Christian Democratic Appeal (CDA) – formed in 1977 by the merger of the Catholic party (KVP) and the two major Protestant parties (Abraham Kuyper’s Anti-Revolutionaries, and the Christian Historical Union or CHU) – remained the largest party in Parliament and was in every cabinet. As a centrist, middle-of-the-road and consensual party (although one which more often than not leans to the right), it retained the old Catholic/Protestant bloc’s ability to structure consensus-driven Dutch politics around itself and governed in coalition with either the right-liberal VVD or the PvdA.

For a variety of reasons including unpopular policy decisions and its own arrogance, the CDA (and its then-junior ally, the PvdA) suffered major loses in the 1994 elections, in which D66 won a record 15.5% and 24 seats. D66, whose lifelong aim had been to realign Dutch politics by throwing the Christian democrats out of power, finally got their wish in the form of an historic ‘Purple coalition’ with the PvdA and the VVD, with the centrist D66 providing the glue to hold the centre-left and centre-right parties together. The Purple cabinets led by Wim Kok, in power from 1994 to 2002, were a typically ’90s type of government: mixing economic liberalism (tax cuts and strongly favourable to free markets) and social liberalism (multiculturalism, open immigration policies, early legalization same-sex marriage, legalization of euthanasia and prostitution). Initially popular, after two terms in power, the Purple arrangement had become deeply unpopular by 2002 – both the PvdA and VVD (without mentioning D66, which had predictably collapsed upon entering government) had lost support because the Purple coalition obscured both parties’ identities and created major dissatisfaction with their voters. The PvdA became closely wedded to economic liberalism and free-market policies, losing support on the left; the VVD, less cripplingly, was forced to be quiet about immigration.

In 2002, a charismatic populist leader, Pim Fortuyn – an openly gay former Marxist sociology professor, exploited the unpopularity of the Purple government (he published a hard-hitting best-seller about the ‘wreckage’ of the Purple government) and growing concerns about immigration (particularly Muslim). Fortuyn took anti-immigration and anti-Islam positions from an original, socially liberal, standpoint, arguing that Islam was a ‘backwards religion’ and an existential threat to Dutch liberal society (he supported same-sex marriage, euthanasia, women’s rights, drug legalization). Fortuyn’s charismatic, anti-establishment, combative (notably deliberately provoking an imam by giving him gaudy details of sexual activities he had performed, and picking the fruits when the imam blew up) and foul-mouthed style was a big success in 2002, and his newly-founded personalist party, the LPF, became a frontrunner in that year’s election. However, Fortuyn was shockingly assassinated by an animal rights’ activist only a week before the election. The LPF nevertheless did remarkably well, with 17% and 26 seats, placing second. The PvdA was decimated, losing 22 seats, while the VVD also lost 14 seats. Unnoticed at the time, the Socialist Party (SP), a radical left party which had begun as an obscure Maoist cell in the 1970s, gained 4 seats to win a total of 9 (it had first entered Parliament in 1994 and made gains in 1998). Ironically, the most lasting immediate result of the Purple government’s collapse was the CDA’s resurgence and re-installation in power for 8 years. Although it had performed very poorly in opposition since 1994, the CDA benefited from its time-honoured place in the centre and became a safe, moderate option for many voters seeking stability. The CDA’s leader, Jan-Peter Balkenende, a largely uninspiring and terribly bland leader, became Prime Minister in a short-lived coalition with the VVD and LPF.

However, the LPF, lacking its charismatic leader, quickly became a clown show and new elections in 2003 saw the LPF collapse to only 8 seats (and would proceed to disintegrate completely by 2006), while the traditional parties – CDA, VVD and especially Labour – regained some lost ground. Balkenende replaced LPF with D66, which had been further weakened in the elections (to 6 seats, after having been halved in 2002). Balkenende gained a reputation for being a teflon politician, given that few people ever thought much of him and he was a poor leader, surviving the premature of his cabinet in 2006 (D66 withdrew) and managing to form another cabinet (this time with the PvdA and a small Christian party) after the early elections in 2006.

The Purple government and Fortuyn’s success have both dramatically altered political dynamics in the Netherlands, making them even more fragmented and volatile.

Fortuyn’s anti-immigration and anti-Islam rhetoric has continued to be a central issue in Dutch political debate, reignited by particular events such as the 2004 assassination of controversial anti-Islam filmmaker Theo van Gogh. Politically, Fortuyn’s place was taken up by Geert Wilders, a former VVD MP who founded his own party, the Party for Freedom (PVV) in 2006 and won 9 seats in that year’s election. Wilders is a more traditional far-right leader, although like Fortuyn, Wilders is a charismatic and abrasive character whose party still revolves almost entirely around his personality, his mood swings and his favourite art of provocation. The PVV gained national (and international) attention by successfully (but temporarily) monopolizing debate on immigration issues and by taking up various wedge issues – banning dual citizenship, a burqa ban, a ban on the Quran, comparing Islam to totalitarian ideologies and generic attacks on Muslim immigrants (and, more recently, Eastern European workers). Like the LPF, the PVV may sometimes couch its rhetoric in social liberal language, although Wilders is a more typical right-wing populist than Fortuyn. Economically, Wilders started out on the right, supporting economic liberalism – similar to the early hard-right positioning of the FN in France in 1984 – but, like the FN, has shifted to idiosyncratic/syncretic economic stances often misleadingly said to be ‘centrist’ or ‘left-wing’. The PVV supports tax cuts, spending cuts in certain area (environmental program, foreign aid, development etc), simplifying business and ‘welfare chauvinist’ positions (limiting access to welfare benefits); but it also moved towards supporting many welfare measures or interventionist policies (child benefits, unemployment benefits unchanged, retirement age kept at 65). The PVV revolves entirely around Wilders, who is legally the party’s sole member – a unique party model, perhaps comparable only to Silvio Berlusconi’s very early Forza Italia in 1994. Wilders vets the PVV’s candidate himself, there is no party democracy and the PVV has not built a local base – in fact, even in the March 2014 local elections, the PVV competed in only two (The Hague and Almere) municipalities out of 403.

In the past decade, Dutch voters have built no strong links with any party, and switched back and forth between parties in between and during elections – although most of the swings have been within blocs, with battles on the left, right and now centre for dominance. In 2006, the SP, benefiting from the CDA government’s unpopular welfare reforms and the PvdA’s poor performance, won a record 16.6% and 25 seats but neither the SP nor the CDA had any interest in government cooperation and the SP’s support fell substantially. In 2009, Wilders’ PVV surged to 17% in the EP elections. Balkenende’s government once again collapsed prematurely in 2010, after the PvdA rejected an extension of the Dutch mission in Afghanistan agreed upon by the CDA’s Balkenende and heir-apparent, foreign minister Maxime Verhagen. By that point, Balkenende had reached his expiry date and, having failed to lead any one of his governments to their full terms, now appeared as a very weak and indecisive leader. Therefore, in the 2010 early elections, the CDA collapsed into fourth place – winning 13.6% and 21 seats, the worst result in the party’s history. Meanwhile, Wilders’ PVV surged to 15.5% and 24 seats. The other major winner was the right-liberal VVD, which had tacked right on immigration issues as well, and placed first – an historic feat for Dutch liberals – with 20.5% and 31 seats. The SP lost heavily (-10 seats), D66 began its recovery after four disastrous elections (+7 seats).

Following tortuous coalition negotiations, VVD leader Mark Rutte formed a minority government with the CDA, which received the outside support of the PVV. While the PVV quickly indicated that it felt no deep obligation towards the cabinet, Wilders basically agreed to support Rutte’s stringent austerity measures in exchange for much stricter immigration laws. The government therefore both severely tightened immigration laws and adopted austerity measures aimed at reducing the Netherlands’ deficit from 5.1% of GDP to the EU level of 3%. Wilders’ support continued to push towards the VVD, to the dismay of certain moderate liberals. For example, Rutte became a ‘hawk’ in EU bailout negotiations and in 2012 said that he would inflexibly oppose any new transfer of sovereignty to the EU. The VVD, always torn between liberals and conservatives or populist-liberals and progressive liberals, has now become one of the most right-wing and Eurocritical parties in the European liberal family (ALDE) and may perhaps be more easily comparable to David Cameron’s Tories.

With these policies, Rutte’s first government was certainly one of the most right-wing governments in Dutch history, and was extremely unpopular with the left – either for its deep budget cuts, its anti-immigration policy, its association with Wilders or all three. Economically, the opposition blamed the government’s austerity policies for throwing the Netherlands, which had escaped fairly well from the 2009 recession, into a double-dip recession with -1.2% negative growth in 2012.

Politically, the government caused problems for both the CDA and the PVV. For the CDA, their issues were quite straightforward: they continued to disingenuously claim they were centrists while supporting a very right-wing government devastated its remaining credibility and indirect cooperation with the PVV caused major strains in the CDA, particularly with the centre-left minority within the party which never wanted to go into government in the first place. For the PVV, the party’s profile began to fade after a few Wilder missteps (notably criticizing the Queen for wearing a veil while in Oman and launching a quite crass new vendetta against Eastern Europeans) and less interest on immigration/Islam (which were huge issues in 2010). In April 2012, Wilders pulled the plug on the government, unwilling to accept a new round of austerity policies and claiming that austerity would have a negative impact on social programs, notably old age security. Wilders unsuccessfully tried to adopt a new anti-EU, anti-euro and anti-austerity creed. The PVV now advocates total withdrawal from the EU and the Eurozone, and Wilders famously associated himself with Marine Le Pen’s FN.

The early 2012 elections are a textbook example of the Dutch’s electorate volatility. The campaign started out as a contest between Mark Rutte’s VVD and Emile Roemer’s SP, which had surged into a strong second or even first place in polls as the PvdA again struggled in opposition. Rutte’s policies were disliked, but Rutte was seen in a positive light as being a genuine and ‘refreshing’ leader. Roemer had become the most vocal opponent of the government’s austerity, and his party’s populist and Eurosceptic rhetoric was ostensibly popular with voters. The left-wing populist SP strongly opposes austerity policies at home or in the EU, and while the SP does not advocate for full withdrawal from the EU, the party is very critical of the ‘EU superstate’ for its advocacy of austerity, corporate interests and its undemocratic workings (it is notably the only Dutch left-wing party which is Eurosceptic). The SP therefore opposes transfers of sovereignty to Brussels, the Stability and Growth Pact, it has been critical of freedom of movement (notably for Romanians and Bulgarians, because of social dumping), the Euro (it does not support withdrawal, but at the same time it doesn’t want to save it at all costs), neoliberal trade policies and the EU common market. Much (too much, probably) is often made of the ‘overlap’ between the PVV and the SP since both parties are anti-EU populists.

The PvdA, which has been on the verge of losing dominance of the left several times in the past few years, managed to turn the 2012 election around in its favour. The PvdA’s new moderate leader, Diederik Samsom, made a good impression in the debates while the SP’s soft support came apart as its platform was criticized (an independent analysis of the SP’s platform said it would result in many job loses). Therefore, there was a sudden and rapid reversal of fortunes for the SP late in the 2012 election – which became a ‘prime ministerial election’ between Rutte and the PvdA’s Samsom. At the polls, the VVD and PvdA both did very well due to strategic voting on the left and right. The VVD won a record-high result of 26.6% and 41 seats, while the PvdA won 24.8% and 38 seats. The SP ended up with a very disappointing result of 9.7% and 15 seats, no change on 2010. Wilders’ PVV suffered a (temporary) setback, falling to 10.1% and 15 seats. The CDA suffered another major thumping, winning a record-low 8.5% and only 13 seats. D66, with 8% and 12 seats, further improved its standing. One of the other major losers was GroenLinks (or GreenLeft), the green party founded in 1989 by the merger of four parties including the New Left-type Pacifist Socialists (PSP), the Christian left/moderate green Political Party of Radicals (PPR) and a recently destalinized Communist Party (CPN) which had embraced the New Left. Since its creation, the GreenLeft has become a much more moderate party, especially under the leaderships of Femke Halsema (2002-2010) and Jolande Sap (2010-2012). The party sidelined the ‘fundi’-type radical left factions, moderated its pacifism with the Kosovo and Afghanistan issues, made a major bid to appear as a respectable and responsible potential governing party and shifted towards a kind of post-materialistic progressive green liberalism (more ‘modern’ than the PvdA) under Halsema and Sap. Although Halsema was fairly successful, and the party won 10 seats in 2010, what did the party in was its 2012 decision to help the outgoing VVD-CDA government to pass its budget before snap elections (after the PVV left the coalition). The GreenLeft joined a ‘Kunduz coalition’ (named for the coalition of parties which approved the 2011 extension of the Dutch policing mission in Kunduz, Afghanistan) with the two governing parties, D66 and the ChristianUnion (CU). Although the GreenLeft managed to get environmental policies and a withdrawal of budget cuts to arts and culture, the damage was done and added to existing internal strife.

The coalition negotiations proved unusually short by Dutch standards, with the formation of a VVD/PvdA coalition government by November 2012. It is a Purple-type government, lacking D66 as a ‘mediator’. Since 2012, the Dutch electorate has been tremendously volatile with one key underlying trend – both governing parties have become extremely unpopular and would be headed to a landslide defeat in the next election. The PvdA quickly lost the ‘additional’ strategic votes it had won from the left. The VVD’s support suddenly collapsed in November 2012 after the coalition agreement talked about increased health premiums for high-income earners – the VVD’s core electorate.

The Purple-ish Rutte II government has since continued with austerity policies (perhaps slightly less ‘extreme’ than those of his first right-wing cabinet) while the economy has continued to struggle. The economy shrank by 0.8% in 2013 but should grow by 1.2% in 2014; unemployment has grown from about 4% in 2011 to a projected high of 7.4% this year. The country’s deficit is now below the EU’s 3% limit (-2.5%), exports are doing well and the debt is not huge (73.8%); instead, what has been dragging the economy has been the very high levels of household debts (110% of GDP, encouraged by fully tax-deductible interest payments on mortgages) creating low consumer confidence and public consumption. Following a significant slump in house prices, 16% of households owed mortgages higher than the value of their house. European Commissioner Olli Rehn has cheered on the government’s spending cuts and austerity, even demanding that they cut even more, but many have said that the cuts serve to further undermine consumer confidence and worsening the economy.

The government has continued to take hardline stances in the Eurozone crisis. The PvdA finance minister, Jeroen Dijsselbloem, is the new president of the Eurogroup and was seen as responsible for the (disastrous) tough position against Cyprus in 2013. The current President of the European Council, Herman van Rompuy, has said that Rutte threatened to leave the Eurozone in 2012 if the EU pushed through a ‘reform package’.

The PvdA ‘talked left’ (left-ish, to be fair: Samsom, at the time, was compared to François Hollande – when that comparison wasn’t an insult! – and still does remind me of Hollande) in 2012 but has since definitely ‘walked right'; the party has always been quite moderate since 1994, pragmatically supporting economically liberal, free-market policies when it is in government. The party has a real threat to its left in the form of the SP, but it also has the imperative to be moderate if it is to be in governments (bad memories of 1977, when a very strong but quite left-wing PvdA under Prime Minister Joop den Uyl found itself removed from power by a CDA-VVD coalition because its demands were too much for the CDA) and also has rivals to its right (in the form of D66). How can the PvdA ‘hold the left’ while remaining centrist enough for government?

In polls, Wilders’ PVV, whose radical anti-EU platform seemed to be working, surged to new heights – up to 27-31 seats in polls, leading the field or tied with the VVD. On the left, the PvdA’s numbers have tanked, now being pegged below 20 seats in all but one poll in 2014, and being outpolled by the SP, which has polled up to 24-25 seats.

The EP elections were preceded by local elections in March 2014. Besides local parties, a fixture of Dutch local politics (especially in the Catholic south), the main winners were D66 and the SP while the clear losers were the governing VVD and PvdA. The VVD’s support fell from 15.7% to 12.2%, while the PvdA fell from 15.7% to 10.3%; on the other hand, the SP increased its vote share from 4.1% to 6.6% and D66 went from 8.2% to 12.1%, surpassing the PvdA and falling right below the CDA and VVD. D66 won eye-catching victories in three of the country’s four largest cities: Amsterdam – a stronghold of the PvdA/SDAP for nearly 100 years, The Hague and Utrecht. In Amsterdam, D66 doubled its caucus from 7 to 14 councillors, while the PvdA lost 5 and ended up with 10. The SP, with 6 councillors in Amsterdam, also doubled its caucus. In The Hague, D66 won 8 seats (+2) against 7 for the PVV (-1) and 6 for Labour (-4). In Utrecht, D66 displaced the GreenLeft to become the largest party, with 13 seats (+4) against 9 for the GreenLeft (-1) and 5 for Labour (-4). In Rotterdam, the local party Leefbaar Rotterdam – a right-populist party formerly led by Pim Fortuyn which first broke through in the old Labour stronghold in 2002 – won 14 seats (nc) against a disastrous 8 for Labour (-6) and 6 for D66 (+2). The SP did well in smaller towns, although it became the largest party in the leftist university town of Nijmegen. In Amsterdam, D66 has since formed an unusual coalition with the VVD and SP to remove the PvdA from power.

The PvdA suffered historic, first-in-a-generation loses in many cities – Amsterdam but also Groningen, Enschede, Deventer, the northeastern provinces and a further collapse in Rotterdam. It was therefore ousted from government in cities where it had been in power for over 6 decades – Amsterdam, Utrecht, Maastricht. The VVD also suffered some major loses, although its loses were often due to local squabbles.

However, the main takeaway by the foreign media from these local elections was another outburst by Wilders, whose party ran in only two municipalities and lost votes in both. Playing a crowd of supporters in The Hague, Wilders asked his supporters if they wanted ‘more or less’ Moroccans in the city and the country, to which his supporters elatedly answered ‘fewer!’. Wilders promised them that “we’ll arrange that”, clearly implying that he wanted to deport all Moroccans from the country. His little circus backfired terribly: two PVV MPs, one MEP and 8 of the PVV’s 9 councillors in Almere left the party over Wilders’ comments. The PVV’s numbers in polls declined, although there was no ‘meltdown’ – like other far-right parties, the PVV’s support is increasingly resilient and resistant to their leaders mouthing off. Nevertheless, the comments further isolated the PVV. The CDA, still reeling from the effects of its indirect coalition with the PVV, has shifted towards the centre with pro-European and pro-immigration positions and has explicitly ruled out a future coalition with the PVV. Rutte’s VVD was the last party still open to working with the PVV, but after the Wilders outburst, Rutte publicly condemned Wilders’ comments and ruled out a coalition with the PVV.

The EP elections were marked by low turnout (in a country where turnout is still quite high in parliamentary elections), with only 37.3% turning out, a bit more than in 2009. The local elections in March saw all-time low turnout of 54%. Low turnout obviously favours the parties with the most disciplined and loyal electorates – the CDA and the small Christian parties, most significantly – while it hurts parties such as the PVV whose electorate does not turn out loyally. All major parties except the GreenLeft, Party for the Animals (PvdD) and pensioners’ party 50PLUS won less votes than in 2012.

The big winner of the EP elections was D66, which won 15.5% – one of the party’s best share of the vote in any national election – and gained one seat (electing 4 MEPs). D66, which was in a severe slump between 1998 and 2006, has been gaining strength – fairly slowly, but surely – since the 2006 election. The centrist party can be in a rather enviable and beneficial position when it is in opposition – it is often known as the ‘second choice party’ in the Netherlands, and has the ability to attract a lot of well-educated, middle-to-high income urban voters with little loyalty to any party. From the left, it can take centrist-leaning urban voters from the PvdA; from the right, it can take moderate affluent liberal voters from the VVD (and some economically centrist votes from the CDA) – and can top that off with some centrist green liberal voters from the GreenLeft, whose electoral clientele is broadly similar to that of D66. In governments, D66 tends to lose its distinctiveness and attractiveness to annoyed voters of governing party. In opposition, D66 leader Alexander Pechtold gained a profile and popularity on the centre/centre-left as the most vocal opponent of Geert Wilders’ anti-immigration and anti-EU politics. The PVV and D66 are polar opposites, in terms of ideology and voters: the former is anti-EU, anti-immigration, fairly socially conservative and backed by low-income, less educated oters; the latter is strongly pro-EU (federalist), enthusiastically pro-immigration and pro-multiculturalism, very progressive on ‘social issues’ and liberal on economic matters, supported by well-educated, high-income voters in urban centres.

Since D66’s success at the local polls in March, the party has leaped into first place in polls and it has been maintaining a stable yet extremely narrow lead over other parties (at most +4 seats) since then. Historically, D66 polls well in mid-term votes, but its support – like in 2010 – may decline as national elections draw nearer, with right and left-wing supporters opting to vote strategically instead.

Traditionally a centre-left (left-liberal) progressive party defined by its secular, reformist, socially liberal and pro-immigration views, D66 has shifted towards the right on economic matters in recent years. Not all that surprisingly for a moderate social liberal party – similar to Denmark’s Radikale Venstre – D66 supports balanced budgets, flexible labour laws, free markets, economic liberalization and doing away with some older aspects of the welfare state (in Amsterdam, for example, it campaigned to privatize the property market while the PvdA supports the city’s publicly-subsidized non-profit housing corporations) although at the same time it is very big on investing more in education/R&D. The party remains very strongly pro-EU, pro-immigration and socially liberal. Traditionally placed either on the right of the centre-left or in the centre, D66 appears to be an increasingly centrist party.

While the PVV and SP have opposed the current government at every turn, D66 has been selling itself as a ‘constructive opposition party’ and, in the Senate, where the VVD-PvdA lack a majority, D66 has sometimes collaborated with the government parties to help them pass their legislation in exchange for concessions on pet issues like education (the Christian parties have also helped the government). D66 had already been a ‘constructive ally’ of a CDA-PvdA government between 1989 and 1994, and that had led them to their record-high result of 15.5% and 24 seats in the 1994 election.

The CDA came in second in the vote share, with 15.2%, but because the CDA had an electoral alliance with the CU-SGP and 50PLUS (where their votes are pooled together and treated as a single party for purposes of seat allocation), it won 5 seats – one more than D66, which placed narrowly ahead of the CDA in terms of votes. It is a mixed result for the CDA – on the plus side, the party lands in a symbolic second after the fifth-place humiliation in 2012 and its result is higher than in 2012 (8.5%) although only in terms of share of the vote; on the downside, the CDA’s result is down 4.9% from the 2009 EP election and the CDA could be expected to perform well in a low-turnout election because its old, largely rural and religious electorate turns out more reliably than most. CDA leader Sybrand Buma, a Frisian Protestant, was elated by the CDA’s relative decent showing in the March local elections (where the CDA lost only marginally from the last local elections in 2010); never mind that the local elections were the CDA’s worst performance in local elections – and now these EP elections are still the CDA’s worst performance in a EP election. Under Sybrand Buma, the CDA has moved back towards the centre – the ‘radical centre’ – and pro-EU, social justice talk to make everybody forget the disastrous trauma of the Rutte I government for the CDA. If national polls are to be trusted, it has worked some, because the CDA could win up to 22 seats in the next election (that would be an historically poor result, equivalent to the CDA’s result in 2010) – so while it has recovered some voters, who likely went (strategically) for the VVD in 2012, it has failed to breakthrough and find those ‘floating’ middle-class suburbanites who had voted CDA in the mid-2000s. The centrist shift may have worked, but it may also look as if the CDA is a party which is willing to say or do anything to remain in power.

The PVV had a surprisingly disappointing result, winning only 13.3% of the vote, down 3.7% from the PVV’s breakthrough performance in the 2009 EP elections. Given that Wilders’ party is still on track to win a strong result in the next election – the PVV is currently pegged at roughly 20-24 seats (slightly below its 2010 result) – the PVV’s poor performance in the EP elections is likely more a sign of differential turnout, with the PVV’s protest voters lacking the motivation to go out and vote, than a clear trend. Turnout was indeed lower in regions where the PVV is strong – 28.2% in Rotterdam (where the PVV won 18.7%), 30.5% in Almere (where the PVV won 18.9%), 33.6% in the southern province of Limburg and 34% in the northern province of North Brabant.

Differential turnout may also explain why the SP did not do as well as it could have in a high-turnout national election. Although the Socialists landed ahead of the PvdA in the vote count – but the PvdA saved their third seat because of an electoral alliance with the GreenLeft – its result is below its current national polling average (20-22 seats, which would likely about 12-14% of the vote). Turnout was low where the SP does well, notably in the party’s southern strongholds (the provinces of North Brabant and Limburg, with 11.8% and 12.7% of the vote this year) or the poor municipalities of eastern Groningen province along the German province in the northeast.

The governing parties – VVD and PvdA, especially the latter – did poorly. Although the VVD’s result is up marginally on the party’s poor showing in 2009, if you compare to the VVD’s results in 2012 (26.6%) and 2010 (20.5%) it is a poor result for Prime Minister Rutte’s party, which has likely lost some votes to D66 (and even more to abstention, given that D66 did not win more votes than in 2012). The real loser was the governing PvdA, which won only 9.4% – by far, the party’s worst result both in terms of raw votes and percentage of the vote, in a national election. Because of an electoral alliance with the GreenLeft, it managed to retain its three MEPs. As was likely predictable from the moment the PvdA signed up for a Purple-ish coalition with the VVD in 2012, on a platform which included a good dose of austerity, it suffered major loses both to its left and right. The PvdA has been decimated with working-class, low-income voters alienated by the party’s liberal economic policies in government: an old poll in February showed that the PvdA’s support with low-income voters has collapsed from 29% to 12%, while the SP’s support with these voters increased from 18% to 24% since 2012. Labour’s support with low-education voters has also collapsed, again largely in favour of the SP and the PVV (although the PvdA itself likely has lost more to the radical left than the far-right since 2012). On the other hand, Labour has also suffered an outflow of well-educated, higher-income voters to D66 – with highly educated voters, the PvdA’s support fell from 26% to 10% with D66 moving up from 14% to 25%. The PvdA would likely win about 9% and 12-14 seats if an election was held tomorrow. Of course, the PvdA has seen bad times before, and, as we saw in 2012, managed to spectacularly recover. For most of 2012, the PvdA languished in fourth or worse place behind the SP, and then recovered very nicely at the SP’s expense. However, this time might be quite different…

The ChristianUnion (CU) and Reformed Political Party (SGP) are two small orthodox Protestant (neo-Calvinist) parties, who run together in EP elections since 1984 but who remain two separate parties in national elections. The CU, founded in 2001, was formed by the merger of two small orthodox Protestant parties – one of them a sectarian party formed by ex-ARP members of the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands (Liberated), dissidents from Kuyper’s Gereformeerde Kerken in 1948, the other a very similar party formed by ARP members who opposed the merger with the Catholics in 1975. The SGP is the oldest continuously-existing party, formed in 1918, by orthodox Protestant members of the ARP in opposition to female suffrage. The SGP is the best example of what the Dutch commonly call ‘testimonial parties’ – ideological parties focused on representing their principles and not pursuing coalition participation. The SGP represents the most orthodox and traditionalist members of bevindelijk gereformeerden churches and groups – fairly obscure (even to most Dutch!) orthodox Protestant/Calvinist groups emphasizing personal religious experiences and who remain loyal to traditions and old customs, rejecting some new technologies and scientific developments. While the CU is a more ‘modern’ party and not a testimonial party (having participated in the last Balkenende government), it remains very conservative on social issues (abortion, drugs, families, homosexuality, euthanasia, prostitution) but its interpretation of the Bible and the Gospel leads it to centre-left views on economic matters, immigration, foreign aid and the environment. The CU has criticized Wilders’ appeals to Judeo-Christian values in the past. The SGP is one of Europe’s most unique parties – the party famously banned women from joining until the courts forced it to accept them back in 2005 and its website is closed on Sundays. It has very conservative views on social issues, rejects freedom of religion (we should settle for freedom of conscience instead) and the SGP’s avowed end goal remains a Protestant theocratic state. In recent years, the SGP has kind of exchanged its traditional anti-papism/anti-Catholicism for anti-secularism and anti-Islamism. It has a very ambiguous relationship with Wilders’ PVV, at times joining him in opposing Islam and ‘Islamization of the Netherlands’ but remaining somewhat reticent to fully join him, likely realizing that some of the religious traditions which some of the SGP defends for its voters are quite similar to some Muslim religious traditions which the PVV incessantly denounces. Both the CU and the SGP have been ‘constructive opposition’ parties since 2010, helping the VVD-CDA and now VVD-PvdA governments to pass some pieces of legislation in the Senate. The SGP has never participated in government (but came very close in 2003) and likely never will.

The SGP has an extremely stable electorate, having won two or three MPs in every elections since 1925 – the SGP has a small, loyal and high-turnout base but it has extremely little appeal to other parties (it likely exchanges voters only with the CU and CDA, and even then); the CU has a wider and slightly less stable clientele, similarly religious but with more outreach to conservative and religious voters who may find the SGP a bit too much. Both parties are heavily concentrated in the Netherlands’ Bible Belt, a central chain running from Zeeland to northern Overijssel.

In a low-turnout EP election, the CU/SGP did well, improving from a combined result of 5.2% in 2012 to 7.7% in 2014, because of both parties’ ability to hold their reliable, loyal and high-turnout voters. In 2009, the CU joined the ECR group while the SGP, apparently because of its views on women, was unable to join and instead went to EFD. The SGP has now joined the ECR – the British Conservatives’ inconvenient group allies in the EP can now include a theocratic party!

The GreenLeft had, like in the local elections, a mixed result. On the one hand, its performance is down on the last EP election and that means that the GL loses one MEP and about 2% from the 2009 election. On the other hand, the GreenLeft has begun recovering from the 2012 rout, being one of the few parties to actually win more raw votes in the EP election than in the last national election and boosting its vote share from 2.3% to 6.9% – although it may end up with less than that in a national election, as many of its leftist supporters will end up voting strategically. The GL suffered a few bad months after the 2012 disaster, as the internal bickering continued – GL leader Jolande Sap, held responsible for the disaster because of her ill-advised cooperation with the centre-right government in 2012 and psychodrama in the party, was forced against her will. Her successor, Bram van Ojik, an old-timer who comes from the PPR, has kept a low-profile and steered clear on controversy, aiming to rebuild the GL through hard work in Parliament. Sooner or later, however, the GL will likely need to face the issue of what kind of party it wants to be – being a social liberal, green progressive party can’t be it, because those kinds of voters can already vote D66.

Another ‘testimonial party’ – although of a very different kind – joined the EP. The Party for the Animals (PvdD), a small animal’s rights party which has had seats in the Dutch lower house since 2006, won 4.2% of the vote (a result significantly above what it wins in national elections), thereby passing the unofficial 4% threshold to get a seat. The PvdD is predominantly a single-issue party (animal rights, vegetarianism) whose focus is expanding awareness of the issues it promotes and helping other similar parties around the world to grow in size (it is the only animal’s rights party in the world with parliamentarians). The party is moderately Eurosceptic, although from an interesting and unique standpoint of the poor conditions of animal welfare in the EU. The party has joined the GUE/NGL, like the new animal rights MEP from Germany.

50PLUS, a new-ish populist pensioners’ party with 2 MPs, won 3.7%, falling just short of a seat. A nice symbol of the volatility of Dutch politics – 50PLUS actually experienced a brief surge, peaking at about 20 seats, in early and mid-2013.

% vote for major parties, turnout and population density by municipality in the Netherlands (source: Josse de Voogd)

% vote for major parties, turnout and population density by municipality in the Netherlands (source: Josse de Voogd)

The NRC has interactive maps of the results by municipality, and shaded maps showing the parties’ votes and changes in their vote share from 2009. D66 dominated urban areas – the party won the cities of Amsterdam, The Hague, Utrecht, Eindhoven, Tilburg, Groningen, Breda, Nijmegen, Enschede, Apeldoorn, Haarlem, Amersfoort, Arnhem, ‘s-Hertogenbosch and Zwolle. The party won its best results in the highly-educated university towns of Utrecht (26.2%), Leiden (25.6%), Amsterdam (24.8%), Delft (24.6%), Wageningen (22.7%) and Groningen (21.2%). In cities, D66’s electorate is predominantly made up of well-educated, high-income (upper middle-class) young professionals – while there is a large overlap with the GreenLeft, the GL usually does better with less affluent well-educated young people (most likely recent graduates, mid-level public servants, teachers, NGO workers, and poor-yet-hip young urbanites) while it doesn’t have D66’s support in affluent elite neighborhoods and suburbs. This year, D66 also did extremely well in some affluent communities in the Randstad (het Gooi) and across the country – 26.4% in Bloemendaal (North Holland), 25% in Bussum, 25.3% in Naarden, 24.6% in Heemstede, 26.9% in Oegstgeest (in South Holland, right outside Leiden), 25.2% in Muiden but also 23.7% in Haren, an affluent town outside of Gronigen and the most affluent region in the poor provinces of the northern Netherlands. These results indicate that D66 likely ate into the VVD’s traditional electorate in its affluent suburban bases. Outside of the urbanized Randstad mix of cities and suburbs and other cities in the country, D66’s support in rural and poorer regions is significantly lower.

The CDA has held on to a predominantly rural and elderly electorate, heavily concentrated in the eastern provinces (Overijssel, 25.5%; Friesland, 20.8%; Limburg, 20.4%) while it did very poorly in the urbanized provinces (North Holland, 9.99% and fifth; South Holland, 12.4% and fourth; Utrecht 12.6% and third) and even worse in the actual cities (4.1% in Amsterdam, eight behind the PvdD; 6.9% in Utrecht; 6.5% in Almere; 8.5% in Rotterdam and 8.4% the Hague). The CDA has retained its Protestant electorate better than its Catholic vote in the southern provinces of Limburg and North Brabant, where a lot of the vote has gone towards populist parties such as the PVV and the SP. The CDA’s remaining strongholds in the east reflect rural and elderly Protestant and Catholic areas, former strongholds of the old ARP (or CHU) in the north or, less often, the Catholic KVP. Compared to 2009, the CDA lost heavily in Catholic areas in the south but it made some gains in a small region in eastern Overijssel which is largely Catholic.

The PVV has a very regionally composite electorate, with the common strand throughout these regions and voters being lower levels of education, generally lower levels of income (although the PVV’s support is less defined by income than the SP, and may pull low-income white working-class voters in cities as well as ‘worried’ or ‘excluded’ lower middle-classes in ‘growth centres’ and suburbs) and blue collar occupations (construction, distribution, manufacturing, transportation, sometimes agriculture). The PVV remained the strongest party in the province of Limburg, Wilders’ native province (and a bit of his support there is a favourite son vote, in a Catholic region which has tended to like personalities more than parties), with particularly strong support in his native Venlo (23.5%) and the old mining basin in southwestern Limburg (peaking at 31.5% in Kerkrade) – regions where local employment has been under severe pressure and strains for quite some time. In the urbanized Randstad, the PVV topped the poll in Rotterdam with 18.7% against 17.6% for D66 (the PVV’s support is down from 22.7% in 2009), making it the largest city in the country where D66 did not come first. Compared to Amsterdam, the large industrial port city of Rotterdam is a less gentrified city, retaining a larger white working-class alongside a very large population of non-western foreigners (36.7%). The PVV also placed first with 28.3% in Spijkenisse and 23.5% in Schiedam, two lower-income suburban municipalities outside of Rotterdam. The PVV placed a close second with 15.4% in The Hague, one of the most socially mixed cities in the country, combining some affluent seafront communities, a progressive downtown, some of the poorest immigrant neighborhoods in the country and old working-class villages. With 16.1%, the PVV was the largest party in the Zaanstad, a municipality made up of Amsterdam’s old working-class industrial suburbs.

Despite losing nearly 10 points from 2009, the PVV topped the poll in Almere (with 18.9%) – a planned city on the artificial islands of Flevoland built in the 1970s-1980s as suburbs for Amsterdam. In Almere, the PVV performs best in the older neighborhoods, where local middle-classes who face long commutes to work are worried about the deterioration of their neighborhoods and social decline (and immigrants: a lot of Amsterdam’s newer suburbs, such as Almere but also Purmerend, where the PVV also placed first with over 20%, are ‘white flight’ communities). The PVV polls well in stagnating old industrial and peripheral areas – Helmond (North Brabant, 21.6%), Roosendaal (North Brabant, 20.3%) or Delfzijl (Groningen, 15.6%); as well as the middle-class ‘growth centres’ which swelled in the 1980s to accommodate Holland’s suburban growth – 18.7% in Zoetermeer (outside the Hague) and 24.7% in Hellevoetsluis (South Holland).

The PVV also did well in the left-wing oriented eastern regions of the provinces of Groningen and Drenthe provinces, areas which used to be Communist and Labour strongholds (the region has been voting for the left since 1918). This is a poor region (one of the poorest, in fact – the poorest municipality in the country seems to be Pekela, which is located in the province of Groningen) with high unemployment, historically marked by large farms (often peat bogs) owned by a small elite of landowners employing many poor landless seasonal agricultural labourers and later by small factories or paper mills (many of which have since closed). Some regions, such as the town of Finsterwolde (now in the Oldambt municipality), were Communist strongholds (the CPN won over 50% in Finstertwolde until 1981!) – in fact, the NCPN (the hardliner communist party formed by anti-GL activists) still won over 50% in the 1994 local elections in the Reiderland and was still the largest party in 2002 but got supplanted by an even more hardline splinter party of their own, the United Communist Party (VCP) which nevertheless became the second largest party in the Oldambt municipality in 2014, behind the SP, with 16% and 4 seats (a gain of 2). The region has given high support to protest parties in the past – the LPF in 2002 did very well, for example. The PVV won 22.7% in Pekela, 15.4% in the Oldambt, 19.2% in Vlagtwedde and 16.5% in Bellingwedde. It also gave strong results for the SP – which was the largest party in the Oldambt and Bellingwedde (with 19%), among a few other towns. The animal’s party (PvdD) also did well – with over 5% in Vlagtwedde, Bellingwedde and Menterwolde; the PvdD’s stronger support in protest-oriented regions differentiates it from the other ‘green’ parties (D66 and GL), who are weak in these poor regions.

The PVV’s best municipality was Rucphen (North Brabant), with 37.5% – a town which has usually given strong support to past radical right parties (the Farmers’ Party in 1967 and the Centre Democrats in 1994, and which now gives huge numbers to the PVV, especially in Sint Willebrord, an old bricklayers’ and carpenters’ village. The PVV also won 34.8% in Edam-Voledam in North Holland, an old fishing community with a tradition of anti-government sentiments.

The VVD mostly topped the poll in its affluent suburban bastions – 27.3% in Wassenaar (outside The Hague), 30.4% in Laren, 25.6% in Blaricum, 29.5% in Rozendaal, 24.4% in Bloemendaal (but D66 topped the poll here).

The SP has a very strong historical base in the south, particularly in the northeast of the North Brabant province and northern Limburg. The municipality of Oss, a town with an industrial past, was home to SP’s first major leader Jan Marijnissen and the party has had councillors in Oss since 1976, back when the SP was a Maoist grouping polling 0.2% nationally. The SP has also performed strongly in nearby Boxmeer, home to SP’s current leader, Emile Roemer. In North Brabant, an old Catholic region where the KVP had a stranglehold on Catholics of all social classes until the 1960s and barred the PvdA from building a base, the SP has been able to build a strong base with low-income, working-class voters thanks to community work at the local level (providing money to charity groups, providing local doctors and the like). Catholicism in the south may have created a more conservative, hierarchical and authoritarian culture and could be leading to strong support for populist parties like the SP and PVV; or the SP’s style of politics – quite local and personality-based – may have partly replaced the clientelistic networks of the KVP. In any case, the south is more volatile and fickle than other regions, often serving to magnify national trends (for the PVV in 2010, for the SP in 2006 etc). This year, the SP won 11.8% in North Brabant and 12.7% in Limburg; the SP was the largest party in Oss (with 17.5%) and Gennep (21.2%, across the Meuse from Boxmeer in Limburg). Compared to 2009, some of the SP’s biggest gains came from Boxmeer and surrounding towns (the SP went from 14.4% to 24% in Boxmeer), reflecting the new personal vote for Roemer (who became leader in 2010). However, the SP has also gained a new base in the north – it won 12.9% in Groningen province (against 13.2% for the PvdA), as discussed above with strong results in these old leftist/communist bases. The SP also polls well in low-income urban areas – for example, it took 13.4% in Zaanstad and 14% in Spijkenisse. Its support in the very leftist university of Nijmegen (14.2%) comes mostly from the lower-income areas of the west end, the various pre-war and largely post-war developments.

The GreenLeft’s support is closely correlated to that of D66, with the differences noted above (notably: GL lacking D66’s appeal in wealthy suburbs, which makes GL an even more urban-based party). The GL won 16.3% and second in Amsterdam (in its old base, the PvdA won a disastrous third with 14.3%), 18.5% and second in Utrecht, 18.5% and second in Nijmegen, 19.9% and second in Nijmegen, 13.9% and second in Leiden and 14.2% and third in Groningen. The GL also has strong results in other well-educated progressive cities, such as Haarlem (12.1%) and Arnhem (11.5%).

The CU/SGP was the largest party in several municipalities in the Bible Belt, and even in the province of Zeeland (with 18.7%), where there are a lot of orthodox Protestants. The CU/SGP’s best result, unsurprisingly, came from the old fishing island (and famously parochial and close-knit village) of Urk (in Flevoland), a SGP stronghold where the two parties combined won 73.5%, up from 57.2% in 2009 due to gains from the CDA). Other strong results came from similar orthodox Protestant communities – Staphorst (57.2%), Nunspeet (48.1%), Bunschoten (45.7%) or Hardinxveld-Giessendam (49.2%) in the Bible Belt. In contrast, the CU/SGP found next to no support in the Catholic south (2.1% in North Brabant – and most of it came from four Protestant municipalities, 0.9% in Limburg) or the secular urban North Holland (2.6%). The Bible Belt’s very conservative culture can be noted on other non-political issues. For example, vaccination rates against mumps, measles and rubella are significantly lower in the Bible Belt (because vaccinations are seen as not trusting God as the guardian of diseases and other calamities) and the 2004-5 measles outbreak was concentrated in the Bible Belt.

The PvdD, as noted above, has stronger (comparatively) support in protest-oriented areas than D66 or the GL, but it also has a base in urban areas – it won 5.6% in North Holland and 6.1% in Amsterdam, although the correlation with university cities is weak: the PvdD did better in Almere (6.1%) than Utrecht (4.5%) or Wageningen (3.9%).

The EP elections show that Dutch politics today remain a fascinating mess. As of today, you have a practical five-way battle for first place (!) – D66 seems to be ahead, but narrowly; the VVD has definitely fallen off but not collapsed, the CDA has recovered but only weakly, the PVV strong although not as strong as in 2013 and the SP roughly pegged with the VVD, CDA and PVV. Naturally, as past experience shows, these trends are unlikely to hold up in a national election, and the PvdA – for example – could recover at the SP’s expense. In short, anything could happen.

EU 2014: Italy

ep2014

The European Parliament elections were held in Italy on May 25, 2014. Alongside them, the first round of municipal elections in nearly half of all communes and regional elections in two regions were held.

Italy is famous in Europe for its convoluted, complicated, arcane, peculiar and often very theatrical politics – in short, a political system which may often confound general explanations of European politics. The past five years, in particular the last two or so of them, have been extremely rich in momentous and consequential events which have fundamentally changed the way Italian politics had operated since 1994. Perhaps less dramatic and rapidly than in Greece, it would certainly appear that Italy is undergoing a major political realignment whose final outcome is still very uncertain and whose evolution has continued to defied all predictions. The ongoing changes in the party system and upcoming changes to the electoral system and constitutional structure of Italy may augur the creation of a ‘Third Republic’ to replace the Second Republic (1994-?). The EP elections added to the increasingly open-ended and unpredictable nature of contemporary Italian politics: Prime Minister Matteo Renzi’s governing centre-left Democratic Party (PD) won an unexpectedly massive victory at the polls.

Electoral system

Italy elected 73 MEPs to the European Parliament, one more than in the 2009 election (under the Nice apportionment rules) – but Italy had received its 73rd seat in 2011, following ratification of the Treaty of Lisbon. The Italian electoral law for the EP was adopted in 1979, for the first EP elections, making it the oldest electoral law in Italy. Under the current version of the law, members are elected by semi-open party-list proportional representation with a 4% threshold (adopted in 2009) in five multi-member constituencies: Northeast Italy (Aosta Valley, Piedmont, Liguria, Lombardy – 20 MEPs), Northwest Italy (Trentino-Alto Adige, Veneto, Friuli-Venezia Giulia, Emilia-Romagna – 14 MEPs), Central Italy (Tuscany, Umbria, Marche, Lazio/Latium – 14 MEPs), Southern Italy (Abruzzo, Molise, Campania, Apulia, Basilicata, Calabria – 17 MEPs), Insular Italy (Sicily and Sardinia – 8 MEPs).

Unlike in France, the threshold is applied nationally rather than regionally, and the parties’ seats are then distributed to the individual constituencies based on the lists’ results therein (Hare-Niemeyer method, highest remainders). Italian voters may cast up to three preferential votes for candidates on a party list, but under a recent amendment, a voters’ preferences will be ignored if they are not distributed between candidates of different genders. Lists must therefore obtain 4% nationally to win seats, but there is an exception for linguistic minority parties (French, German and Slovenian) who may ally themselves with a national party, pooling their votes together and receiving a seat if the minority party wins over 50,000 votes nationally.

In Italy, candidates may run in more than one constituency, something which is extremely rare in other EU member-states. In 2009, for example, then-Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi was the lead candidate of his party, the People of Freedom (PdL) in every constituency and was elected to the EP from every constituency. That same year, the then-leader of the Lega Nord, Umberto Bossi, was also the Lega’s top candidate in every EP constituency.

Turnout in Italian elections – at all levels – have traditionally been extremely high, especially given that voting is not mandatory. There has, however, been a very obvious downwards trend in turnout in all elections in the past decades, with turnout in national elections falling from over 90% in the 1970s and 88% in 1983-7 to historic lows of 78.1% in 2008 and 72.3% in the last election in 2013. In EP elections, although Italy remains one of the few EU countries without mandatory voting where turnout has remained over 50%, turnout has declined quasi-consistently (with the exception of an increase in 2004) from 86% in 1979 to 66.5% in 2009 and a new low of 57.2% this year.

Like everything in Italian politics, the history of EP elections since 1979 is marked by a pre-1994 and post-1994 difference, between the First Republic (1979, 1984 and 1989 EP elections) and Second Republic (1994, 1999, 2004, 2009 EP elections) elections. Under the First Republic, in line with the general tradition of that era of the partitocrazia, the EP elections did not see major differences from the results in national elections or wild swings from one election to the next. Nevertheless, the 1984 EP elections were the first and only national elections in which the Italian Communist Party (PCI) surpassed the natural governing party, the Christian Democracy (DC), due to the recent death of popular PCI leader Enrico Berlinguer (though even in that case, the differences between EP election and 1983 national elections were minor). Since 1994, EP elections have seen – in line with the political culture of the Second Republic – wilder swings and an exploded and unstable party system. The 1994 EP elections, right in the aftermath of Silvio Berlusconi’s victory in the 1994 elections, saw Berlusconi’s party win its best national result ever (30.6%). The 1999 EP elections, held during a centre-left government, saw Berlusconi’s party – in opposition – win the most votes (25.2%) and set the stage for his return to power in 2001. However, in 2004, held when Berlusconi’s three-year old government was at its lowest point in popularity, the centre-left coalition (L’Ulivo) swept the board with 31.1% against 20.9% for Berlusconi.

Background

In the 2009 EP elections, then-Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi – the histrionic business magnate at the centre of Italian politics since 1994, won yet another convincing electoral victory over the left, one year after Berlusconi was elected to a third term in power (Berlusconi won the 1994, 2001 and 2008 elections and served thrice as Prime Minister, from 1994 to 1995, 2001 to 2006 and 2008 to 2011). Berlusconi is a highly controversial but also highly interesting and unique political figure in contemporary Western Europe. A prominent businessman, Berlusconi made his fortune in the 1980s with Fininvest, a financial holding company which still controls a football club (AC Milan) and a powerful private media empire (Mediaset, which controls about 35% of the TV market in Italy).

In 1994, the ‘First Republic’ collapsed, opening a major void on the right of the political spectrum which was up for grabs. The First Republic a fairly stable (the heavy turnover in cabinets obscured constants in the partisan makeup of said cabinets and electoral trends) but also very corrupt fossilized political system structured around the catch-all Christian Democracy (DC) party and its minor allies (Socialists, Liberals, Republicans and Democratic Socialists) and united by the very potent threat posed by the Italian Communist Party (PCI), one of Western Europe’s strongest and most influential communist parties during the Cold War. Since 1991, the First Republic collapsed first as the Cold War ended and huge corruption scandals and investigations which revealed that the governing parties, led by the DC, were rotten to the core. The DC and Socialists scuttled themselves altogether, the PCI responded to the fall of communism by transforming itself into a modern social democratic party (the PDS), the old neo-fascist/far-right Italian Social Movement (MSI) rebranded itself as the post-fascist and moderated National Alliance (AN) under Gianfranco Fini and new parties emerged forcefully – most notably, the regionalist/separatist populist Lega Nord in northern Italy. The DC’s collapse opened up a big void on the right and centre, one which would not vote for the ex-PCI under any circumstances (thanks to decades of instinctive anti-communism), but which was left homeless by the collapse of the DC and other parties. Berlusconi, a very shrewd and talented political operator, understood the opportunity which existed (and realized the consequences that the likely left-wing victory in the 1994 elections would have on his personal business empire, built up in good part due to his ties to prominent politicians in the old system) and decided to ‘enter the field’ with a new party, Forza Italia, founded just months before the 1994 elections. In regionally-differentiated coalitions with the Lega Nord and the AN (and small centre-right remnants of the DC), Berlusconi won the 1994 elections but his government quickly collapsed due to conflicts with the Lega. In 2001, Berlusconi, who had reconstructed a right-wing coalition with the AN, Lega and the ex-DC centre-right (what is now the Union of the Centre, UDC) since his 1996 defeat, won a large victory over the left. Despite many coalition crises and his growing unpopularity, Berlusconi accomplished a rare feat – remaining Prime Minister throughout the term of Parliament (until 2006) – but was defeated by a hair in 2006. In 2008, Berlusconi roared back like the proverbial phoenix and merged his Forza Italia with Fini’s AN in a new party, The People of Freedom (PdL).

Forza Italia, especially at the outset, was much more of a marketing product than traditional party (academic literature has described it as a ‘media-mediated personality party’, ‘patrimonial party’ or a ‘business firm model party’) – hierarchical, limited membership, a heavy personalist focus on the media-savvy personality of the leader and political strategies imported from the private sector (focus groups, marketing techniques, reliance on polling). Ideologically, Berlusconi’s parties, although nowadays affiliated with the EPP, have been populist more than traditionally conservative – despite being in power regularly since 1994, Berlusconi’s anti-system and anti-establishment rhetoric (in which Berlusconi presented himself as the businessman who challenged a corrupt party system and promised to apply his ‘entrepreneurial success’ to politics) continued to prove electorally successful. While Berlusconi has used neoliberal language of low taxes and small government since 1994, in practice he has mostly sought to adapt his politics to pre-existing socioeconomic contexts and he has a deft ability to switch positions according to context and region (appealing to both anti-tax and anti-government northerners and state-dependent southerners). Despite countless corruption scandals and a fairly mediocre – at best – record while in government (indeed, he basically spent most of his last term as Prime Minister fighting his own judicial battles and staying out of jail), Berlusconi’s political survival through countless tests since 1994 has been nothing short of remarkable. Although he has been defeated in three legislative elections, two of them were unexpectedly close and the last one (1996) was largely due to the division of his original 1994 coalition. Each time, Berlusconi has made good use of his domineering media personality to shift the focus on him in every election and seize the spotlight through various carefully-staged media events or rhetorical flourishes (his 1994 ‘entrance into the field’, his constant anti-communist rhetoric, the constant use of the myth of the ‘creative entrepreneur’ fighting a vast leftist conspiracy, a ‘persecution syndrome’, his Manichean outlook of good and evil, his 2001 Contratto con gli Italiani, his 2006 and 2013 promises to abolish – and, in 2013, refund – a property tax on primary residences).

The left – with weak leadership, deep divisions between its countless parties and factions defined largely in opposition to Berlusconi and its inability to challenge Berlusconi’s control of the media campaign – failed to measure up to Berlusconi, especially in 2001 and 2008, but the left’s narrow victories in 2006 and 2013 when they should have won by a mile were also quasi-defeats. The Italian left since the 1990s has been a very complex web of alliances, parties and factions – ideologically, it runs the gamut from old-style communists (usually outside the mainstream left and irrelevant since 2008) to ex-DC moderate centrists and liberals. The main ideological groupings traditionally being social democrats (most with PCI roots and former members of the PDS/DS) and moderate centre-left Christian democrats (most with DC/PPI roots and former members of the Daisy party) – but in all cases, the participation of groups to the left (communists, socialists, ecosocialists) and right (conservatives, libertarians) of these main factions have complicated governance (notably in the days of The Olive Tree coalitions) and election strategies. Since the creation of the PD in 2007, the traditional ideological lines have remained important, but there has been a growing divide between an ‘old guard’ of the party – mostly traditionalist social democrats with centrists and younger leftist allies (Young Turks) – and a ‘modernizing’ and reformist wing – traditionally liberals and centrists, with some social democrats. The ‘old guard’, whose most famous name is former Prime Minister Massimo D’Alema, suffers from an increasingly negative image because of its association with backroom politics, underhanded political maneuvers, stale leadership and inability to successfully take on Berlusconi.

