Category Archives: Belgium
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.
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.
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%.
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.
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.
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
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)
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)
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)
The Belgian EP, federal and regional elections will be covered in a dedicated guest post.
Turnout: 36.15% (-1.34%)
MEPs: 17 (-1)
Electoral system: Semi-open list PR, Hare quota threshold approx 5.9% (national constituency)
GERB (EPP) 30.4% (+6.04%) winning 6 seats (+1)
Coalition for Bulgaria-BSP (PES) 18.93% (+0.43%) winning 4 seats (nc)
DPS (ALDE) 17.27% (+3.13%) winning 4 seats (+1)
Bulgaria Without Censorship 10.66% (+10.66%) winning 2 seats (+2)
Reformist Bloc (EPP) 6.45% (-1.5%) winning 1 seat (-1)
Alternative for Bulgarian Revival 4.02% (+4.02%) winning 0 seats (nc)
National Front for the Salvation of Bulgaria 3.05% (+3.05%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Attack 2.96% (-9%) winning 0 seats (-2)
Others 6.26% winning 0 seats (-2)
In an election marked by low turnout – the norm for EP elections in the new member-states – the right-wing opposition party, former Prime Minister Boyko Borisov’s GERB (Citizens for the European Development of Bulgaria), ‘won’ the election and gained another two seats in the EP. The political climate in Bulgaria is incredibly bleak, and the elections in May 2013 have changed little except the colour of the head of an increasingly discredited, corrupt, incredibly disconnected and largely incompetent political elite. In 2009, only a month after the EP elections, the GERB, a new right-wing anti-corruption and ostensibly pro-European party founded by Boyko Borisov, a flamboyant and burly wrestler/bodyguard/police chief-turned-politician (he was mayor of Sofia from 2005 to 2009), won the legislative elections in a landslide, handing the governing Socialist Party (BSP) a thumping (like all Bulgarian governments up to that point, it was defeated after one term in office). Borisov quickly became unpopular, for implementing harsh austerity measures which drastically cut the budget deficit but aggravated poverty in the EU’s poorest countries (it has the lowest HDI and the lowest average wage at €333), and for proving once again that Bulgarian politicians are all hopelessly corrupt whose electoral stances are gimmicks. Borisov had previously been accused of being directly linked to organized crime and major mobsters in Bulgaria; in government, he was accused of money laundering for criminal groups by way of his wife, who owns a large bank. His interior minister wiretapped political rivals, businessmen and journalists; the top anti-crime official, who was Borisov’s former campaign manager, was suspected of having received a bribe in 1999 in return for alerting mobsters of police interventions and having turned a blind eye to drug trafficking channels in the country. Borisov’s government fell following huge and violent protests (a few protesters self-immolated) in early 2013, sparked by popular anger at exorbitant utility prices (it was said that households would soon spend 100% of their monthly income on basic necessities) charged by corrupt monopolistic private firms; but they symbolized a wider lack of trust in politicians and institutions, exasperation at political corruption, the control of politics by corrupt oligarchs and mismanagement in both the public and private sectors. Borisov engineered his own resignation in pure populist fashion and called for snap elections, in which the GERB lost 19 seats and 9% but retained a plurality of seats. However, given a polarized and dirty political climate, Borisov was unable to form government.
The opposition BSP, which increased its support by about 9%, formed a minority government in coalition with the Movement for Rights and Freedom (DPS), the party of the Turkish minority, and received conditional support from the far-right nationalist Attack party, notwithstanding the far-right’s traditional vicious anti-DPS and anti-Turkish rhetoric. Plamen Oresharski, a somewhat technocratic BSP figure (who had been a very right-wing finance minister under a past BSP government), became Prime Minister. But it was clear that the elections had changed little and that the new government was unfit to address the real challenges at hand: there remained a large discrepancy between the political elite and the citizenry, an ‘above’ vs. ‘below’ polarization rather than an ideological divide. The BSP is little different from the GERB; the left-wing rhetoric and orientation of the BSP is largely for show, because in power, from 2005 to 2009, the BSP government introduced a 10% flat tax (despite promising to amend it to make it progressive for some, the Oresharski government has keep it intact) and continued privatizations, while proving no less corrupt or incompetent than the right. Lo and behold, two weeks after Oresharski cobbled together his fragile government, major protests erupted in Sofia after the government nominated Delyan Peevski, a DPS MP and highly controversial and corrupt media mogul/oligarch, to head the secret service. Although officially owned by his mother, Peevski’s media group controls several high-circulation newspapers, TV channels and news websites which tend to be invariably pro-government while he is closely tied to Tsvetan Vassilev, the boss of a powerful bank which dispenses much of the investment for state-owned companies. Peevski is also a politician, having served as a deputy minister under a previous BSP government before he was fired and prosecuted (but later cleared) on extortion and corruption charges. The protests forced Oresharski to quickly revoke Peevski’s appointment, but the large protests, rallying tens of thousands of mostly young and/or middle-class protesters in Sofia organized through social media, continued in June and July. In late July, protesters laid siege to Parliament after MPs had approved a new debt emission without clarifying where 40% of the funds will go. Police brutally cracked down on protesters and bused the MPs out. The protests became a catch-all movement, calling for the resignation of the government, more transparency, less corruption, an end to the rule of oligarchs, cracking down on organized crime and more broadly rescuing Bulgaria from its dismal state. In late 2013, a report by the European Commission lamented the government’s inability to reform the slow and ineffective judiciary or fight corruption.
Protests have continued, but with lower turnout, marked by student sit-ins and campus occupations in October and January. Support for the protests apparently declined somewhat, with the BSP voicing concerns that the protests were partisan and that the GERB was seeking to seize control of the movement, although it does not appear that most protesters have been co-opted. Critics have attacked the middle-class background of the protesters, the strongly anti-communist and anti-leftist rhetoric of the protesters which has enabled the BSP to rally its supporters (in counter-protesters, allegedly paid) and perhaps some thinly-veiled anti-Turkish (DPS) sentiments. There has been some ‘protest fatigue’ setting in, with calls on the protesters to lay off and allow the government, although it may fall and be forced into snap elections at a moment’s notice, to prove itself. The government assures voters that it has a reformist platform, aimed at tackling corruption and improving living conditions and social benefits. However, at other times, the BSP has preferred to play political games, lashing out and pointing figures at the GERB, which retaliated with more politicking of its own.
A new party, Bulgaria Without Censorship (BBT), was founded in January 2014, led by former TV host Nikolay Barevok. BBT, which has allied with parties on the right and left, has a populist platform with promises to lock up corrupt politicians, work for ‘capitalism with a human face’ (Barekov has expressed nostalgia for the communist regime and criticized the effects of capitalism on the country) and an operation to audit the income and property of all Bulgarian politicians over the last 20 years. Barevok doesn’t come without baggage of his own – anti-corruption activists have asked questions about Barekov’s weight and there is the matter of his alleged connections to Peevski and Tsvetan Vassilev.
The GERB won the EP elections with a solid majority over the governing Coalition for Bulgaria, in which the BSP is the only relevant party. The party won 30.4%, very similar to its 2013 result, although its vote intake of 630.8k was far less than the 1.08 million votes the GERB won in 2013. The BSP coalition won 18.9%, a terrible showing similar to the 2009 EP election, when the BSP was also an unpopular governing party (then under Prime Minister Sergei Stanishev, who was soundly defeated a month later). From 942.5k votes in 2013, the BSP fell to only 424,000 votes this year.
The DPS, the party representing the Turkish minority, did very well with 17.3% of the vote, and the DPS’ vote intake was 97% of what it had won in 2013, the best hold of any major party. The DPS performs well in low-turnout elections, such as EP elections – in 2009, the DPS had won 14.1% and, most spectacularly, came close to topping the poll in the low-turnout 2007 EP by-election, winning 20.3% in an election with 29% turnout. Turnout tends to be higher in the Turkish areas of the country, where the DPS has a renowned ability to mobilize its Turkish electorate using various legal and extra-legal means (it is often accused of ‘electoral tourism’, which leads to Turkish voters voting at home in Bulgaria before turning up to vote ‘abroad’ at consulates in Turkey; plus the vote buying and intimidation techniques used by all parties); the division of the ethnic Bulgarian vote between different parties also helps the DPS top the poll even in Turkish-minority areas. For example, in this election, the division of the vote and turnout dynamics likely explain why the DPS polled the most votes in Smolyan and Pazardzhik province (which are 91% and 84% Bulgarian respectively, but the DPS has strong support with religious Muslim Pomaks – Bulgarian Muslims, who may identify as Turks – in the western Rhodope). In Kardzhali province, which is two-thirds Turkish, the DPS won 70.2% of the vote; it also topped the poll in four provinces with a significant Turkish minority (or majority, in Razgrad province) in northern Bulgaria. Peevski was the DPS’ top candidate, but he has declined to take his seat as a MEP.
The new BBT won 10.7% of the vote. It may have benefited from the collapse of the far-right Attack (Ataka), which had received about 12% in 2009 (and 7.3% in 2013), but won only 3% of the vote this year. The far-right has likely been hurt by its support for the government – the association with the DPS doesn’t seem to bother them too much, and Attack’s leader Volen Siderov spilled lots of vitriol on the protesters. The far-right’s support had previously collapsed between 2009 and 2013, when Attack had unofficially supported Borisov’s government, before it used the anti-Borisov protests to save its parliamentary seats in 2013. The Reformist Bloc, a right-wing coalition made up of the old Union of Democratic Forces (SDS, Bulgaria’s governing party between 1991 and 1992 and 1997 to 2001), former SDS Prime Minister Ivan Kostov’s fan club (the Democrats for a Strong Bulgaria) and former EU Commissioner Meglena Kuneva’s centre-right personal vehicle (Bulgaria for Citizens Movement, which failed to get into Parliament in 2013), held one of their seats with 6.5% of the vote. Kuneva was the alliance’s top candidate.
Turnout: 25.24% (+4.5%)
MEPs: 11 (-1)
Electoral system: Semi-open list PR, 5% threshold (national constituency)
HDZ-HSS-HSP AS-BUZ (EPP/ECR) 41.42% (+8.56%) winning 6 seats (nc) [4 HDZ-EPP, 1 HSS-EPP, 1 HSP AS-ECR]
Kukuriku coalition (S&D/ALDE) 29.93% (-5.98%) winning 4 seats (-1) [3 SDP-S&D, 1 HNS LD-ALDE]
ORaH (G-EFA) 9.42% (+9.42%) winning 1 seat (+1)
Alliance for Croatia/HDSSB-HSP 6.88% (-0.07%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Labourists (GUE-NGL) 3.4% (-2.37%) winning 0 seats (-1)
Croatian Center/NF-HSLS-PGS 2.4% winning 0 seats
Others 6.55% winning 0 seats
Croatia is the EU’s newest member-state, having joined the Union on July 1 of last year – after two-thirds of voters had voted in favour of EU membership in January 2012 and three months after a by-election to elect Croatia’s 12 new MEPs (in which turnout was only 20%). Although there is no significant party which is openly anti-EU, there was little enthusiasm for joining the EU – certainly, joining the midst of the Eurozone crisis, there was none of that pomp which accompanied the EU’s Eastern enlargement in 2004. The Croatian economy has been performing poorly for nearly five years now – in fact, Croatia has been in recession for five years in a row, since the GDP plunged by nearly 7% in 2009. GDP growth is projected to remain negative in 2014, at -0.6%, although Croatia is expected to finally grow out of recession next year. Unemployment has soared from 9% when the recession began to about 17-20% today, with little relief expected in the next few years. The country’s public debt has increased from 36% to nearly 65% of the GDP. Croatia was initially hurt by the collapse of its exports to the rest of the EU with the global recession in 2009-2010, and many argue that the crisis has been so painful in Croatia because of the government’s reluctance to adopt structural reforms to reduce the country’s high tax rates, boost consumption, reducing tax revenues, downsize a large and costly public sector and restrictive monetary policies. Nevertheless, since 2009, two successive Croatian governments – from the right and left of the spectrum – have adopted similar austerity measures which have been deeply unpopular with voters and unconvincing for investors.
Between 2003 and 2011, Croatia was ruled by a centre-right coalition led by the Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ), Franjo Tuđman’s old authoritarian-nationalist party which had transformed into a pro-European conservative party under Prime Minister Ivo Sanader (2003-2009). The HDZ government became deeply unpopular because of the economic crisis, austerity policies and corruption scandals which have landed Sanader in jail. Hit by the recession, the HDZ government under well-meaning but largely ineffective Prime Minister Jadranska Kosor introduced a new income ‘crisis’ tax and increased the VAT by 1%. More importantly, the HDZ soon became embroiled in a series of particularly egregious corruption cases involving Sanader himself. In December 2010, as the Parliament was about to strip him of his parliamentary immunity, Sanader tried to flee to Austria but was arrested on an Interpol warrant and later extradited to Croatia to face trial. In this context, an opposition coalition, Kukuriku, led by Zoran Milanović’s Social Democrats (SDP) in alliance with the left-liberal Croatian People’s Party-Liberal Democrats (HNS-LD) and the Istrian Democratic Assembly (IDS), won the December 2011 elections in a landslide with 40.7% against only 23.9% for the HDZ coalition.
In office, Milanović’s government has continued with similar austerity policies, which the centre-left government claims are tough measures necessary to make Croatia competitive in the EU and which any government would be forced to take. He has cut public spending, begun a wave of privatizations, reformed pensions, liberalized foreign investment and has talked of cutting 15,000 jobs from the public sector. Some of his controversial economic policies have been opposed by trade unions and employees, while the likes of The Economist dislike the government’s reluctance to cut taxes and public sector wages. The SDP-led government is widely viewed as being uninspiring, and some of Milanović’s decisions have baffled supporters – for example, Milanović barred (until January 2014) the extradition to Germany of former Yugoslav-era secret police chief Josip Perković, who is wanted for the murder of a Croatian defector in Germany in 1983. The opposition HDZ is hardly in better shape. Tomislav Karamarko, the HDZ leader since 2012, has not really improved the HDZ’s standing in opinion polls. In late 2012, the opposition leader was accused of creating a fake scandal to discredit the government (a right-wing paper had alleged that the interior minister had been tapping phones of intelligence operatives, before a left-wing paper countered by claiming that the intelligence operatives had suspected ties with the mafia). In December 2012, Ivo Sanader was found guilty in a first corruption trial and sentenced to 10 years in jail, for having accepted bribes from Austria’s Hypo Bank and an Hungarian oil company. In March 2014, Sanader received another 9 year prison sentence when he – and the HDZ – were found guilty of corruption, accusing Sanader of being behind a scheme to siphon off funds from state-run institutions for personal and partisan financial gain. There has, however, been a mobilization of socially conservative and nationalist opinion, buoyed by the successful initiative referendum last year which amended the constitution to ban gay marriage. The ban on same-sex marriage was approved by 65.9% of voters, despite the opposition of the Prime Minister.