Berlusconi’s charm and political power worn off beginning in 2010. That year, Berlusconi’s parliamentary majority was severely reduced with the defection of Gianfranco Fini, the former AN leader and Berlusconi’s one-time heir apparent, and his colleagues. Berlusconi’s undoing, however, came with the worsening of Italy’s economic situation in 2011. Since the 1980s, Italy’s economy has generally been struggling largely due to weak governments unable or unwilling to reform Italy’s economy, tackle ingrained corruption or challenge established economic and political structures, but also to its lack of competitiveness (unit labour costs in Italy since the birth of the euro in 1999 have risen must faster than in other EU countries and productivity declined). In 2011, Italy’s debt-to-GDP ratio was actually the second largest in the EU behind Greece (121% of GDP), although because most of Italy’s debt is domestically-owned and Italians have a high level of savings and low household debt, the impact hasn’t been as catastrophic as in Greece. However, in 2011, because of weak growth (Italy was in recession in 2008-2009 and only grew by 0.4% in 2011), budget deficits and debt levels over EU limits, the risk of ‘contagion’ and Berlusconi’s poor economic stewardship (preoccupied with his own financial and sexual scandals), Italy’s economy teetered on the cliff and was said to be on the verge of default. In November 2011, Berlusconi finally lost his majority in the Chamber of Deputies and resigned after the Parliament passed a final austerity package. Berlusconi’s own political failures since 2008 and doubts over Berlusconi’s leadership and personal behaviour were widely blamed for fueling market and EU anxieties about Italy’s precarious economic condition. Berlusconi maintains that he was forced out of office by a conspiracy led by his EU partners (indeed, EU leaders such as Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy had grown exasperated with him and lost faith in his abilities, and contributed to the pressure which led to his ouster). At home, after remaining popular in 2009 and 2010, Berlusconi was quickly becoming very unpopular – the PdL suffered some stunning defeats, including in Berlusconi’s Milanese heartland, in the May 2011 local elections and the government was defeated on ‘abrogative referendums’ in the summer.

The ceremonial President, Giorgio Napolitano, got the main parties – including the left and right – to agree to a technocratic (or ‘technical’) government led by Mario Monti, a former European Commissioner and a respected economist. The new government’s immediate task was to ‘save’ the Italian economy from collapse through urgent reforms. Monti immediately set to work on passing an emergency austerity package which significantly raised taxes and cut pensions. His government also undertook several other major reforms aimed at liberalizing and reforming the Italian economy. His government passed measures aimed at introducing more competition in monopolized and noncompetitive sectors (taxis, pharmacies); a pension reform which pushed the retirement age to 66 and attacked ‘special retirement plans’; a labour market reform along the lines of Denmark’s flexicurity model which reduced guarantees for employees; and got serious on targetting the very high rates of tax evasion in Italy. Monti managed to save Italy from default and he took the first steps in righting the ship before it sank. His reformist policies won him the plaudits of investors, foreign markets and his European partners and he reduced the deficit to 3% of GDP in 2012. However, Monti, while still respected by most Italians, lost in popularity because his policies contributed to increased unemployment (from 9.3% when he took office to 11.9% in February 2013 and 12.6% today) and a severe recession in 2012 and 2013 (-2.4% and -1.9% respectively).

Monti resigned in December 2012 after the PdL withdrew its support from his government, and called for elections in February 2013 after Parliament approved the 2013 budget. The 2013 election should have been a cakewalk for the centre-left coalition: Berlusconi and the PdL were both badly weakened in 2012, Berlusconi’s own uncertainty about his candidacy in 2013 (he originally announced he would not run in October, but changed his mind two months later and the Lega – which had been a powerful and influential junior ally in Berlusconi’s last government – saw its high support evaporate after the Lega’s longtime leader Umberto Bossi was implicated in damaging corruption scandals. However, the centre-left coalition’s candidate – elected in an open primary in late 2012 – was Pier Luigi Bersani, a competent administrator but a very bland, unexciting and dull campaigner. The centre-left was victorious, but with a majority of less than 1% over Berlusconi’s PdL-Lega coalition (29.5% to 29.1% in the Chamber election), whose strong performance – despite major loses from 2008 – was one of the main surprises of the election. Although Berlusconi didn’t work for everybody, his populist anti-austerity and soft Eurosceptic message allowed him to roar back with a strong result and another near-win. The other momentous event from the polls was the remarkable result won by the Five Star Movement (M5S), a radical anti-system/anti-establishment populist party led by Genoan comedian Beppe Grillo, who won 25.5% in its first election. Mario Monti’s centre-right, liberal and pro-austerity alliance (with the UDC and Fini’s FLI) did poorly (10.5%).

Beppe Grillo’s M5S (founded in 2009) is often lumped with other populist and Eurosceptic parties in Europe, but the M5S is an extremely peculiar party which is quite unlike the traditional right-wing populist party or the radical left (SYRIZA types). The movement – it refuses the pejorative ‘party’ label – was born from and remains centered on Beppe Grillo’s very popular website/blog, and the M5S places a large amount of emphasis on ‘internet direct democracy’ – it often asks its loyal activists to vote on major issues (policy, strategy, candidates, party discipline) online and the M5S’ leaders have used social media to reach out to their supporters and organize Grillo’s large public meetings. With the internet forming the M5S’ backbone and considering the importance it plays in organizing and mobilizing its dedicated online activists, the M5S has some similarities with the Pirate movement in the rest of Europe. Ideologically, the M5S is primarily a populist anti-establishment movement – a rather radical one at that. Grillo grew in popularity for his foul-mouthed tirades against Italy’s corrupt ‘parasitic’ political ‘caste’ (la casta, which enjoys famously generous benefits and conditions) and calls for the destruction of the ‘rotten’ political system and its replacement by vaguely-defined direct democracy. Grillo strongly opposes the public financing of parties (the M5S itself has refused its public funding and its parliamentarians have restituted parts of their wages to help pay off the debt or promote small businesses). Like Berlusconi, Grillo enjoys provocative statements – he said that politicians were worse than the mafia and issued a tongue-in-cheek call on terrorists to blow up Parliament – and theatrical politics – he swam across the Strait of Messina to Sicily during the campaign for the Sicilian regional elections in October 2012. Grillo was successful because, in times of hardship, his radical anti-system message resonated well: most Italians do perceive their politicians (and oftentimes rightly so) as corrupt, selfish, self-absorbed, incompetent or stale hacks and careerists.

Given the centrality of the populist rhetoric, it is hard to define the M5S ideologically. Originally, the M5S was on the left or far-left: the party’s “five stars” refer to public water, public transportation, development, connectivity (internet freedom) and the environment. The M5S supports ‘degrowth’, a radical green and anti-consumerist ideology who argue for lower production and consumption because overconsumption has caused environmental issues and social inequality. As a result, the M5S has been hostile to large infrastructure projects (the Strait of Messina bridge and the Lyon-Turin high speed rail in the Val di Susa) and strongly supportive of clean energies and public transportation. The movement has also taken more left-wing stances on same-sex marriage, internet accessibility, public services. On the other hand, Grillo himself has adopted tough stances on immigration: he opposes jus soli and in October 2013, he attacked the efforts of two M5S parliamentarians to repeal the Bossi-Fini law which criminalized illegal immigration; however, in early 2014, Grillo was defeated by his own supporters on the issue – in an online vote, M5S activists voted in favour of efforts to repeal the law (which has since been repealed with the left’s support). On economic matters, the M5S does not fit traditional ideologies: it is against monopolies and anti-tax, but also anti-austerity and generally opposed to the power of big businesses and corporations (private or public). Grillo opposes the Euro and has lamented the ‘lovely old days’ of the lira when Italy could devalue its currency by 40-50%. (you can download the M5S’ platform in English here)

Grillo is a highly controversial figure. To his critics, Grillo is an irresponsible and dangerous demagogue who runs his party with an iron-fist (to many, direct democracy is but a façade and Grillo and his éminence grise/guru Roberto Casaleggio run the show). Indeed, since the party gained prominence in the 2012 local elections, several M5S members and elected officials have been expelled from the party (after being pilloried by Grillo on his blog) for going against the party line on various issues (for example, appearing on TV shows when Grillo strictly prohibited M5S members from doing so).

Because of Italy’s notoriously horrible (former) electoral law, Bersani’s coalition won an absolute majority in the lower house – the Chamber of Deputies – by virtue of having won the most votes nationally and being entitled to a majority bonus granting the largest coalition an absolute majority. But since the Senate has such bonuses apply only regionally, Bersani’s coalition fell short of an absolute majority in the upper house – with 123 seats to Berlusconi’s 117 and Grillo’s 54. Under Italian ‘perfect bicameralism’, a government requires the confidence of both houses; but from the results, it was clear that Bersani would not be able to govern (even in coalition with Monti’s amenable centrist coalition) unless he allied himself with Berlusconi (which would defeat the left’s entire raison-d’etre since 1994) or convincing some Grillists to support him. Bersani unsuccessfully tried to convince the M5S or parts thereof to back him in a stopgap coalition committed to constitutional, electoral and political reform. Grillo and Casaleggio, neither of whom are elected, strongly opposed Bersani’s overtures and blocked the M5S from allying with Bersani.

In April 2013, when it came time for Parliament and delegates from regional councils to elect Italy’s ceremonial President, the political crisis and infighting on the left boiled over to create utter chaos. The PD unwisely allied itself with Berlusconi and the centre on a common presidential candidate, but this alliance (and the candidate – Franco Marini, an 80-year old former trade unionist and technocrat) incensed the PD’s ally to the left (Nichi Vendola’s Left Ecology Freedom or SEL) and Bersani’s rival within the PD, Florence mayor Matteo Renzi. The alliance failed to elect Marini due to defections on the left. On a fourth ballot, the PD and the SEL supported Romano Prodi, a former centre-left Prime Minister and respected senior politician, but Prodi fell far short of the required votes because his candidacy was likely an underhanded ploy by Massimo D’Alema (and perhaps Renzi) to scuttle Bersani. An unprecedented last-ditch exit route was found prior to the six ballot: the left, right and centre convinced incumbent President Giorgio Napolitano, due to retire like all his predecessors before him, to run for reelection (and win) as a solution to the crisis. In return, Napolitano compelled the left and the right to form a grand coalition led by Enrico Letta, a 47-year old centrist from the PD.

Letta formed a coalition with Berlusconi’s PdL Mario Monti’s Civic Choice (SC) party, the PD and independents. Angelino Alfano, then seen as Berlusconi’s dauphin, became Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of the Interior and the PdL had four other ministers (Infrastructure and Transports; Health; Agriculture, Food and Forestry; Constitutional Reforms). The opposition was led by the fiery M5S, the Lega Nord and the SEL. Letta’s government quickly found itself undermined by both the PD and the PdL. The former was setting up for a leadership crisis after Bersani’s resignation in the wake of the presidential election chaos, and Matteo Renzi – hardly enamoured by Letta – was the favourite to win the PD’s leadership in December 2013. Berlusconi understood that he held the government hostage, and would grudgingly tolerate it as long as it served his own interest. For example, he managed to get Letta’s government to scrap the IMU, the property tax on primary residences which Berlusconi had successfully campaigned against in February. Later, in May-July, Alfano got into hot water when the wife of an exiled Kazakh political dissident was unceremoniously arrested by Italian authorities and deported to Kazakhstan. Alfano was widely suspected of having intervened in the operation (because Berlusconi is a good friend of Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev and Italy’s main oil firm (ENI) has an 17% stake in a Kazakh oil field). Berlusconi stepped in to prevent Alfano from getting into any sort of trouble, and it worked: the PD (minus a few Renzi allies) voted against a M5S-SEL motion of no-confidence in Alfano.

Economically, Letta’s government main priority was to restore investor confidence in Italy and reorient economic and fiscal policies in a ‘pro-growth’ and ‘pro-jobs’ direction in the midst of prolonged recession and rising unemployment. The government promised to cut employers’ welfare contributions, tax breaks for energy-saving home improvements, expand a guarantee fund for small and medium enterprises and it said it would consider benefits for families and children. Once in office, the government sped up payments of €40 billion in public administration debts, approved tax incentives for employers to employ young workers and began working on a privatization program. For some, Letta’s government has been insufficiently bold in tackling vested interests and promoting competition, largely because both the PdL and PD are tied to special interests and have little interest in disturbing that.

In the meantime, attention turned to Berlusconi’s judicial travails. Il cavaliere‘s innumerable run-ins with the law is nothing new; the business magnate has been indicted on charges of tax fraud, embezzlement, tax evasion, bribery, false accounting, violation of antitrust laws, libel, defamation and under-age prostitution. However, until August 2013, Berlusconi had never been convicted of anything – he was acquitted, cases dragged on exceeding the statute of limitations, aptly passed amnesty laws to save himself or changed the law to legalize the alleged offences. In October 2012, an appeals court in Milan confirmed a lower court judgement in late 2012 which had found Berlusconi guilty in the ‘Mediaset’ case, where he and his media giant company (Mediaset) were accused of tax evasion and tax fraud for illicit trade (and false accounting) of movie rights between Mediaset and secret fictive foreign companies in tax havens. The appeals court sentenced him to four years in prison and a five-year ban from holding public office. Berlusconi appealed the case to the Court of Cassation, Italy’s highest appeals court. Much to Berlusconi’s chagrin, the Court of Cassation proved exceptionally quick at issuing a decision on the case – on August 1 2013. The court confirmed the lower courts’ verdict, with a four year prison sentence but asked the Milanese appeals court to review the length of the ban from public office. A 2006 amnesty law, ironically voted by the left to reduce prison overcrowding, automatically commuted Berlusconi’s jail sentence to one year and since he is over 70 and not a repeat offender, he will not serve any jail time: he was given a choice between house arrest or community service, opting for the former. The Legge Severino, adopted in December 2012 by the Monti government, bans any politician convicted to over two years’ imprisonment from holding or running for public office for six years and supersedes the October 2013 judgement of the Milanese appeals court, which shortened Berlusconi’s ban from public office to two years

On June 24, a penal court in Milan had found Berlusconi guilty of child prostitution and abuse of power in the world-famous Rubygate case, where Berlusconi is accused of paying for sex with nightclub dancer Karima El Mahroug, who was a minor at the time (in 2010) and abusing his powers to have her released from police detention in 2010 (on the pretext that she was Hosni Mubarak’s niece). The court sentenced Berlusconi to seven years in prison and a lifetime ban from public office, but he will appeal the decision. The Appeals Court is set to rule in July 2014. Berlusconi is still involved in three other ongoing cases. A trial on the bribery of a centre-left senator in 2006 to topple Prodi’s government will open next year; in March 2013, he was sentenced to a year in jail in the ‘Unipol’ case (confidential wiretaps by Il Giornale, a newspaper owned by Berlusconi’s brother, on conversations between a former Governor of the Bank of Italy and a centre-left politician); the Constitutional Court is set to rule on a defamation case concerning Antonio Di Pietro, a former magistrate (famous for his corruption-busting work during the 1990s Mani Pulite operations) and the former leader of the Italia dei Valori (IdV) party. Berlusconi, in 2008, had accused Di Pietro of obtaining his degree only with the complicity of the secret services. In 2010, a court in Viterbo acquitted Berlusconi because parliamentary immunity bans any prosecution against words spoken in the exercise of a parliamentary mandate; however, a higher court overturned the decision in 2012.

Berlusconi now faced the threat of expulsion from the Senate. A defense organization sprung up around the embattled leader, who argued – again – that he was the target of a political witch-hunt by ‘red’ judges and complained that the ordeal was taking a toll on him (unable to sleep, lost 11kg and that he was psychologically tormented). Berlusconi’s closest allies pleaded that he be granted agibilità politica (political freedom) through a pardon by President Napolitano or Letta’s intervention. The PD knew that Berlusconi would condition his support for the government to his agibilità politica, but it also knew that intervening in Berlusconi’s favour would be the last straw for the left’s supporters. Meanwhile, Berlusconi announced that the PdL would be disbanding and that Forza Italia would return. Posters in major Italian cities announced that il cavaliere was ancora in campo per l’Italia (‘still in the field for Italy’).

However, the Berlusconian right began showing public cracks in September 2013. That month, while a Senate committee began debating Berlusconi’s expulsion (decadenza), Berlusconi huffed and puffed and, on September 28, ordered the PdL’s ministers to resign from Letta’s cabinet. The pretext was the government’s decision to raise the VAT by 1%, but nearly everybody saw through that – the real reason was that Berlusconi was threatening to pull the plug on Letta over his judicial travails and upcoming expulsion vote. Letta called for a confidence vote on October 2, in the run-up to which Berlusconi continued breathing fire and attacking the government. However, when the vote came, Berlusconi did a double-face and the PdL joined the left and centre in voting for Letta, who won the Senate’s confidence easily 235 to 70. It appears that Berlusconi twisted and turned in agonizing indecision, facing an extremely rare internal revolt. Indeed, all but one of the PdL ministers – who obeyed Berlusconi’s original order – shortly thereafter said it was perhaps a bad decision. One of them was Alfano, who led the doves (colombe) in the PdL – moderates (ex-DC and ex-Socialists) and ministers who placed political stability over Berlusconi’s personal interests. The doves faced the hawks (falchi) and loyalists (lealisti), hardline supporters of Berlusconi who came from the party’s right-wing liberals (Giancarlo Galan, Daniele Capezzone), hard-right (Daniela Santanchè) or camarilla (Raffaele Fitto, Mara Carfagna, Renata Polverini). The hawks-loyalists lost, the doves won and Berlusconi, to save face at the last minute, went with them. It was a shocking twist from Alfano, a Sicilian Christian democrat who had been a subservient justice minister between 2008 and 2011 (passing laws to save his boss from prosecution) and been groomed as Berlusconi’s loyal successor and political ‘son’ (despite Berlusconi publicly insulting him).

On October 4, the Senate committee voted to recommend Berlusconi’s expulsion, sending the matter to the Senate as a whole, and at the end of the month the rules committee called for it to be a public vote (in a private vote, Berlusconi may have tried to bribe PD lawmakers as he had in the past).

Still undeterred, Berlusconi pressed on with the transformation of the PdL into Forza Italia. On November 16, Berlusconi dissolved the PdL into a new Forza Italia. However, one day prior, the ‘doves’ led by Angelino Alfano announced that they would not dissolve into Forza Italia and formed their own party, the New Centre-Right (Nuovo Centrodestra, NCD). The NCD includes all five centre-right ministers in the Letta government, the former Lombardian regional president Roberto Formigoni and his allies, members of the Catholic lay movement Comunione e Liberazione, former members of the DC who joined the centre-right from various post-DC Christian democratic parties (Carlo Giovannardi, in the UDC until 2008), former members of the Italian Socialist Party (PSI), Renato Schifani – the former President of the Senate and architect of an unconstitutional immunity law in 2004 and the incumbent regional president of Calabria Giuseppe Scopelliti. Today, Berlusconi’s Forza Italia has 69 deputies and 58 senators against 28 deputies and 33 senators for the NCD.

On November 26, as the government was preparing to pass the 2014 budget, Forza Italia withdrew its support from the government and, the next day, voted against the budget which nevertheless passed the Senate 162 to 115, with the NCD’s support. That same day, the Senate finally voted on Berlusconi’sdecadenza under the Legge Severino by public ballot. Berlusconi’s supporters, symbolically dressed in black in the Senate or rallied in front of Berlusconi’s Roman residence, desperately tried to delay the vote or have it held by secret ballot. Berlusconi warned the PD and M5S senators from voting against him, so that they were not later “ashamed in front of their children”, he also insisted on a re-trial, claiming new evidence and witnesses. All to no avail, as the Senate voted 192 to 113 to expel Berlusconi from their ranks. The PD, M5S, SEL, SC, UDC and two small centre-left groups voted in favour, while Forza Italia, the Lega Nord, the NCD and a centre-right autonomist group voted against. The NCD in doing so signaled that their split was not as much against Berlusconi himself as against Berlusconi’s political strategy, which makes the Alfano dissidence different from Gianfranco Fini’s very public split with his former ally in 2010. Indeed, Alfano said that he was still Berlusconian – but “in a different way”.

On December 8, the PD held its long-awaited leadership election. Matteo Renzi, the 39-year old mayor of Florence, who had lost the 2012 centre-left primaries to Bersani, was the favourite. Unlike Bersani, Renzi comes from a PPI (one of the DC’s successor parties) background and joined the PD from the centrist Daisy. Renzi made in name in politics, as president of the province of Florence between 2005 and 2009 and as mayor of Florence since 2009, as a ‘scrapper’ (rottamatore) who took on the political elites (within his own party) and reducing waste, mismanagement and the size of the local public administrations. Despite being only in his first time as mayor and fairly new to politics, he made a name for himself largely by being a competent municipal administrator and his populist/anti-establishment persona which is popular in Italy. Ideologically, Renzi is on the party’s right and challenges the traditional ‘dogma’ of the centre-left (which is nevertheless very moderate in practice). In 2012, Renzi proposed tax cuts for employees, a €100 increase in employees’ net salary paid for by a 15% cut in the costs of public administration, financial support and credit for SMEs, labour market flexibility (flexicurity) along the Scandinavian/Danish model, financial incentives for foreign investors, cracking down on tax evasion and civil unions for homosexual couples. A ‘straight-talker’, he also took strong stances against corruption – abolishing public subsidies to parties (abolished recently by Letta, responding to a M5S demand), reducing the number of parliamentarians, greater accountability of public officials to their constituent (he favours a French electoral system) and constitutional reform to reduce the Senate’s powers. He is often compared to (and accepts such comparisons himself) to Tony Blair and his New Labour.

In 2012, Renzi’s anti-establishment and reformist ‘Third Way’ policy proposals  worried some left-wing voters and he won only 39.1% in the second round of the primary against Bersani, the PD’s leader and candidate of the traditional ‘old guard’ and PD establishment. However, after the 2013 election debacle, the PD was ready for a shake-up with Renzi. In the open primaries which attracted 2.8 million voters, Renzi won 67.6% against 18.2% for Gianni Cuperlo (the oldest establishment candidate, with a PCI background and backed by Bersani/D’Alema and the ‘Young Turks’ on the left) and 14.2% for Pippo Civati (a young anti-establishment candidate from the left, who supported an alliance with the SEL and M5S and had opposed Letta’s government).

The day before, incidentally, the Lega Nord held a leadership election of its own. The historic leader of the party, Umberto Bossi, had been forced to resign from his leadership positions in April 2012 following a crazy scandal in which Bossi and his ‘magic circle’ were accused of embezzling the party’s public financing funds and using the money to pay Bossi’s son. The scandal badly hurt the party, which suffered major loses in the February election, and led to Bossi’s replacement by his rival and one-time deputy, Roberto Maroni. Although the Lega still allied (reluctantly and in return for juicy concessions) with Berlusconi in the last election, Maroni and his followers have tended to be far less supportive of the Lega’s traditional ties to the centre-right (Bossi strongly supported the alliance with Berlusconi in the last few years). The leadership battle opposed Umberto Bossi to Matteo Salvini, a MEP. Salvini was supported by Maroni. Salvini won in a landslide, 81.7% to Bossi’s mere 18.3%. His election signaled a return to fundamentals for the Lega Nord: more independence from the centre-right, hardened ‘Padanian’ nationalism/separatism, strong anti-immigration stances and Euroscepticism (Salvini once decried the euro as a crime against humanity).

On December 4, the Constitutional Court two key parts of the electoral law were unconstitutional. The Italian electoral law (known as the Legge Calderoli, or unofficially the legge porcellum – piglet law – or porcata literally ‘shit’, as described by its own sponsor, Roberto Calderoli) was passed by Berlusconi’s government in 2005 in an unsuccessful attempt to save the right in the 2006 elections. The law, whose effects we witnessed in the February election, guarantee an absolute majority in the Chamber to whichever coalition wins the most votes nationally by granting them 340 seats (55%), even if said coalition wins only 29% as in 2013! In the Senate, however, the majority bonus is applied regionally (but three regions have no majority bonus) so there is no guarantee that the winning coalition will have an absolute majority in the Senate. This means that the winning coalition either lacks a majority in the Senate (2013), has so tenuous of a majority that it makes it vulnerable to any dissent within the often-fractious coalitions (2006) or the majority is strong but still vulnerable to large blocs of dissent within the coalition (in a landslide election like 2008). The Court declared that the majority bonuses in both houses were unconstitutional and also ruled against the closed party lists, which prevent voters from indicating preferences for candidates on a party list.

In January, Renzi wasted no time and negotiated an agreement over a new electoral law with Berlusconi – the two men agreed to adopt a new electoral system which would guarantee strong governing majorities, abolish perfect bicameralism and reduce the cost of politics. Renzi’s alliance with Berlusconi on the electoral law and his announcement of two other priorities (civil unions and a new immigration law) signaled his energy and stamina, but it also made some in the PD uncomfortable about the moral implications of allying with somebody sentenced by a court and created troubles with the PD’s governing partners – the NCD and the centrists – who feared what an agreement between the two major parties over the electoral system would mean for them. The new electoral law, adopted by the Chamber of Deputies in March 2014, will only apply for the Chamber (a constitutional reform to significantly reduce the Senate’s powers and perhaps turn it into a much less powerful regional chamber like the Bundesrat) and is known as the Italicum. It does not make the electoral system any less convoluted: under the new law, closed lists with 3-6 candidates will run in about 120 multi-member constituencies in Italy – either individually or in coalition. A coalition will need to pass a 12% national threshold, individual parties a 8% national threshold and parties within a coalition will need 4.5% nationally. If a coalition/party obtains 37% of the vote nationally, it wins a 15% majority bonus meaning that it may win up to a maximum of 340 seats (there is no majority bonus if a list wins over 340 seats). If no coalition or party wins 37%, a runoff between the top two lists is organized, in which the winning list receives 321 seats with remaining seats attributed to other lists who met the thresholds in the ‘first round’ (as I understand it). The Chamber of Deputies has produced research files simulating the new system on the last three elections, including a runoff in 2013. It also has, in Italian, some handy infographics which clarify things somewhat. The Chamber rejected amendments to alternate men and women on party lists to ensure gender parity.

By February 2014, Letta was increasingly isolated and facing rumours that Renzi was pressuring him to resign in his favour. Letta’s government was criticized, notably by Renzi, for the slow pace of reforms. By February 11-12, Letta pressed Renzi to publicly detail his intentions and tried to appear tough, but unlike in October 2013, he found himself beaten by Renzi. On February 13, the PD executive voted 136-16 in favour of Renzi’s proposal for a new government for a new phase and to speed up reforms. Despite his very public displeasure with what had transpired, Letta had no choice but to hand his government’s regination to Napolitano the next day. On February 17, Renzi was officially tasked with forming a new government, which was sworn in on the 22nd. The Renzi government includes only 16 full ministers (one of the lowest), half of which are women (but if junior ministers and secretaries of state are included, the government remains overwhelmingly male) and has the lowest average age (47) of any Italian government. The government’s junior allies – the NCD, UDC, SC and minor centrist parties – remained in government, and there was little turnover of their ministers – Angelino Alfano remains Minister of the Interior, although he is no longer Deputy Prime Minister. There was significant turnover of PD ministers, with younger pro-Renzi members filling portfolios and women taking some important portfolios (foreign affairs, defense, constitutional reform). The economy portfolio was retained by an independent technocrat.

The very rapid (and, to casual followers of Italian politics, unexpected) succession of events which led to Renzi’s accession to power was received negatively by most Italians, including PD voters with an otherwise good opinion of Renzi. PD supporters felt that Renzi was making an enormous mistake, because of the optics of the situation (making him look like a backstabber, and the very traditional First Republic backroom replacements of governments without elections) and the potential that actually leading government would tarnish Renzi’s star profile. Few predicted that the government will be able to last until the end of the legislature’s term in 2018, as Renzi wishes.

Renzi unveiled his proposal for pro-growth stimulus reforms in March. His landmark initiative is a proposal to cut income taxes on lower income taxpayers, giving them a tax credit of about €80 per month for an overall cost of €10 billion to the state, to be financed by some deficit spending (but Italy has pledged to respect its European commitments), cuts in unproductive spending and administrative reforms, a raise in capital gains taxation and savings from lower interest rates. The government also plans to cut taxes on work, speed up the payment of the debt and a labour reform which would include universal unemployment benefits. These measures are ambitious and greeted with cautious optimism from voters, but the government will need to work with a difficult economic situation: although Italy’s economy should grow in 2014 (+0.6%), the debt is at over 135% of GDP and unemployment remains frustratingly high at 12.6% (far higher for youths).

EP election

The EP election was fairly important, as it was the first nationwide test of public opinion since 2013 (there have been local elections and several regional elections since, though) and the first electoral test for Renzi. EP elections in Italy, like in other countries (notably France), are an opportunity for smaller parties to test their strengths running individually. It was unclear where public opinion really stood, although most polls indicated that the centre-left had a narrow lead over the Berlusconian right coalition and the M5S was moving closer to its 2013 results after dropping off a bit after the election.

The PD renewed its ranks somewhat, once again promoting younger women to top spots on the party’s lists (but in the open-list system, their election is not guaranteed even with a top placement on the list). The PD’s campaign was pro-European and emphasized that ‘Italy was changing course’ and that Europe should follow suit. The party promoted a pro-growth agenda to reduce youth unemployment, grow the economy and build a ‘social Europe’. The PD was associated with the the South Tyrolean People’s Party (SVP), the dominant centre-right party in the German-speaking province of Bolzano (Südtirol/South Tyrol) whose sole MEP (elected thanks to the threshold exception for linguistic minority parties) sits with the EPP group (the PD sits with the S&D group). The SVP itself was allied with an autonomist party in the neighboring province of the Trentino (the PATT) and the party representing the Slovenian minority (SSK) in the Friuli-Venezia Giulia region.

The M5S has been uncompromising in its opposition to the government, and Grillo, leading his movement from outside Parliament, has remained controversial and abrasive. However, the M5S has struggled somewhat since February 2013 (even if it retains solid support). A new party in Parliament, with a caucus heavily made up of first-time, inexperienced novice politicians drawn from different social horizons and drawing on different political traditions and ideologies, it has had a tough time adapting to Parliament – especially how their leadership and many of the parliamentarians themselves consider the Parliament to be a corrupt and illegitimate institution which should, in a perfect world, be abolished and replaced by internet-based direct democracy. Beppe Grillo is an autocratic leader, who is rather intolerant of any dissent or criticism, and doesn’t hesitate to insult any critics – internal or external, politicians or journalists – with crude ad hominem attacks. Grillo just recently allowed his followers to go on TV, which he had until then boycotted. His angry followers often enthusiastically join Grillo’s countless attacks on his ‘enemies’ launched from his blogs. By now, several deputies and even more senators have been expelled or voluntarily left the M5S – from 109 deputies and 54 senators, the M5S is down to 104 and 40 respectively. Most recently, in February 2014, four M5S senators were expelled following an internet vote (in the unique Grillist tradition, expulsions are voted on by M5S’ online activists) for criticizing Grillo’s behaviour during a consultation with Renzi, which Grillo had been forced (by his members) to attend.

The M5S’ European campaign focused on seven points: a referendum on Euro membership, abolition of the Fiscal Compact, adoption of Eurobonds, alliance of Mediterranean countries for a common currency (Euro 2), investments in innovation to be excluded from 3% deficit limit calculations, financing for domestic agricultural activities and abolition of the balanced budget requirements.

Forza Italia – Berlusconi’s party, now centered around the pro-Berlusconi hawks (falchi), loyalists (lealisti) and mediators (moderates) – has remained a significant force, despite Berlusconi’s expulsion from the Senate in November 2013. Berlusconi is still facing pending trials, most significantly in the Rubygate prostitution case, and is also forbidden from leaving the Italian territory without a judge’s permission (his passport has been seized). Berlusconi announced his intention to run for the EP in May 2014, despite being barred from holding or running for public office. In March 2014, the Court of Cassation confirmed the judicial two-year ban from holding public office, effectively barring Berlusconi from running for the EP. In early May 2014, Berlusconi began serving his one-year community service at a home care centre for elderly dementia patients, where he must work for four hours a week. Some of Berlusconi’s closest allies have also felt the pressure of the judiciary: Marcello Dell’Utri, one of Berlusconi’s oldest allies, was sentenced by the Supreme Court to seven years in jail in 2014 for tax fraud, false accounting and complicity in conspiracy with the Sicilian Mafia. Dell’Utri had fled to Lebanon before the sentence fell, but he has since been arrested by Lebanese authorities and is awaiting extradition to Italy.

There is increasing speculation that Berlusconi is preparing a dynastic succession. Marina Berlusconi, his eldest daughter (at 47) and president of the Fininvest holding company, is often cited by the media and Berlusconians alike as the preferred heir, but she does not appear interested. Her younger brother, Pier Silvio, vice-president of Mediaset, is more discrete and denies any political ambition even if he is said to be brilliant. Barbara Berlusconi, the eldest (29) of three children with his ex-wife Veronica Lario, now has a position on the board of AC Milan but is not usually seen as a future politician.

Forza Italia ran a populist, Eurosceptic and anti-German campaign. Berlusconi, his usual self, said that “for Germans, the concentration camps never existed” and continued babbling about the President (who didn’t pardon him) and the judges (who took a political decision). The party ran in coalition with smaller parties: whatever is left of UDEUR (the party of venal and corrupt incumbent MEP Clemente Mastella who was formerly allied with the centre-left until he pulled the plug on Prodi’s cabinet in 2008), the Grande Sud (a southern ‘regionalist’ party made up of three regional parties in Sicily, Campania and Apulia largely made up of PdL or MPA dissidents) and The Populars of Italy Tomorrow (an empty shell of pro-Berlusconi UDC dissidents in the south).

Under Matteo Salvini, the Lega Nord has regained some lost support and the party has been reoriented on a more anti-EU and anti-immigration platform. For example, under Salvini, the Lega, whose MEPs sat with the UKIP’s EFD group in the last EP, allied himself with Marine Le Pen, Geert Wilders and Heinz-Christian Strache in the EAF; for the EP elections, the Lega Nord dropped the traditional word ‘Padania’ at the bottom of the logo in favour of the slogan ‘Basta €uro’ or ‘enough Euro’. The Lega ran in coalition with Die Freiheitlichen, a right-wing populist German party which is the second-largest party in the German-speaking province of Bolzano (Südtirol/South Tyrol) and the Movement for Autonomies (MPA), the Sicilian-based party of former regional president Raffaele Lombardo. Matteo Salvini was the party’s top candidate in every region, something which is legal and somewhat commonplace in Italy (in 2009, Berlusconi was the PdL’s top candidate in all EP constituencies despite being the sitting Prime Minister, and Umberto Bossi also topped all the Lega’s lists that year).

On the right, the new Brothers of Italy (FdI), a national conservative party founded by PdL members in December 2012, ran independently. The FdI emerged in late 2012, largely founded by ex-AN members of the PdL who had come from the AN’s moderate pro-Berlusconi ‘liberal conservative’ faction. Although they were somewhat critical of Berlusconi, the FdI received Berlusconi’s blessing as he hoped that it would create an outlet for right-wing and nationalist voters who were a bit queasy with him but could nevertheless be brought to still support him indirectly. The party joined the centre-right coalition in the 2013 election, but opposed the Letta government. Under the leadership of Giorgia Meloni, the FdI has shifted towards the right, making a clear bid to reclaim the identity of the former AN (whose members are divided between Forza Italia, the FdI and various small hard-right parties) but also informally associating with Marine Le Pen at the pan-EU level (although there is no formal alliance, unlike in the case of the Lega). The former mayor of Rome, Gianni Alemanno, a former fascist who was defeated for reelection in 2013, has since endorsed the party. The FdI successfully won the right to rename itself ‘Brothers of Italy-National Alliance’ and use the logo of the old AN in its logo. The FdI’s appropriation of the AN identity has irked smaller parties with roots in the old party, notably Francesco Storace’s La Destra, a hard-right splinter of the AN (from 2007) now allied with Berlusconi. Giorgia Meloni was the FdI’s top candidate in every constituency.

Angelino Alfano’s NCD, for its first election, ran in alliance with Pier Ferdinando Casini’s Christian democratic Union of the Centre (UDC), which had found itself obliterated in the 2013 election (1.8%) when it ran in coalition with Mario Monti. The alliance is unsurprising: the NCD and UDC are both likely too weak to win more than 4% on their own, both are junior allies in the Renzi government, the UDC has been looking (unsuccessfully) to build a new centre-right/centrist coalition (often seen as a neo-DC) with Berlusconian dissidents (first Fini, now Alfano) and both the NCD and UDC are ideologically very similar (most of the NCD’s members are ex-DC southerners, and the NCD is effectively a Christian democratic/social conservative party similar to the UDC). Both Berlusconi’s Forza Italia and the NDC-UDC are part of the EPP, but given Berlusconi’s new anti-EU (and anti-Merkel) populist campaigns, the NCD-UDC fits in much more nicely in the EPP mainstream while Berlusconi is a bit of an Orbán in the EPP. Two NCD cabinet ministers were top candidates: Maurizio Lupi (transports) in the Northwest and Beatrice Lorenzin (health) in the Centre.

Mario Monti’s hastily assembled and fractious party for the 2013 elections, the Civic Choice (SC), had managed to win 8.3% of the vote in the 2013 election (in the process, decimating Casini’s UDC and killing Fini’s FLI) but the SC has since collapsed. Monti lost control over his party, and in response to the growing tensions between him and other SC members, decided to resign as the SC’s president in October 2013. The party then split between the pro-Monti liberals, who supported a centrist strategy (anti-Berlusconi but also anti-UDC) and were liberal reformists and the Christian democrats, including Mario Mauro, who were open to alliances with Berlusconi and close to the UDC. The party was pretty equally divided between both wings, but the liberals took control of the SC and have since aligned it even closer to the PD-led centre-left alliance and the Renzi cabinet. The Christian democrats split off and created Populars for Italy (PpI), which formed a common group with the UDC in Parliament (Per l’Italia). The PpI-UDC group has 10 senators (7 for the SC) and 18 deputies (27 for the SC).

The SC participated in a common liberal list for the EP elections, European Choice (SE) with the smaller Democratic Centre (CD), the neoliberal/libertarian Act to Stop the Decline and other tiny parties. The SE affiliated with the ALDE at the pan-European level (although one MEP who supported the SE, ex-AN member Cristiana Muscardini, sat with the ECR) and was endorsed by ALDE presidential candidate Guy Verhofstadt and former Italian Prime Minister and President of the EU Commission Romano Prodi.

On the left, several communists and ecosocialist/radical left parties in opposition to the government formed a common alliance, L’Altra Europa con Tsipras, to support the GUE/NGL presidential candidacy of Greek SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras. Although launched by independent left-wing intellectuals, the partisan base of the alliance was formed by Nichi Vendola’s Left Ecology Freedom (SEL) – the only party of the radical left with seats in Parliament (3% in 2013 in alliance with the PD), the moribund Communist Refoundation Party (PRC), Antonio Ingroia’s anti-corruption movement (Ingroia, a leftist magistrate, was the top candidate of the leftist Civil Revolution alliance in 2013 with the PRC, Greens, Italian Communists and IdV, but won only 2.3% and has since collapsed), the Italian Pirates (seemingly a very tiny party) and the South Tyrolean Greens (already allied with the SEL in 2013). The SEL, which did fairly poorly in 2013, saw its support increase somewhat in the early days of the Letta government but it has since struggled. Nichi Vendola is less active in national politics and the SEL has been hurt by internal divisions, as a few parliamentarians have left the caucus to cautiously support Renzi (encouraged by his tax policies) while the SEL leadership remains firmly in the opposition. The Other Europe with Tsipras led an anti-austerity but pro-European leftist campaign and hovered around the 4% threshold for most of the campaign.

The weak and irrelevant Italian Greens ran a separate list, Greens Italy-European Greens – an alliance of the old moribund Federation of the Greens and the new Greens Italy, a party founded in 2013 by environmentalists from leftist and rightist parties (PD, MSI-AN, PdL, FLI, Radicals) and led by prominent Italian Green leader and former MEP Monica Frassoni.

Italy of Values (IdV), an anti-corruption party formerly led by famous Milanese magistrate Antonio Di Pietro (who is Berlusconi’s bête noire), won 8% in the 2009 EP elections at the peak of the IdV’s success as part of the centre-left coalition with the PD. Since 2009, however, the IdV has collapsed due to significant infighting between Di Pietro’s centrist/moderate leadership and the far-left direction supported by Luigi de Magistris, a former prosecutor and mayor of Naples. de Magistris’s supporters left the party, but IdV was left badly beaten and further worn out by corruption allegations and the M5S’ growth as a more forceful and radical anti-establishment protest option. Di Pietro has since left the party’s leadership and the IdV appears to be quasi-defunct. The IdV’s MEP sat with the ALDE, although the IdV was an Italian oddity with its anti-corruption populist politics and hardly your usual EU liberal party.

Results

Turnout: 57.22% (-7.83%)
MEPs: 73 (+1)
Electoral system: Limited preferential list PR (up to 3 preferences), 4% national threshold (50,000 vote threshold for linguistic minority parties allied with a national party), five constituencies (Northeast Italy, Northwest Italy, Central Italy, Southern Italy, Insular Italy)

PD (S&D) 40.81% (+14.69%) winning 31 seats (+10)
M5S (EFD) 21.15% (+21.15%) winning 17 seats (+17)
Forza Italia (EPP) 16.81% (-18.45%) winning 13 seats (-16)
Lega Nord (EAF) 6.15% (-4.06%) winning 5 seats (-4)
NCD-UDC (EPP) 4.38% (-2.13%) winning 3 seats (-2)
L’Altra Europa con Tsipras (GUE/NGL) 4.03% (-2.49%) winning 3 seats (+3)
Fratelli d’Italia-AN 3.66% (+3.66%) winning 0 seats (±0)
European Greens-Green Italy (G-EFA) 0.91% (+0.91%) winning 0 seats (±0)
Scelta Europea (ALDE) 0.72% (+0.72%) winning 0 seats (±0)
IdV (ALDE) 0.66% (-7.34%) winning 0 seats (-7)
SVP (EPP) 0.5% (+0.03%) winning 1 seat (±0)
Io Cambio-MAIE 0.18% (-0.05%) winning 0 seats (±0)

Italy 2014 - EP

In the EP elections, Matteo Renzi’s PD won an unexpectedly massive victory with 40.81% of the vote, the largest percentage share of the vote for an Italian party nationally since 1958 and the PD’s best result in any national election. Despite significantly lower turnout (-18%), the PD also won more votes (11.2 million votes) than in the 2013 general election (8.6 million votes in the Chamber). Electing 31 MEPs to Brussels, the PD is now the largest single national party in the EP and in the S&D group (ahead of the German SPD). The PD’s landslide was totally unexpected: the last public polls before the legal polling blackout during the last two weeks of the campaign showed the PD leading the M5S by about 6-10 points (the PD beat the M5S by nearly 20, and all polls showed the PD at 30-33%) and there were apparently well-founded rumours during the blackout that the M5S was polling closer to the PD in the final stretch (Grillo notably attracted a much larger crowd at his big rally in the Piazza San Giovanni in Rome than Renzi did a few minutes away at the Piazza del Popolo). Many were taken aback by the PD’s success, notably Grillo who had been characteristically virulent and hyperbolic in the days preceding the vote (saying that if the M5S won, ‘the system would fall’). For Renzi, the PD’s victory is not just pleasing information – it provides him with much-needed democratic legitimacy from the Italian electorate. Grillo and Berlusconi never failed to remind their listeners that Renzi took office without any popular mandate and therefore lacked democratic legitimacy. In a major boost for Renzi’s standing as Prime Minister, he can now fall back on the PD’s landslide victory to strengthen his leadership.

Gains and loses (raw votes) since 2013 election (own work)

Gains and loses (raw votes) since 2013 election (own work)

He has already used his new weight in the PD to his own advantage: a PD senator who was proving a thorn in the side in a Senate committee was turfed from the committee and chose to ‘auto-exclude’ himself from the PD.

The M5S did poorly, with only 21.2% of the vote and suffering major loses from the party’s record 2013 result, falling from 8.7 million votes and 25.6% to only 5.8 million votes. It was a very poor performance for Grillo, who had made the EP election about Renzi and forcing Renzi to enter the fray personally to defend the PD – Grillo attacked Renzi’s tax measures (his ‘€80 charity’) and was certain that the M5S’ tremendous activist base and mobilizing capacity in the piazze would certainly translate into strong support. Immediately after the election, Grillo tried to spin the M5S’ poor performance by noting that it was Italy’s second largest party and attacked retirees (the M5S’ weakest demographic, by far) for ‘not wanting change and not preoccupying themselves with the faith of their grandkids’. He promised that while the M5S did not vinciamo noi (we win [now]) it will vinciamo poi (win [later]). However, the M5S and Grillo proved more pragmatic and reasonable as the immediate furor died down. An internal party document leaked by the media blamed a ‘destructive energy’, a ‘disturbing message, unreassuring and unrealiable’ campaign and lamented the M5S’ decision to ignore TV shows in a country where 15-20 million inform themselves through television. Grillo, on June 15, said that his party was ‘serious’ and open to talking to the government over the electoral reform (for which the M5S has published its alternative to the Renzi-Berlusconi Italicum, with preferential PR in a single round).

Which group the M5S would fit in in the new EP was always a major mystery, because of the M5S’ ideological peculiarity compared to other parties in the EU, even ‘fellow’ populist movements. Although some assumed that given the little obvious links with existing groups, Grillo would prefer to have his MEPs sit as non-inscrits, it would seem that the advantages which accrue to MEPs aligned with a EP group convinced Grillo to push for the M5S’ membership in a parliamentary group. By virtue of the M5S’ rather leftist views on many issues, many presumed that the Greens-EFA or even GUE/NGL groups would be the most likely candidates, but Grillo instead decided to meet with UKIP leader Nigel Farage although the M5S still opened talks with the G-EFA as well. It soon became clear that Grillo’s sympathies leaned strongly towards Farage and the UKIP’s EFD group, which led the G-EFA to reject M5S’ advances in early June. ALDE also rejected working with the M5S, although I doubt that ever was a serious possibility. On June 12, the M5S finally held an online referendum for its members to decide on the M5S’ group membership in the new EP – the choices were between EFD, the ECR and non-inscrit status, although the cards were heavily stacked in favour of EFD. In a low turnout vote, 78% of M5S supporters voted for the EFD – the anti-EU, Eurosceptic, anti-establishment rhetoric of Farage and his colleagues and the EFD’s status as a fairly ‘loose’ group likely heavily pushed the M5S’ supporters towards them (over a ECR group which is far more ‘establishment’, as Farage pointed out in a video recorded for M5S supporters). Likely as a result of the entrance of the 17 new Grillist MEPs, the EFD group renamed itself ‘Europe of Freedom and Direct Democracy’ or EFDD.

Berlusconi did even worse: with only 16.8%, it is an absolute disaster for Forza Italia – its 4.6 million votes on May 25 a far cry from the 7.3 million won by the PdL in 2013. It is worth pointing out that Berlusconi was not a candidate (he still has an ability to draw out additional votes which his party itself is unable to get out in local or regional elections) and the party likely put less effort into these elections than it would in a general election (and it was a bit sidelined in the media with a focus on a Renzi-Grillo battle), but it’s still a very poor result for the party given that Berlusconi still took centre-stage in the Forza Italia campaign. Berlusconi downplayed the results by blaming the low turnout – 57.2% is very high turnout for a EP election in a country where voting is not mandatory, but it is quite low compared to past EP elections in Italy and all other types of elections in a country with a high-turnout tradition. He regretted not winning over 20%, but, of course, there’s no questions asked about his leadership. Berlusconi remains a major political player and a force to be reckoned with in Italian politics, to the displeasure of many EU countries and Italians.

The Lega Nord won 6.2%, a small but significant improvement from the Lega’s disastrous 2013 results (4.1%) and a gain in raw votes as well (up to 1.68 million). However, it is down from the Lega’s record-high performance in the last EP election, when it had won over 3 million votes and 10.2% (electing 9 MEPs). Matteo Salvini has managed to slowly lift the Lega’s fortunes after the 2012-2013 disaster, although it’s still a tough spell for the party. The Lega scored minor gains outside of ‘Padania’ with its primarily anti-immigration/Eurosceptic creed, but it remains – obviously – a northern regionalist party in terms of support.

On the centre-right, the NCD-UDC alliance won 4.4%, down 2.1% on the UDC’s performance alone in 2009 and still a fairly weak showing for Alfano’s new party (and another terrible result for a UDC which appears in terminal condition since 2013). As with past Berlusconian splinters – Fini’s FLI in 2010-2013 (reminder: for all the talk of Fini replacing Berlusconi as the leader of the right, the FLI ended with 0 seats in Parliament and less than 0.5% in 2013) – the Italian right-wing electorate still prefers Berlusconi to any ‘polished’ or ‘moderate’ dissident. Berlusconi is a polarizing figure, with a majority of Italian voters having no time for him but who still commands the often quite motivated support of millions of Italians through his charisma and stamina after 20 years in the political arena. Unsurprisingly, it looks quite unlikely that Alfano will succeed in his goal of preparing the field for Berlusconi’s retirement/death and the realignment of the right which will naturally ensue – in a general election with the new electoral law, a NCD-UDC coalition which wins 4% will not have any seats! The only thing which Alfano could say to spin the poor result was that he remained one of the main pillars of the government – a silent call for Renzi not to get carried away and forget about his increasingly minor allies?

Fratelli d’Italia-AN was the largest party below the threshold, at 3.7% and just over 1 million votes. It is far from recreating the old AN, but the FdI is up from just below 2% and 666k votes in 2013.

The radical left Tsipras list landed just above the threshold, with 4% and 1.1 million votes; up marginally from the SEL’s 3.2% in 2013 but actually down from the combined result of the parliamentary SEL+extraparliamentary RC in 2013 and the combined result of the proto-SEL coalition and a communist list in the 2009 EP election (3.1% and 3.4% respectively for a total of 6.5% in what was hardly a good year for the Italian radical left). The IdV collapsed to only 0.7% of the vote, as expected.

The other list ‘supporting’ a EC presidential candidate – the pro-Verhofstadt SE, did far worse than expected with only 0.7% of the vote – actually landing behind the Greens list, which won 0.9% (not too shabby considering the miserable state of the green movement in the country). This confirms that, come the next general election, the SC will be the latest short-lived Italian fad party to join the long list of such parties since 1994.

Analysis

The PD’s large victory is the result of a few different factors. Firstly, there was a clear Renzi effect which saw a direct transfer of votes from voters who had backed other parties in 2013 to the PD in 2014 (despite the lower turnout). The effect is the result of significant albeit cautious optimism in Renzi’s new government and his leadership – his energy, youthfulness, frenetic activism and his ability to do something concrete for once (electoral law, tax reform, gender parity). This article (in Italian) by the Centro Italiano Studi Elettorali shows that the PD was rated as the most credible party, far ahead of the M5S and FI, on nearly all issues – most notably on the economy and employment, although it does seem important to note that on nearly all top issues, a larger number of voters found no party whatsoever to be credible. Nevertheless, the PD had a significant advantage over the M5S and FI on issues which mattered, while FI lacked a single ‘niche issue’ (besides taxes) and the M5S was limited to expertise in its ‘niche issues’ of fighting la casta and the costs of politics. The article also found that voters’ assessments of party credibility mattered most to PD and M5S supporters, while Forza Italia’s supporters voted for Berlusconi’s party for ideological reasons rather than assessments of party credibility on issues (unsurprisingly). The problem for the M5S here is that, by focusing quasi-exclusively on issues such as political corruption and the political system, it fails to appear credible on issues which matter to more Italians.

According to an IPR analysis, about a quarter of the PD’s vote was cast ‘thinking only about Renzi’ (the rest was cast ‘thinking solely about the party’), which would mean that the Renzi effect was worth 10.8% to the PD, adding that amount to the 30% of votes which went to the PD for traditional partisan reasons – a number which would make sense, given that the PD’s base in normal circumstances seems to be about 30% of the vote or a bit lower. The Renzi effect has had people asking if the election was a victory for the PD or rather a victory for the ‘Party of Renzi’.

Of course, the flip side here is that a vote based on cautious optimism and the temporary credibility of one party over another is very volatile. Indeed, the other main lesson of this election is the confirmation of the extreme volatility of the Italian electorate in recent years. According to a study by Demopolis, only 53% of those who voted in 2013 ‘confirmed’ their vote in 2014 by voting for the same party while 45% of 2013 voters either did not vote or voted for another list. The 2013 election was also quite volatile – only 54% of 2008 voters ‘confirmed’ their vote in 2013 and 39% voted differently or did not vote. With this in mind, the PD’s success in 2014 could prove remarkably short-lived if Renzi and his government don’t live up to expectations.

The other major factor behind the PD’s vote is differential turnout. Geographically, turnout was down from 2013 (-16.5%) in every region and down from 2009 (-7.8%) in all but two regions. As is usually the norm in Italian elections, turnout was lowest in the Mezzogiorno and the islands, with 51.7% turnout in the Southern EP constituency and 42.7% turnout in the Insular EP constituency, compared to 61.8% in Central Italy, 64.5% in Northeast Italy and 66% in Northwest Italy. It is tough to see obvious links between turnout and partisanship geographically, although the central zona ‘rossa’ – the historic left-wing (formerly PCI) strongholds of Tuscany, Emilia-Romagna, Umbria and Marche – saw the highest turnout at 68.2% overall (over 70% in Umbria and Emilia-Romagna) and also the lowest decline in turnout (-12.3%) of any major region (north, south and Red Zone) from the 2013 election.

Exit polls and vote flow analyses, however, showed clear differential turnout in the PD’s favour. The centre-left, in short, was able to mobilize its electorate far better than the M5S or the Berlusconian right, who had many voters sit out the EP elections. Several pollsters and academics have done their own analyses of vote flows compared to the 2013 election, and despite different numbers in the details, the broad picture is similar. Demopolis looked at the 2013 votes of ‘new non-voters’ – those who voted in 2013 but did not vote in 2014 – and found that 34% had voted M5S, 31% had voted PdL, 22% had backed another party and only 13% supported the PD. Looking at it from a different angle, Tecnè reported that 42% of the PD’s 2013 voters did not vote, compared to 53% of Grillist supporters in 2013 and 50% of PdL voters. SWG had the most complex and detailed vote flow analysis, and found that the M5S lost 2.660 million votes to abstention, the PdL/FI lost 1.750 million and the PD lost only 1.400 million of its 2013 voters to abstention.

Vote flow analysis from 2013 to 2014 in five major Italian cities – Turin, Venice, Parma, Florence and Palermo (source: CISE in ‘Renzi, alta fedeltà e nuovi voti a 360°‘ by Roberto D’Alimonte)

This article published by the Centro Italiano Studi Elettorali calculated voter flows in major cities using election results while another article looked at Milan and Rome in more detail. In all seven cities sampled, the PD’s retention of its 2013 vote was quite extraordinary – ranging from 95% in Florence to 71% in Palermo. Outside Palermo, the the PD did not lose more than 10% of its 2013 vote to abstention – for example, in Milan, only 2% of the PD’s 2013 voters did not vote in 2014. It is even more striking if you compare the PD’s electorate’s behaviour to that of M5S and PdL voters in 2013. In Venice and Palermo, over half of the PdL’s supporters did not vote in 2014, and over 40% did not vote in Rome. In Rome, Milan, Parma and Palermo, over 40% of the M5S’ supporters did not vote in 2014 (and 38% in Florence and 35% in Venice). The radical left – SEL and RC in 2013 – also saw a number of their voters sit out in May 2014, notably in Venice (where 50% and 45% of RC and SEL voters respectively didn’t vote).

The PD’s ability to retain its 2013 electorate so well combined with the demobilization of M5S and Berlusconian supporters from 2013 contributed heavily to the PD’s success. But the PD also gained votes from other parties, given that it not only ‘held’ its 2013 votes it also gained votes from 2014 despite lower turnout (the only other lists who increased their votes from 2013 were the Lega and FdI). The main source of new votes from the PD was, unsurprisingly, Mario Monti’s old SC, which is practically dead. According to SWG, the PD gained 1.270 million votes from the SC – only 170,000 of the SC’s 2013 voters went for the ‘European Choice’ list in this election and 250,000 went for Alfano’s NCD-UDC. 850,000 of the SC’s 2.82 million voters from last year did not vote in 2014. The flow analyses cited above confirm the exit polls: in the seven cities sampled, the PD won between 44% and 60% of the SC’s 2013 voters while another 10-15% went for Alfano. According to SWG, about 1.090 million M5S voters switched to the PD (that’s about 12.5% of M5S supporters from 2013) – again confirmed by flow analysis at the municipal level – in five of the seven cities (not Milan and Rome), the PD won between 6% and 17% of M5S votes. A smaller amount came from the ex-PdL (430,000), again a small transfer corroborated at the local level. The PD also gained smaller number of voters from the radical left (420,000 from ‘other centre-left parties’ in SWG, presumably SEL), the UDC-FLI (110,000) and other centre-right parties in 2013 (90,000). The PD only ceded 350,000 votes to the M5S, 230,000 to the Tsipras list and very small numbers to the right – for a total of 2,050,000 2013 votes lost (largely to abstention) more than compensated by the 4,570,000 votes the PD has gained since 2013 – including 1.14 million from people who hadn’t voted in 2013 but did so in 2014.

Demopolis reported that 66% of the PD’s 2014 voters had already voted PD in 2013 – it gained 13% from the SC, 9% from Grillo, 7% from non-voters and only 5% from the PdL.

The M5S and FI suffered the bulk of their loses to abstention – overall, SWG estimates that the M5S lost 4.56 million votes (and gained 1.66 million) from 2013, while Forza Italia lost 3.69 million and gained only 960,000 votes from 2013. As noted above, a small albeit not totally insignificant percentage of M5S and FI voters from 2013 switched to the PD this year. The M5S lost some votes to the Lega (-240k), FI (-130k), FdI (-130k) and Tsipras (-120k); FI also lost some support to the M5S (-410k), the NCD (-470k), the Lega (-340k) and FdI (-220k). Forza Italia gained very little votes from other parties. The flow analysis in the seven cities found similar results, with local differences – in the north, FI lost up to 6% (in Milan) of its 2013 vote to the Lega Nord; throughout the country, FI lost about 2-5% of its 2013 vote to Alfano’s folks and about 7% to the FdI.

For Tecnè, Grillo and Berlusconi only held 34% of their 2013 vote and lost most heavily to abstention with single-digit loses to the centre-left. IPR’s analysis unwisely focused only on 2013 voters who voted in 2014 and ignored the significant number who didn’t do so.

According to SWG, the Lega Nord lost 500,000 votes – the three-fifths of those votes were lost to abstention – and gained 800,000 votes – +340k from Forza Italia, +240k from the M5S, +140k from other parties and +80k from 2013 non-voters. Interestingly, the vote flow analysis in the cities shows that the Lega’s 2013 electorate may not have been all that loyal – it held only 46% of its 2013 vote in Milan, 43% in Turin and 44% in Venice (although these are three northern cities where the Lega is particularly weak), with a fairly significant number of 2013 Lega voters opting for other parties in the EP election (in Venice, 36% apparently voted PD; in Milan, it shed 18% to FI and 10% to the PD).

The NCD-UDC list, in SWG’s analysis, found 470,000 of its 1.2 million votes from the PdL, 200,000 from the UDC and 250,000 from the Monti SC. It gained a small number of votes from the M5S, and even less from others, the PD and 2013 non-voters. In the Rome and Milan analysis, the study showed that the NCD-UDC’s voters in 2014 had split their votes fairly equally between Monti and Berlusconi in 2013 (in Milan – where it did well – it got 44% from the PdL and 36% from the Monti list, in Rome it got 47% from Monti and 37% from the PdL.

The vote flow analyses reveal, unsurprisingly, that we cannot assume that the Tsipras list simply won the votes of those who had backed the SEL and RC lists in the 2013 election. According to SWG, the Tsipras list gained the most votes (440,000 out of 1.1 million) from the SEL with smaller amounts from the PD (230k), RC (200k) and M5S (120k). This would mean that about 40% of the SEL’s 2013 voters and only 26% of the RC’s 2013 voters went to the Tsipras list this year – a result confirmed municipally, with between 35% and 58% of the SEL’s voters in our seven cities voting Tsipras and between 13% and 31% of RC voters from last years going for Tsipras. The RC’s 2013 voters also went to the M5S in fairly significant numbers (between 12% and 40% across the seven cities) and a good number – up to half in Venice – not voting. The SEL, in contrast, lost mostly to abstention and the PD with only minor leakage to the M5S.

Finally, as noted above, the 2013 SC Monti vote went heavily towards the PD (45% in SWG) – no surprise here – and only 6% per SWG went to the SE list (in the municipal election, the SE polled too poorly for it to be analyzed). Another 250,000 (per SWG, or 8%) went to the NCD-UDC and 850,000 did not turn out (30%).

In Rome and Milan, the FdI’s electorate was largely made up (about 40%) of people who had already voted for the Berlusconian centre-right in 2013 (the analysis linked to above includes 2013 FdI voters with the PdL), but it also drew a significant (but not very large) number from Monti, M5S and the PD.

An Ipsos Italia exit poll also reported similar results in its flow analysis – the tremendous retention of its base by the PD, the heavy loses of nearly all other parties to abstention, the PD gains from the old Monti centre (and some from the SEL+RC) and a fairly good vote retention from the Lega.

Largest party by comuni (source: YouTrend)

The PD’s victory changed the demographic makeup of its electorate somewhat. The most remarkable result, noted by most Italian pollsters, was the very marked improvement of the PD with entrepreneurs and self-employed workers – a demographic which had voted heavily for the right in 2008 (68%) and split between the M5S and the right in 2013 (40.2% for Grillo vs. 34.6% for the right and 16.4% for the left). According to Demopolis, the PD now won 33% of their votes and EMG reports that the PD took 30.7% with them against 25.1% for the M5S and 18.5% for FI. Ipsos’ data differentiates between entrepreneurs/managers/liberal professions and self-employed/traders/craftsmens – mixing the traditionally anti-leftist vote of self-employed workers and entrepreneurs with the anti-Berlusconi vote of liberal professions, but the PD won 35.3% with the former category and 30.1% with the latter (vs. 25.6%/31.2% for the M5S and 14.2%/17.8% for FI respectively), confirming a major swing to the Renzi-led PD with self-employed workers and entrepreneurs. According to Ipsos’ more detailed socioprofessional breakdown, the PD did best with pensioners (50.5%), employees/teachers (43.1%), students (41.1%), housewives (38.5%) and workers (35.8%) – more broadly, with public sector dependent employees (42.8%). The M5S did best with the unemployed (32.7% – first ahead of the PD) and workers (30.5%) but very poorly with housewives (15.4%) and pensioners (7.4%). FI did best with housewives (24.3%), the unemployed (20.1%), pensioners (20%) and self-employed traders and small businessmen (17.8%). The Lega Nord, at 8.2%, also did best with self-employed traders and small businessmen, and also performed well with workers (7.1%) and pensioners (6.9%). The NCD-UDC did best with entrepreneurs, managers and liberal professions (6.1%) and students (6%). The Tsipras list won 8% with students and 5.7% with employees and teachers, doing strikingly better with public sector workers than private sector workers (7.1% vs. 3.5%).

There is, as you may have guessed from Grillo’s comments about retirees not voting for their ‘grandchildren’s future’, a huge generational gap in the M5S’ support – nothing surprising for a new and flashy party – the party’s support is highest with younger voters (according to EMG, 32.5% with those 18-34) – or, for Ipsos, particularly middle-aged adults (33.5% with 33-44, 26.6% with those 45-54) – but, at any rate, the M5S’ support with older voters is extremely weak: Ipsos reports only 17.4% for Grillo with those 55 to 64 and 6.4% with those over 65, a result corroborated by EMG and Tecnè. In 2013, according to the CISE, the M5S’ support dropped from 38.4% with the youngest cohort (18-29) to 8.8% with the oldest (65+), a 29.6% gap compared to 12.7% for the PD and 18.5% for the PdL. Again in 2014, the PD and FI’s support both increased with the age of the voter – peaking at 50.2% for the PD and 22.1% for FI with voters over 65. The PD’s age gap is not as wide, because it still retains solid support with younger voters (32.9% with those 18-29 according to EMG, compared to 11.4% for FI), but both it and FI had about half of their 2014 electorate made up of voters older than 55 (compared to only 20% for the M5S). On the left, the Tsipras’ list support was much stronger with younger voters – up to 7.6% with those 18-24, attracting a crowd of well-educated young professionals and especially students (up to 8-9% with students).

The M5S did well with fairly educated voters – only 11% with those without any diploma or only elementary education (but I suppose this educational group is disproportionately old) – although with those who have a high school diploma or middle school education (27.4% and 20.5% respectively in Ipsos) and not with university graduates (17.8%). The PD did best both with university graduates (as did Tsipras) and those with no education (unlike the Tsipras list, but like FI); FI’s support decreased with higher educational achievement.

Ipsos’ exit poll also included interesting data on the ‘media gap’, religiosity and ideology. Unsurprisingly, the M5S did best – by far – with voters who inform themselves mostly through the internet, winning 38.7% against 28.8% for the PD, while M5S support was below national average for all other media sources, although in terms of makeup of its voters, 32% informed themselves mostly through TV (and 31% through the internet, obviously far more than the 15% of all voters who get most of their news online). Unsurprisingly, FI did best – 22% – with voters who inform themselves solely through TV, while PD voters are more likely to read newspapers or inform themselves mostly through TV. Religiosity continues to impact vote choice, although not where one may expect it: the M5S and Tsipras list did significantly better with non-religious voters or lapsed Catholics (27.7% M5S support with those who never attend mass, and they make up a third of the party’s electorate; half of the Tsipras list’s voters never attend mass) while the NCD-UDC’s support was heavily biased towards the most religious voters – half of its voters attend mass weekly. The PD showed no correlation with religiosity, and actually scored major gains since 2009/2013 with weekly mass-goers, winning 43.3% of their votes. Berlusconi’s support with the most religious Catholics has declined significantly from 2009, but he remains strongest with monthly mass-goers (22.9%) and weakest with irreligious voters.

The ideological self-identification of voters offers an interesting portrait of the M5S electorate. While the PD, FI, Lega, NCD-UDC, Tsipras and FdI voters identify neatly with their ideological families – half of the PD and FI’s voters identify as centre-left and centre-right respectively and most of the remainder as left or right – the M5S’ electorate draws from all ideologies. 20% of the M5S’ voters identify as left-wing, but 15% identify as right-wing; overall, 38% identify with the left/centre-left and 32% with the right/centre-right. Compared to all other parties, however, a very large proportion of the M5S’ supporters do not identify with any ideology (they make up 17% of its electorate and the M5S won 53.5% with these voters). Unsurprisingly, Grillo has picked up voters across the spectrum, combining voters who identify with both extreme ends of the ideological spectrum and many voters who do not fit anywhere.

% vote for the PD by comuni (source: YouTrend)

YouTrend has an excellent interactive map of the results. The PD won all but three provinces in the country – FI won the province of Isernia in the southern region of Molise, the Lega Nord was victorious in the Alpine Lombard province of Sondrio while the SVP (allied to the PD) won 48% in South Tyrol (province of Bolzano-Alto Adige/Bozen-Südtirol). The PD did very well in the traditional left-wing zona ‘rossa’ in central Italy, winning 56.4% in Tuscany and 52.5% in Emilia-Romagna. In Matteo Renzi’s home province (and longtime left-wing stronghold) of Florence, the PD won its best national result, 61.8%, up over 17% from the PD’s result in 2013. The M5S’ support was generally similar to its 2013 spread, although it took a much more ‘southern’ orientation in 2014. The Grillists sustained their heaviest loses in central Italy and parts of the north, and help up better in the south – and even improved on the 2013 result by 0.8% in Sardinia (where the PD’s results were mediocre), taking 30.5% on the island (its best national result). In contrast, the M5S won only 16.7% in Tuscany (-7.3%) and 15.7% in Lombardy (-3.9%). Forza Italia also did better in the south and Sicily, although it still won good results in traditionally conservative provinces of the Piedmont and Lombardy. Compared to 2013, the Lega Nord’s biggest rebound came from the Veneto, where the Lega won its best national result (15.2%, compared to 14.6% in Lombardy, the Lega’s other major northern base) – up 4.7% from the 2013 election. Many noted that, in the Veneto region and notably the province of Verona, where the Lega received its third-best result (19.6%), top candidate Matteo Salvini was outpolled by Flavio Tosi, the mayor of Verona and leader of the Liga Veneta. Tosi is a more traditional conservative (keener on the free market and not anti-Euro), who had opposed Umberto Bossi but now seems to be taking his distance from Salvini’s anti-Euro line and alliance with Le Pen. The NCD-UDC list did best in the south – taking 6.6% in the Southern Italy constituency and 7.5% in the Insular constituency, compared to about 3% in the north of the country. The Christian democratic tradition remains strongest in the south, where old clientelistic political traditions remain strongest – although the leadership of both the NCD and UDC, drawn from the old DC, are largely southern (Alfano is Sicilian – the list won 9.1%, its second best result, in Sicily). Tsipras’ support was far less reflective of old Communist support and was instead largely urban (particularly urban areas with a university) – its best provinces (except for South Tyrol, where it was backed by the local Greens, and the Francophone Aosta Valley where no local list ran in 2014) were Florence (6.5%), Bologna (6%), Livorno (6%) and Trieste (5.9%). It also performed above its national result in Milan, Rome, Turin and Pisa. Finally, FdI’s support was strongest in the Lazio (5.6%), a traditional base of the neo-fascist or post-fascist right.

Regional and local elections

Regional and local elections were held alongside the EP elections.

In Piedmont, an early regional election followed the cancellation of the 2010 regional elections by the regional court on account of irregularities (falsification) in signatures for a small list allied with the right. The president of the region, Roberto Cota (Lega Nord), had already been placed under investigation and later indicted (in January 2014) for embezzlement, fraud and illegal financing. He is notably accused of using his expenses to pay for items including green underpants and sex toys. The region, traditionally the major swing region between left and right in northern Italy, had been gained by Cota – backed by Berlusconi’s PdL and the Lega – in 2010, notably due to an early M5S winning 4.1% and allegedly ‘spoiling’ the election for the centre-left incumbent. Piedmont has long been one of Italy’s major industrial heartlands, notably around the regional capital of Turin but also in other towns across the country. Historically, the PCI had strong support with working-class voters in Turin’s suburbs (which welcomed a large population of immigrants from southern Italy) and other industrial centres (Alessandria, Novi Ligure, Vercelli); today, the left has been weakened outside of Turin, but retains strong support in the province of Turin itself. The M5S has been very strong in the Val di Susa region in the province of Turin since 2010, due to its identification with and support of the very strong local movement against the Turin-Lyon high-speed train (TAV).

The left’s candidate was Sergio Chiamparino, the former PD mayor of Turin (2001-2011), supported by the PD, SEL, a civic list, a local centrist party (Moderati), SC and IdV. Roberto Cota did not run, and the right’s candidate was Gilberto Pichetto, a former regional vicepresident and senator from Forza Italia, supported by FI, the Lega and small parties. Davide Bono, an incumbent M5S regional councillor who had already won 4.1% in 2010, ran for the M5S. There were also FdI and NCD-UDC candidates.

Sergio Chiamparino (Centre-left/PD) 47.09% winning 32 seats (10 president’s list, 17 PD, 2 civic list, 1 Moderati, 1 SEL, 1 SC)
Gilberto Pichetto (Centre-right/FI) 22.09% winning 9 seats (6 FI, 2 Lega Nord, 1 president’s list)
Davide Bono (M5S) 21.45% winning 8 seats
Guido Crosetto (FdI-AN) 3.73% winning 1 seat
Enrico Costa (NCD-UDC) 2.98%
Mauro Filingeri (PRC) 1.12%

In the list vote for the regional council, the Lega Nord’s support fell from a strong 16.7% in 2010 to 7.3%. The FI’s result was about 10% lower than the PdL’s 2010 showing, while the PD’s list (36.2%) gained 13% from 2010. Detailed interactive maps are available here.

Abruzzo is a largely mountainous or hilly southern region, traditionally right-leaning, which has become the most affluent region in southern Italy. The right had gained the region from the left in a narrow battle in 2008, an early election which had followed the arrest of the incumbent centre-left president, who had himself gained the region from the right in 2005. The incumbent president, Giovanni Chiodi of Forza Italia, has also been mixed up in corruption scandals. The left’s candidate was Luciano D’Alfonso, a former Christian democratic mayor of Pescara.

Luciano D’Alfonso (Centre-left/PD) 46.26% winning 18 seats (10 PD, 4 civic lists, 1 CD, 1 SEL, 1 IdV, 1 president’s list)
Giovanni Chiodi (Centre-right/FI) 29.26% winning 7 seats (4 FI, 1 NCD-UDC, 1 civic list, 1 president’s list)
Sara Marcozzi (M5S) 21.41% winning 5 seats
Maurizio Acerbo (PRC) 3.07%

The right’s defeats in Piedmont and Abruzzo, along with a (narrow) defeat earlier this year in Sardinia, means that the Italian right only holds the regions of Lombardy, Veneto (both with the Lega Nord), Campania (with FI) and Calabria (with the NCD). The Aosta Valley is led by a local centre-right coalition, excluding the Italian right, because Aostan politics operate in their own cocoon. Since the last regular regional elections in 2010, the left has gained no less than seven regions from the right in early or regularly-scheduled regional elections.

Municipal elections were held alongside the EP elections on May 25, with a runoff on June 8. According to La Repubblica, the centre-left won 164 out of the 243 largest communes which held local elections, against 41 for the centre-right and 24 for civic lists. The M5S won three communes. In terms of provincial capitals, the PD gained 11 and lost 6.

The left gained Pescara (Abruzzo), Bergamo (Lombardy), Cremona (Lombardy), Pavia (Lombardy), Campobasso (Molise), Biella (Piedmont), Verbania (Piedmont), Vercelli (Piedmont), Sassari (Sardinia), Caltanissetta (Sicily) and Prato (Tuscany). The right gained Potenza (Basilicata), Urbino (Marche), Foggia (Apulia), Perugia (Umbria) and Padua (Veneto). The M5S gained Livorno (Tuscany). The left’s defeat in several cities, after its landslide in the EP elections, somewhat mitigated the talk about the PD landslide, and may confirm the theory that the PD’s victory held quasi-exclusively to Renzi and that in a runoff ballot without any Renzi effect, the PD’s performance was far less impressive. Nevertheless, the PD still gained several cities – including large ones such as Bergamo and Pavia – and easily held others such as Florence (with 59.2% in the first round).

Two of the most striking defeats for the left came from Livorno and Padua. Livorno, a major working-class industrial and harbour city in Tuscany, had been governed by the left (the PCI, historically) since 1946 and it is a left-wing stronghold to this day (in the EP election, the PD won 52.7% vs 22.5% for the M5S), with a strong base for the radical left as well. The incumbent PD mayor was retiring this year. In the first round, the M5S candidate placed a distant second with 19% against the centre-left’s 40% and 16.4% for a radical left candidate. In the second round, the M5S candidate won 53.1% against 46.9% for the PD. Between both rounds, turnout dropped from 64.6% to 50.5%, and the PD was particularly hit by demobilization from the EP election (the PD candidate’s raw vote declined from the first round), but the M5S candidate likely won the votes of those who had backed the radical left and maybe the weak centre-right (7.3%) in the first round. In the M5S’ other municipal victories, they have usually come after weak distant second showings in the first round, through the mobilization of all voters who had backed other eliminated candidates in the first round – left or right. For example, in the port city of Civitavecchia (Lazio) – an old PCI stronghold which has drifted right since 1994, where the M5S defeated the centre-left incumbent, the M5S polled 18.3% in the first round to the left’s 26.6% and won 66.6% in the runoff thanks to low turnout (from 72.7% to 52.7%) and support from eliminated centre-right candidates (18.2% and 12.2% in the first round) and the radical left (10.9%).

The left suffered a bad defeat in Perugia (Umbria), where the right overcame a 20-point gap in the second round to win 58%, although turnout fell by 20%. In the southern city of Potenza, an FdI candidate backed only by Mario Mauro’s small Populars, gained the city with 58.5% in a runoff against the left, which had polled 47.8% in the first round against only 16.8% for the FdI (the centre-right and centre won the bulk of the remaining votes). Turnout collapsed from 75.1% to 48.4%.

In Padua, the third largest city in the Veneto, Lega Nord senator Massimo Bitonci, supported by FI and the centre-right, defeated the PD incumbent with 53.5%, with turnout 10 points lower than on May 25. It is interesting to point out that, in the election for city council, the Lega did poorly with only 4.9% (down from 11% in 2009), while the top scoring list on the right was a civic list with 16.7%. On the other hand, the PD did quite well in northern Italy (especially Lombardy). Its most notable victory was in Pavia (Lombardy), where the centre-left candidate defeated FI incumbent Alessandro Cattaneo, a young ambitious politician sometimes described as the centre-right’s Renzi. With turnout nearly 15 points lower, the left overcame a 10-point gap in the first round to win with 53.1% (the right’s support, in terms of vote, fell from the first round).

Although I speculated about a potential ‘Renzi effect’ in the first round and its drop-off in the second round, preliminary research suggests that it may have been the municipal elections which had the greater impact on the EP election than the other way around. A CISE study reports that turnout on May 25 declined by 23.5% from 2013 in communes with no local elections while it fell by just 3.4% in those which did hold municipal elections. The gap in turnout change is greatest in the south, where the difference between the two types of communes is 26.8%, over 10 points more than the region with the second-highest difference. In the south, turnout in local elections was even higher than in the 2013 election!). Additionally, while the PD performed better by an average of 2.5% in communes without local elections than those with, Forza Italia’s support declined less (-3.3%) from 2013 in towns with local elections than those without (where it was about -4.5% lower than in 2013).

The EP elections saw a rather phenomenal showing for Prime Minister Matteo Renzi’s centre-left PD, a vote of cautious optimism and confidence in his new government which has gotten off to a solid and energetic start – but also a vote which is more reflective of the pitiful state of the PD’s opponents. The result is quite significant – more significant than a low-turnout EP election would normally be – because it is effectively a popular mandate, indirectly, for a Prime Minister who won that office through backroom wheeling-and-dealing rather than through the polls. That unexpected popular mandate has left the PD’s opponents, particularly Beppe Grillo, quite confused. In polls taken since the EP elections, the PD has suddenly surged into a significant lead over the right and Grillists, averaging about 40-42% against 19-21% for the M5S, 15-16% for Forza Italia and 6-7% for the Lega Nord. Somewhat ironically, the PD’s landslide makes a snap election less likely, because the opposition and the PD’s junior allies have no interest in an election now. It is now a fairly serious possibility that the Parliament elected in 2013, widely seen as an unworkable mess which wouldn’t last two years, may actually serve its full term to 2018. However, Italian politics remain in a fascinating state of flux – nothing here indicates that the PD’s current success will endure for a long time, and nothing indicates that Italian politics are anywhere close to stabilizing at some level.

EU 2014: Germany to Hungary

ep2014

After France, this post looks at the EP election results in some of the most important member-states in EU affairs today – Germany and Greece (as well as Hungary, important in its own way).

These posts do not include, generally, descriptions of each party’s ideology and nature. For more information on parties, please refer to older posts I may have written on these countries on this blog or some excellent pre-election guides by Chris Terry on DemSoc.

Note to readers: I am aware of the terrible backlog, but covering the EP elections in 28 countries in detail takes quite some time. I promise to cover, with significant delay, the results of recent/upcoming elections in Colombia (May 25-June 15), Ontario (June 12), Canadian federal by-elections (June 30), Indonesia (July 9), Slovenia (July 13) and additional elections which may have been missed. I still welcome any guest posts with open arms :)

Germany

Turnout: 48.12% (+4.85%)
MEPs: 96 (-3)
Electoral system: Closed list PR, no threshold (effectively 0.58%)

CDU (EPP) 30.02% (-0.7%) winning 29 seats (-5)
SPD (S&D) 27.27% (+6.5%) winning 27 seats (+4)
Greens (G-EFA) 10.7% (-1.4%) winning 11 seats (-3)
Die Linke (GUE/NGL) 7.39% (-0.1%) winning 7 seats (-1)
AfD (ECR) 7.04% (+7.04%) winning 7 seats (+7)
CSU (EPP) 5.34% (-1.9%) winning 5 seats (-3)
FDP (ALDE) 3.36% (-7.6%) winning 3 seats (-9)
FW (ALDE) 1.46% (-0.2%) winning 1 seat (+1)
Pirates (G-EFA) 1.45% (+0.5%) winning 1 seat (+1)
Tierschutzpartei (GUE/NGL) 1.25% (+0.1%) winning 1 seat (+1)
NPD (NI) 1.03% (+1%) winning 1 seat (+1)
Family (ECR) 0.69% (-0.3%) winning 1 seat (+1)
ÖDP (G-EFA) 0.64% (+0.1%) winning 1 seat (+1)
Die PARTEI 0.63% (+0.6%) winning 1 seat (+1)
Others 1.76% winning 0 seats (nc)

Germany - EP 2014

Chancellor Angela Merkel’s ruling centre-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and its Bavarian sister party, Horst Seehofer’s Christian Social Union (CSU), won the EP elections in Germany with 35.4% of the vote. Germany is widely seen as an ‘island of stability’ (and economic prosperity) in the midst of the EU, having managed to weather the economic doldrums which have hit most of the EU fairly well. With a population of nearly 82 million people, Germany is the most populous member-state of the EU and it has always been one of the key ‘engines’ of the EU, often in tandem with France. This has been particularly true in the last five or so years, for a variety of reasons. Politically, Germany’s leadership has been remarkable stable for nearly ten years – Angela Merkel, who took office as Chancellor in November 2005, is now the EU’s longest-serving head of government (after Estonia’s Andrus Ansip resigned early this year) and the country’s party system, despite minor but relevant shakeups since 2009, has not experienced the dramatic ups-and-downs, shifts or realignments seen in Greece, Italy, Spain, France, the Czech Republic, Ireland and even the UK. Economically, Germany has the EU’s largest economy – and also one of the healthier economies in the EU. Since 2010, Germany’s unemployment rate has declined from 8% to 5.3% (a feat which many of Germany’s neighbors and partners, notably France and Italy, can only dream about). Although economic growth has been unremarkable, Germany has a balanced budget and its public debt (77%) is declining. As the economic and political powerhouse of the EU and Eurozone, therefore, Germany has come to assume a leading role in the Eurozone crisis.

Merkel, with the Eurozone debt crisis, has gained an image as a tough and inflexible advocate of austerity policies, debt/deficit reduction in Europe’s most heavily indebted countries (Greece, Italy, Spain etc), enforcing strict fiscal rules in the EU (the European Fiscal Compact) and steadfast opposition to the idea of ‘Eurobonds’. Germany has been at the forefront, furthermore, of negotiations related to bailout packages for Greece, Ireland, Portugal and Cyprus. As a result, Merkel has become perhaps the most important European head of government – though also one of the most divisive/polarizing. In Germany, Merkel’s Eurozone crisis policy has been relatively popular, despite substantial opposition to the idea of German taxpayers ‘bailing out’ countries such as Greece and Spain. The European Stability Mechanism (ESM), which allows for loans up to €500 billion for member states of the eurozone in financial difficulty and in which Germany is the single largest contributor (27.1%), recently survived a judicial challenge and was confirmed by the Constitutional Court.

Between the 2009 federal election, which saw Angela Merkel’s CDU/CSU form a black-yellow coalition with the free-market liberal Free Democrats (FDP), and the 2013 federal election last September in which Merkel’s CDU/CSU won a landslide result (41.5%) and formed a Grand Coalition with the Social Democrats (SPD), Angela Merkel’s popularity increased dramatically while that of the FDP collapsed just as dramatically. In the 2013 election, polls showed that Germans were particularly optimistic and upbeat about their country’s economic future.

Germany’s strong economic conditions are a result of structural factors (strong export market in Asia for German cars, machinery and equipment; specific demographic factors; Germany’s geographic location etc) and, Merkel’s critics point out, economic reforms undertaken by the red-green cabinet before 2005 (labour market reforms with Agenda 2010, cuts in welfare/unemployment benefits with Hartz IV). Some analysts worry that Germany’s current economic climate is not sustainable in the long term and warn that certain reforms must be undertaken if Germany’s economic health is to remain so strong in the next years. For example, Germany has a very low birthrate and skills shortage is a particularly big issue. The OECD has said that Germany will need to recruit 5.4 million qualified immigrants between now and 2025, and in August the government published a list of skilled job positions to recruit non-EU foreign labour. With the economic crisis, Germany has already welcomed thousands of southern European immigrants, particularly younger and educated citizens, fleeing huge levels of youth unemployment in Spain, Italy, Greece and so forth. Regardless, in the eyes of most voters, Merkel (and, by extension, her party) have come to stand for economic stability and growth in chaotic and uncertain times; a steady and reliable hand at the helm. Fairly or unfairly, the widespread perception in Germany is that Merkel is a strong and capable leader who has been a steady hand in turbulent waters, who has successfully protected Germany from European economic turmoils. In 2013, Merkel’s CDU played on her personal popularity, and ran a very ‘presidential’ campaign which heavily emphasized Merkel, and campaign posters drove the above ideas home: Merkel’s face with the words ‘stability’/’security’/’continuity’. Exit polls in 2013 showed that many of the Union’s voters said that their top motivator in voting for the CDU/CSU was Merkel alone (in contrast, only 8% of SPD voters said that their top motivator was the SPD’s disastrous top candidate in 2013, foot-in-mouth victim Peer Steinbrück).

Domestically, Merkel’s political longevity and her ability to destroy her junior coalition partners (the SPD from 2005 to 2009 and the FDP from 2009 to 2013) owes a lot to her local reputation for legendary fence-sitting and pragmatism. Merkel has often been perceived as lacking any ideological direction of her own, instead she has run things on the basis of shifting her policies and adapting herself to what was popular. After the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan in 2011, which reopened Germany’s very contentious nuclear energy debate, Merkel made a monumental U-turn and announced that Germany would shut down all nuclear reactors by 2022. Just a year before, her government had overturned a red-green decision to shut all reactors down by 2022. Strongly anti-nuclear public opinion, which threatened the CDU’s standings in crucial state elections in 2011, strongly pushed Merkel to do a 180 on the issue. Since then, Merkel and the CDU have promoted renewable energy, which is off to a tough start. A government renewable energy surcharge, which will increase electricity bills by about 20%, is unpopular (see this article in Der Spiegel for more on Germany’s energy transformation). In the 2013 election, there were few differences between the SPD and the CDU/CSU’s platforms, because the Union effectively blurred major policy differences between them on the SPD – the few differences concerned tax increases (the SPD and Greens supported tax increases for the wealthy, the Union rejected tax increases) and the universal minimum wage (the Union opposed it in the 2013 campaign, but didn’t care much about it in the end) – while they agreed on matters such as gender quotas in management positions, freezing rent, renewable energies and the bulk of EU policy (although Merkel reiterated her tough anti-Eurobond stance and strict application of the Fiscal Compact).

Already between 2005 and 2009, Merkel’s first Grand Coalition cabinet, the government’s policies had been quite moderate and even leaned towards the SPD on some issues (Keynesian-style deficit spending, healthcare reforms in a pro-public healthcare direction, VAT increase for infrastructure development, introducing legal minimum wages in some industries). The SPD did very poorly in the 2009 European elections, and a few months later it won a record low 23% of the vote in the 2009 federal elections. The SPD was unable to campaign on its significant achievements in influencing policy and tempering the CDU/CSU’s more right-wing policies while in the Grand Coalition; it bled votes to all sides (non-voters, Greens and the Linke being the top beneficiaries) as a result of strong voter discontent with Agenda 2010/Hartz IV. The SPD was badly hurt by Chancellor Gerhard Schröder’s highly controversial welfare reforms, and it has torn between a desire to continue appealing to the centre as Schröder successfully did in 1998 and 2002 and an urge to move back towards the left following left-wing backlash to Agenda 2010 after 2004. The SPD’s platform in 2013 was quite left-wing – emblematic of the SPD’s post-Schröder swing to the left, the party being pushed to left as Merkel successfully adopted SPD planks and a general shift of all parties (except the FDP) to more leftist positions since 2009 and especially 2005. In 2013, the SPD’s support increased to 25.7% of the vote, but it remained miles behind the CDU/CSU. The SPD was unable to sucessfully challenge Merkel, even on her government’s weak suit – social justice, a major concern for German voters these days (or rather, while the SPD’s social policies were more popular, the SPD lacked the CDU’s credibility on Eurozone and economic issues) – and shackled with a poor chancellor-candidate (Peer Steinbrück, the infamous ‘gaffe-machine’).

Between 2009 and 2013, the FDP, Merkel’s junior partner after the 2009 elections – in which the right-liberal FDP, on a platform of low taxes and surfing on right-wing unease with the fairly moderate record of the CDU-led government between 2005 and 2009, won an historic high of 14.6% – collapsed. The FDP’s performance in the black-yellow government was widely judged, even by its 2009 supporters, to be ineffective and incompetent and their actions reinforced the old image of the FDP as an exclusive club for special interests and high earners. Merkel steamrolled the FDP and by not lowering taxes, she effectively drained the FDP’s main plank of all meaning. In 2013, therefore, the FDP’s calls for tax cuts certainly rang hollow. The party, which had been in every Bundestag since the end of the War, suffered a defeat of epic and historic proportions: 4.8%, falling below the 5% threshold for seats in the Bundestag and finding itself without any MPs. In past (and recent – Lower Saxony in 2013) federal and state elections, the FDP had survived ‘close calls’ thanks to ‘loan votes’ – CDU supporters voting (on their second, PR, vote in Germany’s two-vote system for federal and most state elections) for the FDP to allow the party, the CDU’s preferred coalition partner, to retain seats. Loan votes and locally-focused FDP campaigns had allowed the FDP to survive in several state elections after 2009 (even as the federal party was in full collapse mode), but these dynamics were in-existent or insufficient in September 2013 – after the Lower Saxony election in 2013, which saw the black-yellow government lose to red-green despite the FDP’s success, there was a backlash against loan votes for the FDP, based on the erroneous claim that black-yellow would have been reelected without the loan votes (however, exit polls in September 2013 showed that a bit less than half of the FDP’s voters were tactical voters). The liberal party has lost its raison-d’être in the eyes of many voters. In the past two decades or so, the FDP’s niche had been lower taxes. Having been utterly unable to deliver on the one issue which defined it and which attracted so many voters in 2009, the FDP lost all credibility and effectively a good chunk of its raison-d’être. The FDP effectively dropped/lost the issue of civil rights/individual liberties to the Greens (and now, the Pirates) in the 1990s after approving wiretaps and voting against civil unions, there is now a serious risk that the FDP has lost the taxation/small government/economic liberalism issue to the CDU and the FDP’s right-wing supporters have in part shifted over to the new, anti-Euro Alternative for Germany (AfD).

The AfD was founded in February 2013, mostly by ex-CDU academics and private sector figures. The AfD’s unifying plank is opposition to the Euro (but not, it insists, the EU) – Bernd Lucke, the party’s leader, argued that the Euro was unsustainable and that it should be scrapped. Economically troubled southern European countries should abandon the Euro while northern European countries including Germany and Austria could form a smaller Eurozone in the north. The AfD claims that is not against the EU, but the party wants to reduce the scope of the EU’s power and supranational aspects, opposes Turkish membership and is against taxpayer-funded bailouts. The AfD is a right-wing party, but it is not really clear what it really stands for. The party’s leadership is economically liberal (in the European sense), but the party’s membership is not quite as convinced by the leadership’s liberalism: members voted to oppose the EU-US free trade deal, despite support from the leadership. Some AfD members and candidates have shifted to the right and embraced social conservative and traditional Christian ‘moral values’, which has reportedly displeased some liberal supporters. The AfD has rejected claims that it is anti-immigration, but the AfD was the only major German party to praise the results of the recent Swiss referendum curbing freedom of movement. The party’s opponents on the left have accused it of pandering to anti-immigration and xenophobic sentiments. The AfD won 4.7% of the vote in the 2013 election, mostly protest votes which came, predominantly, from the FDP, other parties and Die Linke.

The AfD goes out of its way to promote a respectable and clean image of itself, rejecting ties and comparisons to right-wing populists and the far-right in other EU countries. Far-right parties such as the FN and Geert Wilders’ Dutch PVV tried to woo the AfD, but the Germans strongly rejected any cooperation with these less respectable, more extremist parties. It has even rejected overtures from UKIP, criticizing the British party’s anti-EU and anti-immigration stances; although it has been reported that some members of the AfD are supportive of an alliance with UKIP and its partners in the EFD group in the EP. Instead, the AfD has been trying very hard to be accepted as an ally of the British Conservative Party, to fit the general image of a respectable, rather moderate centre-right but Eurosceptic party (notwithstanding the Tories’ ECR ties to more inconvenient parties in Poland and the Baltics). The AfD’s campaign to woo the Tories, something welcomed by some Tory/ECR MEPs, to their side was complicated by Merkel and Berlin-London diplomatic channels. Merkel is said to have warned or pressured David Cameron against developing formal ties with the AfD. However, on June 12, the ECR group voted to accept the AfD, unofficially by a narrow vote of 29-26 in which 2 Tory MEPs defied Cameron’s wishes by voting in favour of the AfD. 10 Downing Street will hope that this embarrassing defeat for Cameron in ‘his’ EP group will not endanger his highly-important relationship with Merkel.

The AfD was joined by Hans-Olaf Henkel, a former president of the German employers’ federation (BDI) and manager at IBM Germany, in January 2014. An advocate for a division of the Euro between a stable northern zone and an unstable southern zone, Henkel was second on the AfD’s list for the EP behind party leader Bernd Lucke.

After the 2013 election, a Grand Coalition with the SPD was the only realistic option on the table. The only other coalition option was a black-green coalition, between the CDU/CSU and the Greens, but the federal Greens, who had ended up performing quite poorly in the election, had burned too many bridges with the CDU/CSU during their rather left-wing campaign. The Union and the SPD reached an initial agreement on a coalition program on November 27, but for the first time, one of the coalition parties – SPD – had taken the decision to submit any coalition agreement it would sign to ratification by its membership in an internal vote. On December 2014, with high turnout, 76% of SPD members voted in favour of the deal. The internal vote was a bit stacked in favour of the yes, because SPD leader Sigmar Gabriel put his job on the line and strongly promoted the terms of the Grand Coalition agreement. Furthermore, in the unlikely event that SPD rejected the agreement, there was the threat of snap elections (which the CDU/CSU would have won by a similar margin as in September 2013).

On the whole, the SPD got a fairly good deal out of the CDU/CSU, considering the weak bargaining position they were in. The new government’s policy program includes two of the SPD’s main promises from 2013: the introduction, from January 1 2015, of a universal minimum wage at €8.50 (with only minors, interns, trainees or long-term unemployed people for their first six months at work excluded; some companies will have until 2017 to phase in the new minimum wage) and allowing workers who have contributed for 45 years to retire early at 63 (currently 65). The SPD also won a liberalization of Germany’s dual citizenship laws, which will no longer require German born-children of non-EU/Swiss citizens to choose, at age 23 (provided they’ve lived in Germany for 8 years or graduated from a German school), between their parents’ and German citizenship. On economic matters, there will be no tax increases (a key CDU demand) but the government promises new investments worth €23 million in training, higher education, R&D and transport infrastructure among others. To please the CDU/CSU, the government’s pension reform also includes a measure to increase the pensions of older mothers who raised children before 1992. To please Bavaria’s CSU, the new government is supposed to implement a toll on foreigners using German autobahnen, but many doubt the controversial policy will go ahead given that Berlin needs to find a way to ensure that Germans don’t pay the toll and make it compatible with EU legislation. The new government is committed to the energy transition, to gradually wean Germany off of nuclear energy by 2022.

In the cabinet, SPD leader Sigmar Gabriel is Vice-Chancellor and minister of the economy and energy – responsible for the energy transition. Andrea Nahles, a former SPD general secretary from the party’s left, became minister of labour and social affairs, pushing forth the pension reform. In the CDU, the promotion to the defense ministry of Ursula von der Leyen, who had been labour minister under black-yellow, was widely read as a sign that Merkel was grooming her as a potential successor. Wolfgang Schäuble, the CDU finance minister since 2009 associated with austerity policies and Germany’s ‘tough’ line, retained his job. Frank-Walter Steinmeier, the SPD’s 2009 chancellor-candidate who is perceived as being pro-Russian, returned to the foreign ministry – a job he had held under the first Merkel Grand Coalition.

The coalition’s platform was criticized by employers, who were particularly up in arms about the pension reform – both the SPD’s retirement age changes and the Union’s pension boost for older mothers, which they claim will cost Germany €130 million by 2030. The conservative newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung and the tabloid Bild were both critical of the coalition agreement. Abroad, The Economist has criticized Merkel’s temerity and the lack of structural reforms, arguing that the government’s various interventionist mini-reforms risks squandering the country’s past economic progress.

The new government has been fairly quiet. In February, it ran into a mini-cabinet crisis following the surprise resignation of a SPD MP (Sebastian Edathy) who later fled the country after police searched his house and claimed that he was the client of a Canadian-based international child pornography ring. The CSU agriculture minister, Hans-Peter Friedrich, was forced to resign after it was revealed that, while interior minister in October 2013, he had informed Gabriel of an investigation against Edathy and in doing so likely breached an official secret. The SPD’s leadership is suspected of having tipped off Edathy (and prompting him to resign from the Bundestag before his parliamentary immunity was stripped), and the CSU demanded that the SPD’s parliamentary whip step down. Because of the CSU’s sabre-rattling, the Grand Coalition was briefly at risk of premature death, but the events in Ukraine in late February-early March 2014 meant that the scandal finally blew over. Federally, polling numbers have not budged much since September 2013: the CDU/CSU is down from 41.5% to about 39% in polls but still miles ahead of the SPD, which is stable at its 2013 levels. The Greens, who won only 8.4% in 2013, are now back up to 10-12%; Die Linke are in the 8-10% range, above their 2013 result (8.6%). The FDP is still dead, and the AfD would likely win seats in the Bundestag in the next election, because it’s now polling at 6-7%, above the 5% threshold in federal elections.

There was a major and significant change in the electoral system ahead of the EP elections: in February 2014, the Constitutional Court ruled that the 3% threshold was unconstitutional and ordered for it to be scrapped entirely. In 2009 and prior EP elections, a 5% threshold had applied, but it had been lowered to 3% by the major parties after the Constitutional Court had struck down the 5% threshold in November 2011. The new rules were obviously a huge boon for small parties – a category which now includes the FDP.

Merkel’s CDU/CSU emerged victorious in the EP elections, and Merkel expressed satisfaction with the Union’s performance and its majority over the SPD. However, with only 35.4% for the CDU and CSU, it is a poor result for Germany’s senior governing parties, which is down both from Merkel’s own landslide result in September last year (41.5%) and the Union’s result in the 2009 EP election (37.9%) and past EP results (2004 – 44.5%, 1999 – 48.7%, 1994 – 38.8%). In 2013, Merkel’s own personal popularity had been the reason for the CDU’s success and the party had likely received votes which went more to support Merkel the Chancellor than to support the CDU/CSU the party. Therefore, in an election without Merkel on the ballot, some loses could be expected.

The main reason why the Union parties did poorly is because the CSU’s result in Bavaria was unexpectedly bad: the ruling hegemonic party in conservative Bavaria received only 40.5% of the vote in the Land, down 7.6% from 48% of the vote in 2009 (and 49% in the 2013 federal election and 47.7% in the 2013 state elections, held a week before the federal election). The result came as a surprise, because state-level polling in Bavaria for the EP had showed the CSU in its usual high-40s territory, and the CSU had done fairly well (by Bavarian standards, which means winning in the usual landslide) in local elections held in the state in March 2014. Over the past few months, the CSU has grumbled against some of the government’s policies – Bavarian Minister-President Horst Seehofer, the powerful boss of the CSU and the state, opposes the construction of high-voltage power lines which would transmit wind energy from the North Sea to southern Germany, and the CSU has continued playing its populist, regionalist messages (against EU and federal bureaucrats, against foreign drivers clogging up Bavaria’s autobahnen, against immigrants receiving welfare benefits).

One reason for the CSU’s poor turnout may have been the low turnout – only 40.9%, which is about 7% less than in the country and actually down 1.5% from the last EP election in Bavaria. In contrast, turnout in the rest of Germany increased by 4.9% from 2009. There was, as in 2009, a clear correlation between higher turnout and local elections being held the same day – turnout was highest in the Rhineland-Palatinate, reaching 56.9%; it was up 16.8% from 2009 to 46.7% in the Eastern state of Brandenburg, where there were no local elections alongside the EP election in 2009. However, turnout is not the only explanation, because the CSU’s raw vote did not hold stable – the party lost nearly 330,000 votes from 2009. The CDU’s support increased in Baden-Württemberg, Brandenburg, Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania (Merkel’s home state, where she did very well in 2013), Lower Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt and Thuringia. The CDU suffered substantial loses in Berlin (-4.2%, but turnout increased 11.5%), Hamburg (-5.1%), Hesse (-5.8%) and Schleswig-Holstein (-3.5%).

The SPD, in contrast, performed quite well – 27.3% is a significant improvement on the party’s last two disastrous performances in the EP elections (21.5% in 2004 and 20.8% in 2009, both of them historic lows for the SPD), and the SPD has increased its vote total from about 5.5 million to 8 million. Martin Schulz, the PES’ ‘presidential candidate’ and the SPD’s top candidate, likely accounts for (part of) this good result. An Infratest dimap exit poll showed that Schulz was the favourite EU Commission candidate in Germany over Juncker, 42% to 24%, and even received the preference of 23% of CDU/CSU voters. 76% of SPD voters said that Schulz was an important reason that they voted SPD, against only 55% of Union voters who said that Juncker was an important reason that they voted for the CDU/CSU. The SPD was criticized for an ad campaign which said that “only if you choose Martin Schulz and the SPD, can there be a German President of the European Commission”.

The SPD has also performed surprisingly well, so far, in the Grand Coalition (unlike in 2005-2009). So far, many of the new government’s popular policies – the minimum wage, the pension reform and the dual citizenship reform – all bear the SPD’s mark, a surprisingly good record for what is a weak junior governing partner. 59% of SPD voters were happy with the federal government’s performance, compared to 79% of CDU/CSU voters and 53% of all voters.

The Greens placed third, with 10.7% of the vote, which is down 1.4% on their record-high performance in 2009 (12.1%) but an improvement on the Greens’ poor result in last year’s federal election, when the party won only 8.4%. The Greens’ result in 2013 came as a shockingly bad underperformance by the party, which had been on an upswing since 2007 and especially since 2010-2011 (marked by the Greens’ victory in the 2011 Baden-Württemberg state elections, where the Greens overtook the SPD and the left won enough seats to form a green-red coalition with the Greens in the driver’s seat). The Greens ran a woefully bad campaign in 2013, unwisely seeking to put an emphasis on their left-wing (similar to the SPD, furthermore) position on economic/social issues (with tax increases which the Greens had lots of difficulty defending and framing correctly) rather than their niche environmental issues where the Greens are most popular and credible. The Greens’ left-wing oriented campaign, under Jürgen Trittin, aimed to deflect left-wing criticism that the Greens were just waiting to dive into a black-green coalition with the Union, but instead it just nudged the Greens way too close to the SPD in a position where they would not dare criticize the SPD’s failings (notably on hot-button transportation and infrastructure kerfuffles). The Greens were also hurt by controversies stemming from a terribly overblown faux-scandal about ‘veggie-days’ (allegedly a Green plan to ‘force’ meat-free days in public cafeterias, even though they already existed) and a difficult series of revelations from the Greens’ ties to the pedophile movement in their foundational years. Since the last election, the Greens have been rebuilding, but it’s been difficult. In the Infratest dimap exit poll, 81% of voters said the Greens lacked a strong leader and 70% said they had difficulty seeing what the Greens stood for.

Die Linke placed fourth, holding their ground from the last election and gaining votes thanks to the higher turnout. It was an average result for the party, a bit below its result from 2013 (8.6%). Die Linke had hoped to gain from the SPD’s participation in cabinet, and tried to target left-wing voters disappointed with the SPD’s participation or performance in the Grand Coalition government. However, unlike in 2009, Die Linke proved unable to benefit from the SPD’s government record, largely because the SPD has been performing reasonably well in government thus far. The party still has trouble breaking out of its peripheral role in the German political system: after the party effectively supported or accepted the Russian invasion of Crimea and opposed Ukraine’s “fascist” government, the prospect of participation in a leftist coalition with the SPD and the Greens distanced itself, because the SPD demand that Die Linke drops its most contentious foreign policy planks (opposition to NATO, Euroscepticism) in order to be accepted into government. Die Linke lost votes in its East German, ex-GDR strongholds – its support in the East fell from 23% to 20.6%, its worst result in the old GDR since the first post-reunification EP elections in 1994; but it gained support in the West, increasing from 3.9% to 4.5%. In 2013, the results had also shown a trend towards a more nationalized vote, with Die Linke slowly building a still very small but substantial electorate in the West while being on a net downwards trend in the East, where the party faces demographic problems (aging electorate, out-migration, more affluent East German cities and social changes in the old GDR) and intense competition for protest voters.

The AfD did well in East Germany (8.3%), better than in the West (6.8%). Overall, across the country, the AfD had an excellent result, with 7% of the vote and 2.070 million votes, up from 4.7% and 2.056 million votes in the 2013 federal election. The exit polls showed that the AfD’s electorate largely consisted of protest voters, with highly specific concerns – currency stability (a major issue for 41% of the AfD’s voters), social security and immigration (a major issue for 40% of AfD voters but only 13% of the broader electorate); the AfD’s voters also stand out of the German political mainstream by expressing negative views towards the EU, the Euro, the desirability of deeper European integration and being rather pessimistic about the economy. For example, while the electorate which voted on May 25 was by and large strongly pro-European (actually, even more-so than in the past), with only 16% saying that EU membership brought more disadvantages (compared to 44% who said it brought mostly advantages, up from 25% in 2010), 70% saying that EU countries should act together more often and only 20% saying that Germany should return to the Deutsche Mark; the AfD’s supporters took opposite views on these issues, with 44% (the highest of all parties, with Die Linke in second at 19%) of AfD voters saying that the EU brought more disadvantages, 67% saying that EU member-states should act more independently/alone, 52% saying the EU’s open borders are threatening German society, 39% wishing to return to the old currency (one will notice, however, that not even a majority of AfD supporters support dropping the euro) and 78% opposing bailouts for other EU member-states (compared to 41% of German voters). The AfD is already a very polarizing party: 47% of voters considered it a right-wing populist party, which is not a popular label to be identified with in Germany, and 41% said that while it did not solve problems “it called them by their names” (80% expressed similar views regarding Die Linke).