The opposition coalition, made of the HDZ, the Croatian Peasant Party (HSS), the national-conservative Croatian Party of Rights dr. Ante Starčević (HSP-AS) and a pensioners party, won a strong victory – but with only a quarter of the electorate actually turning up. With 41% of the vote, the HDZ’s result is about 8.6 points better than what it had won in the by-election last year, when the right had defeated the SDP coalition by a small margin. The right-wing coalition won 381,844 votes, which is less than what the right received in the 2011 parliamentary elections (554,765), when it had won only 23.4%. Given the low turnout, it is likely a matter of differential mobilization – with opposition voters being more motivated to turn out than supporters of an unpopular and uninspiring government. Polls for the next general elections have showed the right to be tied with or leading the government, but more because the government’s numbers have collapsed to a low level than any major increase in the right’s support (which stands at 24-27%, with the gains from the HDZ’s result in 2011 coming from the addition of the party’s new allies, the HSS and HSP-AS). Turnout was slightly higher in some of the HDZ’s traditional strongholds in Dalmatia, but correlation between turnout and the right’s support was not apparent at the county level. As in 2013, the top vote-winning candidate on preferential votes was Ruža Tomašić, the MEP from the nationalist HSP-AS, who sits with the British Tories in the ECR group (the HDZ, and now the HSS, which won one of the coalition’s six MEPs, sits with the EPP). She won 107,206 votes, or 28.1% of votes cast for the list.
The SDP-led coalition expanded compared to the 2013 EP election, taking in the Istrian Democratic Assembly (IDS), which had won 3.8% of the vote (and topped the poll in Istria, a traditional left-wing bastion), but despite this expansion, the Kukuriku list won 6% less than the SDP-IDS’ combined total from the 2013 by-election and the 275.9k votes it won represents a huge collapse from the 958,000 votes the left had won in 2011. Tonino Picula, an incumbent SDP MEP, received the most preferential votes (48.1%), while the Kukuriku coalition’s top candidate on the list, EU Commissioner Neven Mimica won only 8.1% of preferential votes cast for the list.
To a large extent, the other major winners of the election were smaller parties, although only one of them won seats. ORaH – Croatian Sustainable Development (although orah means nut or walnut in Croatian)- is a new green party founded by former SDP environment minister Mirela Holy, who resigned from cabinet in 2012 citing disagreements with the government’s policy. ORaH describes itself as a socially liberal, progressive green party of the centre-left, and is seeking association with the European Greens. The party’s support has soared in polls since its creation in October 2013, now averaging about 9-11% nationally. Likely pulling votes from the left – ORaH performed best in traditionally left-leaning counties such as the city and county of Zagreb, Istria and Primorje-Gorski Kotar – the party won 9.4% or 86.8 thousand votes, electing Mirela Holy to the EP.
On the right of the spectrum, the Alliance for Croatia, a new right-wing coalition made of the regionalist/conservative Croatian Democratic Alliance of Slavonia and Baranja (HDSSB), the far-right Croatian Party of Rights (HSP) and the new far-right Hrast movement, won 6.9% of the vote, but failed to win a seat. To a large extent, the alliance’s support remained concentrated in the HDSSB’s traditional stronghold in Osijek-Baranja county, where it won 16.4%, but it did win some significant support outside the poor conservative region of Slavonia, notably in Zagreb (7%) and Split-Dalmatia county (10.9%).
The Labourists, a left-wing anti-austerity party founded by HNS dissident Dragutin Lesar, which won 5% in 2011 and 5.8% in 2013, lost its only MEP. The party, which polled up to 10% in 2012, has seen its support declined to 7-8%. The Partnership of the Croatian Centre, a new centre-right alliance including ophthalmologist Nikica Gabrić’ National Forum, the centre-right Social Liberals (HSLS) and two small local parties, won 2.4% of the vote. Former Prime Minister Jadranka Kosor, expelled from the HDZ in March 2013, was the alliance’s top preferential vote-winner, with 29.7% of the votes cast for the alliance in her name against 24.2% for Gabrić.
This EP election should probably not be taken as an accurate depiction of voters’ view, because turnout was just so low. Polls suggest that the next election, due by 2016, will result in an exploded political scene, with both the SDP and HDZ-led blocs polling below 30% with third parties such as ORaH, the Labourists, the HDSSB and the centrist alliance being all potential kingmakers in what may be a very divided Sabor.
Turnout: 43.97% (-15.43%) – mandatory voting unenforced
MEPs: 6 (nc)
Electoral system: Preferential list PR, 1.8% threshold (national constituency)
DISY (EPP) 37.75% (+1.76%) winning 2 seats (nc)
AKEL (GUE-NGL) 26.98% (-8.37%) winning 2 seats (nc)
DIKO (S&D) 10.83% (-1.48%) winning 1 seat (nc)
EDEK-Green (S&D) 7.68% (-3.76%) winning 1 seat (nc)
Citizen’s Alliance 6.78% winning 0 seats (nc)
Message of Hope 3.83% winning 0 seats (nc)
ELAM 2.69% (+2.48%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Others 2.42% winning 0 seats (nc)
Cyprus has been especially hard hit by the financial crisis. Cyprus’ huge offshore banking sector speculated on the Greek debt, and came under pressure beginning in 2008-2009 as bad debt ratios rose and they incurred major loses when Greece restructured its debt. The country’s economy collapsed after 2011: in 2013, the worst year of the crisis, the Cypriot GDP shrank by 6% and is projected to remain in recession in 2014 (-4.8%); the public debt has increased from 58.5% in 2009 to 121.5% in 2014, one of the highest public debts in the EU; unemployment has jumped from 5% in 2009 to 19% in 2014, the third highest in the EU. The Cypriot crisis was particularly complicated for EU policymakers and the IMF because the issue was the island’s gigantic and overextended banking sector – in 2011, its banking sector was said to be eight time as big as its GDP. To complicate matters further, a lot of banking deposits were held by wealthy Russians and Russians make up an important share of the local population.
Cyprus had been in trouble for quite some time before 2013, but the government of President Dimitris Christofias, from the communist Progressive Party of the Working People (AKEL), in office since 2008, initially resisted pressure to seek a bailout from the troika, downplayed the severity of the crisis and opposed implementing austerity and structural reforms. Christofias and the troika didn’t like one another; the latter didn’t trust him to implement structural reforms such as reductions in social spending and public sector wages (which is said to be overstaffed and generously paid compared to the private sector). As the crisis worsened and Cyprus’ credit rating was downgraded, the island was forced to ask for a European bailout in June 2012. Cyprus needed a €17 billion loan spread out over four years, a substantial sum of money representing one year’s worth of the Cypriot GDP; over half of that was needed to recapitalize its banks. In 2011, Cyprus also received a €2.5 billion loan from Russia, which is influential in Cyprus. President Christofias, however, balked at the terms of such deals: he opposed privatization of state assets and was a vocal critic of austerity policies. That being said, his government started introducing austerity policies in 2012 and early 2013: cuts in social spending, a VAT hike and the introduction of retirement contributions for civil servants. With a poor economic record, Christofias did not run for reelection to the presidency in February 2013, and the election was won in a landslide by Nicos Anastasiades, the leader of the conservative pro-EU, pro-bailout and pro-reunification Democratic Rally (DISY). With a more friendly and credible partner, the troika began negotiations for a bailout.
The first bailout agreement in March 2013 represented a major new step in the Eurozone crisis: it imposed a one-time levy on insured and uninsured bank deposits, at a 6.7% rate for deposits up to €100,000 and 9.9% on deposits above that rate. Designed to prevent the island’s banking sector from completely collapsing (but also because Germany didn’t want to loan the full €17 billion and only agreed to €10 billion), the ‘haircut’ on deposits was extremely unpopular and provoked a firestorm in Cyprus and across the EU. A few days later, with pressure from Russia (which was severely irked by the bailout terms) and local protesters, the Parliament rejected the deal. There were worries that Cyprus might be forced to pull out of the eurozone following a tense standoff with the ECB, but a second deal was reached: the Laiki Bank, the second largest bank, would be restructured in a bad bank, spared all insured deposits of €100,000 and less but levied uninsured deposits at the Laiki Bank and 40% of uninsured deposits in the Bank of Cyprus. In the final agreement, no bank levy was imposed, as the Laiki Bank would be directly closed, although uninsured deposits over €100,000 at the Laiki Bank would be lost and those over the same amount at the Bank of Cyprus would be frozen for a haircut if necessary. The Cypriot government also accepted implementation of an anti-money laundering framework, reducing the deficit, structural reforms and privatization. Cyprus also imposed capital controls. However, the first botched bailout was not forgotten in collective memories across Europe, with many fearing that there was now a precedent for ‘bail-ins’ and haircuts in the EU. It also soured Cypriots’ opinion of the EU, fueled by the view that they were the victims of the crisis and were unfairly blamed and punished for it.
With its business model destroyed, the country fell into a deep and painful recession, although the intensity of the recession did not turn out as bad as was predicted last spring and tourism didn’t perform nearly as bad as expected due to Russian tourists. In February 2014, the anti-reunification Democratic Rally (DIKO)’s cabinet ministers resigned and the Parliament did not pass a privatization program, which controversially privatized electricity, telecommunications and ports. A few days later, however, Parliament adopted a revised privatization program, which aims to raise €1.4 billion to pay back the next €156 million aid tranche. International creditors had threatened to withhold payments. The other part of the story behind DIKO’s resignation was its opposition to the reopening of talks with the Turkish Cypriot-controlled north (the TRNC); the issue has been at an impasse since Greek Cypriots in the south rejected the 2004 Annan Plan to reunify the island in a referendum right before it joined the EU, but Anastasiades and DISY were the only leading southern politicians to call for a yes vote in 2004 (Christofias and AKEL are pro-reunification, but Christofias had crucially failed to endorse the yes at the last moment).
The EP election saw extremely low turnout, by Cypriot standards. In 2004, turnout was 72.5%, but it fell to a low of 59.4% in 2009. For comparison, in the 2013 presidential election, over 80% of the electorate had turned out. This year, turnout collapsed below 50%, to 44% – an all-time low. The cause of the low turnout is likely political dissatisfaction and growing apathy – Cyprus hasn’t seen major social movements or protests against the austerity policies imposed, unlike Greece or Spain. As predicted by local pollsters, in a low turnout election, most voters were party loyalists who voted along the traditional party lines. The governing DISY won the election; Anastasiades has managed to shrug off the humiliation of March 2013. However, despite a strong victory, its actual number of voters – because of the low turnout – falls far short of what DISY won in 2009 or 2013. The major loser was the communist AKEL, the former ruling party, which suffered from the demobilization of its electorate, traditionally loyal, after the disastrous record of AKEL’s last term in government. AKEL’s anti-credibility also lacks in credibility. Cyprus stands out from the rest of Europe – and the world – for the strength of the communist movement on the island, which has been active since the 1920s and present in Parliament since independence. AKEL generally tended to support Archbishop Makarios’ government and oppose the enosist (union with Greece) far-right before 1974. DISY was founded as the most pro-Western and pro-NATO centre-right party in 1976 after the invasion, by Glafkos Clerides.
The two smaller parties, the anti-reunification DIKO and the social democratic EDEK (founded by Makarios’ physician and Greek nationalist Vassos Lyssarides in 1969; it ran in alliance with the Greens, KOP) lost votes. Smaller parties benefited from the political climate, but failed to win seats. The Citizen’s Alliance, an anti-corruption, Eurosceptic and anti-Turkish party, won 6.8% of the vote. Somewhat notable was the small success of ELAM (National Popular Front), a far-right/neo-Nazi party tied to Greece’s Golden Dawn (XA). It won 2.7%, a ‘major’ gain from 2009. With over 6,900 votes, ELAM actually won more votes than it did in 2013.
DISY won all districts. It won its biggest victory in the small Greek Cypriot portion of Ammochostos/Famagusta district, with 47.9%, but only 14,000 or so votes were cast. AKEL was defeated in Larnaca district, the traditional communist bastion on the island, with 33.7% to DISY’s 39.2%. In Pafos district, EDEK suffered major loses, losing 8% of the vote.
Turnout: 18.20% (-15.43%)
MEPs: 21 (-1)
Electoral system: Semi-open list PR, 5% threshold (national constituency)
ANO 2011 (ALDE) 16.13% (+16.13%) winning 4 seats (+4)
TOP 09-STAN (EPP) 15.95% (+15.95%) winning 4 seats (+4)
ČSSD (S&D) 14.17% (-8.21%) winning 4 seats (-3)
KSČM (GUE-NGL) 10.98% (-3.2%) winning 3 seats (-1)
KDU-ČSL (EPP) 9.95% (+2.31%) winning 3 seats (+1)
ODS (ECR) 7.67% (-23.78%) winning 2 seats (-7)
Svobodní (EFD) 5.24% (+3.98%) winning 1 seat (+1)
Pirate Party 4.78% (+4.78%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Green Party (G-EFA) 3.77% (+1.71%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Úsvit 3.12% (+3.12%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Others 8.24% (-12.79%) winning 0 seats (nc)
In the past five years, there have been huge changes in Czech politics, which may portend a realignment of the country’s partisan and political system, which is more unstable and exploded than ever before. For years, Czech politics were dominated by the centre-right and Eurosceptic Civic Democrats (ODS), close allies of the British Tories; and the centre-left Social Democrats (ČSSD); ideological differences became muted after the two rivals signed an ‘opposition agreement’ in 1998 in which the ODS agreed to tolerate a ČSSD minority government in return for government jobs and keeping access to the spoils. The 1998 agreement was immediately unpopular, and briefly boosted the prospects of the largely unreformed Communist Party (KSČM) and the centrists, led by the Christian Democrats (KDU-ČSL). It is cited to this day as the moment at which the ODS and ČSSD agreed to share the spoils, betray the voters and allowed politics to become corrupted by a murky group of lobbyists and businessmen. Yet, the system did not collapsed: after both parties did poorly in 2002, they both gained votes after a very polarized and acrimonious closely-fought election in 2006. The ODS formed an unstable government reliant on the KDU-ČSL and the Greens, which fell in early 2009. The 2010 elections were the first sign of major cracks in the system: both the ODS and ČSSD, while still placing on top, won only 20% and 22% respectively, a major fall from 2006. Two new centre-right parties, the pro-European conservative TOP 09 and the ‘anti-corruption’ scam Public Affairs (VV), did very well, and entered government with the ODS, led by Petr Nečas.
Petr Nečas’ government agenda included fiscal responsibility, the fight against corruption and rule of law. It basically failed on all three counts, especially the last two. Rigid austerity policies – one-point increases in the VAT rates, a new higher tax on high incomes breaking the flat tax (introduced by a previous ODS cabinet), and allowed pensions savings to be diverted into a private fund – were unpopular, and some faced hostility from the right (President Václav Klaus, a controversial and brash Eurosceptic, opposed the VAT hike and disliked the pension reform). The Czech Republic suffered a double-dip recession, and is projected to start growing again – but slowly – only this year. The government turned out to be awash with corrupt politicians – it was revealed that VV was actually part of a business plan for a security company owned by the party’s unofficial leader and cabinet minister Vit Bárta, who also bribed VV MPs in return for their loyalty. VV split and rapidly collapsed. In June 2013, Nečas’ chief of staff and mistress (the two have since married), was arrested along with military intelligence officials and ODS MPs; she was accused of asking military intelligence to spy on three civilians, including Prime Minister Petr Nečas’ then-wife; and brokering a bribery deal to convince three rebel ODS MPs to resign to save the government on the VAT hike vote in 2012. Nečas, who had been known as ‘Mr. Clean’, was forced to resign and the ODS’ support, which had already collapsed to only 12% in the 2012 regional elections, fell in the single digits. President Miloš Zeman, a brash and sharp-elbowed former ČSSD Prime Minister (who later left the party), who won the first direct presidential election in early 2013, controversially appointed a cabinet of friends and allies which did not receive the confidence of the Chamber and forced snap elections in October 2013.
The October 2013 elections saw major political changes. The ČSSD, torn apart by a feud between the anti-Zeman leadership (Bohuslav Sobotka) and a pro-Zeman rebel group (Michal Hašek) and weakened by corruption of its own, once again sabotaged its own campaign and won an all-time low of 20.5% – although they still placed first. The ODS, worn down by corruption and the economy, collapsed to fifth place with 7.7%. TOP 09, a pro-European party which otherwise shares much of the ODS’ low-tax, small government and pro-business agenda, surpassed the ODS, taking 12%, although it lost 4.7% of its vote from the 2010 election. TOP 09’s unofficial leader and popular mascot is Karel Schwarzenberg, the colourful and popular prince and former foreign minister; the party’s actual boss is the far less glamorous Miroslav Kalousek, a somewhat slimy politico who came from the KDU-ČSL. The KSČM placed third with 14.9%, a strong result but not the party’s best; the KSČM has a strong and loyal core of support and it has always done well when the ČSSD is unpopular or discredited (in 2002 and 2004, for example, or in 2012), but the party, despite some evolution, remains a controversial pariah which has not officially supported or participated in a national government (but governs regionally with the ČSSD). The sensation, however, came from ANO 2011 – a new populist party founded and led by Andrej Babiš, a billionaire businessman (owner of Agrofert, a large agricultural, agrifood and chemical company in the country) of Slovak origin. Babiš campaigned on an attractive anti-system, anti-corruption, anti-politician and pro-business centre-right platform which denounced professional politicians, corruption, government interference in the economy and promised low taxes. But Babiš is a controversial man – during the campaign, Slovak documents alleged that he was a collaborator and agent of the communist regime’s secret police; Babiš has been compared to Silvio Berlusconi, and raised eyebrows when he bought the country’s largest media group before the elections. ANO 2011 placed second with 18.7%. Úsvit (Dawn of Direct Democracy), another new right-wing populist party founded by eccentric and idiosyncratic Czech-Japanese businessman and senator Tomio Okamura, won 6.9%. Described by opponents as ‘proto-fascist’, Úsvit, which called for direct democracy and a right-wing economic/fiscal agenda (low taxes, attacking people ‘a layer of people who do not like to work’), controversially called on ‘gypsies’ to be sent back to India. Úsvit’s anti-corruption outrage rings hollow, because one of its candidates (who lost) was Vit Bárta.
Government formation was complicated by tensions between the ČSSD and ANO, which had not had kind words for one another; and tensions within the ČSSD, where Hašek’s supporters, likely with Zeman’s underhanded support, unwisely and unsuccessfully tried to topple Sobotka. Despite Zeman’s obvious misgivings about Sobotka and his desire to continue influencing the government, in January 2014, he agreed to appoint Sobotka as Prime Minister at the helm of a coalition government with the ČSSD, ANO and KDU-ČSL. Notwithstanding some very real policy differences and partisan tensions between the two main partners, the coalition has agreed to a moderate platform, which aims to keep the budget deficit below the EU’s 3% limit, eliminate healthcare user fees, raise pension payments and the minimum wage, lowering the VAT on some products, rolling back the ODS’ pension reforms, tax breaks for families with children and may lower compensation payments to churches (the ODS government controversially signed a deal to return real estate valued at 75 billion CZK to churches and offer financial compensation of 59 billion CZK). It will also take a more pro-EU direction than the ODS, having pledged to ratify the European Fiscal Compact. ANO sends mixed messages on Europe, trying to be both pro-EU and sufficiently Eurosceptic at the same time. Babiš is finance minister in the new government, and his continued ownership of Agrofert has led to accusations of conflict of interest.
The EP election saw extremely low turnout, down from 28.3% in 2004 and 28.2% in 2009 (which was already low, even for low-stakes elections in the country), reaching only 18.2% of the vote. With a fairly popular government still in honeymoon with little controversies yet, there was likely even less motivation to vote this year. As in the last two EP elections, it appears that the electorate which turns out is to the right of the average voter: compared to national polling, the ČSSD and KSČM did slightly worse (they’re currently polling 19-21% and 14-17% respectively) while TOP 09, polling 8-11%, did quite well. ANO, which is polling very well nationally (20-28%), did not do as well; while it pulls mostly from voters who had backed the right in 2010, it is a more rural and regional base lacking the Czech right’s traditional well-off urban component. Turnout figures regionally confirm pro-right differential turnout, with the highest turnout being recorded in Prague, the right’s (TOP 09) stronghold, at 25.8%, while turnout was below 20% in every other region and very low (15%) in Moravia-Silesia, the Social Democrats’ strongest region (and 13% in Karviná district, a coal mining area where the party had won 32% in 2013). In Prague, TOP 09 received 27% against 14.5% for ANO.
ANO topped the poll with 16.1%, just ahead of TOP 09, which won 16%. The left – ČSSD and KSČM – did poorly because of low leftist turnout, winning only 14.2% and 11% respectively, in both cases this represents a substantial loss from the last EP election in 2009 (where the ČSSD had done poorly as well). The KDU-ČSL did well, winning nearly 10% of the vote and topped the poll in Vysočina, South Moravia and Zlín regions, dominating their traditional rural clerical Moravian strongholds. A small anti-EU party, Svobodní (Party of Free Citizens) won 5.2% and one seat; the party, which is close to UKIP and whose new MEP (and leader) is a former adviser to Klaus, supports a small government, low taxes and abolishing subsidies and income taxes. The party is anti-EU, wishing to transform it into a voluntary free trade association or to leave the EU to join the EFTA; it opposed Lisbon and the euro, and now opposes the European Fiscal Compact. Having won less votes than in 2013 (when it won 2.5%), the party likely owes its entrance into the EP to the higher turnout in Prague, where it won over 7% of the vote.
The map on the left shows the results by municipality. TOP 09 clearly dominated Prague, Brno and Plzeň; ANO was strongest, like in 2013, in right-leaning areas of Bohemia, outside the urban centres in towns and rural areas (and in places where Agrofert is a major employer); the ČSSD managed to top the poll in industrial Silesia but few other places; the KSČM was strongest in North Bohemia and other former Sudeten German territory (which was re-settled by Czechs post-1945); the KDU-ČSL dominated rural Moravia.
Ihned’s ever-useful data blog has a tool (in Czech, but Google Translate does fine) allowing you to see average results in towns based on certain sociodemographic filters. It confirms the link between turnout and stronger support for TOP 09: where turnout was above the national average, TOP 09’s vote share was 6.9% above its national average; the ODS, Svobodní, the Pirates and the Greens also performed better where turnout was higher, while ČSSD and KSČM clearly did poorer where turnout was higher. ANO did slightly better in areas with lower turnout. The other demographic filters give a good portrait of the voter base of each party. Unsurprisingly, the strongest correlation is between KDU-ČSL and religiosity in this very atheist country – in areas where the share of the faithful is above the national average (which appears to be 14%), the Christian Democrats placed first with 18.1%. The party’s support rise exponentially as the share of the faithful increase in any given area, taking 30% where it is above 28%, 36% where it is over 40% and 43.2% in the few municipalities where more than half of the population are religious. TOP 09’s traditional supporter was very urban, young, not married, very well educated (post-secondary), employed, living in a house and probably an entrepreneur or self-employed. The ČSSD and KSČM had a slightly older, less urban, less educated (especially the Communists) electorate which was also more likely to be unemployed (especially for the KSČM) and far more likely to be an employee. ANO’s support was fairly composite; with no clear core voter base: the party’s average voter is slightly more likely to be an entrepreneur or self-employed, a bit less likely to be unemployed but otherwise its support is less clear-cut than that of TOP 09, ODS and even Svobodní (the right-wing parties). Like in 2013, ANO likely attracted a very demographically and ideologically varied electorate.
Turnout: 56.32% (-1.38%)
MEPs: 13 (nc)
Electoral system: Preferential list PR (national constituency), seats distributed to alliances (separate lists with votes being pooled together) and then to independent lists (de jure 2% threshold)
O (DF) – Danish People’s Party (EFD > ECR) 26.61% (+11.33%) winning 4 seats (+2)
A (SD) – Social Democrats (S&D) 19.12% (-2.37%) winning 3 seats (-1)
V – Venstre (ALDE) 16.68% (-3.56%) winning 2 seats (-1)
F (SF) – Socialist People’s Party (G-EFA) 10.95% (-4.92%) winning 1 seat (-1)
C – Conservative People’s Party (EPP) 9.15% (-3.54%) winning 1 seat (nc)
N – People’s Movement against the EU (GUE-NGL) 8.07% (+0.87%) winning 1 seat (nc)
B (RV) – Social Liberals (ALDE) 6.54% (+2.27%) winning 1 seat (+1)
I – Liberal Alliance 2.88% (+2.29%) winning 0 seats (nc)
The right-wing populist/far-right Danish People’s Party (DF, or by its ballot paper abbreviation, O) won a remarkable victory – its biggest electoral success, both in terms of percentage and number of votes – in the party’s history, confirming that the party, on the upswing since the 2011 legislative election, is stronger than ever before and is now in a position to compete with the traditional parties of the left (Social Democrats, A) and right (Venstre/Liberals, V) for power.
The left bloc – led by the Social Democrats and made of the green/left-wing Socialist People’s Party (SF), the left-liberal Social Liberals (RV) with external support from the far-left Red-Green Alliance (Enhedslisten, Ø) – very narrowly won the 2011 elections, ending ten years of right bloc rule – by the centre-right Liberals (V) and Conservatives (C) with external support from the DF. It was already a somewhat Pyrrhic victory, because the SDs, led by Helle Thorning-Schmidt, saw their support decline even further (to an historic low of 24.8%) while only RV – which gained 8 seats, to take 17 seats and Ø – which won an historic 6.7% ans 12 seats made gains (SF, which won an historic 13% in 2007, fell to 9%). The left’s victory owed mostly to the gains made its most right-wing and left-wing components, and general fatigue with a tired right-wing government. Helle Thorning-Schmidt (‘Gucci Helle’), the notoriously aloof and ‘snobby’ SD leader, was already fairly unpopular in 2011. Since then, the government, and the SDs in particular, has become badly unpopular.
The government, initially made up of ministers from the SDs, SF and RV, adopted a rather right-wing economic and fiscal policy which dismayed many of the left’s voters and led to major tensions with the Red-Greens, who provided outside support to the government. Soon after taking office, the new government was compelled to accept sharp cuts in the efterløn, a scheme which lets workers retire early on a reduced pension – the policy is popular with manual works in physically demanding jobs, but unpopular with white-collar workers and academics. The outgoing right-wing government, with the backing of the Social Liberals (whose economic and fiscal policy is fairly right-leaning and supportive of lower taxes and a slightly less generous welfare state), had passed a reduction in the efterløn and an increase in the retirement age; after coming into office, the SDs and SF accepted the new policy – after the SDs had vigorously campaigned against changes to the efterløn in the 2011 election. In June 2012, the government agreed to a tax reforms with the Liberals and Conservatives, which increased the top tax threshold (thus reducing taxes on the wealthy) and employment allowance (reducing the taxes on wages) and reduced state benefits (unemployment insurance, early retirement, child benefits); with the aim of increasing labour output, enticing Danes to work more and increasing the the economic benefit of working relative to receiving welfare. The government argued that it was taking difficult but necessary long-term measures to address demographic challenges to Denmark’s aging workforce, but the very neoliberal flavour of the tax reform infuriated the Red-Greens and threw SF, already criticized for having moved to the right to increase the party’s ‘respectability’, in a difficult position. Relations between the government and the Red-Greens were severely damaged; while an increasingly large number of SF voters (and some SD voters) defected to Ø, a process which actually begun in the 2011 election, when SF had lost a share of its most left-wing 2007 voters to Ø. At the same time, the right bloc took a decisive lead in polls; the SDs lost a number of working-class supporters to the DF and V, likely the result of voters disgruntled by the government’s shift on efterløn, a slight liberalization of tough immigration policies (under DF pressure, the previous VC government had adopted some of the EU’s strictest immigration laws, including the 24-year-rule, which imposes strict conditions on family reunification and spouses’ immigration; the left has largely kept these popular rules in place, while liberalizing the more contentious aspects, such as the heavily reduced social benefits for immigrants and detention centres for asylum seekers being processed), the mediocre economic situation, government scandals and mishaps and broken promises.
In September 2012, SF leader Villy Søvndal, who had led the party’s shift towards the centre and ‘respectability’ between 2007 and 2011 and supported close collaboration with the SDs in government, stepped down. In a high-stakes leadership race, Annette Vilhelmsen, a SF MP positioned on the party’s left, defeated health minister Astrid Krag, the candidate of the party’s ‘right’. Although Vilhelmsen dumped Thor Möger Pedersen, the young and unpopular (with the SF’s left) taxation minister and shifted rhetoric to the left, her election did not signal a major shift in the SF’s behaviour in government – it still played second-fiddle to the stronger SDs – nor did it turn around the SF’s sinking polling numbers (in 2013, SF’s numbers sank further, in the 3-5% range, while Ø polled up to 10-14%). The government – especially SD and SF – continued to be badly unpopular in 2013, with the right retaining a decisive lead (about 55-45 for the right bloc in total). A social assistance reform (which reduced benefits for young people and added more stringent eligibility rules; it was approved in August 2013 with the support of all four right-wing parties and the opposition of Ø) and the continued mediocrity of the economy (weak growth in 2013, unemployment at 7%) meant that the Social Democrats saw their support collapse even further, falling to 15-18% in early 2013 before edging back over 20% later in the year. V, which was still polling over 30%, DF and Ø all took their shares of SD voters. SF voters from 2011 divided between loyalty, moving to the left (Ø) or doing like some party members and parliamentarians did (move to the SDs).
In November 2013, the government passed its budget with support from V and C, after failing to bridge differences with Ø. The budget included millions in concessions to businesses and for higher job allowances. Although unpopular on the left, its effect was mitigated by V’s troubles, after the party’s leader and former Prime Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen was accused of spending over a million kroner on luxury flights and hotels in his capacity as chairman of the Global Green Growth Initiative – which is publicly funded by the Danish government. However, development minister Christian Friis Bach (RV) was forced to resign as well, after it turned out that he had lied about the government not approving the expensive travel rules).
In late January 2014, the government ran into yet another crisis with a deal to sell 19% of DONG Energy – Denmark’s largest energy company (of which the government owned 81%) – to the American investment bank Goldman Sachs. The deal attracted criticism from the left and DF because of Goldman Sachs’ role in the financial crisis and their plan to buy the shares via tax havens to pay less taxes in Denmark. The issue reopened the question of SF’s participation in government, and led to internal chaos in the party: the SF executive narrowly voted to accept the sale, some opponents of the deal in SF resigned, Ø pushed a parliamentary motion to postpone the sell to force SF MPs to take a stance and finally it culminated with SF leader Vilhelmsen announcing her resignation and that SF was leaving the government (but would continue to support it). Thorning-Schmidt shuffled her cabinet, creating a new government with the SDs and RV. SF voted in favour of the sale in committee, honouring the executive committee’s decision. Supporters of the government within SF ranks – largely supporters of former SF leader Villy Søvndal from the pro-SD ‘workerite’ right of SF – defected to the SDs, including defeated leadership contender Astrid Krag (who nevertheless lost her health portfolio) and former Communist stalwart Ole Sohn. Pia Olsen Dyhr, a member of SF’s ‘green right-wing’, was acclaimed as SF’s new leader.