The AfD appears to be responsible for a good part of the CDU and CSU’s losses. Infratest dimap’s vote-transfer analysis has some suspect findings, but it reports that, compared to 2013, the AfD gained 510,000 more votes from the Union, 180,000 from the SPD and 110,000 from Die Linke; in 2013, the AfD had pulled a diverse electorate, although most of their voters came from the smoldering ruins of the FDP, Die Linke and other parties. According to the vote-transfer analysis from this year, the bleeding from the FDP to AfD was more limited (-60,000) – instead, we are told that the FDP lost a good number of votes to the SPD (60,000) and the Greens (40,000). The city of Munich (Bavaria) also conducted a vote-transfer analysis for the city, compared to the 2009 EP elections. In Munich, the CSU lost 21,100 votes – or 16% of its 2009 voters – to the AfD, providing the new party with its largest bulk of voters (smaller quantities came from the FDP – 2,200 votes; the FW – 2,400 votes; non-voters – 2,100 votes; and other parties – 1,800 votes). In Bavaria as a whole, the AfD did quite well, taking 8.1% of the vote, nearly doubling their percentage from 2013. It did best in Munich’s suburbs in Upper Bavaria and in Swabia. Interestingly, in Munich, the FDP lost most of its 2009 voters – 42% of them (or 22,500 votes) the SPD, which is more than a bit unusual given that, in 2013, the FDP had lost 38% of its voters to the Union and only 9% to the SPD.

The Infratest dimap vote-transfer analysis showed that the Union parties, compared to 2013, also lost heavily to the SPD (-340,000) and Greens (-270,000); the SPD suffered loses, from 2013, to the Greens (-110,000) and AfD, but made up for them by gaining from the Union and FDP; the Greens suffered minor loses (-30,000) to the AfD but gained 2013 votes from all parties, mostly the two largest ones; Die Linke lost substantially to the AfD but gained, weirdly, 100,000 from the Union and 50,000 from the SPD. The analysis reported by Infratest dimap on the ARD website (linked above) seems very suspect and incomplete, given that it makes no mention of 2013 voters who did not vote this time. The Munich analysis appears more reliable, and the comparison is being made to the same kind of election.

The new electoral rules allowed seven small parties to make their entrance into the EP. Besides the FDP, which won a disastrous 3.4% and lost 9 of its MEPs, the largest minor party to make it in were the Freie Wähler (Free Voters), a confederation of various community/local lists and independent candidates which are present throughout Germany but quite strong in Bavaria, especially in local elections. The FW are very hard to pin down ideologically, with an eclectic mix of socially liberal policies, conservative policies or economically liberal policies, and a heavy focus on issues such as direct democracy, local autonomy and local/parochial concerns. The FW have a soft Eurosceptic side. The FW have, as noted above, run in state elections across Germany, but the only region where they have achieved considerable success at the state level is in Bavaria, where the FW won 10% in 2008 and 9% in the 2013 state election. The party won 1.5% of the vote across Germany, and 4.3% in Bavaria (down from 6.7% in the 2009 EP election, where FW was led by ex-CSU maverick Gabriele Pauli). The FW broke 2% in BaWü and Rhineland-Palatinate, but were under 2% in every other state (they had some success in Thuringia and Saxony, but FW had next to zero support in the city-states, NRW, Lower Saxony and Schleswig-Holstein). The FW’s new MEP, Ulrike Müller (a Bavarian state MP), is individually affiliated with the small liberal European Democratic Party (EDP) and will sit in the ALDE group. A sign of how local and candidate-based the FW’s support is: the FW’s best result in Bavaria came from the Oberallgäu kreise in Swabia (13.7%), where Müller is from. In 2009, the FW had done best around Fürth in Middle Franconia (where Pauli is from), and poorly in Upper Bavaria and Swabia.

The Pirate Party won 1.5% of the vote and one seat; that vote is up a bit from 2009, when the Pirates were just getting started, but actually down from the party’s results in the 2009 and 2013 federal elections (2% and 2.2%). The Pirates famously rode a brief nationwide wave of momentum following the 2011 Berlin state elections, but that collapsed beginning in late 2012, under the weight of controversies, small scandals, public scrutiny into the party and a perception of the party as a single-issue party with no positions on major issues. The Pirates are nowhere close to regaining lost support: they have serious internal conflicts (largely between moderate left-libertarians and far-left anti-fascist movements), the party’s membership numbers have declined quite significantly,  As in past elections, the Pirates drew a disproportionately young, urban (and likely male) electorate: it did best in Berlin (3.2%) and its best results generally came from university towns, such as Darmstadt (Hesse), the district where the Pirates won their highest result this year (3.6%). Their sole MEP will join the G-EFA group, like the two outgoing Swedish Pirate MEPs.

The Tierschutzpartei (Animal Protection Party) is a small animal right’s party, founded in 1993, is fairly similar to the Greens but with the added weirdness and quirkiness which usually characterizes these specifically pro-animal parties. The party has no particular base in any state or region, and is generally a non-factor in elections (0.3% in 2013), but in low-stakes EP elections (it already won 1.1% in 2009), it appears to be able to gain a few extra votes across Germany because of its name (in these kind of elections, parties with non-controversial names or names like ‘family’ or ‘animal protection’ which are cute and friendly buzzwords, tend to have small boost which can bring them up over 1%). Indeed, the party’s support was evenly distributed throughout Germany, ranging from 1% to 1.8%. The party will join the GUE/NGL group.

The far-right neo-Nazi National Democratic Party (NPD), which did not run in 2009, won 1.3% and 1 vote (for Udo Voigt, the NPD’s crazy former leader who has praised Adolf Hitler and Rudolf Hess in the past). The NPD, which experienced a brief revival in the early 2000s which brought them into the state parliaments in Saxony and Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, has been declining in recent elections. In 2013, the NPD fell to only 1.3%. The NPD, constantly under investigation by the Bundesamt für Verfassungsschutz (to the point where the common joke is that most NPD members are actually police informants) and facing renewed calls for its banning, is also weakened by financial problems and very negative media coverage of the far-right with the trial of the National Socialist Underground (NSU) Nazi terrorist group. Nevertheless, the NPD retains a small base in the most deprived regions of East Germany, where the NPD won 2.9% of the vote (and 3.6% in Saxony). The NPD, like the Greek and Hungarian Nazis, are untouchable parties – the EAF, for example, rejected the NPD. Udo Voigt will sit as a non-inscrit.

The Family Party, a minor socially conservative Christian democratic party with a small traditional base of support in the Saarland, won 0.7% (which is actually less than in 2009) and qualified for one MEP, who will sit with the AfD and the British Tories in the ECR group. Like with the Animal Protection Party, the Family Party likely benefits in these low-stakes elections from its name, a cute and friendly buzzword. The Ecological Democratic Party (ÖDP) is a Bavarian-based conservative green party (although it has shifted to the left recently, while retaining a ‘pro-family’ and socially conservative orientation unusual for the left-wing green movement), founded back in 1982 by right-wing socially conservative Green dissidents. The ÖDP has received a stable 1-2% of the vote in Bavarian state elections since the 1990s, but the party is largely absent from other states. In Bavaria, the ÖDP won 2.7% of the vote this year, up from 0.6% in 2009. It peaked at 6.7% in Memmingen. Outside Bavaria, the ÖDP’s best result seems to have come from BaWü (only 0.7%). The party’s new MEP will sit with the Greens. Finally, the last seat was won by an unusual party – Die PARTEI (literally The PARTY), a satirical protest party founded in 2004 by the editors of the satirical and provocative magazine Titanic. Die PARTEI often mocks the empty slogans and rhetoric of the major parties and calls major politicians ‘stupid’. The party’s most famous and long-lasting promise is to rebuild the Berlin Wall around East Berlin and the former GDR, a pledge which it has now amended to include building a wall around Switzerland (the party’s response to Switzerland’s recent referendum on freedom of movement). When the party is serious, its platform is usually quite left-wing. In this election, Die PARTEI also promised a ‘lazy rate’ (a quota for lazy people and loafers), redistributing all income over €1 million, abolishing DST, limiting executive pay to 25,000x that of the average worker, ‘fucking’ the US-EU FTA and changing the voting age so that only those between 12 and 52 can vote. Die PARTEI has small strongholds in left-wing inner city areas, those trendy and cosmopolitan urban areas where the Greens and Die Linke (in the West) do very well in. It won, for example, 3.8% in Berlin’s famous Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg district and 4.2% in the inner-city Hamburg district of St. Pauli.

Die PARTEI has promised that its MEP will resign the seat monthly, so that every candidate on the list will get a chance to serve for 30 days in the EP. In between the satire, Die PARTEI has suggested that it may be looking into joining a group, perhaps the Greens-EFA.

Greece

Turnout: 59.97% (+7.43%)
MEPs: 21 (-1)
Electoral system: Open-list PR, 3% threshold; mandatory voting (unenforced)

SYRIZA (GUE/NGL) 26.57% (+21.87%) winning 6 seats (+5)
ND (EPP) 22.72% (-9.58%) winning 5 seats (-3)
XA (NI) 9.39% (+8.93%) winning 3 seats (+3)
Elia (S&D) 8.02% (-28.63%) winning 2 seats (-6)
To Potami (S&D) 6.6% (+6.6%) winning 2 seats (+2)
KKE (GUE/NGL > NI) 6.11% (-2.24%) winning 2 seats (±0)
ANEL (ECR) 3.46% (+3.46%) winning 1 seat (nc)
LAOS (EFD) 2.69% (-4.46%) winning 0 seats (-2)
Greek European Citizens 1.44% (+1.44%) winning 0 seats (±0)
DIMAR (S&D) 1.20% (+1.2%) winning 0 seats (±0)
Union for the Homeland and the People 1.04% (+1%) winning 0 seats (±0)
Greek Hunters 1% (-0.26%) winning 0 seats (±0)
Bridges (ALDE) 0.91% (+0.91%) winning 0 seats (±0)
Greens-Pirates (G-EFA) 0.9% (-2.59%) winning 0 seats (-1)
Others 7.95% winning 0 seats (±0)

Greece 2014 - EP

Greece has been at the centre of EU politics over the last five years, as the country which has suffered the longest and the most from the Eurozone debt crisis. As a result thereof, no EU member-state has seen political changes as radical as those which have taken place in Greece since 2009. The Eurozone crisis which has the leading issue in European politics for the past 4/5 years began in Greece shortly after the October 2009 legislative election in the country.

The root causes of the Greek (and, to a lesser extent, European) crisis were the country’s excessively high budget deficits and public debt. Since joining the EU in 1981 and especially since the mid-1990s, successive Greek governments customarily ran increasingly large structural budget deficits which by extension meant that Greece’s debt-to-GDP ratio increased to reach unsustainable level by the time the 2007-2008 global recession triggered the economic and debt crisis in Greece. The crisis, however, was not caused – as is widely believed – by huge government expenditure or even a particularly generous welfare state (the popular ideas of lavish social benefits, ‘lazy’ Greeks not working hard enough and long paid vacations were largely myths) but rather by problems in the revenue side of the equation – tax evasion has famously been described as a ‘national sport’ in Greece, and the government’s unwillingness and inefficiency at collecting taxes has meant that the state has lost billions of euros in revenue. Greece’s tax evasion problem was compounded by a very large black market (about a quarter of the economy). Other factors which contributed to make the Greek debt crisis particularly catastrophic were the country’s very high external debt, a large trade balance deficit, heavy government borrowing and political corruption (since the restoration of democracy in 1974, Greece’s political system has been notoriously clientelistic).

By the time of the October 2009 election, Greece had already been in recession since 2008, its shipping and tourism industries having been hit particularly hard by the recession. The ruling conservative New Democracy (ND) party called early elections, which it lost to the opposition Panhellenic Socialist Movement (PASOK) of George Papandreou, the third generation in a long political dynasty in post-war Greece (his predecessor, ND leader Kostas Karamanlis, was also the son of a former Greek Prime Minister). Upon taking office, the new PASOK government revealed that the country’s deficit and debt was much worse than previously thought, with the deficit revised to be an alarming 15.7% of GDP and the public debt at 129.7% of GDP – Greece now had the largest deficit and debt-to-GDP ratio in the EU. Events accelerated in early 2010, as it became apparent that Greece was unable to borrow on the markets and was forced to asked for a loan from the EU and the IMF to cover its costs. Credit rating agencies, in April 2010, downgraded Greece’s sovereign debt rating to ‘junk’ while speculation on a potential default and exit from the Eurozone (a ‘Grexit’) ran wild. In May 2010, Greece was granted an initial loan of €110 billion from the ECB, EU and the IMF (a powerful trio which has become known in Greece and other countries as the ‘Troika’) in exchange for the approval of an unpopular austerity package by the government. The Papandreou’s May 2010 austerity package, the third set of austerity measures in only four months, included further cuts in public sector salaries, limits on employee bonuses, cuts in pensions and tax increases across the board (the VAT, luxury taxes, property taxes, excise taxes). However, initial austerity measures only worsened the economic crisis, while Greece became dependent on bailout funds to foot its bills and was thus forced to adopt a fourth austerity package in June 2011 to access the next installment of bailout funds. Despite massive protests and a general strike, the Papandreou government passed the new austerity package which now included a plan for privatizations (with a target of €50 billion in revenue), more tax increases and pension cuts.

Austerity measures adopted to meet the Troika’s strict conditions for the bailout had a disastrous impact on Greece’s economy and society, while doing nothing to turn the ship around – in fact, fears of a Greek default and ‘Grexit’ only increased in 2011. Greece, in recession since 2008 with a GDP shrinkage of 3.1% in 2009 and 4.9% in 2010, saw its economy shrink by a full 7.1% in 2011 and 7% in 2012. Unemployment increased from 10.4% in the last quarter of 2009 to 20.8% in the last quarter of 2011, and reached a high of 27.8% in the last quarter of 2013. Unemployment has hit young people the hardest, with over 60% of them currently unemployed. Major spending cuts have crippled Greece’s healthcare system (while unemployment left many without access to public healthcare), with most hospitals and the clinics in precarious conditions; the suicide rate has increased while there have been reports of an increase in HIV infection rates and a malaria outbreak for the first time in four decades. Greece’s public debt reached 148.3% of GDP in 2010 and 170.3% in 2011, while the budget deficit fell to 10.9% in 2010 and 9.6% in 2011

In October 2011, when an agreement on a second multi-billion euro bailout including a debt restructuring (a haircut of 50% of debt owed to private creditors), Papandreou shocked and seriously angered the Troika and EU leaders by announcing a referendum on the deal. Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy threatened to withhold payment of the next installment of bailout funds, and under intense EU, Troika and domestic opposition pressure, Papandreou was forced to renege on his idea and pushed out the door. A new national unity government led by an independent technocrat, Lucas Papademos, with ministers from ND, PASOK and the far-right Popular Orthodox Rally (LAOS). Increasingly exasperated with what they saw as Greek politicians unwilling to implement the required austerity measures or being woefully ineffective at putting them in practice (for example, the government has missed privatization targets by miles for several years), the Troika – especially the Eurozone and Germany – became even tougher in their demands for austerity and economic reforms in exchange for a second bailout. In February 2012, to access the second bailout from the EU-IMF, Papademos’ government passed a fifth austerity package including tough cuts in the minimum wage, pensions, spending, the definitive elimination of a paid ’13th month’ salary, job cuts in the public sector, more privatization and structural reforms to liberalize ‘closed professions’. Despite major opposition from the streets, LAOS (which left government as a result) and over 40 dissident MPs from ND and PASOK, the austerity package was passed by Parliament and Greece was cleared to receive a second bailout of €130 billion with a debt restructuring agreement (worth €107 billion) with private holders of Greek debt to accept a bond swap with a 53.5% nominal write-off. Greece’s ten-year government bond yields shot through the roof at the time of the second bailout and debt restructuring, reaching nearly 40%.

The economic crisis had huge repercussions on the Greek political system. Since 1981, Greece had a fairly stable party system dominated by two major parties – the conservative ND and the social democratic PASOK, although both were clientelistic patronage machines with a very strong dynastic tradition (both ND and PASOK were founded by prominent Greek dynastic politicians – Konstantinos Karamanlis for ND and Andreas Papandreou for PASOK) and rather different from the ‘average’ conservative and social democratic parties in Europe (if such a thing exists). PASOK, for example, lacks the trade union roots and ties or the Marxist background of many older social democratic parties in the EU. Although under Andreas Papandreou PASOK pursued a very left-wing re-distributive agenda and created Greece’s welfare state, PASOK can still be somewhat accurately described as the modern heir of Venizelism, a uniquely Greek liberal-nationalist ideology (it certainly inherited the Cretan stronghold of the Venizelists). After Andreas Papandreou’s death in 1996, PASOK progressively abandoned its early leftist, nationalist and Eurosceptic orientation, and both ND and PASOK became far closer ideologically than they would care to admit, although both remained bitter rivals because of tradition and political culture (with the exception of a brief period of instability and caretaker governments in 1989-1990, ND and PASOK had never governed together before 2011). At the helm of an increasingly unpopular government associated with austerity and the country’s economic collapse, the bottom fell out of PASOK progressively between 2010 and late 2011, and collapsed beginning in the fall of 2011, as Greece’s situation looked more desperate and catastrophic than ever before. ND’s support, in opposition under the leadership of senior politician Antonis Samaras, held up fairly well (albeit at historically low levels in the high 20s-low 30s) until early 2012. In opposition, ND hypocritically opposed the first three rescue packages in 2010 and 2011 (Dora Bakoyannis, a former foreign minister and Samaras’ rival for the ND leadership in 2009, was even expelled from the party in May 2010 for voting in favour of a EU-IMF loan; she went on to create her own pro-austerity liberal party, DISY); even under Papademos’ technocratic cabinet, ND tried to have the cake and eat it – Samaras promised to renegotiate the second bailout agreement after his party begrudgingly supported it, even if the Troika (exasperated by Samaras’ waffling and lack of commitment) made it clear that there could be renegotiation. In the Papademos government, both ND and PASOK (and LAOS, much to its chagrin) became associated with the unpopular austerity policies, which caused major internal dissent within party ranks.

The bankruptcy of the traditional political system allowed new parties – often quite radical – on the left and right to rise to prominence. On the left, the traditional third force in Greek politics has usually been the Communist Party of Greece (KKE), the country’s oldest parliamentary party. While the KKE’s electoral base is larger than that of many communist parties in the EU today, it has a very low ceiling because the party basically operates in an alternate reality – after the fall of communism, instead of evolving the KKE doubled-down on arcane and archaic quasi-Stalinist Marxist/Soviet rhetoric from the 1950s about the revolution, the proletariat and the bourgeoisie. The KKE has successfully retained a loyal electorate, providing it with a fairly high floor but also a very low ceiling because the KKE’s rhetoric lacks credibility in practice (besides pretending that the Soviet Union and Joe Stalin are still alive and well). Although the KKE’s support rose to 12-14%, it never surged. Instead, the main beneficiary of PASOK’s collapse was the Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA), traditionally a rag-tag coalition of New Left parties and ideologies (eurocommunists from the KKE (Interior), a moderate 1968 splinter from the KKE; democratic socialists, eco-socialists, social democrats, left-wing Eurosceptics, Trotskyists) which enjoyed a late surge in early 2012 on the back of the popularity of the anti-austerity message of SYRIZA’s young leader, Alexis Tsipras. Although one might expect common ground, there is intense hatred between the KKE and SYRIZA (in fact, it often appears as if the KKE hates SYRIZA more than any other party, fascists included), with the former considering the latter as ‘opportunists’ and a ‘bourgeois front’ to trick ‘the proletariat’ into perpetuating capitalism (the KKE is anti-capitalist, anti-EU and anti-Euro). The Democratic Left (DIMAR), a moderate 2010 splinter from Synaspismós (the largest component in SYRIZA) with a nominally anti-austerity but pro-Euro platform, also tried to benefit from PASOK’s failings.

On the right and left, several parties led by anti-austerity dissidents from PASOK and ND emerged, although only one, the right-wing populist Independent Greeks (ANEL), a nationalist anti-austerity party led by ND dissident Panos Kammenos and created in February 2012, has been electorally successful. Kammenos is famous for his rabble-rousing nationalist (often anti-German) and anti-austerity rhetoric, with a certain penchant for tinfoil hat conspiracy theories and defamatory statements about his opponents (he has branded ND as ‘traitors’ for accepting the austerity memorandum and has been sued for libel/defamation several times).

On the far-right, the Popular Orthodox Rally (LAOS) – a nationalistic, anti-EU and anti-immigrant party (one which also believed in 9/11 truther theories and was originally anti-Semitic) founded in 2000 – waffled over austerity, voting in favour in 2010 but against in 2011 before joining Papademos’ cabinet in late 2011 but leaving in 2012 by voting against the second bailout. LAOS’ indecision crippled the party, and provided a political void to be filled by Golden Dawn (XA). XA was founded by Nikolaos Michaloliakos in 1993, but until 2010, XA largely operated in the mysterious underworld of far-right/neo-Nazi activism and never won over 1% in any election, although XA’s violent street gangs were active and dangerous (in 1998, XA’s deputy leader killed a leftist student). XA’s first electoral success came in the 2010 local elections, in which the party won 5.3% of the vote and one seat (for Michaloliakos) in Athens. XA lies at the fringe of the far-right constellation in the EU: while it is an intellectually lazy trope to throw the word Nazi at all far-right parties, such a label is fully accurate for XA. Although the party has toned down the open Nazi fanboyism and admiration of the Third Reich which was a mainstay of XA in the late 1980s and early 1990s (Michaloliakos penned articles and essays which heaped praise on Adolf Hitler) and once in a while denies that it is Nazi, the party uses Nazi symbolism regularly (the party’s logo is similar to the Nazi Swastika, XA members have often given the Nazi salute, XA MPs wear Nazi symbols) and XA leaders and MPs continue to deny the Holocaust (Michaloliakos recently denied the existence of gas chambers and XA spokesperson Ilias Kasidiaris, who has a Swastika tattoo, denies the Holocaust and has quoted from The Protocols of the Elders of Zion) or use explicitly racist and anti-Semitic language (describing immigrants as sub-humans). Nevertheless, X also draws inspiration and ideological references from Greek history:  Michaloliakos was briefly a member of EPEN, a far-right party founded by former dictator Colonel Georgios Papadopoulous (1967-1973), XA has praised the Colonel’s junta (the authoritarian military regime which ruled Greece from 1967 and 1974) and openly admires Ioannis Metaxas’ authoritarian-nationalist 4th of August Regime (1936-1940).

XA is radically anti-immigration – immigration has been an increasingly important phenomenon in Greece (and, nowadays, traditional Albanian immigration is slowly replaced by increased immigration from Pakistan and other Asian or African countries), and immigrants have been an easy scapegoat with the crisis (seen and depicted as stealing jobs from Greeks). XA called on the deportation of all immigrants from Greece while XA’s thugs have regularly beat up immigrants and non-whites. XA is also strongly anti-austerity, anti-bailout and anti-Euro; the party’s broader foreign policy expresses support for Greek irredentism and a very hardline stance on the Macedonian naming dispute. In a society marked by the breakdown of public services and increasing poverty, XA has built a strong grassroots support base by offering charitable and social services (food distribution, support for the elderly, protection for victims of crimes) explicitly reserved to Greek nationals or even XA members. In stark contrast to Golden Dawn’s “humanitarian” work, the party is distinguished from other far-right parties in Europe by its use of violence – XA’s blackshirt vigilantes and street gangs have regularly beaten up and assaulted immigrants and leftists (and often with the police’s silent acquiescence, given that the police is alleged to be tolerant or even supportive of XA) and Kasidiaris famously physically assaulted two left-wing MPs during a TV debate in 2012.

The May 2012 election was an ‘earthquake elections’ which saw the old political system destroyed and several new forces achieve remarkable success. ND won only 18.9% of the vote, the party’s worst result in its history, although it still topped the poll in an extremely exploded and fragmented political scene. On the left, PASOK collapsed into third place, winning only 13.2% of the vote – over 30% lower than in 2009. Left-wing (or far-left) anti-austerity SYRIZA replaced PASOK as the main party of the left, with 16.8% of the vote (a remarkable result for a party whose original ceiling was 5%); KKE, on the other hand, won a decent but comparatively paltry result of 8.5% (only a 1% improvement on its 2009 result and nowhere near the KKE’s historic highs). ANEL won 10.6%, making it the fourth largest party. XA surged to 7% of the vote and 20 seats, while LAOS’ support collapsed to 2.9% and it lost all 15 of its seats. DIMAR won 6.1% of the vote. In addition, the parties below the 3% threshold combined to win 19% of the vote (more than the largest party!), divided between greens (2.9%), three unambiguously pro-austerity and right-wing liberal parties (including DISY, 2.6%), far-left outfits and Greece’s hilariously fragmented communist parties. Even with Greece’s 50-seat majority bonus for the winning party (which historically provided one-party absolute majorities), no party or obvious coalition came close to commanding support of a majority of Parliament – Samaras, Tsipras and PASOK leader Evangelos Venizelos (Papandreou’s former leadership rival and his last finance minister) all quickly failed in their bids to form governments and there was no solution but to call for new elections in June.

The June elections quickly polarized into a contest between ND and SYRIZA, erroneously simplified to a ‘referendum on the Euro’ (implying that a SYRIZA government would default and withdraw from the Eurozone, which may have been the case but SYRIZA claims to support Eurozone membership and the EU in the abstract) or perhaps more accurately a ‘referendum on austerity’ (although ND didn’t campaign on austerity per se, it was widely understood to be a vote ‘in favour’ of the memorandum conditions). EU leaders quickly made clear that Greece would either need to respect the second bailout deal and associated austerity or be compelled to default and withdraw from the Eurozone – therefore voting for SYRIZA became a double-edged sword: a vote against austerity (SYRIZA promised growth through consumption, tax increases on the rich and businesses, raising social benefits and wages and nationalization of banks and strategic sectors; it also said it would suspend loan repayments until growth returned and would renegotiate the interest due) but also a high likelihood of a messy default and ‘Grexit’ (which, most predicted, would have wreaked havoc and thrown Greece into an even deeper depression). In the high-stakes contest, both ND and SYRIZA saw their support increase: ND won the election with 29.7% and 129 seats against 26.9% and 71 seats for SYRIZA. All other parties except DIMAR lost votes: PASOK receded even further to 12.3%, ANEL lost over 3% and fell to 7.5% and the KKE collapsed, losing 4% and winning only 4.5%. XA’s support proved surprisingly resilient despite intense media focus on the party, holding 6.9% of the vote. DIMAR won 6.3%. Parties below the 3% threshold fell to only 6%, with severe loses for the liberal right (DISY allied with ND, a liberal DX-Drasi won only 1.6%), LAOS, the Greens and the far-left.

ND and Samaras were able to form a ‘pro-memorandum’ and ‘pro-Eurozone’ cabinet with the support of PASOK and DIMAR (the latter, a small centre-left party, criticized SYRIZA for not giving guarantees on continued Eurozone membership and sought a national unity coalition), although at the outset both PASOK and DIMAR declined to directly participate in the government itself and instead opted to propose independents and technocrats for their portfolios (in other words, let ND deal with most of the crap). The finance ministry went to Yannis Stournaras, an independent economist.

Samaras’ government came in facing a new crisis: the Troika was demanding that Greece find a further €13.5 billion worth of austerity savings (spending cuts and tax increases) for them to release the scheduled disbursement, while Athens asked for a two-year extension of the deadline for the country to be self-financed (out of the bailout). The Troika, especially the EU and ECB, were in little mood to be accommodating, judging that Greece had failed miserably at implementing past legislated reforms and often exasperated at Greek politicians’ behaviour. Within the government, Stournaras (and Samaras) found themselves somewhat undermined by PASOK and DIMAR, which at times were more interested by their own political calculations (in PASOK’s case, a desperate bid for survival) while DIMAR quickly became rather reluctant to support tough austerity measures. As in the last Parliament, the need for further austerity measures divided the major parties and have steadily reduced the sizes of the ND, PASOK and DIMAR from their election day levels. On November 7, the Parliament approved the sixth austerity package (despite protests, DIMAR’s abstention and some dissidents from ND and PASOK), with €13.5 billion in cuts and tax hikes between 2013 and 2016. The package included more cuts on pensions, salary cuts (for public servants, academics, judges, doctors), cutting 110,000 public sector jobs by 2016, an increase in the retirement age from 65 to 67 and capping earnings in parastatals. In exchange, the Troika agreed to reschedule Greece’s debt and grant Athens two more years to reach a primary budget surplus of 4.5% of GDP.

Some economic indicators showed a very minor improvement in 2013, although unemployment hit a record high of nearly 28% (up from 24% in May 2012) and the public debt further ballooned to 175.1% of GDP (but should now begin falling, to 154% of GDP in 2017). Nevertheless, the recession was ‘less severe’ as the economy shrank by ‘only’ 3.9% in 2013 compared to 7% in 2012. The budget balance was -12.7% in 2013, due to the one-off costs of bank recapitalization, but Greece posted its first structural budget surplus in 2013 (+2% of GDP). Tourism was good in 2013, and the economy is expected to grow for the first time since 2007 in 2014, with a 0.6% growth rate in 2014 and 2.9% in 2015 according to EC estimates. The government’s structural reforms and labour market reforms have been said to significantly improve the ‘ease of doing business’ in Greece, although foreign investors remain very slow to test the waters. Unemployment has declined slightly to 26.8% in March 2014 and the EC projects it will fall to 24% in 2015. Yields on ten-year bonds have fallen below 8%, from a peak of well over 40%. In April 2014, Greece returned to the international bond market after four years with a €3 billion issue of five-year bonds. Nevertheless, the recovery remains very slow and extremely fragile. Furthermore, when it comes, it will take years for Greece to recover fully from a six-year long recession – for example, Greece’s nominal GDP is now €181.9 billion compared to €233.2 billion pre-crisis, in 2008. The crisis and austerity have pauperized a very large share of the population, with estimates that about 35% of the population lives in poverty or a precarious situation. The recession has wiped out millions of jobs, shut down thousands of businesses, put over three-fifths of young Greeks out of work (and forced thousands to emigrate to Germany and other countries) and public services will likely be in ruins for years.

The Troika has warmed up to the Greek government and Samaras (whom they initially disliked for his behaviour while in opposition and his reckless talk of renegotiating the bailout), and, prodded by the IMF, has come around to accept that Greece will not be able to repay all the money it owes. However, the government has continued to be weakened by corruption/tax evasion cases and difficulties at implementing its reforms. Since 2012, the government – and PASOK – have been embroiled in a corruption/tax evasion case surrounding the handling of a list with the names of thousands of suspected tax evaders, which France had handed over to the PASOK government in 2010. Now, former PASOK finance minister Giorgos Papakonstantinou is alleged to have removed the names of three family members from the list before transferring its contents to a USB while the tax authorities never received instructions to further pursue the investigation. Papakonstantinou faces a parliamentary inquiry. Evangelos Venizelos, PASOK’s current leader (and foreign minister since June 2013), who was finance minister from 2011 to 2012, is said to have kept the USB in his drawer for more than a year before sending it to Samaras and Stournaras. The government’s privatization program has continuously failed to meet its targets. They managed to sell Opap, the state gambling monopoly, to a consortium of Greek and east European investors but a Russian Gazprom bid for DEPA, the natural gas monopoly, fell through. This means that Greece has failed to meet the original privatization target of €50 billion and has been forced to scale back its privatization goals repeatedly. Greece still faces funding gaps in 2014 and 2015, requiring more bailout funds. Since late 2013, there has been talks in high circles that Greece will need a third bailout.

In June 2013, Samaras unilaterally and peremptorily closed down ERT, the state broadcaster, and sacked its 2000+ employees; announcing that a much leaner organization will replace it. The government’s decision, likely made to impress Troika inspectors. Six days later, the Council of State suspended the government’s decision to interrupt broadcasting and shut down ERT’s frequencies while rebel journalists continued operating a rump channel on other frequencies. Although ERT was widely described as corrupt, mismanaged and politically subservient; Samaras’ unilateral decision, which was opposed by PASOK and DIMAR (in fact, only XA and LAOS supported the government’s shutdown of ERT), provoked a firestorm of opposition. DIMAR decided to withdraw from government in late June 2013, prompting a cabinet shuffle which saw PASOK politicians enter cabinet – with Evangelos Venizelos as deputy Prime Minister and foreign minister.

In late 2013, Parliament narrowly approved a 2014 budget with further austerity measures and a controversial new tax package and in March 2014, it approved structural reforms. In both cases, the government’s majority in Parliament was extremely narrow – at about 152 to 153 votes, just over the absolute majority threshold (151) and always vulnerable to more dissidents. SYRIZA has been clamoring for early elections for quite a while now, and may finally get its chance next year: in early 2015, the Parliament must elect a new President, a procedure which requires a three-fifths majority on the third ballot (two-thirds on the first two ballots), and if this majority is not met, mandatory new elections are held for Parliament. Together, ND and PASOK only have 152 seats left, in addition to 13 from friendly DIMAR and a large number of various dissidents sitting in a 17-strong independent caucus and 6 miscellaneous unattached independents. SYRIZA has said that it will not support any candidate for President, and if he and other parties (ANEL has never missed an opportunity to help SYRIZA undermine the coalition, while XA and the KKE would never offer support) and independents deny the government a 180-seat majority to elect a consensus president, new elections would be held by March 2015. The government insists that it will see Parliament to the conclusion of its constitutional term in 2016, but its majority is very shaky.

In a bid to increase its credibility and international support, SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras has attended several conferences and left-wing political rallies across the EU, becoming the posterchild for the EU’s fledgling anti-austerity and anti-neoliberal radical left. At home, SYRIZA has merged its many components in a single party (there was some question from the election law whether or not SYRIZA as a coalition rather than a united party would have been eligible for the 50-seat majority bonus at the polls) and broadened its base, welcoming ex-PASOK members or improving ties with Greece’s powerful Orthodox Church (still considered as the official religion and prominent in education). SYRIZA has not moderated its rhetoric, opposing austerity – promising to break ties with the Troika, audit Greece’s debt, undo many reforms and privatizations while still reassuring foreign audiences that SYRIZA does not want to leave the Eurozone. The KKE has continued to exist in its alternate reality, waging a war of words against SYRIZA (described as opportunists ‘making a systematic effort to rescue capitalism in the eyes of the working people’).

XA’s support has increased in polls since the last election, polling up to 15%. The party’s activities – charitable, violent and cultural (nationalist/fascist torch-lit rallies) – increased in 2012 and 2013, but the government, police, judiciary and Parliament dragged their feet on the question of XA – hesitating over which attitude to adopt against XA’s racist violence, hate speech (Holocaust denialism) and criminal activities. In September 2013, anti-fascist rapper Pavlos Fyssas was murdered by an XA member in Athens, unleashing a wave of condemnation from all parties (XA included) and the government, and finally pushed Samaras to take stronger anti-fascist/anti-XA stances. A police crackdown led to the arrest of several XA members, including XA leader Nikolaos Michaloliakos, who remains in jail awaiting trial. Prosecutors are attempting to connect XA’s leadership to activities including murder, attempted murder, explosions, possessing explosives and robbery.

The EP elections were therefore fairly important in Greece, and they were tied to the runoffs in local and regional elections (the first round of those elections was held on May 18). SYRIZA topped the poll, as had been widely expected, with 26.6% of the vote, a result which is just below the party’s result in June 2012 (26.9%) and over 100,000 votes lower (turnout dropped from 62.5% to 60%, SYRIZA’s vote from 1.655 million to 1.518 million). While SYRIZA has been tied with ND or narrowly ahead in most polling for the next general election, the party has generally to consistently improve its predicted vote share on its June 2012 result. This may indicate that SYRIZA hit its new ceiling in June 2012, and now struggles to attract new voters from the rank of non-voters (the turnout in the EP election was high, but it was at an all-time low in June 2012) or other parties (the KKE has slightly improved on its disastrous 2012 result, to 6-8%, while DIMAR will likely fall below the 3% threshold in the next election). In the new open list system, SYRIZA’s most popular candidate (and MEP-elect) was 92-year-old war hero Manolis Glezos, who famously tore down the Nazi flag from the Acropolis in 1941 and then became a persecuted and later exiled icon of the Greek left. Since 1974, he has been a leftist writer and active in politics (for PASOK in the 1980s and Synaspismos/SYRIZA since the 2000s). He won more votes (448,971) than any other candidate.

ND, the senior governing party, did very poorly with only 22.7% and a bit less than 1.3 million votes, down from 29.7% and 1.825 million votes in June 2012. ND continues to poll much better – about at its 2012 levels or slightly below – in polling for the general election, but it may have done poorly at the EP and local elections as voters felt freer to oppose the government (without risking anything). Its coalition partner, PASOK, disguised itself as Elia (‘The Olive Tree’), an electoral alliance of PASOK and several new small parties (such as Agreement for a New Greece and Dynamic Greece, two small parties founded by former PASOK members). It won 8% and fourth place, down from 12.3% for PASOK in the last general election and a loss of nearly 300,000 votes. Nevertheless, 8% for Elia turned out to be a surprisingly strong performance from the moribund PASOK, which is polling at about 5-6% in national polls. Yet, a bad result is still a bad result, and PASOK leader Evangelos Venizelos’ hold on the fractious party was weakened by the weak result. Former Prime Minister George Papandreou, still a PASOK MP, seems to be organizing opposition to his old rival within PASOK, and Papandreou is said to have opposed PASOK’s transformation as Elia.

Some of PASOK’s lost support likely went to To Potami (The River), a new centre-left and pro-EU party founded in February 2014 by journalist and TV personality Stavros Theodorakis. The party can be placed on the centre-left of the spectrum (its MEPs have joined the S&D group, after hesitating with ALDE and the Greens) and it professes to be pro-European, but a lot about the new party is very vague – most of its talk revolves around meaningless buzzwords about reform, change and bland centrism/progressivism. Theodorakis toured the country with his backpack and gave low-key speeches on topics such as meritocracy and tax evasion. There have been claims that To Potami is financed by business interests to deny SYRIZA victory in the next elections, but Theodorakis denies such allegations. His party won 6.6% and two seats. The party did best in Crete (10.1%), an old Venizelist PASOK stronghold which has moved firmly into SYRIZA’s column since June 2012.

XA did very well, winning third place with a record 9.4% and 536,910 votes – in both cases, a marked improvement on its June 2012 result (6.92% and 426,025 votes). Although it no longer polls in the double-digits since the murder of Pavlos Fyssas and the crackdown on XA, the party has further expanded its base and retains a potential of up to 15-20% (based on polling regarding voters’ attitudes towards XA). Although the literature has often focused on XA’s activism in the populous central urban region of Attica (Athens-Piraeus), XA’s electorate is spread out across the country – it won 9.8% in the region of Attica (with results over 10% in all urban and suburban electoral districts of Athens and Piraeus) but its best prefecture was Laconia (15.5%), an old conservative stronghold in the southern Peloponnese, followed by the conservative Macedonian prefectures of Kilkis (13%) and Pella (12.8%).

The KKE expanded its support from 4.5% to 6.1% since the last election, which had been disastrous for the Communists, but 6.1% remains a weak result down on the KKE’s result in the pre-crisis 2009 EP election and on the low end of the Communist Party’s average range of support in the past. It has failed to regain a lot of the votes it had lost to SYRIZA in June 2012, when exit polls indicated that up to one-fifth of KKE’s May 2012 voters had voted for SYRIZA. In one of its terribly verbose and arcane Central Committee communiqués, the KKE announced that it would be leaving the GUE/NGL group (shared with SYRIZA) to sit as non-inscrits. It criticized the ‘altered nature’ of the group, which it claims has moved towards a single line (it blames Die Linke and, of course, SYRIZA for this development). The KKE had already been one of the least loyal members of the GUE/NGL, and the KKE’s 1950s-style Soviet-Stalinist silliness has been increasingly out of place in the GUE/NGL which has increasingly moved towards hip, New Left-style movements focused on immediate concerns (anti-austerity, anti-liberalism etc) and new ideologies (feminism, environmentalism).

ANEL did poorly, taking just 3.5% and narrowly clearing the threshold. This is down on 7.5% in the last general election (itself down on over 10% of the vote in May 2012) and a loss of nearly 265,000 votes. The party has been weakened by infighting and perhaps less interest in Panos Kammenos’ flamboyant antics; I presume that many of ANEL’s voters may have shifted to XA, although exit polls from June 2012 indicated that ANEL’s losses largely split between SYRIZA and ND with only limited loses to XA.

Several parties won significant support below the threshold. LAOS, defending two MEPs, won 2.7%, a weak result nonetheless up on the party’s June 2012 result (1.6%). ‘Greek European Citizens’ was a liberal list led by German FDP MEP Jorgo Chatzimarkakis (German-born, but of Greek descent), whose Hellenophilia and opposition to Greek austerity had become a poor fit in Germany’s FDP. The right-wing liberal list (Bridges), an alliance of Drasi and Recreate Greece (DX), won only 0.9%. It won 1.4%, with very strong results in random prefectures (Grevena in West Macedonia – 12.5%, Lasithi and Heraklion in Crete – 14.4% and 7%). DIMAR won only 1.2%, a terrible result which is a poor sign for the party ahead of potential early elections in 2014/2015. The Union for the Homeland and the People (1%) is a new right-wing party led by former ND Minister of Public Order Vyron Polydoras (2006-2007), who voted against a tax bill in late 2013 and had previously called for ND to work with XA against the Troika, and ex-ND/ANEL MP Christos Zois. The Greens, defending one MEP, won only 0.9% of the vote.

One small party had tremendously local appeal: the Party of Friendship, Equality and Peace (KIEKF/ΚΙΕΦ), a small party representing the small Muslim minority in Thrace (Turkish and Pomak) and which had at least one MP in the Parliament between 1996 and 2012 in alliance with PASOK (or ND, in 2004) but lost its seats after supporting DISY in May 2012 and DIMAR in June 2012. The party won 0.75% nationally, but won 41.7% in Rhodope prefecture (which is majority Muslim) and 25.9% in Xanthi prefecture (which has a very large Muslim minority) in Thrace. Except limited support in Evros (1.5%), the party won only 172 votes (out of 42,627) outside of those three prefectures!

Local and regional elections were overwhelmingly (and, compared to 2010 result, unusually) dominated by local considerations with weaker results for SYRIZA but also ND, while independent candidates – often elected on PASOK’s ballot in 2010 – did well. The major races were the mayoral contests in Athens and Thessaloniki – both cities gained by PASOK-backed candidates against ND administrations in 2010, and the governorship of the region of Attica (won by PASOK in 2010, the first election for regional governments following a regional and municipal downsizing and restructuring plan passed by PASOK alongside austerity measures). In Athens, incumbent independent mayor Giorgios Kaminis – backed by PASOK and DIMAR – was reelected in a tight runoff ballot against SYRIZA candidate Gavriil Sakelaridis, winning 51.4% to 48.6%. In the first round, the incumbent won 21.1% against 20% for SYRIZA, 16.9% for ND, 16.7% for Ilias Kasidiaris (XA) and 7.4% for the KKE. However, SYRIZA narrowly won the Attica region, with 50.8% in the runoff against the independent (ex-PASOK) incumbent; in the first round, SYRIZA won 23.8% against 22.1% for the incumbent, with ND (14.1%), XA (11.1%) and the Communists (10.7%) trailing. With a population of 3.8 million and the largest GDP of all regions in the country, Attica is by far the most important of Greece’s 13 regions and the office of regional governor is one of the most important devolved government positions in Greece – therefore, it will be SYRIZA’s first chance to lead a government. In Thessaloniki, popular incumbent left-wing mayor Yiannis Boutaris was reelected with 58.1% in the runoff against a ND candidate (a former Minister for Macedonia and Thrace); in the first round, SYRIZA won only 10.6% against 36% for Boutaris (who was backed by PASOK, DIMAR and Drasi) and 26.2% for ND. XA won 7.7%. In the region of Central Macedonia, the second-largest region (1.87 million) in Greece, independent conservative governor Apóstolos Tzitzikó̱stas (backed by ANEL, LAOS and Vyron Polydoras’ Union for the Homeland and the People) was reelected over a ND candidate (a former Greek basketball player and coach turned politician), with 71% in the runoff; in the first round, Tzitzikó̱stas won 32.8% against 18.6% for ND and 11.7% for SYRIZA.

ND won seven regions, SYRIZA won two while the remaining four regions were won by independent candidates. Besides Attica, the only other region won by SYRIZA were the Ionian Islands, where the radical left took 59.9% in the runoff against the ND incumbent. ND held Thessaly, while ex-PASOK independents incumbent held Crete and Western Greece in runoff battles against ND (by a very tight margin in the latter, by a landslide in the former). In mayoral contests, the KKE gained Patras (Greece’s third largest city), an independent (an ally of shipping tycoon and Olympiakos football club owner Vangelis Marinakis) gained Piraeus from ND, SYRIZA gained Larissa from ND while ND-DIMAR gained Heraklion from a PASOK independent.

Overall, according to an estimate by the pollster Public Issue, ND won 26.3% of the national local election vote on May 18 followed by SYRIZA (17.7%) and PASOK (16.2%). Independents and other parties won 11.5%, the KKE won 8.8%, XA won 8.1%, DIMAR won 3.8%, ANEL took 3.2% and far-left ANTARSYA won 2.3%. Compared to the 2010 local elections, ND’s support is down 6.3% and PASOK lost 18.5%, while SYRIZA gained nearly 13%. Compared to the last legislative elections in 2012, SYRIZA and ND are both down (-9.2% and -3.2% respectively) while PASOK is up (+3.9%) – as well as KKE (+4.3%) and XA (+1.1%). PASOK resisted well at the local and regional level, while SYRIZA’s performance was considerably weaker locally, but expectations for the radical left were low because SYRIZA lacks the local grassroots base of ND and PASOK. Therefore, SYRIZA was still counted as one of the main winners, while ND and PASOK both did comparatively poor. XA also did well, especially Ilias Kasidiaris in Athens, XA’s main local government base.

On June 9, Samaras shuffled his cabinet, changing several ministers and portfolios. Yannis Stournaras was replaced in finance by another technocrat, Gikas Hardouvelis, whose work will focus on structural reforms (liberalization of ‘closed professions’) and continuing the Troika’s reforms. Otherwise, the promotion of the right within cabinet was noted, with a new hardline conservative – Sofia Voultepsi (who claimed that refugees were ‘unarmed invaders’ controlled by ‘the Turks’) as government spokesperson while Makis ‘The Hammer’ Voridis, an hammer-wielding fascist and anti-Semite in his youth, returned to cabinet as health minister (a former member of LAOS, he was already a minister under Papademos and joined ND after LAOS left the Papademos cabinet).

Hungary

Turnout: 28.97% (-7.34%)
MEPs: 21 (-1)
Electoral system: Closed list PR, no threshold (effectively 0.58%)

Fidesz-KDNP (EPP) 51.48% (-4.88%) winning 12 seats (-2)
Jobbik (NI) 14.67% (-0.1%) winning 3 seats (nc)
MSZP (S&D) 10.9% (-6.47%) winning 2 seats (-2)
DK (S&D) 9.75% (+9.75%) winning 2 seats (+2)
E2014-PM (G-EFA) 7.25% (+7.25%) winning 1 seat (+1)
LMP (G-EFA) 5.04% (+2.43%) winning 1 seat (+1)
Others 0.92% winning 0 seats (-1)

Hungary 2014 - EP

Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s governing right-wing Fidesz won a landslide in the EP elections, a few months after Orbán was reelected to a second term in office in legislative elections back in April 2014. Orbán is a highly controversial leader in Europe, whose government and policies have been decried by foreign and local opponents as being dangerously autocratic and intolerant of criticism and democratic norms. Yet, fresh from a very comfortable victory to a second successive term in office back in April, Orbán is nevertheless still hugely popular at home and he is one of the EU’s strongest and most popular leaders. Orbán and his party have, since the fall of communism and the first free elections in 1990, evolved from an anti-communist and liberal/libertarian party of fiery student leaders to a conservative party with strong dirigiste inclinations on economic issues and a certain nationalist tint. Fidesz has been the strongest right-wing party in the country since 1998, traditionally the main rival to the Hungarian Socialist Party (MSZP), which grew out of the old communist party into a very centrist and pro-European party which has often been keener than Fidesz on neoliberal economics or austerity polices. Orbán already served as Prime Minister between 1998 and 2002, before losing the 2002 and 2006 elections to a Socialist-Liberal (SZDSZ) coalition. However, the last MSZP-SZDSZ government, led by Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsány (2004-2009), led to the near-total destruction of the MSZP as a major party. Shortly after a narrow victory in 2006, a secret speech given by Gyurcsány was leaked; in this expletive-filled speech, Gyurcsány said that the government had been lying since he took office and that it had done nothing it could be proud of. Despite mass protests, Gyurcsány did not leave office until early 2009. In April 2009, Gyurcsány resigned and was replaced by Gordon Bajnai. A little-known politician, Bajnai cobbled together a coalition with the SZDSZ, and took office on a program of major spending cuts. The Hungarian economy was badly in crisis in 2009, with growth falling by nearly 7% and the country struggling to cope with a high deficit and the largest debt in Eastern Europe (80%). In 2008, the IMF and the EU granted Budapest a $25 billion loan, but Hungary needed to cut spending and implement painful structural reforms (pensions, most notably) to keep up with IMF guidelines. The government, despite resistance from sectors of the MSZP, cut spending by nearly 4% of GDP, cut social spending and public sector wages and cut social security contributions (to increase Hungary’s low employment rate). The government won plaudits abroad for its orthodox fiscal management, but with high unemployment (7.5% in 2006 to 11% in 2010), high corruption, criminality problems and the legacy of 2006, the MSZP remained deeply unpopular at home. In 2008, Fidesz, leading a policy of obstinate opposition to the government, had successfully organized and passed a referendum in which voters abolished healthcare user fees, daily fees for hospital stays and tuition fees introduced by the MSZP. The MSZP was defeated by Fidesz by wide margins in the 2006 local elections and 2009 EP elections.

The 2009 EP elections saw the strong performance of Jobbik, a far-right party which won 14.8% of the vote and 3 MEPs. Nationalism has been a key issue in Hungarian politics since 1920, and Hungary’s contemporary politics and political culture cannot really be understood without understanding the legacy of the Treaty of Trianon (1920) on Hungary. Defeated in World War I, Hungary lost 72% of its pre-war territory and 64% of its pre-war population; it also lost access to the sea and the country’s industrial base was separated from its sources of raw materials. Although the territory which Hungary lost had a non-Hungarian majority, large ethnic Hungarians minorities now lived outside the country’s border, especially in Slovakia and Romania. Since 1990, Hungarian governments have not sought a revision of the borders, but it has, from time to time, advocated for the rights of Hungarian minorities in neighboring countries – there are substantial Hungarian minorities in neighboring EU member-states Slovakia (8.5%) and Romania (6.2%) and this has severely complicated and, at times, poisoned Hungary’s relations with its neighbors (especially Slovakia). The economic crisis led to an upsurge in nationalist and anti-Semitic sentiment in Hungary. Politicians on the right, including many in Fidesz, lashed out at ‘foreign speculators’ and foreigners (and Jews) who allegedly controlled Hungary’s wealth, and irredentist visions of Greater Hungary also increased. Anti-Roma views, a favourite of the far-right across Eastern Europe (and now Western Europe), also gained steam. The Romas numbered around 309,000 in 2011 (3-4% of the population). The Hungarian far-right depicts them as criminals, stealing Hungarian jobs and leeching on welfare money.

Jobbik is a far-right and ultra-nationalist party founded in 2003; it is one of the EU’s most distasteful far-right parties, in a league of its own with the likes of XA. In 2007, Jobbik founded its own civilian militia/paramilitary group, the Magyar Gardá, a charming collection of uniformed thugs and fruitcakes. The Magyar Gardá was ordered to be disbanded by a court order in 2008. Jobbik has the traditional populist, anti-establishment, anti-globalization, ethno-nationalist, socially conservative anti-European rhetoric of much of the far-right, but it adds irredentism and particularly virulent anti-Israeli/anti-Semitic ramblings (it denies claims that it is anti-Semitic, claiming to be anti-Zionist/anti-Israeli, but denunciations of Israel/Jews as ‘conquerors’ and greedy capitalists is commonplace; and many Jobbik politicians have said anti-Semitic things in the past, and in 2012 a Jobbik deputy leader famously asked for the Jews in Parliament and government to be ‘tallied up’).

Viktor Orbán’s Fidesz roared to a tremendous landslide victory in the 2010 legislative elections, ending up with 52.7% of the vote and 263 out of 386 seats while the MSZP was absolutely obliterated, being reduced to only 19% and 59 seats. Jobbik won 16.7% and 47 seats. With a two-thirds majority, Fidesz and the very strong-headed Orbán quickly moved to shore up their own power over Hungarian politics. The result has been extremely contentious, giving Orbán (to outsiders, and many Hungarians) all the trappings of a Vladimir Putin-like autocratic leader who crushes independent institutions. Orbán quickly moved to dismiss the heads of several government agencies and institutions while a Fidesz drone was elected to the presidency. The government confronted the Constitutional Court after the highest judicial body invalidated a law which would impose a 98% tax to all public sector severance payments over $10,000, backdated to January 2010. Fidesz reacted with legislation which removed the Court’s power over the state budget, taxes and other financial matters; a few months later, it was the independent budget watchdog (the Fiscal Council) which was axed in favour of a new council stacked with Orbán allies.