A month after this crisis, the government ran into another hot potato which stoked Eurosceptic sentiments ahead of the EP election. The old right-wing government tried to limit EU nationals’ ability to receive child benefits by requiring that they have lived or worked in Denmark for two of the last ten years. In 2013, the EU Commission notified Copenhagen that this was not in accordance with EU law (as it discriminated against other EU nationals), and the Danish government began administering according to EU law, which takes precedence, and in February 2014 it proposed a law to amend Danish legislation to make it consistent with EU law. The opposition (V, C, DF, Liberal Alliance) and Ø (which denounced ‘bowing down’ to the EU and called on the government to follow Danish law) supported a motion reaffirming the Danish law. To mitigate the boost which DF received, at the expense of both V (which had some reticence about taking such a tough anti-EU stance) and the SDs, the government proposed tougher controls of EU citizens’ access to welfare benefits. In early May, the government was voted down on the motion on child benefits – with the opposition parties, including the Liberals, and the Red-Greens voting in favour of the motion and the government and SF voting against. In practice, the government will keep administering the law according to EU directives.
In this context, DF won a crushing victory. The party received 26.6% of the vote, by far the party’s highest vote share ever (the previous record, set five years ago, was 15.3%); but it also received the highest raw vote in its history – 605,889 votes, easily surpassing the previous record, which was 479.5k votes in the 2007 legislative election. DF benefited from national dynamics in its favour, but also a personality factor. Nationally, DF has been on an upswing since it lost votes and seats for the first time in its history in the 2011 election. Cashing in on the feeling of betrayal by the left of working-class voters, DF has made inroads with workers and SD voters: according to a study in February, 12% of SD voters from the last election would now vote for DF, along with an estimated 9% of SF and V voters from 2011. In the last weeks drawing up to the EP election, DF additionally benefited from two events: firstly, the political debate on child benefits for EU nationals and the application of EU law over the Danish law and secondly, a new scandal about V leader Lars Løkke Rasmussen using his party’s purse to pay for his clothes and a family vacation down south. In both cases, these events reflected badly on the Liberals, whose support in national polling has declined significantly as a result. In the first case, the child benefits debate increased latent Eurosceptic feelings and allowed DF to attract V supporters for the EP elections. In the second case, V was the target of attacks from the media and the right-wing partners (C, DF, Liberal Alliance). Secondly, DF had the strongest top candidate of all parties in this open-list election. Incumbent DF MEP Morten Messerschmidt is quite popular and he’s the most well-known MEP: already in 2009 he had broken the Danish record for most personal preferential votes in an EP election (set by former SD PM Poul Nyrup Rasmussen in 2004). This year, he broke his own record for most preferential votes in an EP election in Denmark, winning 465,758 preferential votes or 20.5% of all votes cast. His closest competitor, SD MEP-elect Jeppe Kofod won only 170,739 preferential votes (7.5%).
DF will probably not perform as well in a national election, but it is clear that the party’s fortunes are clearly really looking up these days. More than a few recent national polls have indicated that DF may become the largest right-wing party, ahead of the Liberals – some polls have even placed them as the single largest party nationally; if replicated in an election, it would be a phenomenal success for the party and create a highly interesting situation for government-formation. Most recent polls have placed DF party at over 20% – for comparison’s sake, DF won 12.3% in 2011 and its record high in a national election is only 13.8% (2007). Over the past few years, DF has successfully managed its first leadership transition in its history (DF’s founder and polarizing, but highly successful, leader Pia Kjærsgaard retired in 2012 and was succeeded by her dauphin, Kristian Thulesen Dahl) and a bid to make the party more respectable. Kjærsgaard had fairly successfully built up the party and given it its distinctive anti-immigration, anti-Islam, anti-multiculturalism, Eurosceptic and pro-welfare state (DF has more interventionist economic policies, by far, than the traditional right, supporting the welfare state and strong social benefits for Danish citizens) image. She gained significant influence over Danish politics by way of her influence over the previous VC government and particularly its immigration policies. Kristian Thulesen Dahl must give the party further respectability, perhaps with the aim of establishing DF as a major and leading force of the Danish mainstream right. The party is already highly disciplined and mature; it is now moving to adopt less extreme and more ‘respectable’ policies, notably on immigration. DF’s trouble is that, in first place, it would have a hard time finding allies, although some low-ranking SD members have expressed sympathy for a SD-DF coalition (which seems to exist locally in the working-class suburb of Hvidovre since the 2013 locals). DF is careful of who it hangs out with: it considers the French and Austrian far-right to be far too extreme and disreputable, and it has instead sat with UKIP in the EFD group and has now successfully courted the British Conservative-led ECR group. In the new EP, DF’s 4 MEPs will sit with the ECR group. It’s a major boon for DF; allowing it to compare itself to the Tories rather than be compared to the FN or FPÖ.
DF swept most of Denmark outside of Copenhagen and the city of Aarhus (and the island of Bornholm, which recorded a weird large swing to the SDs) – it won areas which have traditionally leaned to both the Social Democrats and the Liberals. DF won phenomenal numbers in Copenhagen’s suburbs – particularly the working-class and SD-leaning suburbs, such as Tårnby (35%), Brøndby (35%) and Hvidovre (34%), which were already DF strongholds; but DF also topped the poll in more middle-class SD suburbs such as Ballerup (32%), Rødovre (29.6%) and even the fairly affluent Lyngby in the right-leaning northern suburbs (18%). In Zealand, DF also performed remarkably well, with results over 30% in most districts. It also did very well in Lolland district (35.5%), an area with a rural working-class (sugar beets) and shipbuilding (Nakskov) tradition where SF was quite strong until recently. DF performed quite well in Jutland, especially so in the old industrial towns of Fredericia (35%) and Frederikshavn (35.1%). DF’s traditional electorate is old, blue-collar (and probably retired blue-collar) and with lower levels of education.
The Social Democrats lost one of their seats, and their vote fell by 2.4% to only 19.1%; however, things could have been worse for them: they placed second, ahead of an embattled Liberal Party and SD has not usually performed well in Danish EP elections, where some of its voters have sometimes tended to support other left-wing parties or Eurosceptic/anti-EU lists unique to EP elections. The SDs suffered from the unpopularity of the government, and the party’s situation remains difficult, but there was no collapse as there could have been. The main loser was instead V, which won only 16.7% and lost one of their 3 seats – ending up with only 2. The Liberals, in addition to the challenges mentioned above and DF/Messerschmidt’s attraction for V supporters, also had a mediocre top candidate who did not draw many votes to her name. V’s top candidate, Ulla Tørnæs, who only 6% of votes cast, is a former cabinet minister with a mediocre electoral record and reputation; she was chosen to replace the party’s stronger initial candidate, who got pregnant and over MEP Jens Rohde, who was too pro-EU integration for the party’s tastes. V’s terrible result placed significant pressure on the party’s leader, Lars Løkke Rasmussen, to resign at a crisis meeting of the party’s central committee. Although he was expected to resign, Lars Løkke Rasmussen survived the party’s meeting on June 3. The EP disaster and the scandals have hit the Liberals very badly: one shock poll from June 2 showed V in third, with only 14.5% support, while the government – for the first time since the election – led the opposition, 51.5% to 48.5%.
SF’s support naturally fell back from the party’s record performance in 2009, but with 11% of the vote, it remains a surprisingly strong performance for the party. Since leaving government, SF has gradually dug itself out of the hole it dug itself into, likely regaining the support of voters who left it for Ø during its stint in government – indeed, polls have shown that SF’s small gains (up to about 6%, which is still pretty bad) have mostly come at the expense of Ø, which is now under 10% in most polls. In the EP election, SF, which was defending only one seat after its second MEP defected to the SDs, was helped by incumbent MEP Margrete Auken, who won 6.7% of the preferential votes. Additionally, because Ø does not run in EP elections – its electorate usually supports the anti-EU People’s Movement against the EU (N, FolkeB) – some ex-SF voters who would now vote Ø nationally chose to vote SF for the EP. SF placed first support in the very left-wing downtown Copenhagen, after the party suffered major loses in the city in last year’s local elections.
The Conservatives (C) did quite well, all things considered. The party suffered a huge swing in the 2011 elections, when the party’s vote collapsed to an historic low of 4.9% (from over 10% in 2007 and 2003) and lost 10 seats, left with only 8 MPs. The party has been shackled with very poor leadership since 2008, and the Conservatives have lost a lot of their natural bases and key distinctive themes to other parties of the right: current C leader Lars Barfoed has taken the party in a more anti-DF and centrist (and ‘humanist’, in touch with C’s claim to be more socially-concerned and humanitarian than V) direction. In 2011, a fairly meaningless pact with the RV to cooperate across the centre worried the party’s right-wingers that it was shifting away from its traditional place in the bourgeois right-wing bloc. The Liberal Alliance, under current leader Anders Samuelsen, has shifted to the right in a libertarian direction, stealing C’s traditional call for lower taxes and small government in 2011; C’s other old core issue – national defense and patriotism – is a lesser issue, and national conservatives have likely gone over to the DF. Since 2011, the party has not made a recovery – it remains at its low levels from the last election, and polls have indicate that it has suffered from continued bleeding to the Liberals and the Liberal Alliance, the beneficiaries of C’s collapse in 2011. In the EP election, the Liberal Alliance ran a little-known candidate and did not join the V-C ‘electoral alliance’ (which would have made it easier for them to win a seat), and the party’s list got only 2.9%, compared to the 5% it won in 2011 and what it polls today (5-6%). The Conservatives also had a good top candidate: former C leader Bendt Bendtsen, who could be seen as the party’s last somewhat successful leader. He won 6.6% of preferential votes.
The People’s Movement against the EU(N) is an old left-wing anti-EU (it still seeks to leave the EU) movement, which only runs in EP elections, and is sometimes – inaccurately – seen as the EP equivalent of Ø. Its emphasis is more anti-EU – albeit from a clear leftist perspective (social dumping) – than ideologically far-left/socialist, and it likely has a somewhat broader electorate than Ø’s very left-wing base (while not all Ø voters may support N). N actually won the first EP elections in 1979, but its support declined consistently in every election after that until 2004, when the party reached a low of 5.2%. Between 1994 and 2004, it suffered from the competition of the anti-Maastricht (but not anti-EU membership) June Movement, which peaked at 16% in 1999 and lost its last seat in 2009. In 2009, FolkeB increased its support; it managed to do so again this year, despite being led by a little-known new MEP, Rina Ronja Kari. It likely benefited a bit, but not fully, from Ø’s popularity.
The Social Liberals, running in alliance with SD and SF, regained the seat it had lost in 2009, taking 6.5% of the vote.
Turnout was down on 2009, but remained high – by Danish EP election standards (not by national election standards) – at 56.3%. Like in 2009, a referendum likely drew out some more voters. This year, voters were asked to ratify Denmark’s participation in the EU’s Unified Patent Court. 62.5% voted in favour. DF and Ø had pushed the government to hold a referendum.
Turnout: 36.52% (-7.36%)
MEPs: 6 (nc)
Electoral system: Open list PR (national constituency), no threshold
Reform Party (ALDE) 24.3% (+9%) winning 2 seats (+1)
Centre Party (ALDE) 22.4% (-3.7%) winning 1 seat (-1)
Pro Patria and Res Publica Union (EPP) 13.9% (+4.9%) winning 1 seat (nc)
Social Democratic Party (S&D) 13.6% (+4.5%) winning 1 seat (nc)
Independent – Indrek Tarand (G-EFA) 13.2% (-12.6%) winning 1 seat (nc)
Conservative People’s Party 4% (+1.8%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Independent – Tanel Talve 3.1% winning 0 seats (nc)
Independent – Silver Meikar 1.8% winning 0 seats (nc)
Estonian Independence Party 1.3% winning 0 seats (nc)
Others 2.5% winning 0 seats (nc)
Estonia’s governing centre-right Reform Party won the EP elections and took two seats. The Baltic country’s economy is highly liberalized, something which has made it something of a ‘poster child’ for fiscal orthodoxy and economic liberalism on the right. Estonia introduced a flat tax in 1994, which remains in place at the rate of 21%, lowered from 26%. The country has been governed since 2005 by the Reform Party (RE), an economically liberal centre-right party which under Prime Minister Andrus Ansip (2005-2014) followed an orthodox fiscal policy which has paid off for the country – or at least in part. Estonia’s debt-to-GDP ratio is only 10%, the lowest in the EU, and it has only a tiny deficit of 0.4%. The country has a high rate of start-up businesses and a heavy use of new technologies (Estonia famously introduced e-voting, using a biometric ID card system, in 2007), and right-wing think tanks give the country splendid marks on rankings of ‘economic freedom’ or the ease of doing business. The economic stability allowed Estonia to become the first Baltic state to join the Eurozone, in January 2011. The country’s growth, nevertheless, has been patchy since the global recession hit: in 2009, the economy shrank by 14% due to a property bubble, after having solid growth between 6-10% between 2000 and 2007. In 2011, an export boom and the government’s fiscal policies allowed the country’s economy to recover, growing by 9.6%. But since then, growth has slowed to 0.8% last year and 2% projected for 2014. The country’s relatively strong economic performance has made it the focus of academic debates abroad: on the right, many hold it up as the success story of austerity policies (implemented in 2008-9) but others, notably Paul Krugman, pointed out Estonia’s ‘incomplete’ recovery (in Krugman’s case, it earned him a strong rebuke from the Estonian President)
The Reform Party was reelected in 2011, taking 33 seats in the 101-seat legislature (a small gain of three seats). Since then, however, the government and Ansip’s popularity tapered off, and RE’s polling numbers declined considerably in 2013, falling behind one or more of the three other important parties. A major cause of this rising unpopularity may have been ‘Silvergate’ – a former RE MP (Silver Meikar) alleged that the Reform Party received anonymous dubious donations. Although the government did its best to slide the issue under the rug, the justice minister was forced to resign in December 2012, having been accused of being aware and even involved in the illegal channeling of funds. It was the most important of several corruption scandals which weakened the government, along with rising voter fatigue in an increasingly arrogant government. In March 2014, Ansip resigned. It was expected that Siim Kallas, RE’s founding father and former Prime Minister (2002-2003) and EU Commissioner since 2004, would ‘swap jobs’ with Ansip, allowing Ansip to join the EU Commission while Kallas became Prime Minister. However, Kallas unexpectedly withdrew his names after negotiations with the Social Democrats (SDE) and instead Taavi Rõivas, who is only 34, became Prime Minister, in coalition with the SDE (replacing the conservative Pro Patria and Res Publica Union, IRL).
Ideological differences are fairly muted in a fairly enclosed and elitist political system: the SDE, the fourth largest party, and the Centre Party (KESK), the main opposition party, both favour a progressive income tax but in both cases these parties are moderate and not markedly different from the government. The right-wing IRL is similar to Reform, with an added populist bent and more traditionalist, conservative outlook than Reform (a party of young-ish technocrats and professionals). SDE is not descended from a communist party, unlike a lot of its Eastern European partners, and some of its founding components even have right-wing roots; its policies are very moderate and left-wing socialist politics are toxic in Estonia. All four parties have been in government with Reform at some time since 2005.
KESK, the main opposition party, is controversial and divisive. Although sometimes identified as a ‘social liberal’ or left-liberal party, KESK is primarily a populist party whose positions are oftentimes hardly ‘socially liberal’. It is also something of a personal machine, with a heavy-handed strongman as its leader since 1991: Edgar Savisaar, a former Prime Minister (1992-1993) and the mayor of Tallinn. Savisaar has run his party with an iron fist, throwing out party members who have questioned his leadership, and has a bad reputation for corruption, nepotism and authoritarianism as mayor of the capital. KESK’s strongest support comes from the country’s Russian minority, a fact which adds to the party’s divisiveness in the country. Russians make up 26.1% of the population, with a significant minority (37%) in Tallinn and a large majority (73%) in the easternmost county of Ida-Viru, which borders Russia. Although a small minority of Russian Old Believers (about 8% of the population in the 1930s) were present prior to the Soviet Union’s invasion and annexation, the bulk of the Russian minority moved forcibly or voluntarily to Estonia under Soviet rule, which has made them illegal immigrants in the eyes of the most radical Estonian nationalists. In 1992, Estonia, like Latvia, restored citizenship to those who had Estonian citizenship prior to the 1940 invasion and their descendants (on the basis of state continuity); this left most Russians without citizenship, and the option to choose between naturalization (requiring basic knowledge of Estonian, the constitution and the citizenship act), acquiring Russian citizenship or remaining ‘undetermined’. Most have opted for naturalization, but in 2014, 6.5% of residents remained with ‘undetermined citizenship’ and 9.2% were foreign nationals (mostly Russians). Relations with Russia and the issue of the Russian minority remains a highly contentious and divisive issue both diplomatically and domestically. Savisaar has been accused of ties to Russian politicians and KESK has received donations from Russian companies and is said to have close ties with Vladimir Putin’s United Russia party. In 2012, six MPs and the party’s two MEPs left the party, opposing Savisaar’s leadership.
The Reform Party, with EU Commission-hopeful Andrus Ansip as its top candidate, topped the poll, gaining 9% over its weak performance in 2009. Ansip was the most-voted individual candidates, receiving over 450,000 votes. Kaja Kallas, the daughter of Siim Kallas and a RE MP, won a second EP seat for the party, taking nearly 21,500 votes. The Centre Party was the only major party to suffer loses, losing nearly 4% of its support from 2009 and its second MEP seat. Notably, KESK leader Edgar Savisaar failed to win a seat: Yana Toom, a naturalized former Russian citizen, was elected as KESK’s only MEP, with 25,251 votes while Savisaar received only 18,516 votes. KESK’s support remained highly localized, topping the poll in only two locations: in Ida-Viru county, with 59.5% and in the city of Tallinn, with 31.6%. The two smaller parties, IRL and SDE, gained ground and held their single MEP mandate. Independent candidate Indrek Tarand, a colourful former civil servant, journalist and TV personality, was elected to the EP in 2009 on an anti-establishment protest vote, following the decision to switch to closed lists for the 2009 EP election. He won a remarkable 25.8% in 2009, and would have won a second seat if he had another candidate on his list (the seat instead went to SDE, which won only 8.7%); he drew votes across the board, except from KESK. Tarand joined the G-EFA group and has voted with his group colleagues the vast majority of the time. Tarand was reelected with 43,369 votes or 13.2% of the vote.
Turnout: 41% (+0.7%)
MEPs: 13 (nc)
Electoral system: Open list PR (votes for candidates only, not party lists; national constituency), possibility for alliances (see Denmark)
KOK (EPP) 22.6% (-0.6%) winning 3 seats (nc)
KESK (ALDE) 19.7% (+0.6%) winning 3 seats (nc)
PS (EFD > ECR) 12.9% (+3.1%) winning 2 seats (+1)
SDP (S&D) 12.3% (-5.2%) winning 2 seats (nc)
Greens (G-EFA) 9.3% (-3.1%) winning 1 seat (-1)
VAS (GUE-NGL) 9.3% (+3.4%) winning 1 seat (+1)
SFP-RKP (ALDE) 6.8% (+0.7%) winning 1 seat (nc)
KD (EPP) 5.2% (+1.1%) winning 0 seats (-1)
Pirates 0.7% (+0.7%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Others 1.2% (+0.3%) winning 0 seats (nc)
The senior governing party, the liberal-conservative National Coalition Party (KOK), topped the polls in the EP elections, while the right-populist and Eurosceptic Finns Party (PS) won a strong but unremarkable result.
Finnish politics were shaken up in the 2011 legislative elections by the remarkable performance of Timo Soini’s Finns Party (formerly known as the ‘True Finns’, until we figured out that we were translating the Swedish name of a party opposed to the active use of the Swedish language), a populist and Eurosceptic party which surged from 4% to 19% between the 2007 and 2011 elections. The Eurozone crisis provoked a surge in latent Eurosceptic sentiments in Finland – a fairly propserous state, but which had suffered from the recession in 2009 (Finnish economic growth fell by over 8.5% in 2009). Voters opposed the European bailouts to Greece and Ireland, with Soini’s PS seizing on the idea that Finnish taxpayers were unjustly burdened with the costs of bailing out reckless spenders in the EU; these bailouts were approved by the then-government, led by the Nordic agrarian Centre Party (KESK). A populist party, the Finns Party mixes social conservatism with economic interventionism and a strong defense of the Finnish welfare state; it is also nationalist and anti-establishment, strongly opposed to the EU and NATO, while critical of Finland’s traditional consensus-driven and coalition-based politics and tight-knit political elite. PS is opposed to multiculturalism and mass immigration, and has proposed much stricter laws on asylum seekers, but unlike a lot of the parties it is compared to, immigration is not the focal point of PS campaigns (although it obviously plays an important role). Compared to the right-populist spectrum in Europe, PS is quite moderate. It claims to be a centrist party and indeed grew out of Finland’s strong Nordic agrarian centrist tradition (where ‘centrist’ does not have the same meaning as elsewhere in the EU), and by its policies and behaviour, it tends to align with other relatively moderate right-populist parties such as DF in Denmark. However, the PS caucus includes oddballs with a penchant for racist and xenophobic comments, so that aspect of right-populism is certainly absent from PS.
In the 2011 election, PS managed to ride a wave of popular dissatisfaction with the three leading parties (which had, in the recent past, all polled within a few percent of one another) – the urban centre-right KOK, the rural Nordic agrarian KESK and the centre-left Social Democrats (SDP) related to the Eurozone bailouts, economic worries at home and protest against Finnish consensual politics. The party drew a composite electorate: from the SDP, it gained traditional working-class voters in mill towns; it ate into KESK’s culturally conservative and isolationist rural base – after all, PS grew out of a rural protest party (SMP) which had peaked at 18 seats in the early 1970s. As a result of this shellshock election, in which the three major parties – but also minor parties such as the Greens (Vihr), the Left Alliance (VAS) and the Christian Democrats (KD) – lost votes, PS ended up a strong third (but only a bit over 1% away from first place) with a record 39 seats. The governing KESK suffered the most, losing 7% of its vote and winning a disastrous fourth place with 15.8%. Timo Soini’s non-negotiable opposition to the Portuguese bailout, however, meant that his party was not included in cabinet, which was led by KOK, the pro-European and pro-NATO party which placed first and which supported the bailouts.
The government formed in June 2011 was a very heterogeneous and broad-based coalition including no less than six parties: led by KOK and chaired by Prime Minister Jyrki Katainen, it included the SDP, Greens, VAS, the KD and the Swedish People’s Party (SFP-RKP, a liberal party representing Finland’s Swedish-speaking minority, a member of every government since 1972). The PS became the largest opposition party, while the KESK, which has historically been included in most government coalitions because of its place as a ‘hinge party’, joined the opposition. Although PS was not a member of the government, the meanings of its remarkable electoral success in 2011 was not lost on Katainen’s new government. Finland took a ‘hardline’ stance in the Eurozone on the issue of bailouts. It was the only country to demand collateral in exchange for agreeing to the second Greek loan and the Spanish bailout; the government submitted the Portuguese and Spanish bailouts to a parliamentary vote; it has favoured rigid requirements for the use of the European Stability Mechanism (ESM) and opposed using the ESM to purchase bonds on secondary markets. Within the government, finance minister Jutta Urpalainen, the leader of the traditionally pro-European SDP’s leader, took a tough stance on the euro and bailouts. In the opposition, KESK, which had approved the Greek and Irish bailouts while in power and had been broadly pro-European under centrist Prime Ministers Matti Vanhanen and Mari Kiviniemi, signaled a partial return to its historical Eurosceptic roots upon joining the opposition. KESK’s candidate in the 2012 presidential election – senior politician Paavo Väyrynen, a long-standing member of KESK’s Eurosceptic wing – ran a Euro-critical campaign, claiming that the Eurozone would dissolve and supporting a Finnish exit from the common currency. However, while PS’ success in 2011 signaled the existence of a strong Eurosceptic electorate, the 2012 presidential election showed that most Finnish voters remained pro-EU and pro-euro. Timo Soini won only 9.4% as PS’ presidential candidate; Väyrynen won 17.5% of the vote, failing to qualify for the runoff, which opposed eventual winner Sauli Niinistö (KOK) – a very popular pro-European leader – and Pekka Haavisto, the Greens’ progressive and pro-European candidate.
Finland remains a stable, prosperous country with famously high standards of living, a generous welfare system and an excellent educational system. It remains one of the select few countries in the world with an AAA credit rating, and it has jealously sought to protect it. However, Finland suffered from the recession in 2009, and recovery has been slow and difficult – slower than it has been in Sweden, whose economy has performed better (outside of the Eurozone) since the first recession. Finnish GDP contracted by 1% in 2012 and 1.4% in 2013. Finland’s economy has been negatively impacted by Finnish giant Nokia’s financial troubles, and it is burdened with urgent issues such as a rapidly aging population and a major increase in unit labour costs. The government implemented austerity policies, largely made up of spending cuts with some tax increases (the VAT); in 2013, it did cut corporate taxes by 4% to 20%, which was criticized by VAS, which also forced the government to re-evaluate changes to dividends taxation. The government is planning to advance a €9 billion plan to boost employment and productivity through structural reforms to tackle costs stemming from an aging population. These measures include a social and health reform which would place healthcare management in regional, rather than municipal hands; municipal mergers and incentives to extend careers (but under SDP pressure, raising the retirement age from 63 to 67 appears off the table).
In February 2014, amid austerity backlash due to the struggling economy and pressure from VAS, the government announced that it would drop a target to halt debt growth (spending cuts) – either walking back on some austerity measures, spreading cuts over a longer period or balance them between tax hikes and spending cuts. In late March 2014, VAS decided to leave the government, protesting a new austerity package of €2.3 billion worth of tax increases and spending cuts (including benefit payments to families with young children) to balance the books by 2018 and halt growing indebtedness (now over 60% of GDP). VAS had not performed too poorly in opposition, despite vocal opposition to its partaking in a right-leaning government from some far-left parties and party dissidents, but the government’s austerity measures had become too much for the party. The party which has been ruined by government participation is the SDP, the largest junior partner. SDP leader Jutta Urpalainen, was already a fairly mediocre leader before 2011, and the SDP has been in a sorry state for quite some time – its 2009 EP result (17.5%) was the worst SDP performance on record in a national election and in the 2011 it sunk to only 19.2% support. The SDP struggled in government, as Urpalainen implemented austerity policies and took a hard stance on Eurozone matters, somewhat at odds with the SDP’s base; the SDP’s polling declined from 19% in 2011 to 15-16%. This year, Urpalainen was challenged for the party’s leadership by Antti Rinne, a former trade union leader who engaged the SDP’s base with traditional left-wing rhetoric against austerity. Rinne defeated Urpalainen for the SDP leadership on May 9, 2014 and will replace Urpalainen as finance minister. Rinne favours interventionist pro-growth policies, and is critical of some of the government’s policies – he would like to expand a €600 million stimulus package announced a few months ago.
Jyrki Katainen is set to step down in June 2014, eyeing a EU or international job. Three KOK cabinet ministers have lined up to fight a leadership election in June 2014, which will determine Katainen’s successor as Prime Minister and leader of Finland’s largest party.
KOK remained the single largest party in the EP elections, taking just below 23% of the vote and holding its three seats in the EP. The pro-EU centre-right party’s vote is actually up 2.2% on its 2011 result, although because of low turnout it received over 200,000 votes less than it had in 2011. The ruling party received a strong boost in Finland’s candidate-centered electoral system from EU minister Alexander Stubb, a leading contender to succeed Katainen as Prime Minister. He won 148,190 votes, the most votes received by an individual candidate in this election. In 2009, the most popular candidate was Timo Soini, who had won over 130,000 votes. Stubb’s support was evenly distributed throughout southern Finland, the most urbanized and populated part of the country and KOK’s traditional base; he did particularly well in urban centres – Helsinki, Helsinki’s suburbs in Uusimaa region, Tampere, Lahti and suburban Turku. Other KOK MEPs had more localized support: transport minister and MEP-elect Henna Virkkunen dominated around her hometown of Jyväskylä in central Finland while incumbent MEP Sirpa Pietikäinen was strong around Hämeenlinna.
KESK placed second, with a performance similar to 2009 but recording a 3.9% improvement on KESK’s disastrous result in the 2011 election. The Centrists have likely recovered rural voters who had abandoned them for the PS in 2011. In this election, KESK, which includes both a more liberal pro-European wing and a traditionally Eurosceptic and isolationist wing, conciliated both factions in the party with its leading candidates. Olli Rehn, the EU Commissioner for Economic and Monetary Affairs (known as an advocate of austerity policies) won 70,398 votes – coming in as the third most voted candidate in Finland. Paavo Väyrynen, a former cabinet minister and 2012 presidential candidate from the party’s Eurosceptic wing, won 69,360 votes. Väyrynen boosted KESK’s support considerably in his native Lapland, where he won the most votes of any candidate and where KESK’s support increased by 9.6% since 2009 and 11.8% since 2011 to 44%. KESK also gained 6.4% from 2011 in Oulu region. Incumbent MEP and former Prime Minister Anneli Jäätteenmäki was KESK’s third MEP, finding most of her support in and around her hometown of Lapua in Southern Ostrobothnia.
The Finns Party had, like in the 2012 municipal elections, a mixed result. With 13% of the vote, it is a distant third ahead of the SDP, and PS recorded the second strongest vote increase since 2009 of any party – a gain of 3.1%, and also a gain of a second seat in the EP. However, PS’ result is down 6.2% and over 337,000 votes lower than in the 2011 election, where PS won 19% of the vote. It is, in this sense, an unremarkable and underwhelming performance for the right-populist and Eurosceptic movement, which – unlike DF in Denmark – has not increased its support from the last election. At the same time, however, it still shows that PS has solidified itself as a major party in a system which now has four, instead of three, parties in competition for power. At the national level, PS is still polling strongly, generally in the 17-18% range. Its support has not collapsed as some had predicted in 2011. In the EP election, PS’ underperformance likely owes to lower turnout (some anti-EU protest voters may not have showed up, feeling disconnected from and not concerned by the distant issue) but also the lack of Timo Soini, who is a major boost for PS. PS’ top two candidates and MEPs-elect – Jussi Hallo-aho, a PS MP famous for his anti-immigration and anti-multiculturalism positions; and Soini’s successor as MEP, Sampo Terho – lacked Soini’s profile, although the fairly prominent and controversial Hallo-aho did draw some strong support throughout Finland, likely with anti-immigration voters. He won over 80,700 votes nationally – the second most voted candidate. PS has been accepted into the more moderate ECR group, ditching UKIP’s EFD (like DF).