In 2010 and 2011, a new media law attracted significant controversy, especially as debate coincided with Hungary’s presidency of the Council of the European Union in the first half of 2011. The new law forced all media outlets (print, broadcast, online) to register with a new media authority, which can revoke licenses for infractions and a new media council, which can impose fines for violating some very vaguely defined content rules, allegedly to protect the people’s ‘dignity’ or for ‘inciting hatred’ against minorities, majorities and so forth. The members of these new bodies are all nominated by the ruling party. The furor it raised caused Fidesz to temporarily retreat. In 2011, the Constitutional Court excluded print and online media from the scope of the media authority’s sanctioning powers and struck down clauses which limited journalists’ ability to investigate (confidentiality of sources etc). However, in 2012, the EU still felt that amendments to the law had not addressed most of its problems with Hungary’s law. Fidesz and its allies control most of the domestic media, and government is the largest advertiser in the country. In 2011, the media council did not renew the license of an anti-Orbán radio station. Under new media rules, the funding for the public media is now centralized under one body, which had laid off over a thousand employees as part of a streamlining process. There have been major concerns with regards to self-censorship by journalists and the pro-government sycophancy of much of the media. In 2013, Freedom House’s Freedom of the Press report rated Hungary as ‘partly free’.

In April 2011, the Parliament adopted a new constitution to replace one written by the communists in 1949 (but obviously heavily amended since 1989). The new constitution, described as socially and fiscally conservative, beginning with preamble references to the Holy Crown of Saint Stephen, God, Christianity, the fatherland and family values, a constitutional definition of marriage as between a man and a woman and a ‘golden rule’ limiting the public debt to 50% of GDP. Certain policy areas, such as family policy, taxation, pensions, public debt, morality, culture and religion were classified as areas of ‘cardinal law’ which may only be altered with a two-thirds majority. Clauses about ethnic Hungarians abroad, which opened the door to voting rights in Hungarian elections, irked Slovakia. The opposition MSZP and the green-liberal Politics Can Be Different (LMP) walked out of the drafting process, dominated by Fidesz, demanding a referendum on the matter and decrying the lack of consultation. However, with a two-thirds majority, Fidesz easily adopted the new constitution despite the opposition of the centre-left and far-right and protesters outside Parliament.

In 2013, new controversial amendments removed the Constitutional Court’s ability to refer to judicial precedent predating the January 2012 enactment of the constitution and may no longer reject constitutional amendments on matters of substance (only on procedural grounds). The amendments also included other laws struck down by courts in the past, including strict limits on advertising during election campaigns (a rule seen as favouring Fidesz).

A judicial reform placed significant power over the judiciary in the hands of the new National Judicial Authority, whose head is the wife of a Fidesz MEP who drafted most of the new constitution and whose powers include nominating many local and higher-court justices.

Upon taking office, the new government alarmed investors when some Fidesz leaders mentioned the word ‘default’ and warned that Hungary could become Greece. Foreign investors went into a frenzy, badly hurting confidence in the Hungarian economy even if its fundamentals were much stronger than those of Greece. Orbán quickly moved to smooth out the crisis by announcing new economic measures in June 2010: cuts in income and corporate taxes, the introduction of a 16% flat tax on incomes, a temporary windfall tax on banks, banning mortgages in foreign currencies and cuts in public spending. The government promised to reduce its budget deficit to 3.8% of GDP, a target agreed upon with the IMF and EU in 2008; its economic program aimed to reduce corruption, common petty scams and corrupt dealings in Hungarian businesses and create jobs.

The windfall tax on banks, aimed to raise 0.5% of GDP ($560 million), worried foreign banks in Hungary. In July 2010, the EU and IMF broke off talks with Budapest over the renewal of a $26 billion loan. The EU-IMF were worried about the windfall tax on banks, and demanded stronger commitments to spending cuts and structural reforms in state-owned enterprises. With talks broken off, Budapest announced new economic measures in October 2010: temporary ‘crisis taxes’ on largely foreign-owned telecommunication, energy and retail companies, renegotiation of public-private partnerships, a tax break for families with children and redirecting private pension fund contribution to the state. Orbán said that it was time for those with profits to ‘give more’. The main victims of the ‘crisis taxes’ on telecommunication, energy and retail were foreign companies. The government announced that those in the private pension system who didn’t opt back into the state pension fund would lose all rights to a state pension.

In 2011, the government detailed its spending cuts to reduce the budget deficit to a targeted 1.9% of GDP in 2014. These included an extension of the bank tax, but also cuts in state subsidies for disability pensions, drugs and public transportation and a postponement of corporate tax cuts (from 19% to 10%) until 2013. The government refused to call these measures ‘austerity’. In November 2011, after disappointing economic results, the government reopened talks for assistance (which it called ‘a safety net’) from the IMF. Although the government successfully cut the deficit in 2011, growth remained low, the forint fell and bond auctions failed. The government’s opponents gloated at the failure of Orbán’s ambitious gamble of ‘economic independence’ from the major global financial institutions. In December 2011, the EU and IMF once again broke off preliminary talks, over concerns over new legislation which weakened the powers of the governor of the central bank at the expense of the Prime Minister.

In early 2012, the European Commission launched legal action against Budapest on three issues (independence of the central bank, independence of a new data protection authority, the forced retirement of over 200 judges who were older than 62), a decision which led to more nationalist flourish from Fidesz but did force Orbán to be a bit more conciliatory.

Hungary’s economy faces challenges – the country slipped back into recession in 2012 and growth was only 1.1% in 2013 and Hungary remains Central/Eastern Europe’s most indebted country (79% of GDP) – but the deficit has fallen to only 2.2% of GDP and unemployment has recently declined below 10% (9.1%) and the overall economic performance has not been all negative. Furthermore, many aspects of Orbán’s populist and nationalist economic policies (denouncing the IMF/EU, high taxes on banks and largely foreign-owned companies, cuts in income taxes for families, a law allowing Hungarians to repay their mortgages in foreign currency at very good terms while banks are forced to swallow the difference) have been very popular with Hungarian voters. To the crowds, Fidesz plays very heavily on nationalist sentiments – with speeches from Orbán and his stooges decrying ‘colonization’, lashing out at foreign bankers, European bureaucrats and IMF technocrats, but is far more polished when actually working with said technocrats.

Fidesz’ case has also been helped by the centre-left’s increasing fragmentation and its troubles at picking up all the pieces from its historic defeat in 2010. The MSZP, led by the rather hapless Attila Mesterházy, has faced competition from two new parties led by former Prime Ministers: Ferenc Gyurcsány founded the Democratic Coalition (DK), a centre-left liberal party slightly to the right of the MSZP in 2011; Gordon Bajnai founded Together 2014 (E14) in collaboration with anti-Orbán civil society movements and later teamed up with Dialogue for Hungary (PM), a party founded by dissidents from the green LMP over the LMP’s refusal to ally itself with E14 and later the MSZP and DK. The MSZP, DK, E14-PM and a new Liberal Party formed a common front – Unity – for the April 2014 elections.

Despite a very anti-Orbán campaign from the centre-left, it was no match for Fidesz, which was easily reelected with a reduced majority. Fidesz won 44.9% against 25.6% for Unity and 20.2% for Jobbik; but thanks to Hungary’s mixed-member system (lacking a compensatory element) and Fidesz’s changes to it, Fidesz was able to narrowly retain its highly important two-thirds majority in Parliament. During the campaign, the ruling party was also unduly advantaged by “restrictive campaign regulations, biased media coverage and campaign activities that blurred the separation between political party and the State” (citing the OSCE’s report) which resulted in Fidesz’s domination of the airwaves. Nevertheless, the election was still won fair and square by Orbán, while the liberal and pro-European centre-left barely improved its result from 2010. Offering clear and tangible benefits to a large mass of voters and a simple populist-nationalist message, Fidesz blew the centre-left – mostly reliant on sophisticated attacks on Orbán’s autocratic tendencies and purported threats to democracy – out of the water. The far-right, which also has a clear and simple message (the vilification of enemies, real or imagined, the creation of scapegoats and a campaign more populist than extremist), also did well. Orbán, like Jobbik to a lesser extent, has created and mobilized a mass following for himself, with supporters who worship him as a nationalist icon fighting for freedom and national sovereignty.

Cultural arguments, as I had explained in my post on the Hungarian elections back in April (see link above), would posit that Orbán (and Jobbik’s) popularity in Hungary stems from the absence of a long experience with democracy (under Miklós Horthy in the interwar era and then under communist rule during the Cold War) and a tradition of strongmen who still retain some amount of goodwill (Miklós Horthy, who remains a controversial icon for nationalists, and communist-era dictator János Kádár), which has in turn created a yearning for ‘strong leaders’ (like Orbán) who embody national unity and express some sort of ‘siege mentality’ (particularly powerful in Hungary, which continues to struggle with the Trianon trauma/tragedy). Additionally, what experience Hungary has with democracy since 1989 has been tainted by corruption (although Orbán is no cleaner himself and a new camarilla of petty oligarchs dependent on Fidesz largess has replaced an old petty oligarchy who prospered under the MSZP) and unpopular neoliberal/capitalist policies. The economic reforms in the 1990s did not produce the sense that things are looking up, breeding a lingering current of negative views towards ‘capitalism’. The claim is that the neoliberal reforms resulted in foreign intrusion, the cheap selling out of Hungary’s wealth and businesses, unemployment, corruption, inefficient government and increased criminality. The left has accepted capitalism as the doxa or dominant paradigm, but to voters instinctively angry at the ‘capitalist’ system, only Jobbik and, to a lesser extent, Orbán present appealing alternatives. The left, in part due to its own failures and in part thanks to a pro-Fidesz media, has been associated with neoliberal reforms and corruption (indeed, during the April campaign, a MSZP stalwart was arrested for tax evasion – $1,000,000 in a secret account in Austria); it has additionally failed to renew its leadership (Gyurcsány is damaged goods, Mesterházy’s competence is limited and only Bajnai seems more solid) or its base (it has an aging electorate, while Jobbik eats up young anti-system voters).

In a very low turnout and low-stakes election, Fidesz performed very well, taking 51.5% of the vote. It was one of the largest victories for a ruling party in these EP elections (after Malta, which has a very stable two-party system), although the record low turnout means that Fidesz’s raw vote was quite poor (1.19 million, down from 2.26 million in April 2014 and the lowest vote for Fidesz in an EP election). For the centre-left, after uneasy unity in April, the EP election was to be a ‘safe’ chance for each party to measure its forces and prove itself independently. The result was an absolute disaster for the MSZP, which won 10.9%, the party’s lowest result in its history (with only 252,000 votes). It ended up in a terrible third place, placing behind Jobbik. While Jobbik’s second place showing, the first time it has come second in a national election, is highly symbolic and only intensifies the blow to the MSZP, the far-right’s result was fairly paltry: Jobbik’s popular vote share is down significantly on its historic 20.2% it took in April 2014 and down from its 2009 EP election result. I suppose, in a low turnout election, its poor showing can be attributed to Jobbik’s base of protest voters in low-income small town regions not showing up. Turnout was indeed below average in many of Jobbik’s strongholds in the east of the country, and significantly above average in Budapest (38.8%), where Jobbik has its worst results in the country.

Jobbik’s second place showing owes to the division of the left. The MSZP remained the largest centre-left party, but its three rivals had strong showings: Ferenc Gyurcsány’s DK won 9.8% and proved to be a strong challenge to the MSZP not only in urban Budapest but also in rural areas (12% in the metro districts and county towns, 9.3% in cities and 6.6% in villages; Gordon Bajnai’s E14-PM won 7.3% with a strong performance in the largest urban areas (10.5%) but poorer results in towns and villages (5.6% and 3.7% respectively) while the green-liberal LMP, which had saved its parliamentary presence by a hair in April (5.3%) barely passed the threshold this time again (5.04%). In Budapest, the traditional redoubt of the left (especially in this era of Fidesz hegemony), the MSZP placed fourth behind Fidesz (43.8%), DK (13.1%) and E14-PM (13.1%) with only 11.5%. Jobbik won only 9.9% in the Hungarian capital, and the LMP won 7.9%. The MSZP did best in Csongrád County (16.7%, including the university town of Szeged) and the poor eastern counties of Szabolcs-Szatmár-Bereg (14.6%) and Borsod-Abaúj-Zemplén (13.2%); the DK and E14-PM both had their best results in Budapest, although DK also did well in Komárom-Esztergom County (11.6%) and Baranya County (10.6%). The far-right’s best result came from Heves County (22.9%), a poor eastern county home to Jobbik leader Gábor Vona (he is from Gyöngyös). Jobbik also broke 20% in neighboring Borsod-Abaúj-Zemplén and Jász-Nagykun-Szolnok counties.

Next: Italy – complex and confusing as always, but so fascinating every time, requires its own separate post to clearly break down a very significant EP election result.

EU 2014: France

ep2014

The European Parliament elections were held in France on May 25, 2014. Its results, with the victory of the far-right National Front (FN), made headlines across the EU and became one of the top media stories out of the EP elections.

Electoral system and history

France returns 74 MEPs to the European Parliament, two more than in the 2009 election. Since the 2004 election, France’s MEPs are elected in eight multi-member inter-regional constituencies – special constituencies drawn for EP elections which follow the boundaries of France’s existing administrative regions. In each region, seats are distributed by closed party-list proportional representation (highest averages method) with a regional threshold of 5%. In practice, however, because of the low magnitude of a lot of the constituencies, the effective thresholds can be significantly higher. France’s eight EP constituencies are Nord-Ouest (10 MEPs, composed of the regions of Nord-Pas-de-Calais, Picardie, Haute-Normandie and Basse-Normandie), Ouest (9 MEPs, composed of the regions of Bretagne, Pays-de-la-Loire and Poitou-Charentes), Est (9 MEPs, composed of the regions of Champagne-Ardenne, Bourgogne, Franche-Comté, Lorraine and Alsace), Sud-Ouest (10 MEPs, composed of the regions of Aquitaine, Midi-Pyrénées and Languedoc-Roussillon), Sud-Est (13 MEPs, composed of the regions of Rhône-Alpes, Provence-Alpes-Côte-d’Azur and Corsica), Massif central-Centre (5 MEPs, composed of the regions of Centre, Limousin and Auvergne), Île-de-France (15 MEPs, composed of the region of Île-de-France and French citizens resident abroad) and Outre-Mer (3 MEPs, composed of all overseas regions and collectivities). The Outre-Mer constituency is further subdivided in three ‘sections’ with one seat each: Atlantic (Guadeloupe, Guyane, Martinique, Saint-Barthélemy, Saint-Martin, Saint-Pierre-et-Miquelon), Indian Ocean (Mayotte, La Réunion) and Pacific (New Caledonia, French Polynesia, Wallis-et-Futuna). The constituency’s three MEPs are allocated at the constituency-wide level, but the names of the MEPs to be elected for each list are determined by the results of their list in the sections. For example, a party which won one seat in the constituency and polled highest in the Pacific section would see the list’s Pacific section candidate elected.

From 1979 until 2004, French MEPs were elected in a single national constituency using proportional representation with a 5% threshold. The new electoral system was adopted by the centre-right government of Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin in 2003, with the stated aim of fighting decreasing turnout and increasing ties between citizens and local MEPs. Smaller parties, which have been the losers of the new system, have supported the re-creation a single national constituency. In 2013, deputies from the Left Radical Party (PRG), a small centre-left party allied to President François Hollande’s Socialist Party (PS), tabled a bill to re-create a single national constituency. While the idea was supported by all small parties – from the FN to the Left Front (FG) – it died in first reading because both the PS and the Union for a Popular Movement (UMP), the main right-wing party, opposed it. However, in 2010, when the PS was in opposition, its senators had supported a bill to create a national constituency.

There has been a near-consistent decline in turnout in EP elections in France, like in most European countries, since the first elections in 1979. In 2009, turnout reached a record low of 40.6%, while thirty years prior, turnout in the first EP election was 60.7%. Like in other EU countries, EP elections in France have usually been seen as midterm elections fought around national political issues, often with the aim of punishing an incumbent government.

In European elections, the system of proportional representation (since 2003, the EP elections are the only French national elections fought under a pure PR system) and the low stakes of the election have led many of those who did vote to vote for smaller parties or protest parties rather than their traditional parties. As such, past EP elections have seen the success of a number of ‘small’ parties, results which were not replicated in subsequent high stakes national elections.

On the right, a lot of voters who backed the traditional mainstream right in national elections have voted for conservative Eurosceptic (non-FN) parties – the UDF dissident Majorité pour l’autre Europe list led by Philippe de Villiers in 1994 (12.3%), the Charles Pasqua-Philippe de Villiers alliance in 1999 (13.1%, placing second ahead of the mainstream RPR list led by Nicolas Sarkozy) or de Villiers’ Movement for France (MPF) in 2004 and 2009. These successes for Eurosceptic conservatives outside the mainstream parties of the right (Jacques Chirac’s neo-Gaullist RPR and the centre-right alliance UDF) failed to be replicated in the next presidential elections. In 1995, fresh from his success in the EP elections and having launched his own party (the MPF), Philippe de Villiers’ presidential candidacy won only 4.7%. In 2002, Charles Pasqua (a former leader of the hard-right and Eurosceptic wing of the RPR, who broke with Chirac in 1990) failed to win the signatures necessary to run for President (his alliance with de Villiers having already fallen apart, two years earlier).

Before 2004, other lists from the right have enjoyed some success as well. In 1989, a Christian democratic (CDS) list ran independently of the UDF, led by Simone Veil and the rénovateurs - a group of twelve young ambitious politicians from the RPR and UDF (including big names such as François Fillon, François Bayrou, Michel Barnier, Bernard Bosson, Philippe de Villiers, Jean-Louis Borloo etc…) who challenged the old guard’s (Jacques Chirac, Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, Raymond Barre) hold on the RPR-UDF machines after the 1988 defeat. It won 8.4%, a result which was disappointing at the time and led to the early demise of the rénovateurs challenge. Between 1989 and 1999, a right-wing rural hunters’ party (Hunting, Fishing, Nature, Traditions – CPNT) won significant support, culminating at 6.8% and the election of 6 MEPs in 1999. CPNT appealed to a very rural and culturally conservative electorate largely made up of hunters, largely but certainly not exclusively right-leaning in presidential elections (the far-right has won a large share of the CPNT vote, especially in the Somme estuary, CPNT’s strongest region).

On the left, the Greens have seen their support in EP elections fluctuate fairly dramatically, but they achieved very strong results in 1989 (10.6%), 1999 (9.7%) and of course 2009 (16.3%). In general, Green support in French EP elections have followed zig-zag patterns. In 1994, the Greens – divided between two lists (one by the Greens, the other by Génération écologie) – lost all their MEPs due to the deep infighting in the green movement after their underwhelming result in the 1993 elections and the questions over political alliances. In 2004, the Greens fell back to 7.4% and lost 3 seats, hurt by the new electoral system and the decision of their 1999 top candidate – Daniel Cohn-Bendit – to run in Germany instead.

The far-left has usually had limited success in EP elections, given that the French far-left usually does better in more personalized presidential elections provided that they have a telegenic and amiable face. However, in 1999, a common list between the two ‘fraternal enemies’ of the far-left (the traditional Trotskyist Workers’ Struggle, LO and the more May ’68-New Left Revolutionary Communist League, LCR) won 5.2% and 5 MEPs. In 2004, the LO-LCR common list collapsed to 2.6%. In 2009, the New Anticapitalist Party (NPA) – the reformed LCR under Olivier Besancenot – won 4.9% but no seats; the NPA’s poor showing and the end of a brief popularity upsurge for Besancenot around that same time led to the NPA’s premature death.

The far-right FN has a mixed record in European elections. The party’s first national breakthrough came in the 1984 EP election, when the FN emerged from near-total obscurity to win a remarkable 11% of the vote – just a few points behind the Communists, whose support fell from 20.5% in 1979 to only 11.2% in 1984. In the 1980s, the FN’s support in EP elections (1989: 11.7%) was fairly close to its support in national elections – especially legislative elections (10% in 1986 and 1988). In 1994, however, the FN won ‘only’ 10.5% of the vote, while Le Pen took 15% in the 1995 presidential election. In the 1999 EP election, held in the wake of the painful and debilitating split between Jean-Marie Le Pen and his former ally Bruno Mégret in December 1998, the FN list won only 5.7% of the vote (and Mégret’s MNR list won 3.3%, falling short of the threshold in what would be the MNR’s best result before a slow death). However, only three years later, Le Pen famously qualified for the presidential runoff in 2002, taking 16.9% of the vote in the first round. In 1999, besides the split, a lot of FN supporters had also sat out the election – demotivated by the split on the far-right, they lost a major motivator to vote in an election which most ultimately cared or knew little about. In 2004, the FN increased its support to 9.8%, although that result too remained weak in comparison to the FN’s results in the 2004 regional elections held just a few months earlier. In 2009, the FN’s vote fell to 6.3% and the party saved just three MEPs. In 2007, Le Pen had been crippled by Nicolas Sarkozy’s candidacy, who stole first round FN supporters and left the FN in a chaotic and disorganized state. In 2009, the FN was still at a weak point: the leadership handover from the patriarch to his daughter would take place in 2011, Sarkozy’s popularity had declined but retained some degree of goodwill from far-right supporters, and the record-high abstention penalized the FN.

In contrast, the traditional forces of the left and right – the PS and RPR-UDF/UMP – have not done well in a lot of EP elections. In 1984, Lionel Jospin’s PS list suffered from the unpopularity of President François Mitterrand and won only 20.8%. In 1994, the PS list led by former Prime Minister Michel Rocard won a terrible 14.5%, putting an early end to Rocard’s presidential ambitions. Rocard faced the open enmity of his eternal enemy, President François Mitterrand, who offered a very thinly-veiled endorsement to controversial businessman and ephemeral politician Bernard Tapie’s Énergie radicale list, which ended up taking a remarkable 12%. In 1999, after Philippe Séguin withdrew his name due to Chirac’s weak support of his leadership and candidacy, the RPR-DL (Démocratie libérale, the split of the right-wing liberal wing of the UDF, led by Alain Madelin) list led by Sarkozy and Madelin fell to third place with only 12.8% against 13.1% for the Pasqua-Villiers list. In 2004, Chirac’s UMP was dragged deep down by his unpopularity, and won only 16.6% against 28.9% for the PS. In 2009, while the UMP did quite ‘well’ for a governing party in an EP election (27.9%), the PS won only 16.5%, saving second place by a hair against the Greens (Europe Écologie). The PS had been severely weakened by the leadership chaos and infighting at the Reims Congress in late 2008 (the infamous Martine Aubry-Ségolène Royal contest) and its subsequent difficulty at being a credible opposition.

The Communist Party (PCF) fell from low to low in EP elections between 1979 and 2009 – falling from 20.5% in 1979 to 5.9% in 2004, with nothing seemingly able to shift the tide – in 1999, for example, PCF leader Robert Hue’s Bouge l’Europe! list had expanded to social movements and non-communist leftist activists, but its support still fell from 1994. Only the creation of the Left Front (FG), in which the PCF added the institutional and grassroots structures to Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s new Left Party (PG), shifted the tide somewhat. In 2009, the FG lists- with Mélenchon leading the list in the Southwest constituency – received 6.5%, which was far from spectacular but nevertheless allowed them five instead of three MEPs (in both 2004 and 2009, one MEP came from the Reunionese Communists).

Political context

These EP elections came only two months after municipal elections in March 2014 and come as President François Hollande has completed his first two years in office.

Hollande is now the most unpopular President in the history of the French Fifth Republic. Almost every single pollster which regularly measures the popularity of the President and Prime Minister have his approval rating below 20%. Ifop’s June 2014 barometer showed his approval rating at 18%, with 81% disapproving. Ipsos showed his approval rating at 19% in May 2014. TNS-Sofres has Hollande even lower: only 16% expressed ‘confidence’ in the President, with 81% expressing no confidence in him.

The results of the municipal elections in March, which I covered in very extensive detail here and here, were a bloodbath for the left, which had not expected such a phenomenal defeat. The right now controls 63.3% of all municipalities with over 30,000 inhabitants while the left holds only 35.5% – before the election, the left held 57.9% of these same municipalities. The right gained a number of large cities and towns from the left (Toulouse, Reims, Saint-Étienne, Angers, Limoges, Tours, Amiens, Caen, Argenteuil, Roubaix, Tourcoing, Pau, Ajaccio, Quimper, Valence, Chambéry, La Roche-sur-Yon and Belfort among hundreds), while the left only gained two towns from the right (Avignon and Douai). Slightly mitigating the intensity of the defeat, the PS managed to hold Paris and Lyon – two cities which the left had gained from the right in 2001. In Marseille, however, the PS, which was initially optimistic about its chances of gaining the city from the right, ended up a very distant second, tied with the far-right FN in the municipal council (after having placed third behind the FN in the first round) and losing three of the four municipal sectors it controlled prior to the election. The far-right gained two towns with over 30,000 people – Béziers and Fréjus. It also won the 7th sector of Marseille, which has a population of 150,326. Overall, the FN and similar far-right parties/candidate won 13 towns in France – with a major symbolic first round victory in Hénin-Beaumont, the depressed northern mining basin town which has been FN leader Marine Le Pen’s political base since 2007. The FN had strong results in these municipal elections, with results in a number of communes being higher than Marine Le Pen’s 2012 presidential result (a high-water mark for the FN) while the FN made strong gains in some places between both rounds (indicating the party’s ability to attract additional supporters in a runoff); however, the results also showed that there remains a clear limit to the FN’s growth. For example, all the FN’s victories in the second round except in one town came triangulaires/quadrangulaires – three or four-way runoffs in which the FN won with less than 50% of the vote and in other cities targeted by the FN, putative ‘republican fronts’ were actually successful at blocking the FN from winning the city hall.

Hollande’s unpopularity is largely due to the economic crisis, which has been fairly severe and difficult in France. Unemployment was 10.1% in the first trimester of 2014, which is up from around 9.5% when Hollande took office – although the current increase in unemployment began in 2011, under Sarkozy’s presidency. However, Hollande had promised to ‘reverse’ the increase in unemployment when he took office in 2012, and it’s clear that on that commitment, the government has failed badly. In September 2012, for example, Hollande had promised to ‘reverse’ the trend within a year, and despite all indications to the contrary, the government and the President reiterated that promise for the first half of 2013, until September 2013 when it was clear that unemployment would not fall. Over 3.3 million people are unemployed, using the narrowest definition, up from 2.9 million in May 2012. Since then, the government has shifted its rhetorical techniques to emphasize a ‘stabilization’ of unemployment and watering down, delaying the reduction of unemployment. Economic growth has been flat or in recession since Hollande took office two years ago, with 0.3% growth in 2013 and 0% growth in the first trimester of 2014. The debt and deficit situation of the country is hardly better, and the government’s performance on those issues has been poor. Hollande failed to keep his electoral promise of reducing the deficit to 3% of GDP in 2013, but with weak growth, the budget deficit in 2013 was finally 4.2% of GDP – even breaking the government’s second target (3.7%). Now, the government insists that it will meet the EU Commission’s deadline to reduce the deficit to 3% in 2015, but already the Commission has projected that the deficit will be 3.8% in 2014 and 3.7% in 2015 (although the government’s numbers project a 2.8% deficit in 2015). While it would be unfair to blame Hollande for the entirety of the mess which France is in, the government has a large share of the responsibility in the worsening of the economic situation since 2012.

Under Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault’s often chaotic, cacophonic and incoherent cabinet, the government was often like a deer in the headlights – powerless, lost and incompetent in its handling of the economy. The policies adopted by the government to address unemployment, growth and the budget have all been inadequate and criticized on both the right and the left. For the right – but also a large majority of French voters – their main issue with Hollande’s economic policies have been the tax increases. The government increased the top bracket on the income tax (incomes over 150,000 euros) from 41% to 45%, the wealth tax (ISF) was toughened up, family tax benefits were cut, a pension reform increased employees and employers’ contributions (the same reform also increased the contributory period to 43 years, after the right’s 2010 reform, opposed by the PS, had raised it to 41 and increased the legal retirement age to 62). The government also increased the VAT’s standard rate from 19.6% to 20% (to finance a €20 billion tax credit to employers to reduce unit labour costs), the intermediate rate from 7% to 10% and maintained the reduced rate at 5.5% (despite previously promising to bring it down to 5%). Although the government announced in early 2013 that there would no tax increases in 2013, it was quickly forced to backtrack and announce ‘small’ tax increases in 2014 and talk of ‘tax cuts’ after 2016.

In 2012, Hollande’s manifesto was filled with flowery but ultimately meaningless blabber about ‘growth’ and opposition to austerity policies. In power, Hollande has continued austerity policies – consisting of tax increases, spending cuts and public sector job cuts – which had begun under Sarkozy (although, in the French tradition, austerity is disguised as ‘efforts’). Hollande approved the European Fiscal Compact without any substantial changes, despite having pledged to renegotiate it. The pledge for Eurobonds has been buried, the government gave up a promise to legislate on ‘excessive pay’ in the private sector and Hollande’s ambitious promises to deepen European/Eurozone political integration have been abandoned. The Constitutional Council forced him to scrap his much-publicized 75% tax on incomes over €1 million. The government reframed the 75% tax a temporary tax to be paid by employers on salaries over €1 million.

In 2014, Hollande announced a pacte de responsabilité with employers, proposing to reduce payroll taxes paid out by employers if they took on new, especially young, workers. The announcement, which led to significant talk of Hollande shifting to the right, was met with skepticism in France. Regular citizens, who have seen Hollande’s record of failure since 2012, have little optimism in his proposal. The left and unions were skeptic or hostile towards the idea of dropping costs on employers (up to €30 billion in cuts to payroll taxes) in exchange for very vaguely defined (and probably minimal) job creations. On the left, the rumour that Germany’s Peter Hartz would come to advise Hollande led to fears of a ‘neoliberal’ economic agenda.

Following the municipal elections, Hollande fired Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault, who was seen as weak, indecisive, lacking authority and had been very effaced compared to the President. Manuel Valls, the popular Minister of the Interior under Ayrault, replaced him as Prime Minister. Valls, a fairly young Catalan-born ambitious politician perceived as being on the PS’ right, who, as interior minister, often ranked as one of the government’s most popular members because of his hardline policy on criminality and immigration. Although Valls himself had previously decried the Sarkozy administration’s controversial immigration policies, he effectively continued them – deporting undocumented migrants and dismantling Roma encampments. Valls ran into several controversies while he was interior minister, but none of them really hurt him. Last fall, he said that it was ‘impossible’ to integrate the Roma population into French society (because of ‘different lifestyles’) and that the only solution was to dismantle the camps and return occupants to their country of origin. A few months prior, Valls had said that the Roma were intended to stay in Romania or return there. In October 2013, Leonarda Dibrani, a 15-year old undocumented immigrant from Kosovo attending a French school, was arrested during a school field trip and deported to Kosovo. Valls’ behaviour as responsible minister once again raised debate and criticism on the left. Hollande was forced to intervene, and he haplessly proposed a compromise: while supporting the decision, he proposed that Leonarda be allowed to return, alone, to complete her studies (she refused). On the left, the decision was criticized (even the leader of the PS, Harlem Désir, signaled his disapproval) on humanitarian grounds. The right attacked Hollande’s “indecision”, denounced a terrible blow to the authority of the State and Marine Le Pen called on him to resign for humiliating France. The UMP proposed abolishing jus soli, Valls talked of reforming asylum policy.

Valls’ nomination to Matignon as Prime Minister was, from the looks of it thus far, an attempt for Hollande to divest himself of some domestic political responsibilities and lay low for a while. The initial reaction from the opposition – left and right – was negative. The left, especially the left outside of the PS, is very critical and suspicious of Valls, who has a strong reputation as a ‘maverick’ and iconoclast challenging the left’s dogma, for example on the sanctity of the 35-hour work week introduced by Lionel Jospin’s gauche plurielle government (1997-2002). The Greens (EELV, Europe Écologie-Les Verts), who had sat in the Ayrault government, faced a major test of credibility with Valls’ nomination and the issue of their continued participation in government. Already under Ayrault, EELV had been displeased with several of the government’s decisions, notably the unceremonious dismissal of the environment minister (Delphine Batho) who had lamented budget cuts at her ministry, and a left-wing anti-government minority within EELV challenged the pro-government leadership of the party at EELV’s federal congress in October 2013. With regards to valls, former EELV leader and housing minister Cécile Duflot had decried Valls’ comments on the Roma, and after his nomination to Matignon, EELV’s two ministers (including Duflot) announced that they would not join a Valls cabinet. Valls met with EELV and proposed the creation of large environment ministry, 3 portfolios and a dose of proportional representation, but EELV voted against participation in the Valls government. However, on April 8, 10 of EELV’s 17 deputies voted in favour of the government on the initial vote of confidence in the National Assembly.

Valls’ government included Ségolène Royal, the PS’ 2007 presidential candidate and François Hollande’s former girlfriend (and mother of their four children), as Minister of the Environment. To reassure the left, two of the Ayrault government’s members from the PS’ left, Benoît Hamon and Arnaud Montebourg, received promotions to Minister of National Education, Higher Education and Research and Minister of the Economy respectively. Neither had been particularly impressive, especially Montebourg, ever the flamboyant one, in Ayrault’s government. Montebourg and Hamon, although both rhetorically on the left of the PS, found common ground with Valls in being the leading opponents of Ayrault in the old government. Montebourg has continued his anti-austerity posturing, as he had in the old government, but he has been fairly quiet (uncommon coming from him) thus far.

In his speech to the National Assembly, Valls largely recycled existing pledges and promises made by Hollande – most notably confirming the pacte de responsabilité. On that topic, Valls announced several specific initiatives: removing employer contributions on minimum wage jobs, reducing employer contributions on low-wage jobs, reducing employee contributions and reducing the corporate tax by 2020. In mid-April 2014, Valls detailed the government’s plan to ‘save’ €50 million. The government called for €18 million in ‘savings’ from the state budget, €11 million from local governments, €10 million from health insurance and €11 million from other social security benefits. ‘Savings’ included a freeze in social security benefits, a deferment in the increase of several welfare benefits (including the RSA, a minimum income for unemployed, underemployed or low-wage workers) and a continued freeze of the ‘indexation point’ (used to calculate civil servants’ wages) until 2017 (the indexation point has not increased since 2010). The latter means that, with inflation and no concomitant increase in the base for calculating public sector pay, civil servants will suffer not only a pay freeze but a net loss in salary.

The €50 million savings plan, effectively an austerity program in all but name, was very controversial and provoked strong negative reactions from the PS’ left, which had already been suspicious of Valls’ intentions. The austerity plan was approved by the National Assembly on April 29, with 265 votes in favour, 232 against and 67 abstentions. What was historic, however, was the abstention of no less than 41 deputies of the Socialist group (SRC), the bulk of them from the PS’ left. 11 PS deputies, from the left of the party, had abstained on the vote of confidence in early April. On the austerity program, there were now 41 frondeurs within the ranks of the governing party. Only 3 green deputies voted in favour, with 12 of them voting against. The predominantly Communist GDR group voted against, while the centre-right UDI group largely abstained while only the Left Radicals (PRG) – very close allies and junior coalition partners of the PS – voted in favour.

Valls also announced plans to reduce the number of regions in metropolitan France from 22 to 14, abolishing general/departmental councils by 2021 (despite the fact that he had re-created them himself, as interior minister!) and abolishing the general power of competence (which was abolished by Sarkozy in 2010, re-instated by Valls in 2013…). Hollande presented a draft map of France’s 14 new regions, which the government (but no-one else) insists will result in cost savings, efficiency and competitive regions. The regional reform and the new map (which reduces regions by merging existing ones, instead of re-drawing new ones) has been poorly received.

French voters have been surprisingly kind on Valls so far, although the popularity trend is already looking south. His approval ranges between a high of 52% (in the latest Ifop, BVA) and 39% (CSA); in all cases, his popularity is declining, slowly but surely. Hollande has seen no improvement in his popularity since March, although he has hit a floor of 16-20% approval. At this point, a lot of voters have lost all faith in Hollande (or his policies) and that practically anything he says or does has no effect on his popularity. He has lost so much credibility that it would take a miraculous and huge improvement in the economy for Hollande’s popularity numbers to look north again. The situation for the PS is so bad that Hollande himself has already openly said that he may not seek reelection if unemployment does not decline before 2017.

The government has been further dragged down by a plethora of other issues: broken promises, promises delayed indefinitely (assisted reproductive technologies, law on families), corruption scandals (the Jérôme Cahuzac, the then-budget minister, and his secret offshore account in Switzerland), crises (the manif pour tous against same-sex marriage and adoption, the Leonarda affair).

Parties and lists

FG campaign literature, IdF constituency (own picture)

FG campaign literature, IdF constituency (own picture)

Jean-Luc Mélenchon, the Left Front (FG)’s presidential candidate in 2012, has been extremely critical of the government’s austerity policies. However, despite incessant and violent attacks by Mélenchon and the FG on the government’s policies, they have largely been unable (thus far) to profit from the government’s unpopularity with left-wing voters. Mélenchon is a polarizing figure; his abrasive, in-your-face and often unpleasant public person is off-putting to many voters and the FG generally appears to lack credibility as a credible leftist alternative to the PS. The municipal elections opened up very public and damaging divisions between Mélenchon’s small Left Party (PG), which is firmly anti-PS and the Communists (PCF), the largest party in the FG, which still retains some attachment (mostly for strategic and self-serving electoral reasons) to the old alliances with the PS. The FG is a contradictory alliance of people with similar ideologies but differing strategies. The PCF latched on to Mélenchon’s charisma and relative appeal to a left-wing electorate, and it initially served the PCF well in the 2012 presidential election. However, after the FG (PCF)’s unexpectedly horrendous performance in the 2012 legislative elections, there was some reticence within the PCF towards Mélenchon’s radical and dogmatic opposition to any kind of cooperation with the PS in elections. In the 2014 municipal elections, the PCF chose to ally by the first round with PS lists in major cities such as Paris, Toulouse, Rennes, Grenoble, Tours and Rouen. Mélenchon’s Left Party (PG) is largely an empty shell and, with the departure of Marc Dolez (the PG’s only deputy), Mélenchon is the only one in the PG who is actually elected to some kind of parliamentary institution (the EP). Given that it has nothing to lose from doing so, the PG has followed a strategy of total independence from the PS, refusing any first round alliances with the PS. In municipalities where the PCF allied with the PS in the first round of the local elections, the PG ran independent lists of its own, often alongside other components of the FG (Ensemble, a new movement uniting various small parties – old and new – ranging from dissident ‘reformist’ communists to dissident factions of the NPA which left the dogmatic far-left microparty disagreeing with its anti-FG stances). These PG lists did fairly poorly, although in Grenoble, where the PG allied with EELV against a PS-PCF list, the EELV-led list was victorious in the second round against the PS list backed by the retiring PS mayor.

The FG managed to hold together for the EP elections; although Gauche unitaire, an old far-left movement which emerged from a pro-FG faction of the old LCR (now NPA) in 2009, decided not to participate on FG lists. The FG was defending four incumbent MEPs in metropolitan France, in addition to one MEP from the Overseas constituency (Younous Omarjee, who replaced Reunionese Communist MEP Élie Hoarau in 2012).The FG incumbents were Patrick Le Hyaric (PCF-Île-de-France), the current director of the communist daily L’Humanité; Marie-Christine Vergiat (independent-Southeast), an independent left-wing activist; Jacky Hénin (PCF-Northwest), the former PCF mayor of Calais (2000-2008) and Jean-Luc Mélenchon (PG-Southwest). Mélenchon has been one of the least active MEPs, participating in only 71% of roll-call votes. The PG held the top candidacy in the East and Centre, while former NPA spokesperson Myriam Martin (who joined the FG in 2012) led the list in the West. In the Overseas constituency, the FG supported the ‘Union for the Overseas’ list led by incumbent PCR MEP Younous Omarjee and supported by the Martinican Progressive Party (PPM), the largest party in the regional and general councils of Martinique. The FG campaigned against austerity (with the clear target being the French government, rather than the EU), for higher wages, against the proposed Transatlantic free trade agreement with the US and against NATO.

On the far-left, which is as divided as ever but also weaker than ever, there was no agreement on common lists between the NPA and Workers’ Struggle (Lutte ouvrière, LO) nor was such an hypothesis ever realistic. LO, led by the party’s leader and public face Nathalie Arthaud (candidate in Île-de-France) had lists in every region, including the Overseas. The NPA, which is increasingly divided, ran only 5 lists.

PS-PRG campaign literature in the Île-de-France constituency (own picture)

PS-PRG campaign literature in the Île-de-France constituency (own picture)

The Socialist Party (PS) had already performed very poorly in 2009, and was not expected to perform much better in 2014 given Hollande’s massive unpopularity. The only question, especially after the PS’ defeat in the municipal elections in March, was whether or not the PS would perform better or worse than its 2009 result (16.48%). At the end of the EP term, the PS was left with 12 MEPs (it had elected 13 in 2009). The PS formed common lists with the Left Radical Party (PRG), a small party ostensibly following in the radical-socialist (social liberal, pro-European) tradition but in reality known solely as being an annex of the PS. The PRG had not participated in 2009 and ran a few lists independent of the PS, with very weak results, in 2004. The PS’ top candidates were: incumbent MEP Gilles Pargneaux, an ally of Lille mayor Martine Aubry (Northwest); incumbent MEP Isabelle Thomas from the party’s left (West; Emmanuel Maurel, a regional councillor also on the left of the PS, was second); Édouard Martin, a CFDT trade unionist active in social movements against the closing of the last blast furnaces in Lorraine (East; Catherine Trautmann, a two-term MEP and former mayor of Strasbourg, was second on the list); Jean-Paul Denanot, the president of the regional council of the Limousin since 2004 (Massif central-Centre); Virginie Rozière, a little-known PRG member and deputy director of cabinet to Sylvia Pinel, a PRG cabinet minister (Southwest); former MEP Vincent Peillon, the former education minister who was not kept in the new Valls cabinet because of an unpopular education reform (Southeast); four-term MEP Pervenche Berès (Île-de-France) and Joseph-Louis Manscour, a former Martinican PS deputy (Overseas; Marie-Claude Tjibaou, the widow of assassinated New Caledonian Kanak nationalist leader Jean-Marie Tjibaou, was the lead candidate for the Pacific section). Harlem Désir, an incumbent MEP and secretary-general of the PS from 2012 until March 2014, was due to run for reelection as the PS’ top candidate in Île-de-France, but after the PS defeat in the local elections (for which he was held responsible by many Socialists), he was quietly fired from the party leadership and became Secretary of State for European Affairs – even if some of his EP colleagues judged him to be a completely useless and inactive MEP.

Unsurprisingly, the PS’ campaign literature made no mention of the government and only included very small PS and PRG logos (all PS lists were named Choisir notre Europe - choosing our Europe). Instead, they very much emphasized Martin Schulz, the PES candidate for president of the Commission. Quite disingenuously (and dishonestly), the PS campaign attacked austerity policies and ‘social dumping’, calling for pro-growth job policies, fair trade and a tax on financial transactions (an issue which the PS government seems to have forgotten about). No mention was made, of course, that the Valls government is effectively carrying out austerity policies (although it denies it) rather than ‘growth-oriented’ policies.

There was a new movement/party on the left contesting the EP elections: Nouvelle Donne, or New Deal, a party founded in November 2013 by Pierre Larrouturou, a longtime but little-known activist on the left (who has come and gone from the PS several times) who has embraced causes such as a four-day workweek or, these days, an interventionist economic policy modeled on Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal policies in the US. The party was joined by EELV deputy Isabelle Attard, EELV MEP Malika Benarab-Attou and PS MEP Françoise Castex. The party’s campaign was fairly Eurosceptic or EU-critical, attacking the EU from a left-wing angle – austerity policies, ‘fiscal dumping’, the need for a ‘social treaty’ and the democratic deficit (no new treaty without a referendum). It called for a €1,000 billion pact to save the climate, fighting layoffs and renegotiating working hours. Pierre Larrouturou, who is a regional councillor (elected for EELV, when he briefly joined that party between 2009 and 2012), was top candidate in Île-de-France.

Europe Écologie-Les Verts (EELV) had nowhere else to go but down after the record-breaking and shocking performance by the Greens (Europe Écologie coalition) in the 2009 EP elections (16.28%). The 2009 success was the result of a perfect storm for EE: a divided and chaotic PS a few months after the Reims Congress, and the green movement’s remarkable ability to temporarily overcome the factional and strategic divisions which had weakened it for so long. EE was a coalition which extended from traditional Green politicians to non-partisan environmentalist activists in NGOs and anti-globalization movements – uniting people like José Bové, the peasant leader and anti-globalization leader; political newcomers from civil society like Eva Joly (the Norwegian-born magistrate, who went on to become EELV’s 2012 presidential candidate), Sandrine Bélier and Yannick Jadot and regionalist allies like François Alfonsi (from the PNC – Partitu di a Nazione Corsa, a moderate nationalist party from Corsica). The candidacy of Daniel Cohn-Bendit, who had already led the French Greens’ list in 1999 but had run for the German Greens in 2004, also provided a charismatic and well-known leader to the movement. Some in the media have also speculated that the airing of Yann Arthus-Bertrand’s movie Home (on global biodiversity and environmental destruction) days before the vote may explain the very late surge for EE, undetected by most pollsters at the time. Although EE’s success prompted The Greens to transform the party into EELV in 2010, aiming to attract new members and activists who had not been members of the old green party, since 2009, the party’s star has faded. In 2012, after a very mediocre campaign, Eva Joly won only 2.3% of the presidential vote. In the legislative elections, EELV only elected 18 deputies thanks to an electoral alliance sealed with a magnanimous PS. In the Ayrault government, in which EELV had two minister (Cécile Duflot as housing minister and Pascal Canfin as junior minister for international development), the party faced internal and external criticism for largely bowing down to the PS and largely accepting several policies which they privately disagreed with. In 2013, there was major internal pressure within the party for it to leave the government or at least take a more assertive stance. Pascal Durand, the national secretary of EELV, was forced to retire after launching an ‘ultimatum’ to the government. At EELV’s federal congress in October 2013, a left-wing anti-government minority faction won about 40%. Several prominent members of EELV have since left the party: Cohn-Bendit in late 2012, and Noël Mamère in September 2013.

EELV campaign literature, IdF constituency (own picture)

EELV campaign literature, IdF constituency (own picture)

The EELV top candidates were: Karima Delli, a young MEP of Algerian descent (originally from the poor textile town of Tourcoing in the Nord) elected in Île-de-France in 2009 but running in the Northwest; Yannick Jadot, an incumbent MEP and former Greenpeace member (West); incumbent MEP Sandrine Bélier (East; Antoine Waechter, the old leader of the Independent Ecologist Movement, MEI, was ranked in second); Clarisse Heusquin (Massif central-Centre); incumbent MEP José Bové, the famous anti-globalization peasant leader (Southwest); incumbent MEP Michèle Rivasi, also a former Green deputy (1997-2002) (Southeast; incumbent MEP Karim Zéribi, a former Socialist, was second) and Pascal Durand (Île-de-France; Eva Joly was second). EELV also had a list in the Overseas. EELV supports a federal Europe, and its campaign focused on environmental priorities, promoting democracy, reducing the ‘power of the market’ (it opposes the FTA with the US) and ‘changing economic models’.

EELV lost the support of its minor regionalist partners, the Régions et peuples solidaires (R&PS) – an alliance of left-leaning autonomist parties from several regions (Brittany’s Breton Democratic Union, Corsica’s PNC, the Partit occitan, Basque and Catalan nationalists, the Mouvement région Savoie) affiliated with the EFA. R&PS ran lists in 6 regions (all except the East and Northwest), the most important being a Corsican one led by incumbent PNC MEP François Alfonsi in the Southeast, the Breton Democratic Union (Union démocratique bretonne / Unvaniezh Demokratel Breizh, UDB) list led by regional councillor Christian Guyonvarc’h in the West, a Basque list led by Jean Tellechea from the Basque Nationalist Party (EAJ-PNB) and an Overseas list led by incumbent EELV MEP Jean-Jacob Bicep. In the West, there was also a strong regionalist led led by Christian Troadec, the popular Breton nationalist mayor of Carhaix (Finistère) who was a key leader in the 2013 bonnets rouges protests against the application of the écotaxe, a proposed tax on heavy goods vehicles. Troadec’s list – Nous te ferons Europe ! - was backed by Troadec’s local left-wing Mouvement Bretagne et progrès and the moderate nationalist Breton Party (Strollad Breizh).

UDI-MoDem campaign literature, IdF constituency (own picture)

UDI-MoDem campaign literature, IdF constituency (own picture)

In the centre, François Bayrou’s Democratic Movement (MoDem) formed common lists with the Union of Democrats and Independents (UDI).

The UDI, created in late 2012, is an alliance of several small centre-right pro-European parties which were allied with the UMP during Sarkozy’s presidency and continue to be closely identified with the UMP-led parliamentary right. The UDI included Jean-Louis Borloo’s Radical Party (PR, social liberal and pro-European), Senator Jean Arthuis’ Centrist Alliance (AC, largely an empty shell in the centrist tradition of partis de notables), the New Centre (NC, the original pro-Sarkozy dissidents from Bayrou’s UDF in 2007, which has a strong base of elected officials but little independent electoral support), the European Democratic Force (FED, founded by Jean-Christophe Lagarde and other anti-Hervé Morin dissidents of the NC in 2012), the Modern Left (LGM, a social liberal party founded by Jean-Marie Bockel, a Blairite ex-Socialist who joined the Fillon government in 2007), Territories in Movement (TEM, the personal machine of Jean-Christophe Fromantin, the maverick right-wing deputy and mayor of Neuilly-sur-Seine), the Liberal Democratic Party (PLD, a tiny libertarian/right-wing liberal party), GayLib (the former gay rights lobby within the UMP) and two tiny shells. The UDI is often seen as a recreation of the centre-right Union for French Democracy (UDF), which was one of the two major components of the right-wing bloc in French politics between 1978 and 2002, and which was originally an alliance of several ideological families of the traditional non-Gaullist right (liberals, Christian democrats in the MRP tradition, anti-Programme Commun right-wing social democrats and the Radicals). The UDI won the support of former members of the UDF who had joined the UMP in 2002, like Pierre Méhaignerie or Louis Giscard d’Estaing (the son of the former President, who also supports the UDI). The UDI has a strong parliamentary caucus, with 28 deputies and 30 senators, but the party suffers – like a lot of non-Gaullist centre-right movements before it in French politics – from the lack of a strong leader in France’s presidential-centric system and the absence of a reliable electoral base. Jean-Louis Borloo, the UDI’s leader and one of its most most popular and well-known figures, has retired from politics for health reasons and the initial reaction was that his retirement will badly hurt the UDI. There are, nevertheless, a few other talented or promising politicians within the UDI.

The MoDem was crushed in the 2012 legislative elections, which followed Bayrou’s mediocre performance in the presidential race. Although Bayrou had personally endorsed Hollande in the 2012 runoff, since 2012, the party has generally moved towards the right-wing opposition. In the 2014 municipal elections, the MoDem supported the right (UMP-UDI) by the first round in a number of major cities including Paris, in return for the UMP begrudgingly endorsing Bayrou’s ultimately successful bid for mayor of Pau. Relations between the MoDem and the UDI (or its component parties prior to 2012) have generally been fairly acrimonious, but there has been a clear thaw since 2012. The alliance for the EP elections served both parties’ strategic objective: for the MoDem, to retain its base in the EP and prominence in French politics; for the UDI, a tailor-made opportunity for the party to prove that it is not a mere annex of the UMP and that it can run without UMP if it wishes too (a strategy the UDI tried in some towns, notably Caen, Strasbourg and Rouen in the locals). In 2009, the Radicals (which were still an affiliate of the UMP) had elected 4 MEPs, the NC 3 MEPs and the Modern Left 2 MEPs running on the UMP’s Presidential Majority lists.

The UDI-MoDem lists – known as L’Alternative or Les Européens – were led by: incumbent Radical MEP Dominique Riquet, a close ally of Borloo in Valenciennes (Northwest); Mayenne Senator Jean Arthuis from the AC (West); incumbent MoDem MEP Nathalie Griesbeck (East); incumbent FED MEP Sophie Auconie (Massif central-Centre); incumbent MoDem MEP Robert Rochefort (Southwest); incumbent MoDem MEP Sylvie Goulard (Southeast, elected in the West in 2009); incumbent MoDem MEP Marielle de Sarnez (Île-de-France, with incumbent UDI MEP Jean-Marie Cavada in second) and a list in the Overseas. The UDI and MoDem are two parties which come a very pro-European (federalist) tradition in French politics, and it ran a pro-European campaign although it did not use the word ‘federal’ unlike EELV. It called on the EU to strengthen and concentrate its powers in industrial policy, infrastructure, social and fiscal harmonization, small businesses, protection of European industry, foreign policy and a coherent immigration policy and border police. It also called on a more democratic EU, with a directly-elected European president and more direct democracy.

Corinne Lepage, a former environment minister under Chirac (1995-1997) and a centre-right green who ran for president in 2002 as candidate of her ‘blue green’ party (Cap21), had been elected MEP on a MoDem list in 2009, but Cap21 left the party a year later and Lepage unsuccessfully tried to run for President in 2012. She ran for reelection atop her own new lists – Europe Citoyenne – with Lepage as the movement’s candidate in Île-de-France. It claimed to be a non-political movement of normal citizens, emphasizing ethics and the creation of a ‘heart’ of the EU with 6-10 members acting as the lead forces for the EU.