The main loser was the SDP, whose support fell by over 5% from 2009 and 6.8% from 2011 (both of which were already record-setting lows). It lost over 348,700 votes since the 2011 election. Although it saved its two MEPs, 12% of the vote remains an unmitigated disaster. Despite a tougher rhetoric to win back disoriented left-wingers and blue-collar males who have defected to PS, the SDP’s new leader Antti Rinne failed to make an impact and himself admitted that his party had taken a slap in the face. The SDP’s leadership contest likely hurt its campaigns: the SDP was deeply divided and its policies a complete mess, because Rinne attacked the fundamentals of the government which the SDP has been a part of since 2011. Worryingly for the party, the SDP’s support with young voters – already a weak demographic for a party with an aging electorate – and middle-class city dwellers has declined, shrinking the SDP to an increasingly old electorate. And with poor results being confirmed in successive elections of all types, this bad result is not a deviation – it’s part of a wider trend, which has seen the SDP’s support decline significantly in recent years. So far, Antti Rinne hasn’t been able to correct that. VAS, on the other hand, had a good election: with 9.3% of the vote, it regained a seat which it had lost in 2009, when the VAS vote declined to 5.9% (and had no alliance with another party to help it out). The party improved its support by 3.4% since 2009 (the most of any party) and by 1.2% from the 2011 election. VAS ‘ presence in government surprisingly turned out fairly well until the party left the government, which allowed it to gain even more support. Unlike the SDP, VAS has successfully communicated its message and renewed itself; distancing itself from its roots in Finland’s powerful pro-Moscow communist party of the Cold War years. It has renewed its electorate somewhat, with a young and urban electorate (students, low-wage employees, social workers) adding to a traditional base of working-class unionized workers. Unlike the SDP, which has failed to respond to change effectively. In this election, VAS overtook the SDP in Helsinki (12% vs 11.7%) and Turku (15.6% vs. 13%).
The Greens lost one seat and over 3% from 2009, which had been an exceptionally good year for the Greens (who took over 12% and gained a seat). The Greens’ result, however, is up 2% on what they polled in 2011, a disappointing year for the party. The SFP, the liberal party representing Finland’s Swedish minority (about 5% of the population), saved its single MEP. During the campaign, SFP was said to be at risk of losing its seat, which it had held since the first Finnish EP election in 1996. Instead, the SFP increased its support by 0.7% from 2009 (and over 2% from 2011). This is due to stronger turnout in Swedish municipalities in Ostrabothnia and the 90%-Swedish Åland archipelago; very likely motivated to save the SFP’s seat against the PS, which has strong anti-Swedish (against bilingualism) stances against which Finnish Swedes have mobilized. In the Åland archipelago, turnout increased from 48% to 57%, while the SFP won no less than 90.5% of the vote against 2.4% for the SDP.
The KDs lost their sole MEP, even if they ironically took their best result in an EP election. Incumbent KD MEP Sari Essayah won 61,264 votes – the fifth most voted candidate in Finland. However, in 2009, the KDs had salvaged their seat thanks to an electoral alliance with PS. This year, the small socially conservative party ran without an alliance with another party, and thus lost its seat.
YLE has a map showing the preferential votes for the candidates by municipality, while their results interface allows you to drill down to the municipal level for some party results (and also offers maps of party support and turnout). The patterns were nothing unusual. KESK won the vast majority of the land area, by virtue of the party’s solid base in the bulk of sparsely populated rural municipalities and small towns in Finland. KESK won its best results in the Finnish municipalities in rural Ostrobothnia (Oulu and Vaasa constituencies) – a religious and conservative rural region. However, KOK won nearly every major city in Finland except the northern city of Oulu (which went to KESK): Helsinki (28%), Espoo (a wealthy suburb of Helsinki, with 39.5% for KOK), Vantaa (a less affluent Helsinki suburb, 27%), Turku (26%), Tampere (27%), Jyväskylä (20.7%), Lahti (29%) and even topped the poll in some traditionally left-leaning industrial towns such as Pori, Rauma, Lapeenranta and Hämeenlinna. The largest city which the SDP won is Imatra, a mill town of some 28,000 people. It won 20.9% in Rauma, a major harbour and industrial city; but in Pori, a neighboring industrial city of over 83,000 people, the SDP placed third with 17.3% (PS won 18.7%, it had won the city in 2011). The SDP was also third in Kotka, a major harbour for the lumber industry (PS won 21%, in second behind KOK; the SDP won there in 2011); fourth in the railway town of Kouvola (14.3%, PS won 20% but was nearly 8% lower than in 2011); and third in Lapeenranta (with 15%, down over 10 points from 2011), an old mill town. In Joensuu, an old lumber town in Northern Karelia which is now a college town, the SDP placed second (behind KESK) with 19.3%, ahead of the Greens whose fell fell by 9 points to 15%. Overall, the SDP won 19%, its best result, in Northern Karelia. The Greens did very well (but less so than in 2009) in college towns and major cities: Helsinki on top with 19.8%, but also Tampere (16%) and Joensuu (15.4%). VAS did well in the cities, college towns too but also in industrial towns (13.7% in Pori) and northern Finland. The north of the country has a tradition of ‘backwoods communism’, with strong communist (now VAS) support from loggers and the rural working-classes. VAS placed second in Lapland and Oulu. In this election, VAS did very well around Suomussalmi (50.7%) and Kajaani (41%) in the northeastern region of Kainuu – this is a personal vote for VAS’ new MEP, Merja Kyllönen, a former transportation minister, MP and former municipal councillor from Suomussalmi. She dominated the field of candidates in the region.
Later: Germany, Greece, Hungary and Italy
Municipal and provincial elections were held in Belgium on October 14. All municipal councils, provincial councils but also district councils (in Antwerp) and OCMW/CPAS councils (social services) in some bilingual municipalities were up.
Belgium last held a federal election in June 2010, but it did not get a federal government until December 2011 (541 days after the original election). For the past few years, Belgium’s “existential crisis” had been deepening with Flanders drifting further and further away from Wallonia, with the question of the “breakup of Belgium” becoming increasingly relevant. The June 2010 federal elections just rendered turned the problem into a major political crisis. In Flanders, the right-wing nationalist New Flemish Alliance (N-VA) – which seeks the independence of Flanders – won over 28% of the vote and became the largest party both in Flanders and in the country as a whole. The N-VA’s dramatic entrance onto the Belgian political scene in 2010 was a political earthquake which had major repercussions. The various other parties were unable to reach an agreement to form a government, the main blockage points being a constitutional reform (entailing further devolution of power from the federal government) which most Flemish politicians demanded.
Finally, a new government was formed in December 2011, led by Elio Di Rupo, the leader of the Francophone Socialists (PS), with the participation of the Francophone and Flemish Socialist, Liberal and Catholic parties (PS, sp.a; MR, Open VLD; CD&V, cdH respectively). The parties had reached an agreement on economic/fiscal policy (spending cut and tax hikes – economic growth has slowed and the country’s debt is up to 99% of GDP) and constitutional reforms which includes splitting up the controversial BHV electoral district, replacing the elected Senate with an unelected one representing region sand communities and devolving more powers (including employment) to the regions and communities. A few months in, the new government has faced some social unrest in the form of strikes and movements against some controversial austerity measures and a pension reform.
These municipal and provincial elections come six years after the last ones, a period in which Belgian – especially Flemish – politics have seen huge changes. The eruption of the N-VA in 2010 and its subsequent establishment as the hegemonic party in Flanders (it is polling in the mid to high-30s in Flanders, and the CD&V is seemingly locked in a death spiral) have obviously changed Flemish politics a whole lot. The far-right Vlaams Belang (VB), previously the dominant force of radical Flemish nationalism, has collapsed, collateral victim of the N-VA. The Flemish Christian Democrats (CD&V), the dominant party in Flanders for most of the past century, has also been severely hit by the N-VA’s success. At the turn of the new century, the Flemish Christian Democrats had adopted a more nationalist tone and it had been somewhat successful in building up a nationalist/regionalist appeal. However, the N-VA has been siphoning off nationalist voters away from the CD&V.
These local elections were crucial for the N-VA to assert its new political hegemony, at all levels of government in Flanders. However, local elections follow a different dynamic. Rural Flanders is the powerbase of the CD&V and it still controls a lot of municipalites there, which have traditionally been the backbone and source of the party’s strength. The situation is further muddled by the dominance of local parties and coalitions of various sizes in a number of municipalities in Flanders (and Wallonia), including a large number of places where the CD&V and N-VA still rule together. These factors made these elections more challenging and slightly more difficult for the N-VA.
The major race in Flanders and in Belgium as a whole was in Antwerp. The largest city in Belgium, governed by the Socialists since 1944 (with the exception of a few months in 1976), had been in yesteryears the scene of high-profile battles between the Flemish Socialists (and their coalition partners, usually the Christian Democrats and Liberals) and the VB. In 2006, sp.a mayor Patrick Janssens (in power since 2003) managed to defeat the VB’s leader, Filip Dewinter. The VB’s result in 2006 – 20 seats and 33.5% (against 22 for the sp.a) – was seen, back then, as underwhelming and eventually precipitated the VB’s downfall.
This year, the contest opposed Bart de Wever, the leader of the N-VA, to mayor Patrick Janssens (sp.a). Bart de Wever’s decision to try to wrestle control of the country’s largest cith away from the sp.a and their allies (the CD&V and Open VLD) effectively nationalized the race. To counter the N-VA, Janssens’ sp.a formed a common list with the CD&V, which has been the sp.a’s main coalition partner in Antwerp in the past few decades. The result in Antwerp were as follows:
N-VA 37.73% winning 23 seats
sp.a-CD&V 28.58% winning 17 seats
VB 10.21% (-23.3%) winning 5 seats (-15)
PVDA+ 7.97% (+6.12%) winning 4 seats (+4)
Groen! 7.95% (+3.24%) winning 4 seats (+2)
Open VLD 5.54% (-4.16%) winning 2 seats (-3)
The result was an historic and significant victory which turned the night, regardless of the N-VA’s performance elsewhere, into a major success (and breakthrough) for the N-VA. With 37% of the vote, the N-VA ate up the majority of the VB’s old base (Filip Dewinter said that the VB had sown the seeds for this event and that the N-VA was the one who was reaping their fruits) but also made significant inroads with the electorate of the other parties, first and foremost the CD&V (in coalition with the N-VA in 2006, it had won 11.2%). This is the new state of affairs in Flanders: the N-VA has become what the VB was never able to become – the hegemonic party of Flemish nationalism which has attracted the support of more nationalist supporters of the other parties. This has hurt the CD&V, which had adopted a significant nationalist/regionalist/confederalist attitude in the past decade, the most; but it has not been without its effects on the Open VLD and the sp.a. For the Open VLD, justice minister Annemie Turtelboom (their top candidate) was unable to stop the bleeding. Only the Greens, for understandable reasons, have been spared by the N-VA’s irresistable rise to the top.
Bart de Wever will become mayor of Antwerp, most likely in coalition with the sp.a (though without Janssens, who reiterated that he would not serve in a coalition under de Wever, and will probably retire). He has not ruled out talking with the VB, but it is unlikely that he will form a coalition with them – too controversial (unlike the VB, the N-VA has a more respectable aura and it tries to maintain this) and probably too unstable. Bart de Wever has pledged, I believe, to serve out his six year term. With his election, this most likely means that the N-VA will need to choose a new leader, a tricky process given that its bench seems pretty thin on leadership material. However, de Wever is not out of national politics – he can use this new position to further boost his national standing. Indeed, in his victory speech, he made clear references to the federal government and the national scene. This victory allowed him to reiterate his claim that the government – which he styles the “tax government” (a reference to a traditional complaint on Flemish nationalists, that Flanders subsidizes Wallonia and pays more in taxes than it receives) – does not enjoy the support of a majority of Flemish voters.
The other success of the night was the PVDA+, a small far-left party active on both sides of the linguistic border which did very well in both regions. The PVDA+ (known as the PTB+ in Wallonia) had hitherto been one of those negligible far-left groupings which have had no success at the national level. While local ballots are usually kind to those type of parties, their emergence is quite interesting. It likely drained more votes away from the sp.a, likely left-wing supporters unhappy with the party’s participation in a government oriented towards budget cuts and austerity-type policies.
In Ghent, the sp.a was comforted by the easy reelection of mayor Daniël Termont (sp.a), his party won an absolute majority in the council with 45.5% against 17.1% for the N-VA.
In Bruges, the sp.a will take the leadership of a coalition with the CD&V with Renaat Landuyt as mayor. The Socialists won the most seats (14, gaining 2, and 26.8%) against 13 (26.6%) for the CD&V, allowing the sp.a to become the senior rather than junior partners. The N-VA won 19.8% and 10 seats.
The sp.a held on in Leuven/Louvain, despite losing 3 seats (they now hold 16). The N-VA placed second with 19% and 9 seats. The coalition between the sp.a and CD&V has been renewed.
The N-VA became the largest party in Aalst, with 31% and 15 seats against 17.3% and 8 seats for the CD&V led by the incumbent mayor. The VB, which had placed first in this former textile town in 2006, collapsed from 22.8% to 10.8%. The Liberals and Socialists also suffered smaller loses. The N-VA also won in Sint-Niklaas, taking 28.5% and 13 seats against 12 seats for the sp.a, the largest party in 2006. The VB, again, was the main victim, falling from 26.6% to 11.7%.
In Kortrijk/Courtrai, however, the CD&V held its ground pretty well, winning 33% and 15 seats. The N-VA only placed third with 16.3% and 7 seats. However, the Open VLD – second with 21% and 9 seats – has announced that it will form a coalition with the sp.a and N-VA to topple the CD&V, which have governed the city for 150 years. The CD&V is livid, denouncing an “anti-democratic” coalition.
The sp.a was shaken up in Oostende, where the party had won over 45% and 20 seats in 2006. This year, the Socialists are down 13.5%, to only 32% and 15 seats. The N-VA, with 22.7% and 10 seats placed second, benefiting from a major dip in the VB vote. The incumbent three party red/blue/orange majority should, however, hold on.
The mayor’s list, composed of the sp.a, Groen! and independents in Hasselt has held on, with 33% and 15 seats and will govern with the CD&V, which came third. With 25.5% and 11 seats, the N-VA was a good second.
Finally, in Ypres, the CD&V-N-VA cartel led by former Prime Minister Yves Leterme won 52.8% and 21 seats.
In the provincial councils in Flanders, the N-VA was quite successful. The CD&V held on to a tight plurality in Limburg and West Flanders, but the N-VA became the largest party in all other provinces. In Antwerp, the N-VA won 36% and elected 27 councillors, up from the 30.7% it had won in the province in the 2010 federal elections. In the Flemish Brabant, the nationalist party took 26% and 19 seats against 19.5% for the CD&V. In East Flanders, with 26% and 21 seats, the N-VA fall a bit below what they won in 2010 but they are far ahead of the CD&V (19.8%) and Open VLD (19.3%). Only in Limburg and West Flanders did the CD&V outpace the N-VA, but only with a one seat edge over them.
Wallonia and Bruxelles-Capitale
Wallonia and the capital region were not as interesting, but did feature a few noteworthy contests. In Brussels, first and foremost, the PS has maintained its hold, with 29% and 18 seats against 18% and 17.9% for the cdH and MR-Open VLD respectively. However, the cdH, despite a strong result (2006 was an exceptional result, largely maintaining it this year is excellent), will be out of the new coalition and be replaced by the MR. The N-VA won 4.3% and 1 seat. The FDF (Fédéralistes Démocrates Francophones, a former member of the MR which quit in 2011 after the MR accepted splitting up BHV) won 7.6% and 3 seats.