Denis Payre, a businessman, launched an ‘independent citizens’ movement, Nous Citoyens (We citizens) in late 2013. With lists in all metropolitan constituencies, the list, despite being fairly vague on specifics and claiming to be ‘independent’ (with lists of non-politicians) leaned towards the liberal centre-right with pro-European positions.

UMP campaign literature - IdF constituency (own picture)

UMP campaign literature, IdF constituency (own picture)

The Union for a Popular Movement (UMP) is the main opposition party to the PS government, and it has led an uncompromising opposition to the government’s policies on nearly every front and has been very virulent in its criticism of what it describes as the ‘socialist state’. However, the UMP has done a fairly mediocre job in opposition and the party faces nearly as many crises as the PS.

Sarkozy’s defeat in May 2012 traumatized the UMP, which, for the first time since its creation in 2002 was now an opposition party. In November 2012, a UMP congress to elect a permanent president for the party turned into a nearly fatal civil war between the two candidates, the incumbent secretary-general Jean-François Copé and Sarkozy’s Prime Minister François Fillon. In an election marred by fraud and vote rigging by both sides, Copé was initially proclaimed the winner by 98 votes by an internal party commission. Fillon’s supporters later challenged the results, claiming that Fillon won by 26 votes because the party commission ‘forgot’ to include 1,304 votes cast in three overseas federations. This opened a civil war between both men; mediation by party elder and the popular moderate mayor of Bordeaux (and former Prime Minister) Alain Juppé failed, an appeals commission (led by a man who had backed Copé) ruled on a challenge lodged by Copé against filloniste fraud in the Alpes-Maritimes – it proclaimed Copé as the winner nationally, now with 952 votes (they cancelled the results, very selectively, in pro-Fillon Alpes-Maritimes and New Caledonia), and Fillon created a dissident parliamentary group in the National Assembly (R-UMP). Facing the very real threat of a split in the UMP, which would cripple the financially strapped party, the two enemies agreed to a temporary compromise in January 2013: Fillon’s R-UMP would dissolve, Copé would remain president while all other leadership positions in the party would be ‘doubled’ – one filloniste, one copéiste (creating an unwieldy and tense leadership, described by critics as a ‘Mexican army’). 

Copé suffered from a very acute image problem: he is extremely unpopular with voters (Ipsos’ monthly barometer in March 2014 showed him with a 70% disapproval rating, Fillon had a 49% disapproval – both men’s ratings took a hit from the 2012 congress and civil war). Copé was perceived as too right-wing, too economically liberal, too rash and the story of the 2012 congress (and how, if he won, it owes a lot to organized fraud and vote rigging by Copé’s men) further hurt his image. His leadership, by all accounts, was hardly inspiring stuff. The UMP has been desperate to oppose the government at every turn, in the process latching on to the most ridiculous of ‘controversies’ and non-issues – for example, Copé once complained about how a children’s book on nudity was destroying the youth; the UMP, at the same time, briefly went nuts with faux outrage over ‘gender theory’ education in public schools (the government has a program to promote and teach gender equality in primary school). In the meantime, the UMP is not considered to be a credible alternative to the government – it lacks coherent policy (except being anti-government), its fire is often stolen by the far more popular far-right FN and the division between Copé and Fillon remains very clear – quite tellingly, at a final EP election ‘unity rally’, Fillon only came in for his speech and left as soon as Copé took the stage.

Copé has also been mixed up in several scandals. In late February 2014, Le Point revealed that an events organization firm (Bygmalion) owned by two friends of Copé received €8 million in UMP funds for organizing events in the 2012 campaign.

Nicolas Sarkozy, the defeated President, has never been far behind in all this. It is known that he took his defeat in 2012 pretty badly, and holds a deep grudge against Hollande (his singer/songwriter wife, Carla Bruni, wrote a song, Le pingouin, which was widely assumed to be referring – negatively – to Hollande). The UMP’s rank-and-file remains, by and large, solidly sarkozyste and would love to see him return in 2017. For UMP sympathizers and many on the right in general, Hollande’s disastrous presidency only vindicates Sarkozy and reinforces their burning desire to see Sarkozy return to the presidency in 2017. That Sarkozy himself is very much planning for a return in 2017 is probably the worst keep secret in French politics right now. If he were to do so, polls show that Sarkozy would win the UMP’s 2016 primaries in a landslide. But Sarkozy, since 2012, has been dogged by several scandals.

In December 2012, the campaign finance and public financing commission rejected Sarkozy’s 2012 campaign finance report. The issue plunged the financially troubled party further in debt, but an appeal by Sarkozy to UMP members to contribute to the party allowed the UMP to raise over 11 million euros in just two months, which is equivalent to the sum lost by the party in public financing after Sarkozy’s campaign finances were invalidated. Sarkozy has faced other scandals. In March 2013, Sarkozy was indicted in the Bettencourt affair (illegal payments from L’Oréal shareholder Liliane Bettencourt to UMP members, part of a wider tax fraud case involving Bettencourt and her family) but charges against him were dropped in June 2013. One of the most important ones is the Sarkozy-Gaddafi scandal: in April 2012, Mediapart published documents which indicated that the former Libyan regime of Muammar Gaddafi may have given 50 million euros to Sarkozy’s 2007 presidential campaign. During the Libyan Civil War, officials in Gaddafi’s regime, including his son Saif al-Islam had said that Libya had funded Sarkozy’s 2007 campaign. In April 2013, a Parisian court opened a judicial investigation (citing no names) in the Gaddafi case. On March 7, 2014, Le Monde revealed that Sarkozy (and two former interior ministers Claude Guéant and Brice Hortefeux, close allies of Sarkozy cited in the Gaddafi case) had their phones bugged as part of the judicial investigation, beginning in September 2013. The transcripts of the wiretaps had found that Sarkozy and his lawyers were benefiting from insider information on the judicial process from judges and law enforcement sources – Sarkozy was appealing to the Court of Cassation the decision a judge in the Bernard Tapie scandal to send Sarkozy’s personal agenda to the judge in charge of the Bettencourt case.

The wiretap case shifted against the government, when the UMP successful changed the angle of media focus in the case to whether or not Christiane Taubira, the Minister of Justice, had been aware of the wiretaps. Taubira claimed that she had not been aware until the media revealed it; the following evening, Ayrault said that the government had indeed been aware. Taubira later showed two documents which she claimed proved that she was not aware, but those documents in fact did state that the minister was kept aware. The UMP claimed that Taubira lied and called on her resignation, but it may now appear that Taubira was not lying – her chief of staff was aware, but had not shared the information with Taubira. Since then, new revelations by Mediapart, on how Sarkozy was suspicious of the wiretaps and bought a phone under a ‘fake name’ to talk with his lawyer.

Sarkozy published an op-ed in the right-wing Le Figaro only days before the first round of the municipal elections in March 2014. He claimed, disingenuously, that he remained silent and ‘in retreat’ since 2012 and that he has no desire for revenge or ill-feelings against anyone. He continues by saying that ‘sacred principles of our Republic are being trampled unprecedented violence and unscrupulousness’ and even denounced Stasi-like techniques.

The UMP’s preparation for the EP elections was hindered by the difficult balancing act between the Copé and Fillon factions of the UMP, and the wranglings of the UMP’s small but vocal Eurosceptic (often from the party’s hard right) faction. Henri Guaino, a UMP deputy from the ‘social Gaullist’ tradition, said that he could not support the UMP list in his region because of its pro-EU top candidate; Juppé issued a thinly-veiled rebuke telling him to leave the party if he was unhappy. The UMP’s campaign concealed all ties it had with the EPP or Jean-Claude Juncker, the federalist candidate of the EPP. Instead, it explicitly targeted Hollande and ran on the terribly vague slogans of ‘a more efficient Europe’ and ‘a Europe which works’ – mixing support for the EU with pablum about ‘a stronger France’ in Europe. It opposed enlargement and Turkish membership, called for a reduction in immigration and a stronger Europe in international negotiations. In another Sarkozy op-ed right before the vote, the former President called to suspend the Schengen agreements and replace it with new agreements conditional on a common immigration policy and a Europe of co-existing identities. Oftentimes, however, the EU-critical rhetoric coming out of the UMP (and PS) is mostly for show: for example, of 40 UMP parliamentarians who signed an op-ed penned by Laurent Wauquiez and Henri Guaino (criticizing the current form of European integration, ‘excessive’ freedom of movement, austerity, social and fiscal dumping), only 8 of the 33 deputies who signed the op-ed actually voted against the European Fiscal Compact (17 UMP deputies in total had voted against, along with 20 SRC deputies) and two of them had voted against Lisbon at the time (5 UMP deputies in 2008 had voted against Lisbon, against 206 who voted for it). Therefore, when it comes to a vote, a lot of the UMP and PS deputies who criticize the EU will actually vote for the EU treaty or policy in question.

The UMP lists largely included incumbent MEPs or former deputies defeated in 2012 – confirming the old adage about the EP being a repository for failed or defeated politicians. In the Northwest, the UMP list was led by Jérôme Lavrilleux, a general councillor in the Aisne who served on the Sarkozy 2012 campaign and is a close ally of Copé, for whom he’s served as chief of cabinet since 2004. Tokia Saïfi, an ex-Radical filloniste MEP (elected since 1999), was second on the list. In the West, the list was headed by Alain Cadec, an incumbent MEP and general councillor (Côtes-d’Armor), followed by Elisabeth Morin-Chartier, an incumbent MEP and former president of the regional council of Poitou-Charentes (2002-2004, succeeded her ally Jean-Pierre Raffarin, lost reelection to Ségolène Royal in 2004). Marc Joulaud, the mayor of Sablé-sur-Sarthe – the former stronghold of François Fillon – who lost his bid to succeed his mentor (Fillon) as deputy in Fillon’s old constituency in 2012, was third on the UMP list. Nadine Morano, a fairly unpleasant loudmouth copéiste and former junior minister who lost her seat in the National Assembly in 2012, led the UMP list in the East; Arnaud Danjean, a filloniste incumbent MEP, followed her on the list. In the Massif central-Centre, the UMP was once again led by Brice Hortefeux (incumbent MEP), a close friend of Sarkozy and former cabinet minister (immigration, then labour and finally interior between 2007 and 2011). Jean-Pierre Audy, France’s most active MEP, was third on the list. In the Southwest, the UMP list was led by Michèle Alliot-Marie, a political veteran who’s served in cabinets under Chirac and Sarkozy (in portfolios such as defense, justice, interior and foreign affairs) who lost reelection in her constituency (first elected in 1988) in June 2012; as foreign minister, until February 2011, she had gotten into hot water for vacationing with friends of Ben Ali during the Tunisian Revolution. In the Southeast, the UMP was led by Renaud Muselier, another deputy defeated in 2012, who likely got his MEP gig in exchange for not getting Marseille city hall with his rival, the patriarch Jean-Claude Gaudin (the UMP mayor since 1995) opting to run for reelection. The UMP list in Île-de-France was led by Alain Lamassoure, a strongly pro-European MEP in the EP since 1999. Lamassoure’s political base, however, is in the Basque Country, and he was elected from the Southwest in 2004 and 2009. Incumbent MEP and the mayor of Paris’ 7th arrondissement Rachida Dati was second, with two other incumbent MEPs placing third and fourth on the UMP list. In the Overseas constituency, the UMP was represented by their incumbent MEP, Maurice Ponga, from New Caledonia – although Ponga’s local party, the Rassemblement-UMP, is no longer the official UMP affiliate in New Caledonia.

Christine Boutin, a political gadfly and former cabinet minister known for her very socially conservative positions (and other controversial positions for which she is often the target of ridicule) ran socially conservative pro-life and anti-gay marriage lists in all 8 constituencies – Force Vie. Boutin had been fairly close to the UMP between 2007 and 2009, and served in Fillon’s government until she got fired in 2009, at which point her small Christian Democratic Party (PCD) took its independence from the UMP and Boutin gradually shifted away from the UMP, although she endorsed Sarkozy in 2012 after failing to run herself and the PCD’s elected officials all won as UMP-endorsed candidates. Since the 2012 election, Boutin has left the leadership of the PCD and somewhat acted as a loose cannon and was a major leader in the 2013 manif pour tous against same-sex marriage. Earlier this year, Boutin – who is a bit nuts – claimed that homosexuality was an abomination; her name has stuck in popular memory in France for allegedly waving her Bible during a 1998 debate on civil unions (legalized by the left-wing government at the time) and she has faced controversy and ridicule for having married her first cousin. Christine Boutin led the Force Vie list in Île-de-France, with the PCD mayor of Montfermeil Xavier Lemoine in second position. In the Southwest, the top candidate was Jean-Claude Martinez, a former FN MEP (1989-2009) who left the FN in 2008 because he strongly opposed Marine Le Pen. The list’s platform focused on opposition to abortion and same-sex marriage, but had more Christian-social positions on economic issues (‘social market economy’, a European basic income). On the EU, it opposed Schengen, Turkish membership, EU ‘deepening’ and called on the affirmation of ‘Christian roots’ of Europe and an ‘alliance of civilizations’ with Latin America.

Nicolas Dupont-Aignan is the leader of Debout la République (DLR, Arise the Republic), a small right-wing paleo-Gaullist and Eurosceptic party founded in 1999 and an independent party since it broke with the UMP in 2007. NDA won 1.8% in the 2012 presidential election, and DLR’s media profile is very low – stuck in between the UMP to its left and the FN to its right (it claims to be a non-extremist anti-EU party; something of a FN-lite or ‘bridge’ between the UMP and FN, comparable to UKIP, the uniqueness of Gaullism notwithstanding). NDA did not run in the EP elections (a symbolic 29th place on the DLR list in IdF notwithstanding), but DLR put up lists in all 8 regions. Only Dominique Jamet, a right-wing journalist/writer, who was DLR’s top candidate in Île-de-France (the only region where DLR could win a seat, with the lowest effective threshold at 6% according to DLR’s campaign lit). With a slogan of ‘neither system nor extreme’, DLR proposed to drain the EU of 80% of its powers, end Schengen, adopt French protectionist policies, limit the number foreign workers in France and reducing bureaucracy and welfare dependency in France. Unlike UKIP and some other Eurosceptic parties on the right, DLR’s economic positions are more statist – in the traditional Gaullist tradition of dirigisme.

FN campaign literature, IdF constituency (own picture)

FN campaign literature, IdF constituency (own picture)

The one party expected to profit the most was the far-right National Front (FN). Marine Le Pen won a record high 17.9% of the vote in the first round of the April 2012 presidential election, and after Sarkozy nearly killed the FN in 2007, the FN under Marine Le Pen’s leadership has roared back. Marine Le Pen benefits from a better image than that of her father and FN patriarch, Jean-Marie Le Pen. If most academics agree that under the veil of dédiabolisation, not much has changed in reality and policy; she does a much better job at appearances and communication than her father, who has a knack for provocative, racist and outrageous statements, lacked. She appears, in the eyes of part of the public, as cleaner, more acceptable, more credible and more moderate. Marine Le Pen has been quite careful at ensuring that the cranks and neo-fascist loons in the FN are kept quiet and has moved quickly, as much as she could without alienating her father and the more radical factions of the FN (who have been suspicious of her), to remove from public spotlight anybody who was inconvenient for the FN’s rebranding efforts. Marine Le Pen has surrounded herself with a new generation of FN leaders who are more polished and presentable to the media than some of the old guard (men like Bruno Gollnisch, who have said crazy things in the past); they include men like Florian Philippot, a technocrat who is now a FN vice-president.f

An Ipsos poll in November 2013 showed that a majority of respondents still think the FN is a far-right party, dangerous for democracy and would never vote the FN and most don’t think that the FN is a credible alternative. The FN’s positions, the poll showed, are not endorsed by a plurality (with one exception, on maintaining local services) although very substantial minorities (up to 46%) agree with the FN on immigration and immigration. However, the results did show favourable trends for the FN: a 9% drop since 2003 in those believing the FN is dangerous for democracy, a 13% drop since 2003 in those who say the FN is a far-right party (most notably with FN voters themselves, 57% in 2003 said the party was far-right but only 34% think so nowadays, a confirmation of the shifts in the FN’s electorate) and an overall ‘potential’ support of 35% (combining those who have already voted FN and those who say they may potentially do so).

The FN did quite well in the municipal elections, although they did confirm that there are clear limits to the FN’s growth. The majority of polls during the EP campaign showed the FN as the single largest party, maintaining a small but consistent lead over the UMP while a limping PS languished in third place. The FN’s campaign was relatively undisturbed by the obligatory last-minute racist provocation from the patriarch, who suggested that the ebola virus could solve the ‘demographic explosion’ in the world within three months. The FN’s electorate, still largely made up of malcontents and protest voters rather than dogmatic fascists or far-rightists, seems to have accepted Jean-Marie Le Pen’s continued presence in the party as a strategic necessity but downplaying his influence as that of a senile old man. Nevertheless, there is a thinly-veiled conflict between Marine and her father within the FN. Marine Le Pen has made real efforts to ‘clean up’ the party – expelling the neo-Nazi nutcases (Alexandre Gabriac, a vile skinhead elected to a regional council in 2010 on a FN list got kicked out in 2011 after publication of pictures showing him doing the Hitler salute to a Nazi flag), drawing closer to the European radical right and dropping ties with the extremists (although Bruno Gollnisch nevertheless attended the rally of the quasi-Nazi Jobbik party in Hungary) and polishing the party’s public image and rhetoric. She has also shifted the FN’s policy and its thematic focus – a greater focus on economic issues (where she has taken a statist and interventionist tone – with protectionism and the préférence nationale, and strongly anti-austerity and anti-neoliberal angle; a major break with the FN’s original radical economic liberalism of 1984) and refocusing the immigration rhetoric around the popular ‘republican value’ of laïcité (and nothing about the ‘Christian roots’ or Catholic traditionalism, as existed in the past; the FN no longer supports repatriating all immigrants). She has been backed in her shift by a ‘new guard’ of young, polished and somewhat technocratic figures – Florian Philippot (the ‘teacher’s pet'; a polished technocrat strongly attached to the dédiabolisation and moderation), Louis Aliot (Marine Le Pen’s boyfriend), Steeve Briois (the new FN mayor of Hénin-Beaumont and Marine Le Pen’s local right-hand man in her stronghold) and more minor FN cadres such as Nicolas Bay, David Rachline and Julien Sanchez. On the other hand, her father has become identified with a traditionalist wing, which is suspicious of excessive dédiabolisation - which it sees as unacceptable moderation which is causing the FN to lose its specificity – and is silently critical of Marine Le Pen for ‘abandoning’ traditional issues such as immigration, security and same-sex marriage (Marine Le Pen and Philippot did not participate in the manif pour tous, but Gollnisch and Marion Maréchal-Le Pen – the young granddaughter of Jean-Marie and Marine’s niece who is now one of two FN deputies – did march in it). At times, Jean-Marie Le Pen has even been publicly critical, in a thinly-veiled manner, of his daughter’s leadership and he is especially irked by the influence of her young ‘clique’ led by Aliot and Philippot. In this, Jean-Marie has been joined by Marion, who has emerged as a major rival of Marine and provided a young face to Jean-Marie’s ‘faction’.

FN campaign literature - inside with details of platform (own picture)

FN campaign literature – inside with details of platform (own picture)

In 2009, the FN had elected only three MEPs – Le Pen father and daughter and Gollnisch. The FN was not hurt by the fact that its three incumbents MEPs were quite inactive in the last EP, with low attendance records and limited participation in the daily and ‘unglamorous’ parliamentary activities; some in the media attempted to question them on their records, but they disingeniously claimed that the VoteWatch website was unreliable and biased (Mélenchon, another top inactive MEP, made a similar claim) or avoided the issue. Marine Le Pen refused to participate in a French TV debate with Martin Schulz, the PES candidate, likely because she would have been asked by the President of the EP why she was so inactive in her job. In the end, she had the last laugh…

This year, with polls showing them in the lead and therefore heading for a record 20+ seats, the composition of the FN lists beyond top candidates mattered a lot more. However, besides a fairly small elite of party cadres and elected officials in regional and municipal councils, the FN lacks the UMP or the PS’ grassroots bases across the country – so a lot of their candidates beyond the first two or so names tend to be quite anonymous (with the danger, as they saw in the locals, that these nobodies turn out to be hidden neo-Nazi cranks or racist fruitcakes). The law requiring the lists to alternate men and women to ensure gender parity also annoys the FN, a largely male-dominated party which has publicly ranted against the need for gender parity on lists.

In the Northwest, Marine Le Pen led the FN list, followed by Steeve Briois. Nicolas Bay, a former mégretiste turned young Marine protégé and politburo member, was fourth on the list. In the West, a weak region for the FN, the list was led by Gilles Lebreton, a law professor aligned with the small SIEL party (an ideologically quasi-identical party besides a Gaullist identity, aligned with Marine’s Rassemblement Bleu Marine broad front-thing). In the East, the FN list was led by Florian Philippot, who is trying (with very mixed results) to set up a base in the depressed old coal mining basin of Moselle (he ran for mayor of Forbach but lost to the PS incumbent in March, victim of a number of right-wing voters flocking to the PS in the runoff to block the FN). Jean-François Jalkh, a quiet party vice-president, was third on the list behind Sophie Montel, a regional councillor and FN leader in Franche-Comté. In the Massif central-Centre, the FN list was led by Bernard Monot, a libertarian economist. In the Southwest, it was Louis Aliot, styled the ‘prince consort’ by an irritated Jean-Marie Le Pen, who led the FN list. In the Southeast, the other major FN stronghold, the FN list was led by Jean-Marie Le Pen (who is the FN’s ‘boss’ in the PACA region), followed by party vice-president Marie-Christine Arnautu (an ally of Jean-Marie) and Bruno Gollnisch (elected in the East in 2009, but whose historical base was in Rhône-Alpes although he seems to have shifted to the Var now). In Île-de-France, the FN’s list was led by Aymeric Chauprade, a souverainiste realist polisci academic known for his controversial work on ‘civilizations’ and pro-Russian viewpoints. The FN also had an Overseas list, but the FN is obviously weak there outside some regions (New Caledonia).

The FN’s campaign was quite simple and had a clear target: the EU – the ‘destroyer’ of the nation-state and the culprit for unemployment, deindustrialization, outsourcing, mass immigration, dilution of the French identity, criminality, ‘communitarianism’ and undemocratic supra-national governance. The FN called for border controls to stop anarchic immigration and free movement of Romas and criminals, opposed austerity policies (the tax increases and destruction of social services), relaunching growth and jobs by abandoning the Euro for the Franc, reindustrializing France through protectionism, ‘refounding’ democracy by ‘returning to the people its legislative sovereignty’, protecting the labour market (by abolishing the EU directive on posted workers which allows, the FN said, for the mass immigration of cheap foreign labour), defending French agriculture and industry, opposing the FTA with the US, defending public services and defending identity and traditions. The FN’s slogan was straightforward stuff: NON à Bruxelles / OUI à la France (also the official registered name of all FN lists).

Results

IMG_0545

An oddity in the French electoral system: the individual lists are responsible for the costs of printing their own ballots, which are sent to the city halls (for distribution at the polling station) and by mail to all voters (alongside their campaign literature, or profession de foi, which they must also print and cover the costs thereof). The government (often subcontracted out) is responsible for distributing ballots and campaign lit it has received from the lists to all voters, by mail. Parties with lists in five of the eight constituencies, however, have access to free campaign ads on TV. Lists which have received over 3% of the vote will have the costs of printing ballots, campaign ads and campaign lit refunded. Given that it is very easy to run in EP elections provided you have a complete list with an equal number of men and women, a huge number of small lists sign up to run. Given the costs of actually printing ballots and campaign material, a lot of these small makeshift lists or parties usually decide to either call on their voters to print out their ballot, distribute ballots in public the day before the vote or send a limited number of ballots to polling stations on election day. Therefore, in the mailers sent out by the government to voters, only the major lists and ‘major minor’ lists actually have included their ballot and/or campaign lit.

The picture shows sample ballots in the Île-de-France constituency – PS-PRG, FN, Force Vie and DLR.

Turnout: 42.43% (+1.8%)
Seats: 74 (nc, +2 on 2009 EP election)
Electoral system: Closed list proportional representation in 8 inter-regional constituencies, 5% threshold at the constituency level, highest averages method

The results were calculated by Laurent de Boissieu on his website france-politique.fr, because the Interior Ministry are totally incompetent nincompoops when it comes to accurately representing nationwide results. Seat changes compared to the 74 French MEPs as they stood at the end of the term.

FN (EAF) 24.86% (+18.52%) winning 24 seats (+21)
UMP (EPP) 20.81% (-7.07%) winning 20 seats (-5)
PS-PRG (S&D) 13.98% (-2.5%) winning 13 seats (+1) [12 PS, 1 PRG]
UDI-MoDem (ALDE) 9.94% (+1.48%) winning 7 seats (-3) [4 MoDem, 1 UDI-NC, 1 UDI-RAD, 1 UDI-AC]
EELV (G-EFA) 8.95% (-7.33%) winning 6 seats (-6)
FG (GUE-NGL) 6.61% (+0.13%) winning 4 seats (-1) [1 FG-PCF, 1 FG-PG, 1 FG-Ind., 1 UOM-PCR]
DLR (EUDemocrats) 3.82% (+2.01%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Nouvelle Donne 2.9% (+2.9%) winning 0 seats (-2)
Nous Citoyens 1.41% (+1.41%) winning 0 seats (nc)
LO 1.17% (-0.03%) winning 0 seats (nc)
AEI 1.12% (-2.51%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Force Vie – PCD 0.74% (+0.74%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Europe Citoyenne 0.67% (+0.67%) winning 0 seats (-1)
Citoyens du Vote Blanc 0.58% (+0.58%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Nous te ferons Europe! – MBP – PB/SB 0.44% (+0.25%) winning 0 seats (nc)
UPR 0.41% (+0.41%) winning 0 seats (nc)
NPA (EACL) 0.39% (-4.6%) winning 0 seats (nc)
R&PS (G-EFA) 0.34% (+0.34%) winning 0 seats (-2)
Pirate 0.21% (+0.21%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Others 0.61% (-5.8%) winning 0 seats (-1)

EU Parliament 2014 - Dept

The French results made headlines across Europe and much of the world, and it was the election – out of the ’28 elections’ – which retained the most attention, and became the main basis for (often flawed) media analysis of ‘pan-European’ trends in the results especially as it relates to the surge of (some) Eurosceptic/populist parties. The far-right FN topped the poll – a first for the party in any nationwide election in France – with its best percentage of the vote in its history. With 24 MEPs, the FN will not only be the single largest French party in France’s delegation to the EP (the second-largest) but it will also be one of the biggest individual national political parties in the new EP. It is a huge caucus for the FN, which will now have all their national leaders and several prominent local/regional leaders serving as European parliamentarians.

IMG_0547

More sample ballots in the IdF constituency – UMP, FG, EELV and UDI-MoDem (own picture)

It is worth keeping in mind, before jumping to conclusions, that this was a low turnout election: 42.4%, although for the first time since 1994, turnout was actually slightly higher than in the last EP election – something which most people did not expect. The FN won about 25% of those who voted, but that’s only equivalent to 10.1% of the electorate. The FN lists won 4,712,461 votes – which is less votes than Marine Le Pen won in April 2012 (6,421,426) with 17.9% of the vote. This is not to say, however, that if turnout had been at presidential-levels the FN would not have done strikingly as well. An Ifop pre-election poll asked those who planned not to vote who they would vote for if they did actually vote showed the FN leading with 24% against 22% for the UMP, with the PS performing just as poorly (14%) and EELV quite a bit better (11%). The overall results were strikingly similar to the voting intentions of those who intended to vote and the final results. Therefore, if turnout had been considerably higher, it is likely that the FN would have performed as well as it actually did – likely with 23-25% of the vote.

Differential turnout played a key role in the FN’s success, but it is not the only factor explaining its victory. According to Ifop’s exit poll, 51% of Marine Le Pen’s 2012 voters turned out on May 25, compared to 42% of the wider electorate, 56% of Sarkozy’s first round voters, 57% of Bayrou’s voters but only 42% of Hollande’s first round voters and 34% of Mélenchon’s voters. Ipsos reported very similar numbers (except for Bayrou’s voters), with about half of Marine’s 2012 voters showing up but about 42% of Hollande’s first round voters doing likewise. An Ifop publication on the FN’s performance, based on analysis of the actual results, found that turnout increased the most in those places where the FN gained the most between 2009 and 2014.

It is quite a remarkable feat for the FN to achieve, however, considering how structurally ‘abstentionist’ its electorate is – manual workers (35% turnout per Ipsos), those without the Bac (41% turnout), low income households (30% turnout) and the anti-EU voters (according to OpinionWay, 66% of those who want to abandon the Euro and 72% of those who say that the EU should be abandoned did not vote) are all FN-leaning demographics which have below average turnout. In 2009, admittedly a low-point for the FN, about two-thirds of FN sympathizers had not voted. The FN overcame these major obstacles and motivated a core group of supporters to turn out. In a low turnout election decided by who turns out and mobilizes their base best, the FN did a significantly better job than the left. As in the municipal elections in March, most left-wing voters unhappy with the government or the partisan offer on the left largely stayed home rather than vote for another party.

Ifop/Paris Match daily tracking polls during the campaign (source: Ifop.com)

However, it is important to point out that this result did not come as a surprise (although one could have assumed that it was a major surprise given the media’s usual sensationalism on election night). Polls since April 2014 have almost all had the FN in first place, stable between 21% and 24% of voting intentions since at least March, with the UMP in a consistent second with 21% to 23.5% of voting intentions. The PS, as in 2009, saw its support decline during the campaign from about 19-20% in April and declining to 16% by the end of the campaign. EELV increased its support, unsurprising given that it is a party which benefits from greater attention during an election campaign. From 7-8% at the outset, it increased to 9-10% at the end of the campaign. The FG, however, declined somewhat. Ifop had a daily tracking poll with Paris Match, and it last had the UMP ahead of the FN in late April.

The current political and socioeconomic situation in France has created a perfect storm for the FN, which has been the only major political party to benefit from the situation. It is useful to refer to Ipsos’ very informative study on French society from January 2014. According to that study, the main issues in France are unemployment (56%), taxes (43%, up 16 from 2013!), buying power (36%) followed by pensions (24%), safety (23%), social inequalities (21%) and immigration (21%). Ipsos’ exit poll found that immigration (31%), purchasing power (30%), the Eurozone crisis (27%), unemployment (27%) and peacekeeping in Europe (21%) were the most important issues on voters’ minds; for FN voters, immigration was one of the two main issues for 64% of them.

Immigration, unsurprisingly, has been the top issue for FN voters throughout the party’s history – one of the very few constants in the demographics of the FN’s electorate since 1984. Although a majority of voters still do not agree with the FN on immigration, a rising proportion do (42% according to an Ipsos study on the FN late last year). President Nicolas Sarkozy’s rhetoric on tough immigration, beginning in the 2007 campaign and reaching a climax with his (in)famous discours de Grenoble and the 2012 campaign (heavily influenced by Patrick Buisson, a political strategist with old ties to the far-right), arguably legitimized the FN’s positions on immigration and served to blur the differences between the FN and the ‘respectable’ parliamentary right. For years now, French voters have expressed support for tough policies against immigration and a large majority agree with the view that ‘there are too many foreigners in France’ (66% in Ipsos’ aforecited January 2014 poll). Manuel Valls was so popular as interior minister largely because he took hard stances against illegal immigration and Roma squatter camps, and his controversial measures (the Leonarda expulsion) and statements sparked an outcry on the left with a minority of pro-immigration activists and voters, but the electorate largely endorsed him on those statements and issues.

Most political institutions and office holders, except mayors, are poorly perceived according to data from Ipsos: a majority lack confidence in the justice system (54%), the EU (69%), the National Assembly (72%), deputies (77%) and political parties (92%). Pessimism is widespread: 90% say France’s economic power has declined in the past ten years although 65% still think that decline is not irreversible. There remains a strong demand for the notion of ‘authority’, with 87% feeling that authority is too often criticized and 84% saying that France needs a ‘real leader’ to ‘restore order’. A majority (about 60%) expressed protectionist views. A large majority expressed dissatisfaction with politics: 65% feeling that most politicians are corrupt, 78% saying that the democratic system is not working well, 84% who think politicians act primarily for their own interests and 88% decrying that politicians don’t preoccupy themselves with what people like them think.

Opinions are split on the EU depending on the kind of question asked, but there is a general slant towards more Eurosceptic opinions. According to Ipsos’ exit poll, 41% feel that membership in the EU is a good thing while only 23% explicitly say that it is a bad thing (the rest saying that is neither good nor bad), and a large majority continue to reject the FN’s pet idea of returning to the Franc – that idea was supported by only 28% of respondents in Ipsos’ exit poll. At the same time, however, 64% said that national powers should be strengthened and 51% said that the EU worsened the impact of the economic crisis in France.

EP vote based on vote in the 2012 presidential elections (only voters who turned out, source: Délits d’opinion)

Politically, the government is – as explained above – extremely unpopular, and even if Valls remains popular at this early stage, there is little optimism that his polices will succeed. Obviously, given such a situation, the PS as the governing party has become terribly unpopular. Besides the unending succession of policy failures and bad results, the several major promises broken and the direction of the government’s policies have alienated, disappointed or angered a good number of voters on the left. The PS, like Hollande, lacks any credibility. However, neither the FG or EELV have been able to profit from the PS’ unpopularity. As in many other European countries, the crisis and the sad state of social democracy have not significantly strengthened the radical left. In France, the FG has been totally unable to benefit from Hollande’s unpopularity. The coalition has been divided, unable to overcome the strategical contradictions between its numerically dominant party (the PCF) and its charismatic heavyweight and public figure (Mélenchon); the latter has a clear interest in the FG being an independent force with a clear and coherent stance against the PS and the government, while the latter is still mostly concerned about saving its ass.  Yet, for all his charisma and appeal to certain left-wing voters, Mélenchon is a terrible spokesperson for the radical left. He is unpleasant, abrasive, rude, condescending and retains public attention only for his latest tirade against a journalist or Marine Le Pen. Le Pen, in contrast, is a far smarter political strategist: while the FN dislikes journalists and hates them questioning their policies or actions, Marine Le Pen appears calmer, measured, polished and relatively polite to the general public. The FG has received mostly negative coverage in the media for the last few months, stemming from the extremely public divisions between the PCF and PG factions and speculation about the ‘upcoming’ (?) death/explosion of the FG. FG supporters were worn down by these internal squabbles (in addition to squabbles within some of the parties making up the FG, like Gauche unitaire), general pessimism about the state of the FG/left and the direction of the country.

The UMP is in no better shape than the PS, and its performance as the largest opposition party to the government has been horrendous by most standards. In Ipsos’ exit poll, only 21% of voters said that the UMP-UDI would manage the economy better than the government (the same percentage thought the FN would manage the economy better). In a recent OpinionWay poll on the opposition, only 14% of voters – and 32% of Sarkozy’s first round voters from 2012 – identified the UMP as the party which was the best opposition to the government, against 40% who answered ‘none of the above’ and 34% who said that the FN was the strongest opposition. The UMP was badly hurt by the crisis which followed the 2012 congress, and the ensuing protracted factional conflict reduced the popularity of both Fillon and Copé. To make matters worse, Copé is one of the most unpopular politicians in France, and his stint as president of the UMP did not nothing to shake off the image of Copé as an opportunistic, double-faced, insincere, morally bankrupt and corrupt career politician. Copé’s hold on the party was not only weakened by the smoldering and lingering factional conflicts between copéistes and fillonistes, but also – especially in the past few months – by a series of scandals, most recent the Bygmalion scandal. Nicolas Sarkozy also continues to cast a long shadow over his party, and the constant speculation over his imminent (or not) ‘return’ to active politics has further weakened the hold of the leadership on the party and confirmed depictions of the UMP as being rudderless and leaderless in Sarkozy’s absence. The bulk of the UMP’s rank-and-file are praying for Sarkozy’s return, and the UMP base remains heavily sarkozyste; on the other hand, the fillonistes and juppéistes oppose Sarkozy’s return and there remains strong resistance from ambitious politicians in the UMP to the prospect of Sarkozy ‘usurping’ their spot in 2017. However, Sarkozy’s popularity with the broader electorate has not improved all that much: he remains very unpopular on the left – even with Hollande’s massive unpopularity, there is little convincing sign of buyer’s remorse. Ipsos’ exit poll found that only 38% of voters want Sarkozy to ‘return’ (86% of UMP sympathizers) and, on another question, 54% judge that he would not be a good candidate.

The UMP, since its defeat in 2012 and the rising strength of the FN, has been divided over which political direction it should move towards – to the right, to become a clearer direct competitor to the FN; or the centre, to reassure centrist voters about the UMP and build a winning coalition in 2017 by a ‘traditional’ moderate and pragmatic appeal to the centre (Mitterrand 1988, Chirac 2002). As a result, the UMP’s ‘policy’ direction has been totally incoherent and it has largely failed to appear as a credible alternative to the government on a good number of issues. As noted above, the UMP’s strategy to mitigate the internal incoherence and discordance over the policy line has been to virulently oppose the government at nearly every turn and latch on to the most ridiculous of ‘controversies’ and non-issues. This strategy, however, has often appeared to be desperate and unconvincing to most voters. In the EP elections, the UMP further proved its internal dissonance, in this case over its views on the EU. The party includes a broad range of views on the EU, from committed federalists to actual Eurosceptics and those pretending to be Eurosceptic if that’s what cool kids do. The PS is, of course, in a similar position, but this year the most public dissonances over the EU came from the UMP.

The UMP won the municipal elections because local dynamics are more favourable (even in the context of a national wave) to the UMP. It has a strong existing base (unlike the FN), with popular incumbent mayors or strong locally-implanted candidates (former mayors, parliamentarians, local star candidates) which parties such as the FN generally lack at the local level. In the second round, especially in closely-fought left-right battles in duels (two-way) or triangulaires (three-way, generally with the FN), there was a consolidation of the far-right vote behind the candidate of the parliamentary right to defeat the left. However, despite a strong numerical result in March, the UMP won the municipal elections ‘by default’. In contrast, in an EP elections, those local dynamics are no longer relevant and EP elections are, of all elections, the ones in which voters are the most likely to use their vote to ‘let off steam’ and punish the largest parties.

The end result was that the FN topped the poll with nearly 25% of the vote and elected 24 MEPs (23 – one of them, Joëlle Bergeron, a random nobody, got into trouble when they found out that she supports voting rights for foreigners, and faced leadership pressures to not take her seat – she will be taking it, but will sit in the EFD group alongside UKIP) – up from only three in the last session of the EP. The UMP, with 20.8% of the vote, saw its support fall by about 7.1% from the last EP election in 2009. The UMP – which ran in alliance with the NC and GM (which are now part of the UDI) at the time – had a fairly ‘good’ result for a governing in the 2009 election, although 27.9% against a combined 39.2% for the left (FG-PS-EELV) at the time was not a particularly stellar result. Nevertheless, the then-governing UMP’s fairly decent performance was the result of a minor uptick in Sarkozy’s popularity around the time of the election and differential turnout, with the participation of a slightly more right-leaning and pro-EU electorate than is usual.

The PS had its worst result in a EP election – falling below not only its 2009 results (16.5%) but also the record low of 1994 (14.5%). The PS lists received only 2,650,357 votes against over 10.2 million votes for Hollande in the first round of the 2012 presidential election. According to Ifop, of the minority of Hollande’s first round electorate which actually voted on May 25, only 53% of those voters backed the PS (in contrast, of the first round Sarkozy 2012 voters who voted in the EP election, the UMP retained 62% of them; the FN won 86% of Marine’s 2012 supporters who turned out). Compared to 2012, the PS not only bled a whole ton of voters to abstention, a substantial percentage of those who did turn out voted for other parties on the left – EELV (14%), the FG (7%) and Nouvelle Donne (5%) while another 6% backed the FN. Ipsos and OpinionWay reported quasi-identical figures. Basically, only a small quarter of Hollande’s first round voters from 2012 remained loyal to the PS. Of course, given the very different nature of presidential and EP elections, it’s not a perfect comparison: even if the government was very popular, fairly substantial loses to abstention and other small parties of the left (such as EELV) would be expected. But it can serve to underline how horrible the PS’ performance was.

In contrast to 2009 and 1994, the two other EP elections in which the PS did terribly, there was no strong left-wing competition to the PS in this election. In 2009, a lot of the PS-leaning base – especially well-educated, white-collar and middle-class urban and suburban dwellers – switched to EE, which benefited from a perfect storm of favourable tailwinds in 2009. In 1994, the PS list led by Michel Rocard faced the quasi-public enmity of the Élysée Palace and President Mitterrand, who supported Bernard Tapie’s anti-establishment and anti-system Énergie Radicale list, which ended up with 12% of the vote. Although with EELV (9%), FG (6.6%) and Nouvelle Donne (2.9%) there was some left-wing competition to the PS, it was rather weak and amounted to only 32.5% of the vote.

The UDI-MoDem alliance, with 9.9%, slightly improved on the MoDem’s performance alone in 2009. The parties, to put it simply, largely retained a centrist and Christian democratic electorate which had largely voted for Bayrou in April 2012. There were, according to the several exit polls, significant voter ‘flows’ between 2012 and 2014: depending on the pollster you trust, the UDI-MoDem held between 48% and 59% of the Bayrou 2012 vote which turned out on May 25, with the rest going to the right (UMP) and some to the left (EELV); of the UDI and MoDem sympathizers which voted, about three-fifths to two-thirds of them backed their parties’ common lists, with the rest going to the UMP or other parties in smaller numbers.

Compared to its 2009 high, EELV suffered major loses – over 7% of its vote and a caucus cut down by over half from where it stood in 2009. A significant decline in support from its 2009 heights was to be expected, because 16.5% represents an abnormally high level of support for the green movement in France even in a European election. As explained above, EE(LV) in 2009 had cashed in on a perfect storm: a very rare moment of unity in green ranks, a unique cohesion between the political and non-political/civil society actors in the green movement, the candidacy of a popular and charismatic leader (Cohn-Bendit), a divided and weakened PS (very similar to the state in which the UMP is in today) and even the Home effect (although that theory has always appeared, personally, to be post hoc confabulation by a clueless media). In 2014, EELV lost most of that: the new party, although meant to unite old Greens with new members from social movements and civil society has largely turned out to be Les Verts 2.0 (a party of professional politicians out of touch or disconnected with the green movement in society), the absence of a leader like Cohn-Bendit and the loss of any particular advantage over the PS. On that last point, EELV has clearly been weakened by its participation in the unpopular Ayrault government and the perception that it compromised on a lot of its values and generally performed very poorly in cabinet. At the same time, however, 9% (or 8.95% to be exact) is not a bad result for EELV – it is a bit below the Green records of 1989 and 1999, but it is higher than the Greens’ result in 2004 (7.4%).

The FG, however, as mentioned briefly, performed poorly – with 6.6%, its support was basically equal to 2009, while the FG (PCF) lost one MEP (Jacky Hénin, a longtime incumbent, lost his seat in the Northwest constituency). The FG’s clear under-performance is a another hit for the very fragile alliance. Given Hollande’s unpopularity, the parallel unpopularity of the PS, the growing left-wing opposition to Valls and the government’s moderate policies and EELV’s weaknesses, the FG could stand to benefit from the current situation. But instead of gaining support from the left, it has been drawn down by its internal divisions and a very ‘clan’-like behaviour which has kept the FG from presenting a strong, credible and coherent left-wing alternative to the PS. This is not all that surprising, however, if you look at the history of the radical left and the PCF in France. The PCF since the 1980s is often ridiculed by critics as being the stupidest communist party in Europe, which is often not far from the truth given the PCF’s electoral strategies. The French radical left has and always will be an exploded nebula – a complex array of factions, movements, parties, social organizations and warring politicians who spend most of their time fighting one another. Mélenchon’s strength in 2012 came from his one-off ability to unite the radical left and part of the PS left behind a single candidate, drawing a diverse electorate which had supported the far-left or the PS in 2007 (but at the same time, not all those who backed far-left candidates in 2007 voted for Mélenchon in 2012, whose hold on the 2007 radical left (LO+LCR+PCF) base was very imperfect); that ability, which owed a lot to the particular dynamics of the campaign (Hollande’s persistent image, on the left of the left, as weak, indecisive and with questionable left-wing credentials; Mélenchon’s successful campaign and his personal charisma), was a one-off thing and it has since not transferred on the FG. The 2012 legislative election was the first cold shower for the FG, which unexpectedly suffered substantial loses to the PS. As long as France’s radical left remains so caught up in its arcane and silly squabbles and divided over what strategy to adapt, it cannot expect much success at the polls.

The smaller parties had mixed performances, although their cumulative result was, as would be expected in an EP election, very strong. DLR did very well for a party with relatively low notoriety and no clearly-defined base of support; it won 3.8% of the vote (but did not come close to a seat anywhere), up from an already fairly decent (for the times) result of 1.8% in the 2009 election. Nouvelle Donne, for a new party lacking strong leadership and resources, did well although it obviously failed in its wet dream of surpassing the PS. It won 2.9% of the vote, largely appealing to an urban, young, well-educated progressive electorate which had voted EELV, PS or FG in 2009. It remains to be seen if the party will go the way of so many other similar projects on the left or if it could manage to establish a tiny base for itself. Nous Citoyens won 1.4% of the vote – with the ideologically fluffiness and the vague slogans, it likely won protest votes and ‘NOTA votes’. The Independent Ecologist Alliance (AEI) first ran in 2009 as a coalition of three parties: Antoine Waechter’s MEI (founded as by Green dissidents in 1994 who rejected the Greens’ turn to the left and alliance with the PS-led left), Génération écologie (originally Brice Lalonde’s party, which lost all relevance and shifted right in the mid-1990s) and La France en action (a very vague and shady ‘green party’, allegedly used by religious sects such as the Scientologists and Raëlians to make money). It won 3.6% of the vote – thanks in good part to various star candidates in the regions including Antoine Waechter, former weather presenter Patrice Drevet and singer Francis Lalanne). However, it fell apart in 2010 as the MEI and GE left the AEI to pursue their own alliances (Waechter has finally made up with his old enemies and the MEI now regularly allies itself to EELV; GE briefly allied with the PRG in 2011-2012 and then dropped out of view again), leaving the AEI as La France en action. Given the loss of star candidates and support, the AEI ran only five lists and dropped to 1.1%.

Christine Boutin’s Force Vie did poorly, as expected; the market for a socially conservative and in-your-face religious right party in France is tiny (and the Catholic traditionalist minority was historically aligned with other parties, such as the FN) and Boutin is mostly known because she’s the target of so much parody and ridicule. Boutin’s list won 1.2% in Île-de-France, its second best result after the West (1.45%). Corinne Lepage lost reelection in her terribly ill-advised bid to run independently on her own platform. Europe Citoyenne‘s best result, by a mile, came in Île-de-France, where Lepage herself won 2.3%.

The Breton regionalist list (Nous te ferons Europe!) led by Christian Troadec in the West did surprisingly well – winning 3.05% in the region as a whole, 7.2% in the region of Brittany and 11.5% in Finistère. In Brittany, Troadec’s list easily outperformed the other regionalist list – led by the old UDB, which won only 2% of the vote in the region. In Corsica, nationalist MEP François Alfonsi’s list – which received only 0.75% in the Southeast region, won a solid third with 21.5% of the vote and placed second with 22.9% in Haute-Corse. In the Southwest, the Basque regionalist list won only 0.25%, but managed 3.3% in the Pyrénées-Atlantiques (which also includes non-Basque regions).

On the far-left, the NPA did horrendously. Granted, the NPA managed to put up against five lists while its fraternal enemy, LO, put up lists everywhere and held its vote share from 2009. In Île-de-France, where LO leader Nathalie Arthaud went up against Olivier Besancenot, the old face of the NPA, the LO list narrowly beat the NPA 0.85% to 0.84%. Even led by Besancenot, who in the past carried a personal vote, the NPA’s poor result shows how moribund the outfit really is and how totally irrelevant Besancenot has become. The French far-left is at its weakest level in years.

Demographic and geographic analysis

The trends in the ‘Marine era’ spatial and sociodemographic distribution of support for the FN noted in 2012 were confirmed this year. These trends included a ‘proletarianization’ of the party’s electorate, a strengthening of the ni-ni (alienated and dissatisfied voters identifying with neither the left or right) component of the FN at the expense of the ideologically far-right base, very high levels of support in the old industrial regions of the north, a slight fall-off (compared to 2002) in the southern bases, a stark urban-suburban/rural divide, very strong support in distant exurban areas (périurbain), a very strong negative correlation with higher levels of education, a reduced gender gap and finally a ‘nationalization’ of FN support with some strong gains (compared to 2002) in traditionally weak regions west of the famous Le Havre-Meaux-St. Etienne-Perpignan axis. The novelty of 2014 would be the nationwide gains made by the FN, which won incredible results in its strongholds and strong results in traditionally weak regions. However, the low turnout means that these gains are slightly less impressive in reality than on paper, but still…

Exit polls all confirmed that the FN won excellent results with voters in the lower social categories (CSP-) – employees and manual workers (ouvriers).

From the three main exit polls (Ifop, Ipsos and OpinionWay), the FN received 43 to 46% of the vote with ouvriers - well, the minority of them which actually voted. With employees, a largely feminine but broad sociological category (which has been generalized to lower-echelon employees and so forth; consisting of lower-level public servants, clerks, secretaries, administrative employees, cashiers, clerks, salesmen but also personal service workers), the FN won between 34% and 38% depending on the pollster. The UMP performed very poorly with ouvriers (10-11%, with Ipsos reporting a likely exaggerated 17%), and the PS support collapsed (8-12%). The FG won about 9% of ouvriers which turned out on May 25. EELV won about 6-9%, depending on the pollster, which is below average but a comparatively decent result for a party whose electorate is largely white-collar. With employees, the PS did slightly better, with support at 12% (Ifop) 0r 15-16% (Ipsos/OpinionWay); EELV and FG both did fairly well, with 8-10% and 7-10% respectively. The UMP won only 12% or 15% of employees.

Averaged exit poll results by socioprofessional category (source: Délits d’opinion)

Délits d’opinion averaged the numbers from all exit polls, and found the FN won about 45% with ouvriers against 13% for the UMP, 9% apiece for the FG and PS, 8% for EELV and only 5% for the centre. With employees, it averaged to 36% for the FN against 14% apiece for the UMP and PS, 9% for EELV, 8% for the FG and 6% for the centre. The strength of the FN with employees, three-quarters of which are women, shows the absence of a gender gap in the FN’s vote: Ifop did show a 5-point gap (but it was largely due to older women being significantly less FN than older men), OpinionWay and Ipsos both reported a statistically insignificant or nonexistent gender gap. In the past, the FN’s electorate had been a fairly significant gender gap and masculine bias in the FN electorate, which is the norm for a far-right party, but it has been reduced or eliminated with Marine Le Pen. The FN’s figures with workers and employees are both major gains on the FN’s 2012 results with these groups, but making comparisons is silly given the major differences in turnout between the two elections.

In the FN’s support, there remains a difference between those in the private and public sectors. Those employed in the private sector have a strong right-wing lean, and it’s with those in the private sector that the FN performed better. The private sector is marked by greater job insecurity, lower unionization rates, less generous social conditions and more concerns about unemployment, purchasing power and cost of living pressures (but with tough times befalling the public sector, the FN has been pulling strong numbers with public employees as well – likely expanding from its base with military personnel and policemen). In the sphere of workers and employees, the FN’s traditional demographics are cashiers, vendors, those employed in small industries/firms and construction sector workers. The left does far better with public employees. Additionally, the FN does better with non-unionized workers (34% vs 25% according to Ifop), but the FN support has increased with unionized workers – Ifop reported that, in the EP election, the FN won 33% with those close to Workers’ Force (FO), 27% with those close to Sud-Solidaires and 22% with those close to the largest union, the historically communist CGT (the FG won 30% support with those aligned with the CGT). Its support was lower, 17%, with those close to the French Democratic Confederation of Labour (CFDT), a moderate union with roots in the 1960s New Left and Christian left tradition.

FN support tends to be middle-aged, and weakest with older voters (retirees were one of the FN’s weakest groups, with 18-19% support). According to OpinionWay and Ifop, which had detailed age breakdowns, the FN did best (32% average) with those 35 to 39 but did almost as well with those 18 to 24 (29% average), 50 to 64 (26%) and 25 to 34 (24%). With those over 65, the FN won 16% against 31% for the UMP. Worryingly for the PS, its support, like the UMP, increased with age (9% for the PS with those 18-24 and 17% with those 65+). Younger left-wing voters, like in other countries in the EU (Austria, most significantly) preferred the Greens (14-15% with those 18 to 34).

Traditionally and historically, ouvriers formed the backbone of the French left, which, in the glory days of the 50s and late 70s used to command the support of about seven in ten workers. A strong tradition of socialization in a Communist milieu in the immediate post-war era maintained strong familial links of left-wing (and oftentimes, Communist) political orientation. However, since Mitterrand’s election in 1981 and especially since the 1990s, the left has been alarmed at the pace at which their old backbone have been deserting them and flirting for anti-system options, be it the unconventional far-left of Arlette and Olivier or the far-right of Jean-Marie and his daughter. There is a feeling that the left has abandoned its working-class roots and has shifted its style, rhetoric and strategy towards gentrified middle-classes, salaried public employees and the bobos. Indeed, the PS’ style since 1983 has been edging towards either feel-good consensual, moderated toned-down centre-leftism or New Left rhetoric about social justice, equality or tolerance. The Marxist rhetoric about the class struggle, the proletariat and even the mitterrandien creed of changer la vie was left on the side of the road, ready to be picked up by parties to the left or right of the PS. That being said, unlike the PCF, the PS was never a ‘worker’s party’ (parti ouvrier) – even in the 1970s. The share of manual workers in the PS membership has always been very low – significantly lower than in the PCF; today, the vast majority of PS members are from the new middle-classes (teachers, public servants, intermediate-grade public/parastatal sector, social workers and white-collar professionals) and workers made up only 3% of the PS membership according to a 2011 study (down from 10% in 1985). The PCF, which had a real working-class membership in the better years, has seen a similar decline of its working-class component and a concomitant increase in the number of cadres and middle-classes; at the same time, most of the PCF’s remaining working-class members are unionized and work in the public sector or parastatals. The PS, meanwhile, has grown further disconnected from social movements and the unions.

Since the 1980s, the working-classes in Western Europe have suffered acute social dislocation. The working-classes have suffered from deindustrialization (factory closures), the fall of large industrial interests (shipbuilding, mining), a significant increase in unemployment, a marginalization of the secondary sector by the tertiarization of western economies and the loss of working-class identities and class consciousness as the ouvrier ceased to be the vanguard of societies. Simultaneously, the nature of French society – particularly the working-class and industry – was altered by a major increase in North African immigration. With the recent economic crisis (and yet more unemployment and even lower incomes), many have felt that yet another psychological ‘threshold’ of working-class resentment and alienation has been broken. Cautious optimism has been replaced by pessimism – pondering whether the crisis will ever end, feeling that politics is controlled by an international financial oligarchy. Recent studies have found that there was a deep-seated feeling of insecurity (physical but also economic and social) and injustice.

Naturally, immigration – and the ethnocentric sentiments it creates – is quite inseparable from socioeconomic explanations aforementioned. In situations of social dislocation, the victims seek a scapegoat who can be held responsible – either entirely or in large part – for their situation. The immigrant, who settled in the same industrial urban regions as the original working-class, is seen as responsible for the lack of jobs (since they took the jobs), the loss of social welfare protections (the immigrants and their often large families seen as leeching off welfare) and increased criminality. For such voters, the FN, which offers a simple solution to the ‘immigrant problem’ and quick fixes to their socioeconomic woes, is a very attractive option. The FN speaks directly to their feelings of exclusion, marginalization, alienation and demands for a ‘strong’ response to their problems. Guy Michelat and Michel Simon in Les ouvriers et la politique convincingly showed, however, that the working-class vote for the FN only becomes significant on the condition that voters express authoritarian sentiments and hostility towards immigrants – regardless of socioeconomic anxiety, sense of insecurity or rejection of the political system. There is a strong correlation between ethnocentric attitudes and a high FN vote; but unlike with the left or the far-left, there’s no correlation between the FN and negative views towards economic liberalism and globalization. However, Michelat and Simon’s numbers did show that the FN vote still increased alongside the degree of identification with the working-class. While voters supportive of immigration will not vote for the FN regardless of socioeconomic woes or working-class ties, working-class voters opposed to immigration are more likely to vote for the far-right than non-working-class voters with similar views on immigration.

Guy Michelat and Michel Simon in Les ouvriers et la politique also established that the connection between the PCF’s loses with workers and the FN’s gains, which both began at the same time (1980s), was extremely tenuous and a fairly minor occurrence. There was very little direct transfers from the PCF to the FN – the PCF’s working-class electorate grew old and retired, voted to the far-left or joined the very large numbers of non-voters election after election. The FN’s gains with working-class voters came primarily from those who had voted for the right or the PS. The existence of a fairly substantial number of blue-collar voters who tend to support the FN in the first round but the left (PS) in a second round against the right, which first became a major phenomenon in 1995, has created an engaging academic debate on whether this should be called gaucho-lepénisme (PS-leaning voters who vote FN in the first round) or ninisme. The latter, to which I admittedly lean towards, argues that what is called gaucho-lepénisme should instead be seen as part of a wider phenomenon of political disengagement and working-class alienation from the traditional left. Nonna Mayer (Ces français qui votent Le Pen) claimed that while the FN’s working-class supporters have left-wing roots through their parents and may vote for the left against the moderate right in a two-way runoff scenario, they no longer identify with the left and exhibit signs of profound political apathy and general pessimism towards politics and partisanship in general. In short, while voters of left-wing tradition do make up a significant part of the FN vote, it is simplistic to assume that it’s as easy as PCF/PS voters just deciding to vote FN now.

Taxes on the wealthy: opinions of FN voters by region (source: Ifop)

Mayer’s arguments underline the common idea that there are two major ‘blocs’ of FN voters – to put it crudely, one is ideologically far-right and less blue-collar while the other is a traditional protest vote which is more blue-collar and not ideologically far-right. The idea has recently been picked up by the media, which has decided to dumb the picture down further (as usual), and linked the idea of these two blocs (which have become somewhat geographically defined) to the animosity between Marine Le Pen and Jean-Marie Le Pen/Marion Maréchal-Le Pen. In 2013, Ifop had an interesting study on the ‘FN du nord’ and the ‘FN du sud’ which found similarities and differences between the FN core geographic bases in the northeast (Nord-Pas-de-Calais, Picardie, Champagne-Ardenne, Lorraine, Haute-Normandie) and the south (PACA, Languedoc-Roussillon). They share isolationist/protectionist views, quasi-universal hostility to immigration and foreigners, feelings of insecurity but also fairly ‘hard’ stances on unemployment (agreement with the idea that unemployed people could find work ‘if they really wanted’); although the intensity of anti-immigrant sentiment is highest with the southern ‘ideological’ FN. There were more important differences of opinion regarding same-sex marriage (the south being about 10% more opposed, although all segments of FN voters rejected it by wide margins); but the widest differences of opinion came on economic issues – the south expressing right-wing views and the northeast more statist views. For example, Ifop’s study found that 60% of FN voters in the south said taxes were too high, compared with only 37% of FN voters in the northeast. Unsurprisingly, the southern and northeastern FN also reflected sociological differences: 50% of the FN voters in the northeast were workers/employees against 36% of those in the south. Retirees made up 24% of the southern electorate but only 16% of the northeastern one; CSP+ groups and self-employed made up 14% of the southern electorate and 7% of the northeastern one. Finally, the FN’s southern base, according to Ifop, split 59% to 15% in Sarkozy’s favour in the 2012 runoff (with the other 26% not voting or spoiling their vote) while those in the northeast only split 42-20 in Sarkozy’s favour with 38% not voting or spoiling their votes.

Exit polling on the vote by ideological self-definition in 2012 also confirmed the dual nature of the FN’s vote: Marine won 71% of those who were ‘very right-wing’ and 18% of those who were ‘right-wing, but took first place with 36% with the voters who identified as ni-ni (neither left nor right). Marine Le Pen won only 4% support with those who identified as left-wing, although that was a bit better than Sarkozy+NDA (1%). There was no such exit polling question this year, but the usual breakdown by partisan self-identification is still quite telling: Ifop, Ipsos and OpinionWay showed that the FN topped the poll with those who declared no partisan affiliation (although estimates of FN support ranged from 24% to 35%…); in addition to taking nearly every single voter who identified with the FN. In addition, the FN lists in 2014 also pulled a substantial number of support from voters who identified with the UMP/UDI: 11-16% of UMP supporters, 5-10% of UDI supporters. 4% of those identifying with the left voted for the FN, although the FN won up to 8% of Hollande’s first round voters (those who actually did vote) and, according to OpinionWay, 12% of his runoff electorate (only 32% of the minority of his 2012 runoff electorate which actually voted stayed with the PS). The FN also won 32% of the Sarkozy runoff electorate which turned out, against 45% for the UMP and 12% for the centre.

The FN’s strong numbers with working-class voters was seen geographically by the astronomical FN results in the northeast, especially departments in Picardie – Aisne (40%), Somme (37.2%), Oise (38.2%) – and the Pas-de-Calais (38.9%). These results were even higher than the equally as excellent FN numbers in its southern strongholds: Vaucluse (36.4%), Pyrénées-Orientales (35.2%), Gard (32.9%), Var (35%), Alpes-Maritimes (33.2%) and the Bouches-du-Rhône (32.5%). The FN also did well in other parts of the northeast – Ardennes (33.5%), Meuse (33.7%), Haute-Marne (33%) and Haute-Saône (34.2%). The FN’s huge numbers in Picardie and the Pas-de-Calais owe partly to a personal factor: Marine Le Pen led the FN list in those regions, and like in 2009, the FN did comparatively better in the Northwest constituency (as a whole: FN 33.6% and UMP 18.8%) thanks to Marine than in other strongholds (Southeast with daddy: 28.2%; East with Philippot: 29%; Southwest with the Prince Consort: 24.7%).

Results of the FN by canton (source: own map, created through Geoclip.fr)

In the Pas-de-Calais, where Marine Le Pen and friends have made the old left-wing mining basin their top stronghold (expanding out of Hénin-Beaumont, as noted with some very strong FN local results in some other towns in the mining basin in March 2014), the FN utterly dominated the mining basin (despite generally lower-than-average turnout) – 53.5% in Hénin-Beaumont, 43.3% in Liévin (vs. 17.5% for the PS), 39.6% in Lens (18.1% PS), 42.2% in Carvin (15.2% PS), 43.3% in Bully-les-Mines (15.2% PS), 43% in Nœux-les-Mines (15.2% PS) and 43% in Bruay-la-Buissière (15.9% PS). It did equally as well in the few towns in the Pas-de-Calais mining basin, a Socialist stronghold, which were historically dominated by Communists – Auchel (45%, 12.9% FG), Divion (44.8%, 17% FG), Avion (40.7%, 27.9% FG) and Méricourt (45.3%, 19.7% FG). In the department, the FN also did very well in other traditionally solidly left-wing old industrial and working-class cities and towns – Arques (41.1%), Isbergues (36.5%), Lumbres (39.9%), Guînes (44.4%) and Marquise (34.7%) – or the industrial waterfront cities of Calais (31.8%, with a strong 22% for the FG list led by the former mayor, defeated in 2008 and 2014), Boulogne-sur-Mer (33.4%), Le Portel (42.6%) and Outreau (39.5%). Although the FN’s best results came from the old industrialized regions, it also posted strong results – over 30% – in the rural and historically conservative and religious Artois. Its worst results were in the affluent resort town of Le Touquet-Paris-Plage (18.3%, the UMP won 42.8%) and Arras, a more white-collar and middle-class city (23.5% vs 17.1% for the UDI-MoDem).

In the Nord, the FN’s strength extended into the mining basin, which in the Nord had historically been thoroughly dominated by the PCF. The FN won 43.5% in the canton of Denain (15.8% for the FG), 39.9% in the canton of Marchiennes, 37.2% in Douai-Sud, 41.2% in Anzin (where some of the earliest coal mines began operating in the 19th century) and 45% in Condé-sur-l’Escaut. The city of Valenciennes (the political stronghold of Jean-Louis Borloo), a city in the mining basin which has managed its post-industrial re-conversion better than most, the UDI-MoDem list led by Dominique Riquet, the former mayor of the city between 2002 and 2012, topped the poll with 35.5% against 24.2% for the FN. In the south of the department, a poor and economically depressed region formerly dominated by heavy industries (metallurgy in the Sambre valley) or small industrial towns, the FN also did strikingly well. In the metallurgical Sambre valley, centered around Maubeuge, the FN received 40.1% in Maubeuge-Sud, 40.2% in Berlaimont, 42.6% in Bavay and 43.1% in Hautmont. In the other old industrial centres in the south of the department, the FN won over 40% in the cantons of Clary, Carnières and Marcoing and about 39% in the cantons of Trelon and Solesmes. In the industrial waterfront areas along the English Channel, the FN won over 40% of the vote in the cantons of Graveline, Grande-Synthe and Dunkerque-Ouest. Once again, it was a matter of differential turnout – in the very poor industrial town of Grande-Synthe, a PS stronghold, turnout was as low as 28.3% – allowing the FN to win 40% over 17.9% for the PS.

In the Lille metropolis, the FN dominated – for different reasons and with different levels of support. It did very well in some old textile towns such as Haubourdin (37.9%), Seclin (31.2%), Armentières (30.5%), Halluin (36.7%, Tourcoing (30%) and Wattrelos (42.7%) – where turnout was low but still not extremely low; thanks to low turnout – likely especially pronounced in immigrant neighborhoods, which are strongly left-wing and anti-FN, the FN won 26.1% in Roubaix (the PS placed third with 14.1%!) but turnout there was 24.7%. On higher turnout (38%) in Lille, the FN won 18.9% against 18.2% for the PS and 16.3% for EELV; at the cantonal level, there was a clear divide between the city’s poor white proletarian faubourgs which went strongly for the far-right on low turnout (30.1% in Lomme, 24.7% in Lille-Est [Hellemmes]) and the poor immigrant neighborhoods (which narrowly went to the PS), the gentrified bobo/hip/artsy Wazemmes and downtown area (EELV narrowly won Lille-Centre) and the wealthy right-leaning neighborhoods (the UMP won Lille-Nord and suburban Lille-Ouest). In Lille’s most affluent suburbs – the canton of Marcq-en-Barœul – the UMP won 33.9% against only 14.9% for the FN. The far-right also won the most votes in the left-wing university new town of Villeneuve-d’Ascq, albeit with only 19%.

The Aisne, Oise and Somme are three historically industrial departments (with industry traditionally concentrated in smaller towns, although some of the cities were industrial centres too) which have seen industry decline, unemployment increase and the economic situation worsen considerably. Outside the Paris exurbia in the Oise and southern Aisne and the suburbs of the cities, which are more affluent, it is a very poor region with many old industrial cities suffering from high unemployment and demographic decline. When there are jobs for people in the ‘rural’ areas, they need to commute a long distance to reach them; geographically isolated and marginalized semi-rural areas of this type are top FN strongholds. The FN did very well in depressed ex-industrial/working-class towns – Flixecourt (Somme, 49%), Corbie (Somme, 39.4%), Friville-Escarbotin (Somme, 39.8%), Doullens (Somme, 41.9%), Gamaches (Somme, 32.9%), Ribécourt-Dreslincourt (Oise, 41%), Thourotte (Oise, 40.6%), Chauny (Aisne, 38.2%), Hirson (Aisne, 35.7%), Guise (Aisne, 39.5%) and Bohain-en-Vermandois (Aisne, 46.9%). It also performed strikingly well in the cités cheminotes (PCF strongholds) of Tergnier (Aisne, 41.1%) and Montataire (Oise, 36.4%). In the Creil-Montataire-Nogent urban area – an old industrial area (with a metallurgical industry in Creil) which is now one of the poorest urban areas in France and has a large immigrant population from North Africa – the FN did very well, perhaps due to very low turnout on the left and from immigrants (Creil 32.8%, Nogent-sur-Oise 35.8%; the PS won only 18.9% in Creil, where it usually does very well).

Bernard Schwengler, a specialist of the FN vote in Alsace, coined the term ouvrier caché to explain the strong FN vote in rural areas of Alsace, Lorraine and indeed most of the east. Although these very small villages and towns are rural, they are not agricultural but rather traditionally industrial (without precluding local workers also working their own fields as farmers), with a dense network of small businesses and local industries although with industrial decline, a lot of residents are forced to commute long distances to urban areas (or to Germany, in some regions). In regions such as l’Alsace bossue, southeastern Moselle and most of the Vosges and Haute-Marne, the rural blue-collar areas where the FN is doing very well have been hit the hardest by rural desertification (population decline, local shops closing, public services moving to larger towns) and they are marginalized and ‘enclaved’ areas with poor connections to major urban centres and they fall outside the wider urban areas of the cities (Strasbourg, Metz, Nancy etc).

While this region has a very low immigrant/foreign population, workers come in contact with immigrants at their place of work. Schwengler described how these voters felt that their work was no longer valued or recognized, and lamented the loss of reference points – the left no longer defends the working-classes, the lack of job opportunities and so forth. Sentiments of working-class alienation went hand in hand with an ethnocentric rejection of the immigrant as a scapegoat – the interviewees said that the foreigners did not want to work, and complained how they allegedly received undue material advantages (social benefits despite ‘never having worked’) and the sentiment that their advantages came on the back of the hard-working locals who had no social assistance and low wages. It is, in effect, a local version of the so-called ‘halo effect’, whereby the FN does best in areas located close to areas with a large immigrant population rather than in the area with the high immigrant population. In Alsace and Moselle, the FN’s working-class support came from the right.

The Bas-Rhin confirmed Schwengler’s theses – in the department, the FN and UMP were divided by only a handful of votes (25.2% to 24.9%) – and the map showed a rather neat polarization, like in 2009, between areas in the Strasbourg sphere of influence and those remote areas outside of it. The PS narrowly won Strasbourg proper (23.4% to 19.2% for the UMP, 14.6% for the FN and 12.8% for EELV), likely due to the presence of the former PS mayor and incumbent MEP Catherine Trautmann on the PS list in second place (she failed to be reelected, the PS taking only one seat in the East), while the UMP won the city’s affluent suburban cantons by solid margins – in the canton of Truchtersheim, for example, the UMP won 30.7% against only 21.8% for the FN. The FN’s results were lower (under 30%) and the UMP stronger in the fairly wealthy cantons of the Alsace viticole in the Bas-Rhin and Haut-Rhin. The FN also did poorly in cantons near the German and Swiss borders (Wissembourg and Lauterbourg in the Bas-Rhin, Huningue in the Haut-Rhin) where a large percentage commute to work in Germany or Switzerland.

On the other hand, the FN won over 35% in Sarre-Union and Drulingen, two cantons in the Alsace bossue and won 34% in the cantons of Saales and Schirmeck, culturally French cantons in the Vosges mountain with an old mining industry. In the Haut-Rhin, where the FN won 30.1% against 23.4% for the UMP, the FN’s best result came from the canton of Saint-Amarin (38%), an old small industrial centre iin the Vosges mountains. It also did very well in the potash basin to the north of Mulhouse (35.5% in the canton of Cernay, 34.9% in Wittenheim, 36.3% in Einsisheim) and in the Val d’Argent (an old silver mining area in the Haut-Rhin and Vosges) with 34.9% in the canton of Sainte-Marie-aux-Mines and 41.6% in the canton of Fraize (Vosges). These old industrial regions in Alsace, where the FN has always performed very well, are almost all economically depressed regions which have suffered from deindustrialization and a continued demographic decline which began in the 1970s or before.

In Moselle, the FN won 31.1% against 19.7% for the UMP. The FN performed very well in the former coal mining basin, with 35% in the canton of Forbach, 39.3% in the canton of Stiring-Wendel, 41.2% in Saint-Avold-2 and 40.7% in the canton of Freyming-Merlebach; it also swept the Fensch valley – a region of old iron works or defunct iron ore mines – with 35.5% in the canton of Hayange (the city of Hayange, where the FN won 37.7%, has a FN mayor now), 36.9% in the canton of Rombas, 33% in Marange-Silvange, 31% in the canton of Florange (in the depressed town of Florange, famous for the controversies surrounding the closure of the ArcelorMittal plant, the FN won 31.2%) and 35.4% in Moyeuvre-Grande. Across the border, in the Pays-Haut of Meurthe-et-Moselle, the FN still struggled in this region of the iron country dominated by the PCF. The FN won only 25% or so of the vote in the cantons of Villerupt and Herserange, 24% in Longwy, (and, in Moselle, it won only 26.8% in the canton of Fontoy); the FG still topped the polls in a few towns in the Pays-Haut including Villerupt and Hussigny-Godbrange. I speculate that the tradition and presence of Italian and Polish immigrants in this industrial region of Lorraine – in addition to the continued local strength of the PCF in the region – serves to weaken the FN in a region which would be assumed to be as solid for them as the Fensch valley or the coal mining basin of Moselle.

Another general region where the FN did quite well was the greater Paris basin – the far-right won some very strong numbers on the exurban outskirts of the Parisian metropolis, in the outer reaches of the Seine-et-Marne, Val-d’Oise, Essonne and extending into the Oise, Aisne, Eure, Yonne and Loiret. These are right-leaning lower middle-class exurban/outer suburban communities, which have grown rapidly in recent years as high property prices in the urban cores, urban decay in the old suburbs, white flight have forced people to live further and further away from their workplaces in the downtown cores. Those who have been ‘forced’ to move away from the downtown cores did not do so by choice, their low incomes and lower-paying jobs (there are, obviously, few young professionals or cadres sups in these exurbs, but lots of middle-aged employees) meant that they could not afford to live in increasingly costly downtowns and inner suburbs. Clearly, white flight and security concerns motivated some to ‘escape’ the old proletarian suburbs of the Seine-Saint-Denis, but they probably did not particularly wish to live where they may live today. The expression périurbain galère (the French idiom la galère refers to a particularly tough or unfavourable siutation) is a good expression of their lifestyle. By their lower education levels (most have the Bac or a trades certificate) they can only rarely aspire to higher paying jobs. They are forced to a long commute to work, and suffer from public transit strikes or traffic jams. A lot those who suffer the périurbain galère struggle to make ends meet: mortgage payments on their houses or car(s) and rising gas prices. These regions, where the left is weak, have tended to become the FN’s new strongholds in Île-de-France.

There is an important contrast between what can be described as the périurbain choisi and périurbain subi (basically, “chosen” exurbia and “suffered” exurbia). The first denotes more comfortable upper middle-class exurban areas, accessible and connected to large business and educational cities, populated by professionals and higher-income earners who have chosen to live in the suburbs. The latter denotes lower-income, though not “poor” people who have been compelled to move to less desirable, less accessible and semi-rural exurban municipalities because of rising property prices in the old inner city and the inner suburbs. In this case, the FN vote can express concerns about security and opposition to immigration – because despite living in “lily-white” areas, these inhabitants work and socialize alongside immigrants in more ethnically diverse urban conglomerations – but it also expresses the concerns of a lower middle-class electorate which is considered about social marginalization, their wages, their purchasing power and their economic future. Similar to the Poujadist vote in 1956, there is a certain fear of ‘proletarianization’ or déclassement (falling down the social ladder). Marine Le Pen’s appeal to the “invisible” rural and exurban France likely struck a chord and hit all the right notes for these voters. Their vote for the FN does not necessarily represent racism but rather fears about the future and frustration at their marginalization in the “invisible” peripheral regions of France.

The FN received over 30% of the vote in the exurban cantons of the Seine-et-Marne and Val-d’Oise, and reached over 40% of the vote in most of the Oise, a department which combines several favourable demographics for the far-right (a declining, depressed and aging old working-class/industrial base in small centres and marginalized semi-rural cantons; the périurbain subi exurban vote. The pattern can also be observed in the Eure and the Yonne (the regions of these departments closest to Paris).

Average FN results 1995-2014 relative to the distance from nearest city of 200,000+ inhabitants (source: Ifop)

Ifop has been looking at the FN’s vote share across France in relation to distance from urban centres for a few years now, and analyzed the EP results from that fascinating angle again this year. As in 2012, the FN’s support was weakest (19.5%) in communes which are located 0 to 10km from a urban centre of over 200,000 inhabitants and peaked at about 29% of the vote in communes falling between 30 and 60km of a large urban centre, before slowly declining as distance from the urban core increased further. As these numbers show, the exurban support for the FN is not only confined to the Parisian basin. It’s also a factor in Lyon (Rhône department), with the strong support for the FN in lower middle-class outer suburbs to the east of the city (canton of Meyzieu 31% FN, canton of Saint-Symphorien-d’Ozon 29.7% FN, canton of Décines-Charpieu 27.1% FN) contrasting with low support in the affluent suburbs (canton of Limonest 16.9% FN, canton of Caluire-et-Cuire 15% FN). Around Toulouse, the FN won about 28% in the cantons of Fronton and Grenade, which are exurban areas of the city, while it won only 15.3% in the affluent suburban canton of Castanet-Tolosan

In the 1995 presidential election, the FN’s support was highest (16-16.5%) in communes falling between 10 and 30km of a large centre, while in 2002, Le Pen’s support had been highest – at 18% – in areas between 20 and 50km of a large centre. Since 1984, there has been a particularly pronounced decline in the FN’s support in the urban cores – Paris being perhaps the best example (although many other large cities, notably Lyon, are also good examples); this has been compensated by a significant increase in the FN’s support in outer suburban, exurban and semi-rural areas. Compared to 2012, however, the FN gained in all communes, although the smallest gains (+5.2%) came in the urban cores and the strongest gains (+8%) from the strongholds 30-60km from them. Nevertheless, with the major differences in turnout level, it is unwise to compare both elections directly unless turnout is taken into account.

One of the strongest predictors of voting for the FN is the level of education. According to the average of four exit polls, the FN vote ranged from 36% to 10% depending on an individual’s education. With voters who had no diploma or certification lower than the Bac, the FN won 36% against a distant 19% for the UMP and 13% for the PS. With voters who had the Bac, the FN won 28% against 22% for the UMP and 13% for the PS. With those voters who had the Bac and two years of post-secondary education (Bac +2), the UMP defeated the FN by 3 points (23% to 20%), with the PS increasing its support to 15% and EELV taking 13% of the vote. With the most educated voters – those with a Bac +3 or more (a Bac +3 is equivalent to a bachelor’s degree, anything above that would be a masters or doctorate) – the FN was fifth (10%) behind the UMP (21%), PS (18%), UDI-MoDem (16%) and EELV (12%). In socioprofessional categories, the most educated voters tend to be cadres (managerial and professional positions, including lawyers, academics, doctors, journalists, artists). In this CSP+ category, the FN won only 12% (average) against 21% for the UMP, 16% for the UDI-MoDem, 16% for the PS, 12% for EELV and 6% for the FG. Therefore, the FN’s support decreased with higher levels of education, a higher socioprofessional status and higher incomes (Ipsos and OpinionWay asked for income, and found the lowest support for the FN and the highest support for the UMP, centre and PS [!] in the top income brackets; with the FN’s strongest results from the lowest income brackets, although still pulling a strong vote at or above national average in middle-income categories). In an enlightening tale of who stuck with the PS in 2014, the Socialists had their best result with the higher income, education and socioprofessional groups. As you could infer from the above results in industrial regions, not only did many of the left’s voters in those regions abstain, the voters who turned out punished the PS.

The strong link between education and FN support can be seen in the divide between some urban centres and the ‘rest of the country’. The so-called idéopôles – a term coined by researchers Fabien Escalona and Mathieu Vieria – are large urban centres with a strong, globalized economy and a strong cultural activity (often through the presence of universities or well-educated bobos (American readers will be familiar with the idea, given that it originated in the US). The term can be dangerously reductive in that it tends to assume that each idéopôle is just that, obscuring the social diversity within these cities. For example, while Lille is counted as an idéopôle, the city has a very large low-income population made up of immigrants and ‘poor whites'; other idéopôles such as Paris, Lyon, Toulouse, Montpellier and Strasbourg all have significant low-income population living in zones urbaines sensibles (ZUS – the equivalent of ‘inner city neighborhoods’ in the US – although in France they tend to be geographically concentrated on the peripheries of cities). Yet, the term is still a useful notion. In this election, the FN performed below average in all the idéopôles identified by Escalona and Vieria: 9.3% in Paris, 13.6% in Lyon, 14.1% in Toulouse, 18% in Montpellier (first place, but only a few votes ahead of EELV – 17.7%), 14.6% in Strasbourg, 13.3% in Grenoble (where EELV won the most votes – 20.4% – ahead of 18.6% for the PS), 10.1% in Nantes, 18.9% in Lille (as noted above, due to a division of the left, and the FN was very weak in those areas of the city which really are idéopôles) and 20.5% in Aix-en-Provence. In the secondary ‘ideopoli’ of Bordeaux and Rennes, the FN won 11.5% and 9.4% respectively. In all idéopôles besides Aix, the PS and EELV vote was above average. In cities such as Rennes and Nantes, PS and EELV placed first and second, ahead of the UMP.

It is not quite a urban-rural divide, however, because the FN did very well in cities such as Marseille (30.3%), which are poorer and include very large concentrations of low-income areas, immigrant-heavy cités, lower middle-class banlieues pavillonnaires (residential suburbs with individual houses) and formerly working-class communities. In Marseille, the results were quite interesting: the FN, as expected, did best in the 13th and 14th arrondissements (the 7th sector, where it won the local sectoral city hall in March) with 39.3% and 42% respectively with some very strong results in the 10th and 11th arrondissements (37.7% and 38.9%). The UMP won the affluent neighborhoods and coastal suburbs (5th, 7th and 8th arrdt with over 35% in the 8th) and the PS was shut out. EELV topped the poll in the 1st arrdt, a very poor and immigrant-heavy downtown ‘inner city’ area, taking 18.7% against 17.8% for the PS. Amusingly, the PS did better in the affluent UMP stronghold of the 8th (11.2%) than the 15th, a very poor and immigrant-heavy area of the quartiers nords (10.9%, but turnout was only 25.6%) which has usually been a PS stronghold. Even in the very poor and solidly left-wing 2nd and 3rd arrdts, the PS won only 16% or so. In the Bouches-du-Rhône, the FN won shocking numbers in its strongholds – 49.3% in Marignane, 40.4% in Vitrolles, 46.1% in Berre-l’Étang, 43% in Miramas and 47.4% in Miramas.

The FN won its best southern results in the Rhône valley – 46.3% in the canton of Beaucaire (Gard), 44.6% in the canton of Saint-Gilles (Gard), 40.6% in the canton of Vauvert, 42.3% in Carpentras-Nord (Vaucluse), 40.9% in Carpentras-Sud (Vaucluse), 40.4% in the canton of Cavaillon (Vaucluse), 46.3% in the canton of Bédarrides (Vaucluse), 42.8% in Orange-Ouest (Vaucluse), 41.7% in Orange-Est (Vaucluse), 44.8% in Bollène (Vaucluse) and 40.2% in Pierrelatte (Drôme). This is a largely urbanized region, and the far-right has been present in one form or another since the 1960s in most of the area. It is often pinned down to the large population of pieds noirs – French settlers in Algeria who were resettled in chaotic and controversial conditions in France in 1962, largely settling in PACA and Languedoc-Roussillon – and an associated tradition of reactionary-nationalist/conservative politics with support for the OAS during the Algerian conflict. But it is not the only factor, and is merely a contributory factor. Agriculture is of lesser importance today, but the region’s strong fruit and vegetable industry has always required a large seasonal workforce. While these roles were often filled by Italians, Spaniards or Portuguese in the 1960s and 1970s, they were progressively replaced by Moroccan and other North African immigrants. By and large, this urbanized region is fairly poor – low incomes, low education levels and most jobs falling in the CSP- category – but not proletarian or working-class, rather predominantly lower middle-class and petit bourgeois (shopkeepers, small employees). This population (sometimes called petites gens) suffer or feel, directly or indirectly, problems such as high unemployment, poverty, cost of living pressures, immigration (there are large immigrant concentrations in cities or neighborhoods nearby) and criminality. The cities where the FN does very well – Béziers, Perpignan, Carpentras and Avignon (among others) – were not industrial centres, but they all have high levels of poverty and unemployment. In cities such as Béziers, Perpignan, Fréjus or many smaller towns inland in the Var and Alpes-Maritimes, the downtown cores have suffered from pauperization and desertification (shops closing down, poverty, criminality); these factors ranked high on the list of FN priorities in the municipal elections back in March, where they won city halls including that of Béziers, Beaucaire, Fréjus and Camaret-sur-Aigues.

2014

The map above shows the results by canton, with the FN in a purple shade (please click the image for the full-size splendor). The map was coloured by Stéphane Guillerez, who kindly shared the data and maps with me. It can complete my commentary on the FN’s results and the showings of the other parties across France. In addition to the FN strongholds noted above, strong levels of support (above 30%) can be seen in the Nord-Isère, much of the Ain, the Garonne valley extending to the coastal regions of the Charente-Maritime, wide swathes of the Franche-Comté and Bourgogne and even many regions in the Basse-Normandie. Although we should keep in mind the matter of turnout and the nature of the EP election, the FN’s support has nationalized. The far-right party won cantons from Alsace all the way to the Finistère in Brittany; although the FN’s strongholds remained east of the imaginary Le Havre-Meaux-St. Etienne-Perpignan axis, it won very strong results in its weaker regions. Simplifying matters, across France, the FN’s support is highest outside of major urban areas in outer suburban, exurban or semi-rural areas – regions with lower incomes, lower educational levels and a population largely made up of CSP- workers and employees. In the Garonne valley (and adjacent regions such as the Blayais and l’Entre-Deux-Mers in the Gironde), the outline of which can be seen in the 30%-shaded FN cantons running from the Saintonge (Charente-Maritime) to Montauban (Tarn-et-Garonne), there are a lot of low-income groups including shopkeepers, blue-collar workers in small industries (construction, small metal factories, agro-industry), lower middle-classes, pieds noirs, fruits and vegetable producers and less affluent small winemakers (whose wine is less prestigious than Saint-Émilion, Sauternes or Médoc).

The FN polled well in Nord-Isère, a region which has been favourable to the far-right for decades now. A predominantly urban and historically industrial region (with various industries in towns such as Vienne, Roussillon and Bourgoin-Jallieu, the Nord-Isère is now largely under the exurban influences of Lyon and Grenoble, and the decline of traditional industries in the major cities has led to urban decay and rising criminality. The FN polled up to 41% in the canton of Pont-de-Chéruy, an exurban canton of Lyon. In the south of the department, however, the far-right did quite poorly: in the very affluent suburban cantons of Meylan and Saint-Ismier (outside Grenoble), the FN polled only 17.2% and 12.3% respectively.

The FN performed well in the old industrial (predominantly mining, with smaller metallurgical and textile industries) valleys of the Gier and Ondaine in the south of the Loire department, from Firminy to Rive-de-Gier/Givors (Rhône); a region which was badly hit by deindustrialization in the 1980s and which – in parts – retains high levels of unemployment, pockets of severe deprivation and a largely blue-collar population. The FN won 22.2% in Saint-Étienne as a whole, 29.5% in the old mining basin canton of Firminy (traditionally favourable to the PCF), 30.1% in the old industrial (but right-leaning) city of Saint-Chamond, 30.8% in the canton of Rive-de-Gier, 32.7% in the canton of La-Grand-Croix and a peak at 36.6% in the old mining basin of Le-Chambon-Feugerolles. In the Rhône department, the FN won 30.9% against 19.5% to the FG in the old working-class Communist stronghold of Givors, although turnout was below 30%.

Some other old industrial basins – regions which tend to be more economically depressed, and retain a lower-income and less education population – offered strong results for the FN – in the Alpes-Maritimes, the FN’s strongest results came from the old industrial Vallée du Paillon (a former PCF stronghold, incidentally), where the party took 44% in the canton of L’Escarène and 41.4% in the canton of Contes. In the Haute-Savoie, the FN’s strongest results came from the industrial basin of Cluses-Scionzier with 36.3% in the canton of Scionzier and 31% in the canton of Cluses (in contrast, in the affluent lakeside suburban canton of Annecy-le-Vieux, the FN won 16.3% and in the affluent Geneva suburbs of Saint-Julien-en-Genevois, the far-right polled 19.3%). In the Haute-Loire, the FN won over 30% of the vote in the old industrial cantons of Aurec-sur-Loire and Sainte-Sigolène (a Catholic working-class region which has always leaned to the right), but it won only 23.5% in the canton of Auzon, part of an old mining basin which is strongly left-wing. In the Tarn, the FN won 27.3% in the city of Mazamet, an old fellmongering industrial centre (which has, however, always leaned to the right) and narrowly topped the poll over the PS in Carmaux (24.6%), the old solidly left-wing mining town of Jean Jaurès. In the textile town of Lavelanet (Ariège), the FN won 33.4% against 19.4% for the PS. The FN did quite well in the industrial suburbs of Rouen in the Seine valley (topping the poll in nearly all of them), with 31.7% in the Communist cité cheminote of Saint-Étienne-du-Rouvray, 32.3% in Le Grand-Quevilly, 33.5% in Petit-Couronne, 30.3% in Grand-Couronne and 33.3% in Elbeuf. However, the pattern is not universal: in other old industrial or mining basins, the FN did not do so well – for example, in the old coal mining town of Decazeville (Aveyron), the FG topped the poll with 22.1% and the FN was third with 17.7%. The FN performed below its national average in other old working-class/industrial towns such as Lacq (Pyrénées-Atlantiques), Saint-Nazaire (Loire-Atlantique) and Decize (Nièvre).

The UMP was the largest party in three of the eight EP constituencies: Île-de-France, West and the Overseas.

Results of the UMP by canton

Although the FN did quite well in Île-de-France, a region where the general trends in the past few elections have generally been unfavourable to the FN, the UMP managed to retain first place thanks to the FN’s very weak support in Paris itself and the UMP’s dominance of its core clientele – the affluent suburban communities in the Hauts-de-Seine and Yvelines, two departments where the UMP topped the poll. In the Yvelines, a rather clear divide is visible between regions where the UMP did best and those where the FN did better. In the very affluent canton of Saint-Nom-la-Bretèche, the UMP polled 31.7% (in similarly affluent cantons such as Le Vésinet, Poissy-Sud and Le Chesnay, the UMP won over 30% of the vote). In the canton of Bonnières-sur-Seine, the most distant and exurban canton in the northwest of the department, the UMP’s support fell to 20% while the FN won 33.2%. In the canton of Mantes-la-Ville, a low-income area whose chef-lieu is now ruled by the FN, the far-right polled over 30%. Similarly, in the Essonne, which the FN won, the UMP dominated the affluent suburbs of Bièvres and Limours (as well as Gif-sur-Yvette, an affluent community and major research centre; the PS won the affluent and highly-educated scientific research centre of Orsay (with 19.3%) but also the low-income banlieues of Les Ulis and Manuel Valls’ town of Évry. The FN did best in the exurban and distant southern half of the department, winning 36.4% in the canton of Méréville. Nicolas Dupont-Aignan’s DLR dominated around his political stronghold of Yerres, where the DLR list won 36.1% of the vote.

The FN won 20.7% in the Seine-Saint-Denis, a result largely due to the low turnout (31.2%), especially from the left. The FN has done quite poorly in the ’93’ in recent elections, even in low-income working-poor suburbs where the far-right had done quite well in the 1980s and 1990s. Thanks to low turnout and a division of the vote, however, the FN topped the poll, especially in the less inner suburban communes. The FG won Saint-Ouen, Saint-Denis, Aubervilliers and Bobigny (among others), while EELV narrowly topped the poll in Montreuil (with 20.2% against 17.9% for the FG) and placed second behind the PS in Pantin, Les Lilas and Le Pré-Saint-Gervais. The UMP won its best result, 26.6%, in the affluent town of Le Raincy. The FN was strongest in the canton of Montfermeil, where it won over 30% (it does best in white middle-income banlieues pavillonnaires).

In the West, the UMP won a large bloc of cantons, clearly visible on the map above, straddling the departments of Loire-Atlantique, Maine-et-Loire, Vendée and the Deux-Sèvres. With the exceptions of the urban cantons of La Roche-sur-Yon and the suburban cantons in the vignobles nantais, this corresponds to the traditionally conservative areas of the deeply Catholic inner west – the bocage vendéen and the Choletais. The FN has never broken through in these areas, which despite a major decline in religiosity and the active influence of the Church, remain steeped in a ‘zombie Catholic’ or Christian democratic tradition which is traditionally pro-European and humanist. OpinionWay polled by religion, and found only 10% support for the FN with regular church-goers compared to 34% with non-practicing Catholics. The UMP (38%) and centre (23%) heavily dominated the small devoutly Catholic minority vote. It’s interesting how the ‘zombie Catholic’ effect is clearly visible in the Maine-et-Loire – the UMP topped the poll in the choletais and bocage angevin, historically the most Catholic, clerical and conservative regions, while the FN was the largest party in most of the Beaugeois and Saumurois, where religiosity has always been lesser and social structures traditionally different (in the days of the great André Siegfried, the choletais and bocage angevin were the realms of powerful nobles and large landholdings while the Beaugeois was a region of poorer smallholdings, with an anti-clerical and republican tradition; the Saumurois had a ‘Bonapartist temperament’ because of the dominance of wealthier smallholders in vineyards). In the Mayenne, there was a very powerful favourite son effect for Jean Arthuis, the UDI-MoDem top candidate who as (ex-)senator and president of the general council is a powerful and influential political boss in the department. Arthuis’ list won 32.2% in Mayenne against 18.4% for the FN. In Château-Gontier, where Arthuis was mayor from 1971 to 2001, he won 48% of the vote. Some of this vote spilled over in the Segréen (Maine-et-Loire) and the very conservative and Catholic/clerical eastern half of Ille-et-Vilaine (although I suppose this is another favourite daughter effect, for Laurence Méhaignerie, second on the list and the daughter of the longtime Christian democratic-UDI mayor of Vitré Pierre Méhaignerie).

Results of the UDI-MoDem by canton

The UDI-MoDem’s support was quite odd: the vague outlines of the traditional Christian democratic map (which is that of historical religiosity/clericalism) are there, with the centre’s strength in the West, Alsace-Moselle, the southern Massif Central and the weakness in the Limousin and along the southern seaboard. But, in the details, there are several exceptions to that pattern and ‘oddities’ – in the Pyrénées-Atlantiques, the centre’s support came from Béarn rather than the Basque Country, the traditional Christian democratic/Catholic stronghold; support was weak and patchy in Lozère, Haute-Loire and Cantal, even the Catholic plateaus; support in the Nord was strong in Catholic Flanders but extended throughout most of the department, into the Valenciennois; and support in Moselle was strongest around the Metz-Thionville agglomeration rather than the Plateau Lorrain. Additionally, there were strong results in traditionally less religious regions: the Loir-et-Cher, the Eure-et-Loir, the Marne, the Puy-de-Dôme, the Artois (Pas-de-Calais), parts of the Somme, the Valenciennois (Nord) and the Hautes-Alpes.

Explaining the oddities, one notices the obvious favourite sons/daughters factors (Dominique Riquet in the Valenciennois, Nathalie Griesbeck in the Metz-Thionville area, Arthuis in the Mayenne) but also the clear influence of local UDI (less so MoDem) local barons (deputies, mayors). In the Loir-et-Cher, the strong centrist support in the west of the department (Vendôme) corresponds quasi-perfectly with the constituency of UDI deputy (and president of the general council) Maurice Leroy, while there was also solid numbers for the list in the Blois constituency, held until 2012 by Nicolas Perruchot (ex-NC, now UMP). In the Eure-et-Loir, the strongest numbers came from the constituency of UDI deputy Philippe Vigier. In the Somme, the list did well in the canton of Albert (14.3%) because the mayor of Albert is UDI deputy Stéphane Demilly and in Amiens (14.4%), governed by Brigitte Fouré (UDI) since March. In the Pas-de-Calais, the list did well in Arras, which is governed by the UDI. In the Drôme, the centrists did well in Montélimar (20.2%), whose mayor is UDI deputy Franck Reynier. In the Meurthe-et-Moselle, the centrists won 16.6% in Nancy, whose mayor is now former Radical deputy Laurent Hénart. In the Seine-et-Marne, the centrist list topped the poll in Montereau-Fault-Yonne, the city of UDI deputy Yves Jégo. In the Puy-de-Dôme, the centrist list won 21.4% (second place) in Chamalières, an affluent suburb of Clermont-Ferrand and stronghold of the Giscard dynasty (the current mayor is Louis Giscard d’Estaing, a former deputy and son of the former President) and the support extended in the surrounding area in a way which looks awfully similar to the pre-redistricting shape of Giscard’s old constituency. In the Seine-Saint-Denis, the centrists did very well in Drancy (22.1%), governed by UDI deputy Jean-Christophe Lagarde, and also did quite well in Bobigny and Le Bourget, both of which have UDI mayors.

Therefore, the ‘added value’ of the UDI to the MoDem was in the form of local barons who brought along their regional strongholds/constituencies, which is very unsurprising considering that the UDI is very much a parti de notables in the long tradition of the non-Gaullist centre-right.

In Brittany, there was a particularly interesting favourite son and regionalist protest vote in the centre of the Armorican peninsula. Christian Troadec, the regionalist mayor of Carhaix (Finistère) led a Breton regionalist list which won over 11% of the vote in the Finistère and spilled over into the Côtes-d’Armor and Morbihan. Troadec is less of a politician than a ‘political entrepreneur’ who pays a lot of attention to Breton identity and culture (he famously created the popular music Festival des Vieilles Charrues in CarhaixOn the cantonal and communal map, an impressive bloc of support for Troadec’s list is visible in the centre-west of Brittany, expanding out of the canton of Carhaix-Plouguer, where Troadec won 39.7%. He won most communes in the Monts-d’Arée region of Finistère and the inland Cornouaille in the Finistère and Côtes-d’Armor. Troadec’s vote clearly has a strong favourite son tinge to it, given that a generic regionalist list does not perform that well (that being said, with its concentration in the Bretagne bretonnante, it superficially matches the traditional base of Breton nationalism). However, Troadec had run in the 2010 regionals and peaked at 6.8% in the Finistère, so his personal vote is not the only factor. A major reason for his strong result is likely due to his role as one of the major leaders of the bonnets rouges protest movement in Brittany, which began last fall out of opposition to an ‘ecotax’ on heavy goods transport vehicles, protesting the crisis in the agro-industry and expressing regionalist demands including the reunification of Brittany and increased decision-making powers for the region. The movement is led by the local left, but has been controversial because of how some sectors of the far-right and the employers in the polluting agro-industry have latched on to the movement. Troadec’s support corresponds to the poorest and socioeconomically depressed region of Brittany, isolated and distant from the well-off urban and suburban centres driving growth in a region usually seen as more well-off than most. It has an aging, blue-collar and less educated population with fewer job opportunities; but the FN has always performed very poorly in this region. It is also a solidly left-wing region – the Monts-d’Arée were described by Siegfried as a ‘radical democracy’ and have been the most left-wing region in Brittany for over a hundred years. The inland Cornouaille in the Finistère and Côtes-d’Armor is also a solidly left-wing region (a poor region of smallholdings, lesser religiosity and a tradition of radical democratic and anti-nobility sentiments), historically dominated by the PS and (less so nowadays) the PCF. Troadec likely won a lot of left-wing protest votes, from voters severely turned off from the government because of national and local issues (the ecotax/bonnets rouges issues, and perhaps its lip-service to regionalist demands such as reunification and the ratification of the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages).

Troadec’s support interested Ifop, which has produced an interesting analysis, showing the very localized friends-and-neighbors vote for his list, whose support declines as one gets further away from Carhaix. It also links his vote to support for the 1675 anti-tax révolte des bonnets rouges in western Brittany, the leftist tradition of the Monts-d’Arée/Haute-Cornouaille and the post-war rural communist tradition born out of the PCF-led resistance to the Nazi occupation. Ifop’s study also found that Troadec largely ate into PS support from 2009, but also dragged down EELV and UMP support and limited FN gains.

In the Ille-et-Vilaine, the FN’s strong support in exurban and remote ‘fragile’ regions is clearly visible. The left dominated Rennes (a ‘semi-idéopôle‘) and its middle-income suburbs (the right won the most affluent suburbs of Cesson-Sévigné, Saint-Grégoire and Pacé), the UMP won the affluent coastal towns of the Côte-d’Émeraude (Saint-Malo, Dinard, Cancale) while the right and centre were both strong in the solidly conservative and clerical regions of eastern Ille-et-Vilaine. The FN won a large swathes of communes lying to the southwest of Rennes – semi-rural and growing exurban areas within commuting distance of Rennes, but with a slightly less affluent population than the inner suburbs. It also did well in the Baie-du-Mont-Saint-Michel, a remote (it is not exurban) ‘socially fragile’ and low-income region. This Insée study on the social makeups of regions in the department can be compared to the map of the results – the high-income regions around Rennes and on the coast had low support for the FN, the low and middle-income regions had significantly higher results for the FN.

The UMP also dominated another very Catholic region – the southern Massif Central (Cantal, Lozère, Aveyron; especially the mountainous regions of the Aubrac, Margeride and Plateau of Saint-Flour). The UMP won over 30% – even 40% in some cantons – in these very rural, agricultural (herding) and deeply Catholic/clerical regions. In the Aveyron, EELV – led by local icon José Bové – was quite successful around Millau and in the Larzac while the three left-wing parties – EELV, FG and PS won the Protestant and solidly left-wing communes in the Cévennes (Gard/Lozère).

Results of the PS by canton

The PS won only two departments in metro France – the Corrèze (Hollande’s political stronghold) and the Haute-Vienne, both of them traditional strongholds of the left (ignoring the favourite son love affair for Jacques Chirac in the Corrèze from the 1980s to 2007). The PS won 33.7% in Hollande’s city of Tulle (Corrèze) and was also victorious in Limoges and Saint-Junien (Haute-Vienne). The Limousin’s socialist-communist tradition, a fascinating issue, owes to a wide variety of complex factors – to cite a few: smallholders, sharecroppers, rural poverty, strong anti-clericalism, workers’ activism, heavy toll of World War I and very active left-wing resistance to the Nazis. Traditions have not died out in this region: the FG still topped the poll in the canton of Bugeat (Corrèze), which had already been a PCF stronghold in the interwar era. Laird Boswell’s Rural Communism in France, 1920-1939 is an excellent read for anybody interested by the full roots of rural communism in this part of the world.

In urban areas, due to very low turnout from the Socialist base in low-income and multiethnic neighborhoods and cités, the PS largely held an older, more educated, more white-collar electorate (one which turns out in greater numbers structurally and may be expected to be slightly less anti-government). In the Hauts-de-Seine, for example, the PS only topped the poll in Clichy and Nanterre, two old working-class cities which while still fairly low-income have seen some significant social changes with the growth of a new middle-class with higher education and white-collar jobs (only 16% of the active labour force in Nanterre, for example, are ouvriers today); the FG won in Gennevilliers and Bagneux, which remain more heavily low-income and working-poor to this day, with the PS placing a terrible third behind the FN. In the Val-de-Marne, the FG and the FN won the poorest suburbs (28.1% for the FN in Villeneuve-Saint-Georges, the FG won Valenton, Ivry-sur-Seine, Bonneuil-sur-Marne, Champigny-sur-Marne etc) while the PS did better in the old working-class suburbs which are now more socially diverse and somewhat gentrified (to a much lesser extent than other high-points of gentrification such as Montreuil) – Créteil, Le Kremlin-Bicêtre, Cachan and Fresnes. In the Seine-Saint-Denis, the FN – mostly due to turnout being so absurdly low – narrowly won the grimmest banlieues such as Clichy-sous-Bois (one of the poorest major towns in France, infamous since the 2005 riots; turnout was barely over 20%), La Courneuve, Stains (with 22% turnout), Sevran and Villepinte. The FG won the old Communist heartlands of Saint-Denis, Aubervilliers, Saint-Ouen, Bobigny and Bagnolet; the PS and EELV did best in the communes closest to Paris which have seen real gentrification (Montreuil, Les Lilas, Pantin to a much lesser extent). In the Val-d’Oise, the PS did win the tough low-income banlieue of Sarcelles, but it lost low-income suburbs such as Argenteuil, Gonesse, Villiers-le-Bel, Goussainville and Persan to the FN. The PS won Cergy, a predominantly administrative and academic middle-class ville nouvelle. In the Grande Couronne of Paris, the pattern was much the same: in the Essonne, although the PS saved faced by winning the Manuel Valls stronghold of Évry and also won the low-income suburb of Les Ulis, but the FN won Corbeil-Essonnes, Épinay-sous-Sénart, Fleury-Mérogis and Ris-Orangis (the FG won the Communist stronghold of Grigny, a very poor and multiethnic suburb home to the huge ZUS of La Grande Borne, a famous and disastrous post-war social housing project of huge proportions). The PS had more success in the highly-educated ‘knowledge corridor’ centered around the research town of Orsay, and was also victorious in Massy, a socially mixed but generally more middle-income academic and administrative suburban town. In the Yvelines, finally, the FN won the low-income banlieues of Trappes, Les Mureaux, Chanteloup-les-Vignes and Limay (with sub-30% turnout everywhere but Limay) while the UMP won the low-income and multiethnic banlieue of Mantes-la-Jolie (28% vs 19.2% for the FN) – although the city is solidly on the left nationally, the right is dominant in local politics since 1995 (with Pierre Bédier, a corrupt politician sentenced to a suspended jail sentence and political ineligibility for a kickback scandal, serving as mayor for most of the time from 1995 to 2005 and president of the general council from 2005 to 2009, who has since triumphantly returned to politics as president of the CG since April 2014) and the FN has done poorly in Mantes-la-Jolie from its heyday in 1995-7.

PS loses from the 2012 presidential election in the Paris region

Outside of Paris, the same pattern repeated itself in Marseille (see above), Lyon, Grenoble, Bordeaux, Rouen (see above) and Lille (see above). In Lyon, the PS remained the largest party in Villeurbanne – a longtime Socialist stronghold and historically working-class suburb of Lyon, which has seen significant gentrification and the growth of a middle-income population in recent years (while still retaining a large low-income and immigrant population). The PS won 19.8% in the city (where turnout was healthier, at 36.9%) against 18.8% for the FN. The FN, however, “swept” the low-income suburbs – the old PCF strongholds of Vaulx-en-Velin (28% vs. 19.4% for the PS and 13.2% for the FG on 21% turnout), Vénissieux (27.1% vs. 15.8% PS and 14.4% FG, on 28% turnout) and Pierre-Bénite (25.4%, the PS and FG in third and fourth), the lower-income blue-collar suburbs of Saint-Fons (29.8% FN on 25.7% turnout) and Feyzin (31.8% FN on 35.7% turnout). In suburban Grenoble, the FN won (but with mediocre percentages, even on low turnout) but with mediocre percentages, even on low turnout)  the three major ‘Red Belt’ proletarian suburbs of Fontaine, Échirolles and Saint-Martin-d’Hères, as well as the poor suburban town of Pont-de-Claix (with a more substantial result of 29.2%, but on 31.1% turnout). In Bordeaux, the FN won its best results in the poorer suburbs of the Rive Droite of the Gironde (victorious in Floirac with 21.6%, second to the PS in Cenon with 21.5%, first in Lormont with 24.9% and strong first in Bassens with 27.7%); in the wealthier left-wing middle-income suburbs of Mérignac, Pessac and Talence the FN’s support ranged from 12.6% in Talence to 16.4% in Mérignac (and the PS won all of these three communes). Four parties were closely in Bègles, an old industrial and proletarian suburb just south of Bordeaux – which has been ruled by ex-EELV deputy Noël Mamère since 1989, but has a Communist tradition: EELV won 17.9%, followed by the PS (17.7%) and FG (17.4%) and the FN in fourth (16%).