In the capital region, Schaerbeek mayor Bernard Clerfayt (FDF) won a third term, but with a reduced majority, shedding four seats. The PS, led by Laurette Onkelinx, maintained itself at its 2006 level, which had been an historic result for the PS in a town where it had been weak. In Anderlecht, meanwhile, the PS gained four seats to win 21, placing comfortably ahead of the liberal mayor’s list. An “Islam” list won 4% and 1 seat in the town, it also took a seat in Molenbeek-Saint-Jean, where the MR has ended 20 years of PS rule. While the PS mayor’s list placed first with 16 seats, down 3; the liberals (15 seats) have formed a coalition with the cdH and Ecolo. Controversy, meanwhile, in Watermael-Boitsfort, where the co-president of Ecolo Olivier Deleuze will become mayor after a deal with the MR and cdH which will topple mayor Martine Payfa (FDF), whose list topped the poll. The leader of FDF, Olivier Maingain, has retained his seat in Woluwe-Saint-Lambert with over 55% of the vote and an absolute majority.
In Wallonia, the PS has roared back in its Charleroi stronghold, where the party had taken a mighty tumble in 2006 in the wake of major scandals. The PS, led by Paul Magnette, won 47.7% and 30 seats, giving it an absolute majority. The MR and the far-right (the FN) were the main victims, though cdH and Ecolo suffered loses as well. The far-left PTB+ won 3.4%, enough for one seat.
In Mons, another working-class PS stronghold in Hainaut, the PS list – led locally by Prime Minister Elio Di Rupo – won 55.2% and 29 seats. In Tournai, the PS has maintained its hold and will continue its coalition with the MR, which gained 2 seats.
In Liège, the PS retained its 2006 level (38%, 22 seats – up 1) while the MR lost 3 seats. The PTB+, particularly strong in Liège and its old mining hinterland, took 6.4% and 2 seats. Indeed, in Herstal, an old industrial town and PS stronghold, the PTB+ won 14% and 4 seats (up 2), a distant second behind the PS which held its huge absolute majority (51% and 20 seats), led by Frédéric Daerden, the son of the late Michel Daerden (known for showing up drunk to an interview with his son on the night of the 2006 local elections). Very similar deal in nearby Seraing.
In Namur, cdH mayor Maxime Prevot is happy, the cdH have won an extra 3 seats, seemingly at the expense of Ecolo who lost 4.
Not any interesting stuff in the provincial councils, all parties largely won what they had won back in 2006.
For those looking for more results, La Libre Belgique has an interactive map which includes the entirety of Belgium.
While south of the linguistic border these elections viewed a whole reserved only few surprises and saw no major change compared to 2010 or 2006, the results in Flanders carried more weight. For the N-VA, the local elections were always going to be tougher because of the special realities and the difficulties associated with implanting a brand new political force in smaller towns whose local government has long been dominated by an established party. However, while the N-VA did not win the tsunami some had predicted – which is not very surprising – it can be said that it has achieved, more or less, what it wanted. Undeniably, Antwerp is the crown and the N-VA won it, making all other results moot. But in the provincial councils, the N-VA was quite successful and even in larger municipalities it had some successes, taking into consideration local factors. It remains to be seen what the implications of having Bart de Wever as mayor will be, both on Belgian politics and the N-VA in particular. Will Bart de Wever focus on governance at the local level or will he retain his strong presence in federal politics? If he does not, can the N-VA continue to grow as ensure its status as Flanders’ new hegemonic party, under a new leader, whoever it might be?
In the next post, I will cover the Czech regional and senatorial (first round) elections. Time permitting, I might include a quick summary of the regional elections in the Azores. I will also try to have something on Montenegro, but Lithuania will likely be covered following the second round of its election at the end of the month.
Federal elections for the House of Representatives and 40 Senate seats were held in Belgium on Sunday, June 13. I had attempted to provide a brief analysis and overview of the problems and issues in one of Europe’s most divided countries in a preview post. This snap election had come as a result of the collapse of the Leterme II cabinet this year over a major dispute concerning the electoral constituency of Brussels-Halle-Vilvoorde (BHV). Apart from the far-left, there are no ‘national’ parties in Belgium since the late 70s when the three main political families: socialists, liberals and Christian democrats each split up into a Dutch party and a French-Walloon party. Though most of the mainstream various parties maintain informal links with each other, some links are weak (as the quasi-inexistent links between Flemish CD&V and Walloon cdH) and all parties must negotiate to form a coalition, a coalition which always threatens to explode over linguistic issues and contentious border disputes (in the past, Voeren-Fourons and today BHV). The truth, however, is that the federal government has limited and declining authority in a country with six million institutional levels.
Voting is compulsory in Belgium, though abstention yesterday climbed up 2.3% to reach 15.9%. White or null votes climbed 0.7% to reach 5.8%. Here are the results. Please note that the CD&V and N-VA formed an electoral cartel in 2007 which gave 7 deputies and 1 elected senator to the N-VA. The CD&V’s results in 2010 are compared to that of the 2007 cartel. The Sp.a and Spirit formed an electoral cartel in 2007, but Spirit, renamed SLP, has disappeared. Lastly, some parties, such as the FN, ran lists in only a few electoral constituencies and not in all. No party except the PTB+ (Wallonia) and PvdA+ (Flanders) ran lists north and south.
Chamber of Deputies (national)
N-VA 17.40% (+17.40%) winning 27 seats (+20)
PS 13.70% (+2.84%) winning 26 seats (+6)
CD&V 10.85% (-7.66%) winning 17 seats (-6)
MR 9.28% (-3.24%) winning 18 seats (-5)
Sp.a 9.24% (-1.02%) winning 13 seats (-1)
Open VLD 8.64% (-3.19%) winning 13 seats (-5)
Vlaams Belang 7.76% (-4.23%) winning 12 seats (-5)
cdH 5.52% (-0.53%) winning 9 seats (-1)
Ecolo 4.8% (-0.31%) winning 8 seats (nc)
Groen! 4.38% (+0.40%) winning 5 seats (+1)
Lijst Dedecker 2.31% (-1.72%) winning 1 seat (-4)
PP 1.29% (+1.29%) winning 1 seats (+1)
PvdA+ 0.81% (+0.24%) winning 0 seats (nc)
PTB+ 0.6% (+0.37%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Wallonie d’abord 0.56% (+0.56%) winning 0 seats (nc)
RWF 0.55% (+0.15%) winning 0 seats (nc)
FN 0.51% (-1.45%) winning 0 seats (-1)
Dutch Voters: N-VA 27.8%, CD&V 17.3%, Sp.a 14.6%, Open VLD 13.6%, VB 12.3%, Groen 6.9%, LDD 3.7%, OTH 3.8%
French Voters: PS 37.6%, MR 22.2%, cdH 14.6%, Ecolo 12.3%, PP 3.1%, FN 1.4%, OTH 8.8%
Overall: ‘Anti-Belgian State’ and regionalists (Flemish nationalists, Walloon regionalists and rattachistes) 28.58%, Socialists 22.94%, Liberals 17.92%, Catholics 16.37%, Greens 9.18%, Far-left 1.41%, PP 1.29%, French far-right 0.51%
Overall Seats: Flemish Nationalists 40, Socialists 39, Liberals 31, Catholics 26, Greens 13, PP 1
N-VA 31.69% (+31.69%) winning 9 seats (+8)
CD&V 16.15% (-15.26%) winning 4 seats (-4)
Sp.a 15.31% (-0.92%) winning 4 seats (nc)
Open VLD 13.32% (-6.74%) winning 4 seats (-1)
Vlaams Belang 12.28% (-6.94%) winning 3 seats (-2)
Groen! 6.28% (+0.40%) winning 1 seat (nc)
Lijst Dedecker 3.27% (-2.20%) winning 0 seats (-1)
PvdA+ 1.35% (+0.50%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Secessionist and Nationalist Parties 47.24% (35.96% in 2009)
PS 34.72% (+8.89%) winning 7 seats (+3)
MR 24.32% (-7.93%) winning 4 seats (-2)
Ecolo 14.32% (-0.92%) winning 2 seats (nc)
cdH 13.46% (-1.99%) winning 2 seats (nc)
PP 4.01% (+4.01%) winning 1 seats (+1)
Wallonie d’abord 2.52% (+2.52%) winning 0 seats (nc)
PTB+ 2.07% (+1.28%) winning 0 seats (nc)
RWF 1.64% (+0.37%) winning 0 seats (nc)
FN 0.00% (-5.95%) winning 0 seats (-1)
This is a rather marking election in Belgian history: for the first time ever, a party which is opposed to the existence of the Belgian state itself has topped the poll nationwide, and parties opposed to the current Belgian state – that is, either regionalists (Wallonie d’abord) or parties wishing the end of the Belgian state in some form or another, have nearly 30% of the nationwide vote. I don’t think there’s any other country where a party or parties whose ultimate goal is the destruction of said state as a sovereign entity can reach nearly 30% (Quebec doesn’t count as it isn’t a country).
In Flanders, the winner is the N-VA. Their electoral appeal shows that in the past support for Flemish autonomy or independence was not concentrated entirely in the controversial Vlaams Belang, but rather in all parties. In fact, all parties except Groen! saw their vote share fall as it was squeezed by Bart de Wever’s party. The N-VA has shown that despite a rocky start in 2003 (when it won only 1 seat, as Bart de Wever pointed out last night), it can be a party for a vast majority of Flemish nationalists because it both shares Flanders’ traditional conservatism but is not xenophobic or controversial like the VB. That is a very important point. In the Senatorial ballot, the N-VA won 31.7% – a result far superior to most polling and an excellent showing for any party in a very divided political system. Bart de Wever’s personality and popular appeal explains the difference between the showings of the N-VA in the lower and upper house. The N-VA also dominates largely throughout Flanders, proving that Flemish nationalism isn’t concentrated in one or two province. It is ahead in Antwerp, the VB’s old stronghold, as well in Ghent, Ostende, Bruges, Leuven and most of BHV’s Dutch areas. The only major city on the lower house ballot where it is not ahead is Kortrijk (Courtrai). Only what I assume are wealthy areas (for Open VLD) or deeply Catholic areas around Ypres (for the CD&V) didn’t place the N-VA on top in the Senate ballot. The only potential issue for the N-VA now is that its large electoral coalition from 2010 might unravel, especially if it enters government. The mainstream CD&V, Sp.a and VLD all fell to the N-VA, though the socialists resisted best while the CD&V totally unraveled after a poor campaign and the unpopularity of outgoing Prime Minister Yves Leterme. Open VLD, without Verhofstadt’s persona appeal this time, fell quite badly, especially in the Senate where Verhofstadt’s Senate candidacy in 2007 had helped it limit the unraveling in 2007. Vlaams Belang, traditionally the nationalist party, fell quite badly, also falling victim to the N-VA’s spectacular gains. Immigration and security were lesser issues in this campaign and the party couldn’t resist to a party which appeals to their traditional electorate especially well. Groen!’s performance is quite impressive, given that their vote wasn’t squeezed too much by the N-VA, even though overlap between both parties is scarce (although their MEPs sit in the same group, along with Ecolo MEPs). The Lijst Dedecker also fell victim to the N-VA’s success though the remnants of a favourite son vote for Dedecker himself in West Flanders has given them one lone seat in the lower house.
In Wallonia, the winner is the PS and all other parties are losers (except the far-left). The PS had suffered in 2007, especially in its traditional stronghold in Charleroi and Hainaut Province due to bad corruption scandals in Charleroi which were in the headlines in 2006 and 2007. Thanks to a popular government at the regional level as well as a campaign based around the defense of social spending in the wake of the recession, the PS vote was boosted by around the same amount as the MR vote receded, although, compared to pre-election polling, the MR did manage to hold tight. The PS returned to sky-high results in Charleroi, where its up around 20% since 2007, and throughout the mining regions of Hainaut and Liège. In Liège, the well-known Michel Daerden won an historic result for himself despite being last placed on the party’s list after internal feuds. The MR, as mentioned earlier, did slightly better than expected and held up well in both BHV and the Brussels commuter land in the Walloon Brabant. The MR’s close links to Olivier Mangain’s FDF in the BHV area likely helped it, though the area is sociologically inclined to vote for them. Ecolo, riding high (17-18%) in polling, must be quite disappointed but if they learned anything from 2009, they should have been expecting it. They overpolled by roughly 4% in 2009 and they again overpolled by 4% in 2010. Quite surprisingly, Ecolo’s total vote share fell slightly in both the Chamber and Senate. Once again, people behind the curtain (or in front of the voting machine) likely thought twice about their vote and chose to go with what they know best or think will be most useful in government (in both cases, either the PS or MR). The cdH could also have expected to do quite a bit better given pre-election polling, so they too will be disappointed. Given the overlap between the cdH (which is more of a Christian social-humanist party than a CD&V-type Christiandem outfit) and the PS – both are in government at the regional level – the disappointing result isn’t very surprising. The right-wing populist Popular Party (PP) managed to squeak out a seat in Walloon Brabant where it polled 5.04%, right above the threshold. The FN, running for the Chamber only in Hainaut, Namur and BHV unsurprisingly lost all its seats with only 2.8% in Hainaut and Namur and a paltry 0.4% in BHV. It did not run for Senate. The far-right’s vote, which, in Wallonia was traditionally anti-immigrant (like in most European countries), seems to have shifted to the regionalist side like in Flanders. Wallonie d’abord, a far-right regionalist party similar to Alsace d’abord (they even stole their logo, like the FN had stolen the French FN’s logo), polled a surprising 2.5%. Is this a protest vote or does it perhaps highlight a growing regionalist current south of the border? If it does, Belgium is really screwed. The old rattachistes (RWF) polled 1.6%, increasing its vote share slightly. The far-left PTB+ also did well, reaching 9% in the mining community of Herstal in Liège.
The question on everybody’s mouth is “when will Belgium break up?” Giving a serious answer to such a question is quite difficult and it’s a very hard question. The country of Belgium as we know it will most probably still exist on June 14, 2011. It could still exist by the time the next EU ballot comes around in 2014. But in ten or twenty years? Who knows. The answer partly depends on what government is formed and how this government deals with two pressing issue: BHV and ‘state reform’.
The options for coalitions are quite open and the N-VA isn’t necessarily a necessity for a government, even though excluding them would be a bad idea (bolded for a reason). The PS, the Walloon winners, have not showed much triumphalism in their victory and they say that they’ll open talks with the N-VA. Bart de Wever, who met Albert II earlier today, has also stretched out his hand to the Francophone community as a whole, and said that it would be a mistake for anybody to work independently and aloofly. The N-VA does seem committed to maintaining, for now, stability and peace in Belgium. The coalition options – based on seats in the Chamber (given that indirectly elected seats for the Senate have yet to be chosen) are given below (a majority is 76).
- ‘Regional coalition combo’ > CD&V/N-VA/Sp.a/PS/cdH/Ecolo: 105
- PS/N-VA/CD&V/Sp.a/cdH: 92
- ‘Double olive tree’ > PS/CD&V/Sp.a/cdH/Ecolo/Groen: 78
Under all of these options, the Walloon Socialist Elio di Rupo is favoured to be the next Prime Minister, as it is unlikely the PS or any Walloon party will accept having Bart de Wever on top, as it would be a hard sell for voters in the south. Such a coalition will most likely include the N-VA, given that the parties know that excluding the N-VA would likely result in further gains for the party while including it in government could both ‘tame’ the party and weaken its electoral appeal (as some of its voters would likely flow back to VB and other parties). However, a coalition with the PS and N-VA on top will likely be rather unstable and will have a hard time (as any government) solving the issues of BHV. Even though Vlaams Belang said it welcomed the N-VA as a partner for a progress on Flemish autonomy and independence, the VB will not be in government (obviously) and its radical program – it will propose a bill splitting BHV in two as soon as Parliament reconvenes – will be accepted by the N-VA. A coalition of good-will is likely to emerge, but it will be a coalition both of bickering and “small reforms” which won’t be good enough for Flemish nationalists.
Belgium votes in snap elections for the House of Representatives and part of the Senate on June 13. The election was called following the resignation of Prime Minister Yves Leterme over a constitutional-state crisis. His resignation was accepted by the King who called for elections on June 13 despite the Constitutional Court having previously ruled that such elections would be unconstitutional before a major constitutional issue concerning the constituency of Brussels-Halle-Vilvoorde (BHV).
Electoral System and BHV
The House of Representatives has 150 seats elected in eleven multi-member constituencies. Nine of Belgium’s ten provinces are constituencies in their own right, while the constituencies of Leuven and Brussels-Halle-Vilvoorde span the province of Flemish Brabant and the Brussels-Capital Region (an enclave in Flemish territory). The seats allocated to each province vary based on population, and seats are allocated by the d’Hondt method with a 5% threshold in each constituency. Parties may combine their lists for the distribution of seats in the constituencies of Brussels-Halle-Vilvoorde, Leuven and Walloon Brabant, where the five percent threshold is not applied.
The Senate has 71 seats, of which 40 will be directly elected by voters on Sunday. A further 21 are appointed by the parliaments of the linguistic communities and ten are co-opted by the elected and community-appointed senators. The three final seats are held by the children of the reigning monarch. Of the 40 seats elected, 25 represent Flemish voters and 15 represent Walloon voters. Voters in bilingual Brussels can choose which linguistic elected Senators they wish to vote for. Seats in both colleges are allocated according to the d’Hondt method among lists polling at least 5% of the valid college vote.
Brussels-Halle-Vilvoorde (BHV) includes the bilingual region of Brussels and the unilingual Flemish canton of Halle-Vilvoorde in the Flemish provinces of Flemish Brabant. However, the French-speaking suburban population living in the officially unilingual canton of Halle-Vilvoorde has increased significantly. In the constituency of BHV, voters may vote for the party of their choice, be it Flemish or French. The Belgian Constitution forbids the existence of cross-linguistic electoral constituencies. Brussels-Halle-Vilvoorde contains parts of officially unilingually Flemish Flanders as well as officially bilingual Brussels, making it unconstitutional. The Flemish nationalists and most Flemish parties support eliminating BHV (with the likely solution of making Flemish Brabant one constituency and Brussels another), but French voters in unilingual Flemish Brabant would not be able to vote for the party of their choice as a result. The Walloon solution appears to be annexing the predominatly French municipalities in the canton of Halle-Vilvoorde but the Flemish oppose such a solution because it would create geographic continuity between Wallonia and Brussels.
Political History and the Franco-Flemish conflict
Belgium gained its independence from the United Kingdom of the Netherlands in 1831. Following the 1815 Congress of Vienna, Belgium, which was prior to the French Revolution a collection of independent states with their local specificities, was annexed by the largely Protestant Netherlands. Despite speaking almost the same language (though Flemish people didn’t like saying that), Flanders was deeply and extremely devoutly Catholic. Independence in 1830-1831 came not as a result of a war of independence which could have forged a national identity, but rather as a deal signed in distant London by which the British government forced the Dutch to accept to the independence of a neutral Belgium (as a British-supported buffer against French and Dutch ambitions), and the British chose a German prince, Leopold of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha to become King.
In 1831, Belgium was still largely Flemish-speaking but Flanders was a poor, rural and very religious area with little major industry. On the other hand, Wallonia was the second most industrialized area in Europe after the UK due to the abundance of coal and mining resources in its populated valleys. As a result, the French-speaking business elite came to dominate politics and business in the country and the Flemish upper-class, largely in Brussels (approximately 50-50 in terms of language even in 1910), became largely French-speaking. Wallonia was the economic heart and Flanders was the rural religious backcountry.
However, the linguistic division was not the deciding factor in the lack of national unity or national pride in Belgium. The example of Switzerland is a perfect counter-example to that. Firstly, the lack of a “unifying” independence war in 1830 contributed to the development of an artificial state, the Francophone hegemony heightened Flemish resistance and nationalism and the divisions of World War II (where Flanders largely collaborated with the Nazis while Wallonia was more resistant) only deepened the deepening gap. The sole unifying factor, Catholicism, declined early on in Wallonia with the rise of socialist thought in the coal mines and later declined, as in the Netherlands, after 1945.
The Socialists replaced the Liberals as the second party in the country after the Catholic Party, which dominated in Flanders (while Wallonia was an early Socialist stronghold). Proportional representation introduced in 1918 saved the Liberals from total extinction and allowed for Catholic-Liberal cabinets against the Socialists. Flemish nationalism pre-war was weak, except for the Flemish National Union (VNV), a quasi-fascist organization, which polled rather well between 1932 and 1939. The Catholic Party became the Social Christian Party/Christian People’s Party (PSC-CVP) after 1946. From 1947 to 1954 the PSC-CVP were part of every government, first in coalition with the Socialists until 1949, and then with the Liberals until 1950, when they won an absolute majority in the Chamber of Representatives and formed several single-party governments. However, in 1954, the Christians lost its Chamber majority, and the Socialists formed a coalition government with the Liberals that ruled the country until 1958, when the Christian Democrats returned to power, ruling in coalition with the Liberals until 1961, and then with the Socialist Party until 1965.
During this same period of time, linguistic and regional strife was growing. In 1950, in the so-called question royale referendum, 58% of voters voted in favour of keeping Leopold II, who had controversially stayed in Brussels during the war. However, while 72% of Flemish voters voted in his favour, he lost by a narrow margin in Wallonia and by a decisive margin in the mining belt in the provinces of Hainaut and Liège. In the winter of 1960-1961, Walloon workers went in a long strike against the financial austerity measures of the CVP-Liberal cabinet of Gaston Eyskens. This movement, which was extremely short-lived in Flanders, led to the growth of federalist or autonomist Walloon movements, most notably the Walloon Popular Movement (MPW). Electorally, the Flemish Volksunie (VU) movement, founded in 1954, made important gains in the 1968 election as did the Brussels-based Democratic Front of Francophones (FDF) and, after 1968, the Walloon Rally (RW), which supported federalism. Both RW and VU were big-tent parties representing the wide range of political opinions in the respective federalist movements, though both RW and VU were largely left-leaning though the VU’s base was largely right-leaning. In the case of the VU, this led to a 1978 split resulting in the creation of the right-wing anti-immigration Vlaams Blok (VB).
Economic patterns changed in the 1960s and 1970s with the decline of coal-mining as a major economic activity in Europe. Wallonia struggled with re-generation and industries shifted north to Flanders while Wallonia struggled with unemployment and became largely dependent on welfare provided, in part, by Flemish taxpayers. The idea of Flanders supporting Walloon unemployed workers has been a major vote-winner for the VB in an increasingly wealthy and economically vibrant Flanders. However, the conservative psyche of Flemings also provide a reason for both the rise of VB and the inability for Belgium to develop a strong national identity. In Wallonia, economic problems have also helped the National Front (FN) – a copy of the French FN – make small gains in elections (in 2007, 1 Senator and 1 deputy, but in 2009, no seats in Wallonia.
Federal reform came first in 1962 with four defined linguistic regions (Dutch, French, German and the bilingual Brussels-Capital region); in 1970 with the creation of three communities (Flemish, French, and German-speaking) and three regions (Flanders, Wallonia and Brussels); and in 1980 with the creation of legislative organs for both the French community and Wallonia while the Dutch community and the region of Flanders were merged with a single legislative organ.
In 1962 a crisis at the Catholic University of Leuven in which Flemish students expelled French students sped up the breakup of the unitary parties; in 1968 the PSC-CVP split between the Walloon PSC and the Flemish CVP, in 1972 the Liberals split between the Walloon PRL-PLP and the Flemish PVV and in 1978 the Socialists split between the Walloon PS and the Flemish SP. The split-up of the major parties and the continued growth of the RW and VU rendered elections and coalitions more difficult. From 1973 to 1981, Belgium had eleven cabinets and four general elections; though the Christian Democrats remained in most coalitions.
In 1981, the Flemish Christian Democrat Wilfried Martens formed a Catholic-Liberal coalition which held power for four years but Martens formed a Catholic-Socialist-VU coalition to secure support for major constitutional reform. Despite this, all major parties (except the PVV) suffered major loses in 1991, an election which saw major gains from the Greens (Ecolo in Wallonia and Agalev in Flanders) and the VB overtook the VU, which continued a slow decline. The following year, a Catholic-Socialist government led by Jean-Luc Dehaene (CVP) was formed and oversaw the passage of major federal reforms in 1993 which effectively made Belgium a very de-centralized federal state while the federal government’s powers declined further (the truth is that the federal government has comparatively little power in Belgium today).
Corruption scandals, the dioxin affair and the Marc Dutroux case led to the 1999 defeat of the Dehaene government. The Flemish Liberals (now known as the VLD), led by the popular young dynamic leader Guy Verhofstadt made history by outpolling the historically dominant CVP in Flanders, while the Flemish Socialists fell to fourth behind the VB. Verhofstadt formed a rainbow coalition with the French and Flemish liberals, socialists and greens (the latter had made strong gains both north and south). The Verhofstadt cabinet ushered in further decentralization on competences such as agriculture, foreign trade, development and cooperation, and local government which were transfered from Belgium to the regions.
The VU, which had won 8 seats in 1999, split up in 2001 between the conservative New Flemish Alliance (N-VA) and the liberal Spirit, which formed in 2003 an electoral cartel with the Socialists, now known as the Socialist Party-different (Sp.a), probably the most cheesy name for a party in world history.
The Liberals and Socialists posted strong gains in the 2003 election, in which the CD&V (the renamed CVP) fell in third behind the Sp.a, which had an excellent election. The PS and Reformist Movement (MR) – the Walloon liberal party (or coalition, in fact it is a coalition of Walloon liberal parties and the FDF) made gains, at the expense of Ecolo (while Agalev lost all seats in Flanders). The VB continued gaining votes in Flanders. The Vlaams Blok was outlawed in 2004 for allegedly breaching anti-racism laws, but its leaders responded by creating the Vlaams Belang (Flemish Interests, VB) in 2004.
Flemish voters had had enough of Verhofstadt’s purple cabinet and voted for change by placing Yves Leterme’s CD&V/N-VA cartel far ahead of the VLD and Sp.a, which suffered major loses. The MR outpolled the PS by a narrow margin in Wallonia, while Greens on both sides of the divide made small gains. The VB won a disappointing result after nearly 24% in the 2004 regional elections and a strong showing in its Antwerp stronghold in 2006 local elections. After the election, Yves Leterme sought to form a new coalition government, but divides between Walloon and Flemish parties over devolution were too deep to overcome and gave up by December 2007. To prevent further crisis, the parties did agree to support an interim cabinet headed by Verhofstadt. Finally, in March 2008, Leterme formed a coalition government including French and Flemish Christian democrats, liberals and the PS was formed.
However, following allegations of political interference in the break-up of Fortis Bank, Leterme submitted his resignation in December 2008. King Albert II accepted Leterme’s resignation and appointed Chamber of Representatives Speaker Herman Van Rompuy as head of government. Van Rompuy remained in office until November 2009, when he was chosen president of the European Council and Leterme returned at the helm of a cabinet composed of the same parties. However, the VLD pulled out following the government’s inability to solve the BHV issue.
Parties and Issues
In the 2009 regional elections in Flanders, the major winner was the N-VA – which broke its alliance with the CD&V in 2008 – which won 13.1% of the vote while the CD&V managed only a paltry 22.9%. The N-VA took votes both from the CD&V but also from Vlaams Belang, which fell 8.9% from its 2004 results regionally. The Lijst Dedecker, a “Fortuynist” right-wing splitoff of the VLD led by Jean-Marie Dedecker, which had done surprisingly well in 2007, won 7.6% of the votes. Kris Peeters stayed in power at the helm of a CD&V-Sp.a-NVA coalition. In Wallonia, the PS and MR suffered loses compared to 2004 (and, for the MR, major loses compared to its 2007 results) in favour of Ecolo, which won 18.5% of the votes. Rudy Demotte stayed in power with the support of the PS, Ecolo and the Walloon Christian democrats (cdH).
The N-VA’s leader, Bart de Wever, a controversial figure to say the least, is very popular in Flanders and rising nationalist anger over BHV and other issues have helped the party. The N-VA also recruited a popular political commentator from the VRT, Siegfried Bracke, to join the party’s list. At the same time, the CD&V ousted Yves Leterme in favour of Marianne Thyssen. In Wallonia, Rudy Demotte’s PS remains popular while Ecolo is maintaining its 2009 gains. While the MR is struggling in Wallonia, its close links with the Brussels-based FDF has helped it maintain the upper-hand in BHV. Furthermore, the new Popular Party (PP), a right-wing populist outfit in Wallonia, could win seats and further weaken the MR.
Here are two polls:
La Libre Belgique (June 6)
Open VLD 13.6%
Vers l’Avenir (June 10)
Open VLD 13.2%
Bart de Wever’s aim is to immediately transform Belgium from a federal state into a confederal state. It is doubtful whether he could form a coalition – with French parties – with that platform. A coalition excluding the N-VA is more likely, and some are suggesting that the PS’s Elio di Rupo could become the first Walloon Prime Minister since 1976 based on the PS’ likely win in Wallonia. He could govern with the Sp.a, but also with the cdH, CD&V and Greens if possible. On the other hand, an “olive tree coalition” between socialists, Christian democrats and greens led by a person such as the popular former Flemish Vice-PM Frank Vandenbroucke could be formed.
The new government will face a tough road in a country which still threatens to break-up almost weekly. Solving the BHV issue is far from an easy task, as is the fabled ‘state reform’ most parties speak of. Secession, break-up remains unlikely in the short-term, but chances for a long-term situation leading to secession of Flanders increase with the formation of another government between the ‘mainstream’ parties (catholics, liberals and socialists/greens).
Belgium had a busy election day on June 7, with regional elections for all regional governments (four in total) and European elections. The regional elections overshadowed the Euros by far, due to their possible long-reaching effects on the federal governance of the very divided country.
Instead of using the stupid names adopted by the various parties and because I long for a return to the old 1950s political setup in Belgium, I’ve decided to classify the parties as Catholic (the old PSC-CVP – CDV in Flanders, CDH in Wallonia), Liberals (the old Liberal Party – Open VLD in Flanders, MR in Wallonia), and Socialists (the old PSB-BSP – SP.a in Flanders, PS in Wallonia). Do note, however, that while the Liberals and Socialists have links cross-community, the CDV has no relation to the CDH – the CDV has become more and more of a Flemish autonomist (some will say nationalist, even) party and the CDH has gradually abandoned its Catholic Party roots. Other parties include the far-right nationalist Vlaams Belang, the conservative New Flemish Alliance (N-VA) [in 2004, the N-VA had an electoral cartel with the CDV] and the Fortuynist Lijst Dedecker; all of which are often considered to be Flemish nationalists.
Flanders (includes 6 from Dutch Group in Brussels)
Note that the Catholics and N-VA had an electoral cartel here, as did the Socialists and the Social Liberals (then called Spirit)
Catholics 22.86% (-3.23%) winning 31 seats (+2)
Vlaams Belang 15.28% (-8.86%) winning 21 seats (-11)
Socialists 15.27% (-4.39%) winning 19 seats (-1)
Liberals 14.99% (-4.80%) winning 21 seats (-4)
New Flemish Alliance 13.06% (new) winning 16 seats (+10)
Lijst Dedecker 7.62% (new) winning 8 seats (+8)
Green 6.77% (-0.83%) winning 7 seats (+1)
Union of Francophones 1.15% (+0.08%) winning