Results of FG/UOM by canton

The FG did quite poorly in some traditional PCF strongholds. In the NPDC mining basin, the FG’s results fell from 22.9% to 15.8% in the canton of Denain, 22.1% to 14.1% in Marchiennes, 36.5% to 20.8% in Rouvroy and 31.9% to 18.4% in Divion. In the industrial Vimeu region of the Somme, the FG’s support fell from 16.4% to 13.3% in the canton of Friville-Escarbotin. In Tergnier (Aisne), FG support fell from 18.4% to 13.6%; FG support also fell in Tergnier (Aisne), the cité cheminote of Romilly-sur-Seine (Aube), the old PCF stronghold of Vierzon (Cher, an old industrial city), the rural communist country of the Bourbonnais (Allier) and Limousin, the Cévennes mining basin (Alès/La Grand-Combe/Bessèges), the Vallée du Paillon (Alpes-Maritimes), Marseille’s industrial hinterland (Port-Saint-Louis-du-Rhône – from 37.3% to 29.5%, Port-de-Bouc – from 45.6% to 37.2%, Martigues – from 21.6% to 20.5%) and the communist region in Basse-Bretagne. However, the FG made gains in much of the Pays-Haut iron and steel basin in Meurthe-et-Moselle, increasing support from 18.8% to 21.2% in the canton of Herserange, 17.4% to 18.9% in Villerupt, 17.7% to 19.2% in Homécourt and 11.9% to 13.2% in Fontoy (Moselle). The FG also made gains in the Decazeville-Aubin mining basin (Aveyron), Carmaux (Tarn) and the solidly left-wing rural and mountainous regions of the Southwest (12.2% in Hautes-Pyrénées – the FG’s best result; 11.9% in the Ariège; 9.1% in the Pyrénées-Orientales and even 8.4% in Lozère – where the FG did extremely well in the Protestant cantons of the Cévennes, with 20.4% in Saint-Germain-de-Calberte). I had already noted, in 2012, that Mélenchon’s support was comparatively poor in traditional industrial Communist strongholds (compared to the results of Robert Hue in 1995, who had nevertheless won less support than Mélenchon did) but unusually strong in rural regions, both of communist and socialist tradition. I am hesitant to state that this was the result of a direct transfer of PCF voters to the FN in working-class areas (notably the coal mining basin of the NPDC); while this was likely a small factor, I would tend to suppose that this is more the result of an erosion of Communist traditions as a result of generational change (the traditional cohorts of the working-class, which was raised and lived in a different era of relations between working-class identity and Communism, dying off) and the transformation of the meaning of  ‘working-class’ (more non-unionized jobs, atomization, unemployment, low-paying jobs in industry and services requiring longer commutes) in these regions over 20 years after the last mine closed.

The FG also had some poor performances in its urban strongholds: Saint-Pierre-des-Corps (Indre-et-Loire), where the FG topped the poll with only 21% (down from 43%); Allonnes (Sarthe), where FG support declined from 23.1% to 18.5% and the FN won nearly 30%; Dieppe (Seine-Maritime), Le Tréport (Seine-Maritime) and Gonfreville-l’Orcher (Seine-Maritime). The FG’s support showed greater resistance in the Parisian region.

Results of EELV by canton

EELV’s support was unusually rural in this election: its best departments were Aveyron (16.7% – holding its 2009 levels) and Drôme (14.4%), with Paris only in third (13.8%). EELV also did well in the Lot (13.7%), Haute-Garonne (13.4%), Loire-Atlantique (13%), Ille-et-Vilaine (12.6%), Hautes-Alpes (12.6%), Hérault (12.6%), Lozère (12.5%) and Isère (12.3%). While EELV won strong results in its traditional urban strongholds – Paris, Grenoble (20.4%), Rennes (18.9%), Nantes (17.7%), Montpellier (17.7%), Toulouse (16.9%), Lille (16.3%), Bordeaux (15.6%) and Lyon (13.3%, with 21.9% and first place in the bob0 1st arrondisement), Strasbourg (12.8%), it also did very well in rural cantons – particularly in the Larzac and Grands-Causses regions of the Aveyron and the Diois and Baronnies regions of the Drôme. The Greens have usually performed well in these regions, especially in the Drôme. The Diois and Baronnies are both old rural communist strongholds, a tradition built by the historic presence of Protestants in the region, the republican-leftist traditions of smallholders, poverty and active resistance in World War II; the region is now a popular tourist destination, and it has attracted a small influx of ‘neo-rural’ left-wing/countercultural (‘soixante-huitards‘) urban transplants seeking the mythical calm and quaintness of the unspoiled country. In these rural regions and others, EELV may also have attracted a left-wing, anti-PS protest vote.

In EELV’s results, the very marked cutoff between the Limousin/Auvergne regions and the Midi-Pyrénées/Languedoc-Roussillon lets me suppose that there may have been a personal vote of sorts for José Bové in his Southwest constituency, or that EELV’s vote in the Massif-Centre constituency may have been drawn down by its little-known top candidate (Clarisse Heusquin, a young lawyer who does not seem to hold any elected office).

Favourite sons and local political dynamics (notably the mayor’s partisan affiliation) were important in several regions. Some of the favourite son effects and local political dynamics have been noted above – Valenciennes for the UDI, Mayenne, Troadec in central Brittany and the comparatively stronger performance by Marine Le Pen in the Northwest and specifically in Hénin-Beaumont. Others include a likely a favourite daughter vote for Michèle Alliot-Marie in the Pyrénées-Atlantiques, strong support for the UDI-MoDem in and around François Bayrou’s base in Pau and a bizarre favourite son for incumbent UMP MEP Arnaud Danjean in his native Louhans (Saône-et-Loire) with 43.6% for the UMP list (an oddity given that Danjean has no local political mandate and was only second on the UMP list).

Favourite sons and friends-and-neighbors are the main voting determinants in the Overseas constituency, where turnout is low (17.1%) and often results in very weird results. The prize for weirdest result is for French Guiana, with EELV taking 41% of the vote (as I figure, José Gaillou, second on the EELV list was from Guiana) on 10% turnout. The UOM-FG list won in La Réunion and Martinique, the two regions where it had local support (from the PCR in La Réunion and the PPM in Martinique); the PS won Saint-Pierre-et-Miquelon and Polynesia, the UMP won wealthy Saint-Barthélemy/Saint-Martin, Wallis-et-Futuna, Mayotte and New Caledonia (the PS and UOM-FG won most of the Kanak communes).

Conclusions

The FN’s remarkable victory, although predictable and unsurprising, still came a shock both in France and across the EU; the FN’s French success, even if it was not ‘replicated’ in the other EU member-states, became the main takeaway of the EP election in most initial media analyses and was used to feed the narrative of a generalized swing to Eurosceptic/far-right parties across the EU.

Despite the low turnout and the nature of an EP election, it remains a fantastic result for the FN and little indicates that the FN would not be able to replicate its EP results (23-25%) in a national, high-stakes election with much higher turnout. The FN has, by the looks of it, an increasingly loyal partisan base which is less ‘ashamed’ of admitting their support for the far-right party than in the past. Given the socioeconomic condition of France, an economic crisis which has only widened and deepened existing gaps in French society (between the minority who have ‘won’ from globalization and the new economy, and the increasingly invisible masses who felt as if they have ‘lost’ from globalization and economic transformations), the unpopularity of the left-wing government, the absence of a credible ‘radical’ alternative on the left (like in many EU countries…) and the pitiful state of the UMP torn apart by a continued low-scale civil war and waves of corruption scandals, it can appear ‘natural’ that the FN would be on such a strong footing today. As long as the economy does not show a major improvement, that the right unites around a leader who is popular (but it is doubtful whether Sarkozy fits that role) and that the government regains all its lost credibility, we can only presume that the FN will remain as strong. Even if the economy does improve, it will not change the roots of the FN’s success – which, unlike with that of the Greek or Hungarian far-right, predates the current economic crisis. Since the 1980s, Western society has been transformed by major economic transformations, changes in traditional value structures, the erosion of traditional ‘pillars’ of society, immigration, new technologies, increased education, new conceptions of gender roles and new attitudes which come into conflict with traditional ‘values’ and attitudes. Those who feel alienated, insecure, angry, concerned and worried as a result of these transformations – those less-educated individuals ‘left behind’ by the increased levels in educational achievement; groups of lower socioeconomic status who face unemployment, job insecurity and low wages as a result of the economic transformations; those forced to live outside the ‘cores’ in the ‘peripheries’ because of higher property prices, immigration-related fears and socioeconomic status – provide the FN with its base of support, although not all those who fit this ‘profile’ have shifted to the FN.

Unfortunately for the FN, there was little time to celebrate as the party soon ran into another major controversy which has divided the party. Jean-Marie Le Pen has a weekly Journal de bord (a sort of video blog) on the FN website, where he comments on current events in an ‘interview’ format with a FN member (usually, the one starring alongside the former leader of the FN is a little-known member from the party’s radical wing, but who is married to Frédéric Chatillon, a former member of the extremist far-right students union GUD who has the lucrative contract of printing FN materials and campaign lit). His weekly video blog episodes In an episode after the EP election, Le Pen was commenting on some left-wing/anti-FN celebrities and artists refusing to put on shows in FN municipalities and more particularly on the anti-FN comments of Patrick Bruel, a Jewish (Algerian-born) singer/poker player who has been a staunch opponent of the FN for decades (in 1995, he had cancelled his shows in municipalities such as Toulon which elected a FN mayor in the June 1995 municipal elections). In yet another case of Jean-Marie letting the inner racist and anti-Semite get the better of him, he commented on the topic of Bruel that “we’ll include him in the next batch” (fournée – batch of bread to be baked). It is not Jean-Marie’s first run-in with anti-Semitism: in 1987 he famously stated that he thought that gas chambers were a ‘detail’ of World War II (officially, he continues to claim, because the war is made up of a series of ‘details’ – even the nuclear bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, he claims, are ‘details’) and in 1988 he made a wordplay on the name of Michel Durafour, a centrist politician who had joined Michel Rocard’s PS-led gouvernement d’ouverture, calling him ‘Durafour-crématoire‘ (four crématoire means crematory oven in French).

Given that the comment went against Marine Le Pen’s smokescreen strategy and much-vaunted dédiabolisation, the comments became the centre of a firestorm within the FN. Louis Aliot said that Jean-Marie Le Pen’s comment was dismaying and politically stupid. Florian Philippot said that while the FN had no lessons to take from a wealthy guy like Bruel and, said that Jean-Marie Le Pen should have known what he was saying (but Philippot said the comments were not anti-Semitic). FN deputy Gilbert Collard, who is not from the FN per se and is a bit more FN-lite uncomfortable with racist/anti-Semitic throwbacks  (he’s mostly a colourful and slightly insane guy), went as far to suggest that Jean-Marie Le Pen should retire (he is currently ‘honourary president’ of the FN) because his comments hurt the FN and RBM. And finally, Marine herself said that her father made a political mistake and seemed quite naturally peeved at her father’s latest outburst. However, Jean-Marie Le Pen, who prizes his ‘liberty’ (which he interprets as the right to mouth off what he wants) and is, as noted previously, not the biggest fan of his daughter’s leadership, young clique and the process of dédiabolisation, is quite angry at how other FN leaders ‘ganged up’ on him. He said that those who misinterpreted his comments (Aliot) were ‘imbeciles’, disingenuously claimed that he didn’t know Bruel was Jewish (but admitted that he would have said what he said even if he ‘knew’), suggested that his daughter was being influenced by her young clique, that she was losing sight of the party’s history/specificity by cleaning it up and insinuated that Collard was just a random loser who should bugger off.

A civil war is unlikely, given that the FN is not stupid – it certainly knows that all splinter parties from the FN have ended up in the ditch, with only the FN remaining a major force. However, a cold war-like situation may arise, and Jean-Marie Le Pen remains a liability for Marine Le Pen as long as he’s alive. It remains to be seen, however, if this latest controversy will actually hurt the FN or if its base will remain resilient.

The UMP, after a bad result on May 25, went from bad to worse the next day, when MEP-elect Jérôme Lavrilleux, a close ally of Copé, reluctantly admitted cost overruns and that a share of the costs of Sarkozy’s 2012 campaign had been billed to the UMP rather than the Sarkozy campaign to cover up the costs which were exceeding legal campaign spending limits. This was the latest twist in the Bygmalion affair: originally, we thought that the story was that the UMP had been overcharged by Bygmalion, owned by close friends of Copé, to the price of €8-12.7 million. The UMP was apparently charged for events which never actually took place. Now, the UMP is the one accused of forcing Bygmalion to issue false invoices addressed to the party rather than the campaign (about €11 million). Lavrilleux admitted this after Bygmalion’s lawyer had came out, hours earlier, with the claims of false invoices being demanded by the UMP to the event planning company. Lavrilleux, however, claimed that neither Copé nor Sarkozy were aware of the issue. Overall, Sarkozy’s campaign may have spent up to €39 million in 2012, far surpassing the legal spending limit of €22.5 million.

The pressure mounted on Copé, whose weak leadership had been weakened further by the first revelation of the Bygmalion affair in March and the defeat in the EP election, and he had no choice but to resign as UMP president after a political bureau met on May 27. According to official statements and leaked details, the meeting was quite heated – François Fillon, Copé’s sworn enemy, called on Copé to resign because the UMP was headed to disaster and that he had lost all confidence in Copé. Fillon’s demands were supported by the fillonistes and the ‘neutrals’ or ‘soft’ fillonistes – Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet and Xavier Bertrand. Copé resigned officially on June 15, handed power over to a ‘triumvirate’ (+ one) and a new congress to elect a president will be held in October 2014. The new triumvirate of the UMP is made up of Fillon (declared candidate for 2017), Alain Juppé (neutral in 2012, anti-Copé in 2014, likely has presidential ambitions in 2017) and Jean-Pierre Raffarin (copéiste in 2012, long-time poor relationship with Fillon) – three former Prime Ministers. On June 10, faced with pressure from the sarkozystes (mostly ex-copéistes), the leadership was widened to include Luc Chatel, a party vice-president and senior copéiste in 2012, who became secretary-general to support the three-man leadership. The copéistes-sarkozystes worried that the makeshift filloniste-juppéiste alliance of convenience was trying to sideline them and block Sarkozy from returning in 2017.

This hasn’t solved the mess: while everybody is claiming that all is well and that the focus is now on ‘unity’, the reality is one of deep disunity and cacophony. Every potential leader of the UMP is eager to make a mark for himself, either by publicizing their ambitions for the leadership in 2014 or presidency in 2017, or by calling for major ‘renovation’ of the party (NKM, for example, has proposed that the UMP should change its name). Two candidates have officially announced their candidacies for the congress: Hervé Mariton (a former villepiniste despite his pro-Iraq War and pro-NATO views in the past, who became a copéiste for 2012 and most recently led the UMP’s charge against same-sex marriage/adoption) and Bruno Le Maire (a young former villepiniste and fairly decent agriculture minister under Sarkozy from 2009 to 2012, who was neutral in 2012 and is a likely presidential hopeful for 2017). Christian Estrosi, a longtime sarkozyste-turned-senior filloniste in 2012 who has since left Fillon’s clan, is now officially a candidate for the presidency in 2017. For the 2014 congress, Fillon may yet run, while other ambitious leaders with eyes on 2017 – Xavier Bertrand (a soft filloniste in 2012, with a small group of allies), Laurent Wauquiez (a filloniste in 2012 and leader of the ‘social right’) – may also run. Juppé is widely seen as the only UMP leader who could potentially upset Sarkozy in 2017, and polls of UMP sympathizers always place him a distant second behind Sarkozy for a potential UMP primary in 2016. He has said that the new president elected in 2014 shouldn’t run in 2017, and he has a small group of loyal allies behind him. The old copéiste group is divided between a small circle still loyal to Copé and a larger clan of neo-sarkozystes (Nadine Morano, Brice Hortefeux, Guillaume Peltier, Claude Guéant, Henri Guiano, Patrick Balkany); it is unclear what they will do in 2014.

The left is in poor shape as well. The government will not be changing courses as a result of the EP election, largely because it already changed courses in March after the municipal elections and because Valls remains relatively popular (but carrying no impact on the government’s general perception, which is largely negative and tied to Hollande’s extreme unpopularity). The PS knew it would do horribly in the EP election, so the thumping came as less of a hit for them, although it doesn’t change the very dire state of the PS and the government.

Additional maps of interest

Nouvelle Donne support by canton

A predominantly urban and suburban party in affluent, white-collar and highly educated urban areas. The outlines of some urban areas are clear (Rennes, Nantes, Caen, Angers, La Rochelle, Montpellier, Lille, Grenoble, Dijon, Niort) on the map; the extensions outside of urban/suburban areas is close, in many regions, to traditional Green support (Rhône-Alpes). There is a relatively strong R² relationship between the ND and EELV vote in this election (0.42).

Change in FN support from 2012 to 2014

There was, as indicated in the analysis, a very clear personal vote for Marine Le Pen in her EP constituency (the Northwest), with a substantial increase (turnout decreases notwithstanding) in all departments of the Northwest EP constituency. In other regions, patterns were more patchy and difficult to generalize, although the FN’s support also increased (again, turnout decreases notwithstanding) from 2012 in the coastal departments of PACA (where Jean-Marie Le Pen was the FN’s top candidate). Around Perpignan, there may have been a larger increase due to Louis Aliot, the FN’s top candidate in the Southwest whose local base is Perpignan.

The FN’s support decreased from 2012 in Corsica: this is likely due to Corsican nationalist voters who had backed Marine Le Pen in 2012 (the support of some nationalist voters for the FN/her candidacy is documented and proven by local results), who instead voted for incumbent MEP François Alfonsi’s moderate nationalist list this year.

Change in UDI-MoDem support from 2012 (Bayrou) to 2014

A map showing the local factors and local barons (often UDI) who provided a boost (‘added value’) to the centrist vote in some regions.

Abstention

Some odd and interesting patterns…

Guest Post: Newark by-election (United Kingdom) 2014

Chris Terry has contributed this excellent guest post on the Newark by-election in the UK, held on June 5. Chris is a Research Officer for the Electoral Reform Society and you can follow him on Twitter here.

Map of the Newark constituency (source: Ordinance Survey)

Following very quickly on from the European and local elections on the 22nd of May, the 5th of June saw a UK parliamentary by-election in the seat of Newark. For those who wish to read the wider UK political context, might I recommend my recent blog post about the local and European elections.

Newark covers part of rural Nottinghamshire, in the East Midlands. The largest settlement is the eponymous Newark-on-Trent, a market town in Nottinghamshire, with a population of around 26,000. Historically a local centre for the wool and cloth trade, Newark has transformed into a commuter belt town predominantly for Nottingham but also partially for urban behemoth London (which is a little more than an hour away by train). It is a prosperous town, and overwhelmingly white British town. The only other town in the constituency is Southwell, with a population of almost 7,000. The rest of the seat is very rural, with villages, farms and forest covering the bulk of the constituency.  Sherwood Forest, of Robin Food fame, is in the neighbouring Sherwood constituency.

Newark is a safe Conservative constituency. The seat was Labour held between 1950 (one of the few Labour gains that year) and 1979, but never with particularly sizeable majorities. Under Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative governments the seat became a Tory safe seat and they won more than 50% of the vote between 1983 and 1992. The seat was lost to Labour, however, in the landslide defeat of 1997, a demonstration of the massive Labour wave of that year.

The new MP, Fiona Jones, became the first MP in British history to be disqualified from the House of Commons under the Corrupt and Illegal Practices Act of 1883, after allegations of electoral fraud, her conviction was quickly overturned, but Newark was one of the nine Conservative gains in 2001, a generally appalling year for the party as it failed to unwind the Blair landslide of ’97. Jones later attempted to sue Nottinghamshire Police but her case failed, leaving her with legal bills of £45,000. She later claimed that a government minister had offered her sex in exchange for a promotion. Whatever the truth of these claims she was shunned by colleagues after her return to parliament and fell into alcoholism. She lost her seat in 2001. She was found dead in her home by her husband surrounded by 15 vodka bottles in 2007.

Since 2001, Newark’s MP had been Patrick Mercer, a former Army colonel who was given an OBE for his tour of duty in Yugoslavia. He briefly turned his hand to journalism after he left the military. Upon his election Mercer had experienced an initially dizzying rise through the Conservative Party ranks, serving as a Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Shadow Defence Secretary and, then, as Shadow Minister for Homeland Security soon after his election. Mercer was on the right of the Conservative Party, he backed right-wing candidates Iain Duncan Smith (who won in 2001) and David Davis (who lost in 2005) for leader of his party.

Mercer’s politics and brash style meant that he was not a particularly good match for the modernising wing of the party which took control under David Cameron from 2005. However he was allowed to keep his post in the Shadow frontbench until 2007 when he made public comments about ‘idle and useless’ ethnic minority soldiers who he said were using racism as a ‘cover’. While Cameron tries to run a party which includes those from across its length and breadth he is noticeably less forgiving to those outside his own modernising faction if he perceives that they have failed him, and Mercer was permanently relegated to the backbenches.

Relations no doubt soured further when, in November 2011, Mercer was taped making disparaging remarks about Cameron including referring to him as the “worst politician in British history since William Gladstone” and predicting that Cameron would be ousted by his own MPs in 2012.

Mercer was implicated in a scandal in May 2013. Mercer was investigated by the Daily Telegraph and the BBC’s Panorama series who demonstrated that he took payment of £4,000 from undercover reporters supposedly lobbying on behalf of the military regime of Fiji. He subsequently resigned from the Conservative Party and sat as an Independent. His motor mouth once again got him in trouble as he told a story about meeting a young Israeli soldier to whom he supposedly said “You don’t look like a soldier to me, you look like a bloody Jew.” His behaviour was investigated by the Commons Standards Committee.

The Standards Committee reported on the 1st of May this year. It found that he had deliberately avoided the rules, and failed to declare a relevant interest. Suspension from the Commons was recommended but with less than a year to an election which he was not planning on contesting anyway, Mercer decided to resign his seat, taking the position as Crown Steward of the Chiltern Hundreds (technically MPs cannot resign from the Commons, but a legal incompatibility exists between royal positions and being a member of parliament, hence giving meaningless royal positions to MPs is a time honoured way of facilitating resignation).

The by-election was scheduled too late for it to be held alongside Britain’s local and European elections, and so was scheduled for June the 5th, two weeks later.

The result in 2010 was:

Patrick Mercer (Conservative) 53.9%
Ian Campbell (Labour) 22.3%
Pauline Jenkins (Liberal Democrat) 20.0%
Rev Major Tom Irvine (UKIP) 3.8%

The Conservative majority was 16,152 (31.5%) and turnout was 71.4%, much higher than the nationwide turnout of 65.1%.

Under Mercer, the seat had become one of the safest Conservative seats in the country, the 55th safest seat for the party.

As has often been the case in recent by-elections in the UK, the big question of the campaign, nonetheless, was how UKIP would do. Despite conclusive evidence that UKIP’s base is predominantly made up of poorer ‘left behind’ voters which draws support from both Labour and the Conservatives, parts of the media insist on viewing it as the right-wing of the Conservative Party in rebellion. The announcement of the by-election resulted in a frenzy of speculation that the party’s leader, Nigel Farage would stand, with Farage quickly denying he had any plans to.

The party instead selected Roger Helmer, one of its East Midland MEPs. Helmer, a former business executive, was actually elected as a Conservative MEP at the 1999, 2004, and 2009 elections. Helmer had always been an outspoken Tory even as the party was at its most right-wing during its wilderness years between 1997 and 2005. In 2005 he was suspended from the Conservative group and the EPP-ED in the European Parliament after voting to censure the European Commission and criticising the party’s lead MEP, Timothy Kirkhope. He rejoined the Tories in 2006 but remained outside the EPP-ED group.

Helmer, is, naturally, extremely Eurosceptic, but also holds views extremely critical of anthropocentric climate change, which he refers to as ‘climate-alarmism’. He has also previously suggested that women had some responsibility if they were date raped and that homophobia “is merely a propaganda device” and does not exist. He opposed same-sex marriage, labelling it a “grotesque subversion of a universal human right”. However, Farage claims that Helmer has since “relaxed” his views about homosexuality.

Helmer has always claimed that his views are simply those of a typical Conservative Party activist.

Helmer announced his resignation from the European Parliament in 2011, citing disillusionment with the direction of his party under Cameron. Helmer expected to be succeeded by Rupert Matthews, who was next in line for a seat, but media reports about Matthews led to Helmer delaying his resignation. Media reports focused on Matthews career as an expert on the paranormal. He claims to have written over 200 books on the paranormal. Another book published by his company on political correctness appeared to feature golliwog dolls on the cover, widely considered to be racist in the UK. The party thus seemed to desire to avoid Matthews. Hence, Helmer defected to UKIP instead.

UKIP’s campaign was, as is becoming the norm, fairly professional. The party has very quickly gained a fairly complex understanding of the ground campaign. During the by-election an interview with Helmer was printed in the Mail on Sunday which purportedly stated that Helmer endorsed providing ‘gay cures’ on the NHS. Helmer accused the MoS of “deliberate, defamatory lies”, stating that he never said such things.

Speculation grew about UKIP’s chances when UKIP topped the poll in the Newark and Sherwood council area in the European elections, beating the Tories by almost 500 votes. Yet it should be remembered both that Newark and Sherwood covers a much wider area than just the Newark constituency and that there are different factors of a European Parliament election which tend to favour UKIP (higher turnout amongst UKIP’s base and strategic ‘single-issue’ defectors who vote for UKIP solely in European elections to register their opposition to the EU).

The Conservatives selected Robert Jenrick, a 32 year old former solicitor who was a manager at the world famous Christie’s auction house. He had contested Newcastle-under-Lyme for the Conservatives in 2010. Jenrick was attacked by Helmer on the campaign trail as an out of touch millionaire with multiple homes. Jenrick stated that having three homes “doesn’t mean that I don’t know about life on the breadline”, and the Conservatives sought to present Jenrick as a ‘self-made man’. Jenrick had no prior connection to the seat before his selection, though he is from the Midlands, coming from Wolverhampton. It should be noted that Helmer is not a Newark native either, though he lives nearby.

The Conservatives poured resources into Newark with cabinet ministers making frequent trips to the constituency and the party making the most of its new ‘Team 2015’ infrastructure. Losing Newark would be a great blow to the party especially coming off a respectable local and European election performance.

Labour selected Michael Payne, a Nottinghamshire councillor based in Gedling, to the West of Newark. While the party has held the seat before no one seriously expected Labour to win it this time around. Labour’s win of the seat in 1997 represents a high watermark of Labour Party fortunes, and even the most optimistic Labour supporter would agree that a 1997 election landslide is far from on the cards. Labour’s aim was predominantly to maintain a sense of momentum, therefore.

Former by-election masters, the Lib Dems, nominated David Watts, a councillor for Broxtowe on the other side of Nottinghamshire. While the party won 20% of the vote in 2010 this represents their height in the seat since 1983. The party has little infrastructure on the ground and only holds 3 councillors in the seat. Its aim, if any, was to hold its deposit (a party’s £500 deposit is returned if it wins more than 5% of the vote).

The Greens nominated David Kirwan. Two independents stood, Paul Baggaley, standing on a highly localist ‘save Newark hospital’ platform, and Andy Hayes, standing on a disabled rights platform. Reverend Dick Rodgers of the tiny Christian party The Common Good stood with the ballot descriptor ‘Stop Commercial Banks Owning Britain’s Money’.  The final serious candidate was Lee Woods of the ‘Patriotic Socialist Party’.

Two joke candidates stood. Nick the Flying Brick of the Official Monster Raving Looney Party is their Treasurer and their Shadow Minister for the Abolition of Gravity. His policies include making fishing a spectator sport by introducing piranhas into the local river, developing Newark castle into an intergalactic space port, and, naturally, abolition of the laws of gravity. Nick claims to have a ‘vendetta’ against gravity due to injury in a paragliding accident which he says was caused by gravity.

The other joke candidate was David Bishop, standing as ‘Bus Pass Elvis’. Bishop’s manifesto included a mix of joke and serious policies, including legalisation of brothels, with a discount for OAPs, students and the disabled, sending foreign pets back to their original country and environmentalist/animal rights policies such as stopping the importing of endangered species. Bus Pass Elvis also promised to “save the Antarctic, save the penguins and save Roger Helmer from being eaten by a polar bear”. Bishop has been a perennial candidate in British elections since standing against the disgraced former Tory MP, Neil Hamilton in 1997 under the name ‘Lord Biro vs. the Scallywag Tories’ but has received recent attention after he beat the Lib Dems in a council by-election.

Three polls were taken during the campaign, two by Survation, and one by former Tory treasurer turned quasi-professional psephologist, Lord Ashcroft. The first Survation poll was taken on the 27th-28th of May and showed Conservatives 36%, UKIP 28%, Labour 27% and Lib Dems 5%. Lord Ashcroft’s poll was taken between the 27th and the 1st of June. It had a larger sample (1,000 vs. 600) and showed Conservatives 42%, UKIP 27%, Labour 20%, Lib Dems 6%. The second Survation, and final poll full stop, was taken between the 2nd and 3rd of June, and showed 42% Conservative, 27% UKIP, 22% Labour, 4% Lib Dem.

Result

Robert Jenrick (Conservative) 45.0% (-8.9%)
Roger Helmer (UKIP) 25.9%  (+22.1%)
Michael Payne (Labour) 17.7% (-4.7%)
Paul Baggaley (Independent) 4.9%
David Kirwan (Green Party) 2.7%
David Watts (Liberal Democrats) 2.6% (-17.4%)
Nick the Flying Brick (Monster Raving Loony) 0.4%
Andy Hayes (Independent) 0.3%
David Bishop (Bus Pass Elvis) 0.2%
Reverend Dick Rodgers (Common Good) 0.2%
Lee Waters (Patriotic Socialist Party) 0.0%

The Conservative majority is 7,403 (19.1%) and turnout was a very high 52.8%, strong for a by-election, especially one held so close to the May election.

The by-election was a solid result for the Conservatives. Their candidate won a sizeable majority. While this is one of the party’s safest seats it is good for them to be seen to have performed strongly against UKIP in a straight fight.

The party has traditionally been very bad at by-election campaigns, and by-elections in the UK tend to be sombre affairs for governing parties. As the Conservatives point out, this is the first time they have won a by-election in government in 25 years. In fairness, that is largely out of luck. The party had been out of government for 13 years before 2010, and the period prior to 1997 had seen a long and drawn out series of by-election losses as the former Conservative government was extremely unpopular.

On the other hand, the party has had the fortune of seeing only one of its seats fall to a by-election since 2010 – Corby, a marginal seat which has tended to lean more Labour than Conservative and which had a thin majority of less than 2,000.

Nonetheless, the party was widely expected to lose more of the vote than it did, and a high turnout and a suggestion from the polls that it gained support closer to the election suggest that it ran a solid campaign.

UKIP performed less well than they hoped. The party did not appear to seriously expect to win Newark but it did expect to beat the record it set in Eastleigh in terms of a by-election performance. Instead, it will have to make do with second best at 25.9%. This has led some to conclude that UKIP has reached is ceiling, at least for the time being. Yet Newark is profoundly unfriendly ground for UKIP. Right-wing it may be, but it is very prosperous and does not have particularly high inward migration. Newark is not natural ground for UKIP, unlike the string of seats along the East Coast that UKIP ‘won’ in the local elections in 2013 and 2014 local elections.

It is hard to know whether the candidature of Helmer helped or hindered the party, in a sense it showed the public its most easily caricatured face. Yet, Helmer, as one of the more identifiably ‘Tory’ components of the UKIP machine may retain something of an appeal in the Conservative safe seat. In the absence of an exit poll it really is difficult to impossible to know.

Labour suffered a stinging rebuke. To lose support at this time is not something that should be happening to the party. The party ran a low-level campaign; understandably, as this was a seat it was unlikely to win. There may be an element of strategic voting at play (Labour/UKIP swing voters voting UKIP to keep the Tories out, and Labour/Tory vice versa?). Certainly the party’s stronger result in polls may suggest that the party was squeezed at the last minute. The party certainly cannot blame low turnout!

While the party never expected to win the seat, and almost everyone expected it to come third, no one really expected it to lose support from 2010. Still, it is difficult to translate a single by-election into national results and this may just be a freak occurrence. A negative sign it may be, but it is important not to over-read such things.

The Lib Dems have suffered yet another punishing rebuke at the ballot box. Winning just 2.6% of the vote the party went from third to sixth. It not only lost its deposit, but lost to an independent and the Greens (who did not stand a candidate in 2010!). 2.6% of the vote represents a record low for the Lib Dems in a post-war by-election. What must really hurt is that the party is not utterly without infrastructure and support in the seat, unlike, say, Barnsley Central or other constituencies where it has lost its deposit since 2010. The party has blamed tactical voting for its failure.

Anecdotal evidence from the ground does seem to suggest that some Lib Dem voters did indeed vote Conservative just to keep UKIP out. One of the effects of UKIP’s rise has been to make it more visible. Many voters see in UKIP a radical new saviour, and the party’s support has grown, but polls also show that UKIP has never been seen as negatively before. Around 40% of Brits see UKIP as racist. In addition to support, exposure has brought visceral dislike, and this may be the first sign of a UKIP backlash with liberally minded voters seeing the Tories as preferable and voting accordingly to keep them out.

For the Lib Dems it is also worth remembering that the party is polling around 10% at the moment. If it is collapsing from 20% to less than 3% in seats like Newark, that lays extra credibility to the claim that the party can rely on core areas to return MPs in 2015. That 10% of the vote must be somewhere and if it is geographically concentrated then hope remains for the party under Britain’s First Past the Post system.

EU 2014: Austria to Finland

ep2014

In the next few posts, this blog will be covering the detailed results of the May 22-25 European Parliament (EP) election in the 28 member-states of the EU. As was argued in my introductory overview, the reality of EP elections is that they are largely fought and decided over national issues and the dynamics of EP elections are similar to those of midterm elections in the US. The results of this year’s EP elections, despite the EU’s attempts to create the narrative of a pan-European contest with ‘presidential candidates’ for the presidency of the Commission, confirmed that this is still the case. Turnout remained flat across the EU, and while some pan-European trends are discernible – largely an anti-incumbent swing which is nothing new or unusual in EP elections, with a secondary swing to anti-establishment Eurosceptic parties in most but not all member-states – the fact of the matter is that the changes in the makeup and strength of the parliamentary groups in the new EP owe to individual domestic political dynamics in the 28 member-states.

These posts will likely come in alphabetical order. Some countries will be covered by guest posters who have generously accepted to help out in this big task, contributing some local expertise.

These posts do not include, generally, descriptions of each party’s ideology and nature. For more information on parties, please refer to older posts I may have written on these countries on this blog or some excellent pre-election guides by Chris Terry on DemSoc.

In this first post, the results in countries from Austria to Finland.

Austria

Turnout: 45.39% (-0.58%)
MEPs: 18 (-1)
Electoral system: Preferential list PR, 4% threshold (national constituency)

ÖVP (EPP) 26.98% (-3%) winning 5 seats (-1)
SPÖ (S&D) 24.09% (+0.35%) winning 5 seats (nc)
FPÖ (NI/EAF) 19.72% (+7.01%) winning 4 seats (+2)
Greens (G-EFA) 14.52% (+4.59%) winning 2 seats (+1)
NEOS (ALDE) 8.14% (+8.14%) winning 1 seat (+1)
EU-STOP 2.76% (+2.76%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Europa Anders (GUE-NGL) 2.14% (+2.14%) winning 0 seats (nc)
REKOS (NI/MELD) 1.18% (+1.18%) winning 0 seats (nc)
BZÖ (NI) 0.47% (-4.11%) winning 0 seats (-1)

Austria’s two traditional parties of government – the centre-right Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP) and the centre-left Social Democrats (SPÖ) both performed relatively poorly, in line with the general long-term trend of Austrian politics since 2006 or the 1990s. The last national elections in September 2013 ultimately saw the reelection of Chancellor Werner Faymann’s SPÖ-ÖVP Grand Coalition, although both the SPÖ and ÖVP continued their downwards trend and suffered loses, hitting new all-time lows of 26.8% and 24% respectively. The SPÖ and ÖVP, having dominated and controlled Austrian politics for nearly the entire post-war period, have gradually seen their support diminish considerably from the days of the stable two-party system which existed until the late 1980s. The ‘Proporz’ power-sharing system – the division of posts in the public sector, parastatals and government between the two major parties in the context of a pillarized political system – eroded ideological differences and created a fairly corrupt and nepotistic system of patronage and political immobilism. Austria’s economy is doing fairly well and the country is a haven of stability, but there’s no great love for its government. The SPÖVP Grand Coalition, which has governed Austria since 2006, could perhaps best be described as ‘boring’ – a stable, consensual and moderate government which ‘stays the course’ with rather prudent economic policies (mixing austerity and Keynesian job-creation incentives) and a pro-European outlook.  There have been controversies and scandals to weaken the governing parties’ support and make them vulnerable to anti-corruption politics, but no crippling scandals. In turn, that means that it can be described by critics as ineffective, stale and unresponsive to voters’ concerns.

Vote flow analysis from 2009 to 2014 in Austria, according to SORA

Four parties benefited from the SPÖVP’s relative unpopularity in 2013. Two old ones: Heinz-Christian Strache’s far-right Freedom Party (FPÖ), a strongly Eurosceptic and anti-immigration populist party with a strong ‘social’ rhetoric advocating both interventionist and neoliberal economic policies (tax relief, rent reduction, higher minimum wage, millionaires’ tax, more generous pensions, tax breaks for SMEs, tax cuts for the poorest bracket, reducing bureaucracy);  and the Greens, a left-wing party focused on environmental questions and government ethics. Two new ones: NEOS, a new pro-European right-leaning liberal party founded by a former ÖVP member in 2012, which has taken strongly pro-European (federalist) views combined with fairly right-wing liberal economic stances (tax cuts, a flatter tax system, pension reform, reducing bureaucracy, macroeconomic stability); and Team Stronach, a populist Eurosceptic (anti-Euro) right-wing (liberal to libertarian economic views) party founded by Austrian-Canadian businessman Frank Stronach. The FPÖ won 20.5%, the Greens won 12.4%, Stronach won 5.7% and NEOS surprised everybody by winning 5% (taking 9 seats). The FPÖ was decimated by its participation in the controversial black-blue government with the ÖVP between 1998 and 2005, and further weakened by the FPÖ’s famous leader Jörg Haider walking out of the party to create the BZÖ in 2005. But since 2006, it has gradually recovered lost strength, regaining its traditional anti-establishment, anti-EU and anti-immigration rhetoric and base of protest voters. In the 2013 election, the BZÖ lost all its seats, having been fatally wounded by Haider’s death in a car crash in 2008 (a short while after Haider’s BZÖ had won 11% at the polls in 2008) and infighting after his death. Since the 2013 election, Stronach’s party has, for all intents and purposes, died off: the party’s underwhelming showing at the polls in September 2013 led to internal dissent against the boss (Stronach) while Stronach lost interest in his pet project. Stronach has since gone back to Canada, leaving his party’s weak caucus to fend for itself without their boss and his money. The party barely polls 1% in the polls, and it decided not to run in the European elections or a state election in Vorarlberg later this year.

The SPÖ and ÖVP, under Chancellor Faymann and Vice Chancellor Michael Spindelegger, renewed their coalition for a third successive term with basically the same policy agenda and dropping the contentious points on their platforms which the other party disagreed with. This was greeted with disinterest or opposition by the public, and Strache’s FPÖ has continued climbing in polls. The far-right, ironically one might add, has seemingly cashed in on the Hypo Group Alpe Adria bank troubles. The bank, owned by Haider’s far-right Carinthian government until 2007, has been at the heart of a large scandal involving bad loans, kickbacks to politicians and a banking expansion gone terribly wrong. The bank was sold by the Carinthian government to a Bavarian bank in 2007, before the Austrian federal government nationalized it in 2009. The embattled lender has required the federal government to pump out large sums of bailout money (taxpayers’ money) to prop it up, and the situation has barely improved. In February 2014, the SPÖVP government decided to set up a bad bank, transferring €19 billion of troubled assets to wind it down fully. Austrians have already paid about €5 billion to help the bank, and the majority of voters want to bank to go bankrupt rather than footing the costs of winding it down (the government’s plan would increase, albeit temporarily, the debt and deficit). Although many agree that it was Carinthia’s FPÖ government which created the Hypo mess in the first place, the FPÖ’s support increased in the polls this spring when the bank was a top issue. The FPÖ is generally first or second in national opinion polls, polling up to 26-27% while the ÖVP and SPÖ are in the low 20s.

EP elections are, however, a different matter. In the last few elections, the ÖVP has generally done better than in national polls and the FPÖ hasn’t done as well. In 2004 and 2009, the FPÖ was weakened by competition from the Martin List – an ideologically undefined anti-corruption and soft Euro-critical movement led by ex-SPÖ MEP Hans-Peter Martin, who won 14% in 2004 and 17.7% in 2009 (electing 2 and 3 MEPs respectively). Since 2009, Martin lost his two other MEPs – one joined the ALDE and ran for reelection as the right-liberal BZÖ’s top-candidate while the other ran as the top candidate for the European Left-aligned Europa Anders alliance (made up of the Pirate Party and the Communist Party), and his personal transparency and probity has been called into question. Martin, polling only 3%, did not run for reelection. The FPÖ was drawn into a significant crisis when Andreas Mölzer, MEP and top candidate from the FPÖ’s traditionalist far-right and pan-German wing, commented at a round-table that the Nazi Third Reich was liberal and informal compared to the ‘EU dictatorship’ and called the EU a ‘negro/nigger conglomerate’ (negrokonglomerat). Mölzer apologized for the ‘nigger’ comments but did not back down on the Third Reich comparison, and Strache initially accepted his apology. But there was strong political pressure from other Austrian politicians and parts of the FPÖ for Mölzer to step down as FPÖ top candidate, which he did on April 8. Harald Vilimsky, an FPÖ MP close to Strache, replaced him. Ironically, on April 8, the BZÖ’s initial top candidate, Ulrike Haider – the daughter of the late Carinthian governor – stepped down as the party’s top candidate. The FPÖ’s support in polls declined from 20-23% to 18-20% following the mini-scandal, before climbing back up to 20-21%.

Turnout by district, 2014 EP elections in Austria (source: ORF)

The ÖVP, led by incumbent MEP and EP vice-president Othmar Karas, topped the poll with 27% of the vote, a result down 3% on the ÖVP’s fairly strong showing in 2009 (30%) and costing the party one seat in the EP. The SPÖ, which had performed very poorly in 2009 with only 23.7% (a result down nearly 10 points from 2004), barely improved its totals, taking a paltry 24.1%. In all, both coalition parties performed poorly at the polls. For the ÖVP, however, it was a strong performance compared to what it’s been polling in national polls – it has gotten horrendous results, barely over 20% and down to 18% in some polls; its leader, Vice Chancellor and finance minister Michael Spindelegger, even manages the relatively rare feat of being more disliked than the far-right’s leader. The ÖVP has been bleeding support to NEOS, the new right-wing liberal party which is attractive to ÖVP voters in their leader’s home-state of Vorarlberg but also high-income, well-educated urban centre-right voters. From 5% in 2013, NEOS has been polling up to 13-14% – the same range as the Greens.

The ÖVP’s stronger performance in the EP elections likely owes mostly to turnout. The ÖVP’s increasingly elderly and fairly rural electorate is far more likely to turn out in the EP election than the FPÖ’s potentially large but also fickle electorate of anti-EU protest voters who have lower turnout in low-stakes elections such as EP elections (and there was not much to mobilize a protest electorate to vote in an EP election this year). The turnout map shows the heaviest turnout from the rural Catholic ÖVP strongholds in Lower Austria (the Waldviertel and Mostviertel regions of the state are some of the strongest ÖVP regions in Austria, with the conservative party taking about 40% there this year), although turnout was also high in the traditionally Socialist state of Burgenland and SPÖ-leaning areas in Lower Austria’s Industrieviertel. In Vienna, the conservative-leaning districts had higher turnout than the working-class SPÖ/FPÖ battleground boroughs (53.7% turnout in ÖVP-leaning Hietzing and 34.8% turnout in the working-class district of Simmering).

SORA’s exit poll/post-election analysis showed an electorate which was more pro-EU than non-voters: 35% of voters expressed ‘confidence’ in the EU while only 18% of non-voters did so; 28% of voters expressed ‘anger’ in the EU compared to 35% of non-voters while an additional 19% of non-voters were indifferent towards the EU. 15% of non-voters thought the country should leave the EU; only 9% of actual voters thought likewise. Consider, on top of that, that of voters opposed to the EU, a full 60% supported the FPÖ while only 4% of pro-EU voters backed the far-right party. The FPÖ’s electorate is quasi-exclusively anti-EU/Eurosceptical, but it is this electorate which had the lowest turnout on May 25. As such, it is hard to consider this EP election as being an accurate portrayal of where public opinion/voting intentions for the next election stands at the moment.

Results by district of the 2014 EP election in Austria (source: ORF)

Nevertheless, the FPÖ won a strong result, although it falls below the party’s 2013 result and falls far short of the FPÖ’s records in the 1996 and 1999 EP elections (27.5% and 23.4% respectively). The FPÖ gained about 7% from the 2009 election. According to SORA’s voter flow analysis, the FPÖ gained 26% of the 2009 Martin vote (130,000 votes), a quarter of the 2009 BZÖ vote (33,000) and 3% of 2009 non-voters (a still hefty 99,000 votes). It held 64% of its own vote from 2009, losing about 16% of its voters from five years ago to abstention and about 15k each to the ÖVP, SPÖ, Greens, NEOS and other parties. Geographically, the FPÖ performed best in Styria, placing a close second with 24.2% against 25.3% for the ÖVP – the FPÖ had won the state, where the state SPÖVP government is unpopular, in the 2013 elections. Unlike in the 2013 election, the FPÖ did fairly poorly in Graz (17.9%) but retained strong support in other regions of the state – both the conservative and rural southern half and the industrial SPÖ bastions of Upper Styria. In Carinthia, the FPÖ won 20.2%, gaining 13.5% since 2009, but not fully capitalizing on the BZÖ’s collapse in the old Haider stronghold – the BZÖ vote in the state fell by 19.6%, to a mere 1.4%. The SPÖ made strong gains in Carinthia, continuing the trend from the 2013 state and federal elections, winning 32.8% (+7.4%). In Vienna, the FPÖ won 18.2%, compared to 20.6% in 2013. Its best district remained the ethnically diverse and working-class Simmering, where the far-right party won 28.7% against 35.8% for the SPÖ.

The Greens performed surprisingly well, taking 14.5%, slightly better than the 12-13% they had received in EP polling. Since the 2009 election, the Greens have gained votes from non-voters (65k, 2%), Martin’s list (54k, 11%), the ÖVP (40k, 5% and the SPÖ (36k, 5%). These gains compensated for some fairly significant loses to NEOS, which took 12% of the Greens’ 2009 electorate (a trend observed in 2013) and to abstention, with 7% of the Greens’ 2009 supporters not turning out this year. The Greens performed best in Vorarlberg (23.3%, topping the polls in the districts of Feldkirch and Dornbirn) and Vienna (20.9%, topping the poll in their traditional strongholds in the central ‘bobo’ districts but also extending into gentrifying districts such as Hernals), and they were the largest party in the cities of Graz and Innsbruck.

Once again, the Greens’ support decreases with age (26% with those under 29, the SPÖ and ÖVP placed third and fifth respectively), increases with higher levels of education (31% with those with a university degree) and was at its highest with young females (32% with women under 29). There is a massive gender gap between young males and females; the former being the FPÖ’s prime clientele (33%) while the latter are left-leaning and liberal (only 16% for the FPÖ). The SPÖ and ÖVP, the two old parties, have been polling horribly with young voters, who prefer the fresher alternatives of the FPÖ (especially unemployed or blue-collar young males in demographically stagnant or declining areas, with low levels of qualification) or the Greens/NEOS (young, well-educated women and men with high qualifications in cosmopolitan urban areas and college towns). The SPÖ and ÖVP electorates are disproportionately made up of pensioners/seniors – the two parties won 34% and 35% of pensioners’ votes respectively.

NEOS, on the other hand, had a rather underwhelming performance: with 8.1% of the vote, the new liberal party on an upswing since 2013, only managed to win one MEP rather than the two they might have won if they matched their early polling numbers (12-14%). In the last stretch of the campaign, however, NEOS’ support fell to 10-11%, likely feeling the results of an ÖVP and Green offensive against the ‘NEOS threat’ – the Greens trying to depict NEOS as a right-wing liberal party. The party’s stances in favour of water privatization, waste management privatization and European federalism, which are unpopular topics in Austria, may have hurt them. Weak turnout with young voters, NEOS’ strongest electorate, may also have hurt them. NEOS polled best in Vorarlberg, where the party’s leader is from (14.9%) and Vienna (9.1%); in general, NEOS has urban support, largely from the same places where the Greens or the ÖVP find support (well-educated, younger, and middle-class professional inner cities). Demographically, NEOS’ support decreased with age (15% with those under 29) and generally increased with higher levels of education.

The BZÖ saw its support evaporate entirely, even in its former Carinthian stronghold. The party suffered from major infighting following Haider’s death, and the remnants of the party shifted to a right-wing liberal/libertarian and Eurosceptic platform which was a major flop in the 2013 elections. The BZÖ’s sole MEP, Ewald Stadler, from the far-right Haiderite/traditionalist wing of the party, was expelled from the party in 2013 after criticizing the right-liberal shift and the party’s 2013 campaign. He ran for reelection for The Reform Conservatives (REKOS), which won 1.2%. The BZÖ’s initial top candidate, Ulrike Haider, withdrew, and was replaced by Angelika Werthmann, an ex-Martin and ex-ALDE MEP. At this point, the BZÖ is likely to fully die off and disband.

On the left, the Austrian Pirates and Communists, which won only 0.8% and 1% in 2013, united to form an electoral coalition allied to the European Left, Europa Anders, led by Martin Ehrenhauser, an ex-Martin MEP. They managed a fairly respectable 2.1% of the vote.

Martin’s 2009 vote flowed mostly to the FPÖ (26%) and abstention (25%), but the SPÖ, ÖVP and Greens each received 11% of Martin’s 2009 vote and NEOS got 9% of them.

Belgium

Turnout: 90.39% (+0.75%) – mandatory voting enforced
MEPs: 21 (-1) – 12 Dutch-speaking college (Flanders), 8 French-speaking college (Wallonia) and 1 German-speaking college (German Community); voters in Brussels-Capital and six municipalities with language facilities may choose between the Dutch and French colleges
Electoral system: Preferential list PR (no threshold) in 2 colleges, FPTP in the German-speaking college

Dutch-speaking college
N-VA (G-EFA > ?) 26.67% (+16.79%) winning 4 seats (+3)
Open Vld (ALDE) 20.4% (-0.16%) winning 3 seats (nc)
CD&V (EPP) 19.96% (-3.3%) winning 2 seats (-1)
sp.a (PES) 13.18% (-0.03%) winning 1 seat (-1)
Groen (G-EFA) 10.62% (+2.72%) winning 1 seat (nc)
Vlaams Belang (NI/EAF) 6.76% (-9.11%) winning 1 seat (-1)
PvdA+ 2.4% (+1.42%) winning 0 seats (nc)

French-speaking college
PS (PES) 29.28% (+0.19%) winning 3 seats (nc)
MR (ALDE) 27.1% (+1.05%) winning 3 seats (+1)
Ecolo (G-EFA) 11.69% (-11.19%) winning 1 seat (-1)
cdH (EPP) 11.36% (-1.98%) winning 1 seat (nc)
PP 5.98% (+5.98%) winning 0 seats (nc)
PTB-GO! 5.48% (+4.32%) winning 0 seats (nc)
FDF 3.39% (+3.39%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Debout les Belges! 2.98% (+2.98%) winning 0 seats (nc)
La Droite 1.59% (+1.59%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Others 1.14% (-6.34%) winning 0 seats (nc)

German-speaking college

CSP (EPP) 30.36% (-1.89%) winning 1 seat (nc)
Ecolo (G-EFA) 16.66% (+1.08%) winning 0 seats (nc)
PFF (ALDE) 16.05% (-4.32%) winning 0 seats (nc)
SP (PES) 15.11% (+0.48%) winning 0 seats (nc)
ProDG (EFA) 13.22% (+3.15%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Vivant 8.61% (+2.36%) winning 0 seats (nc)

Belgium 2014 - EP

The Belgian EP, federal and regional elections will be covered in a dedicated guest post.

Bulgaria

Turnout: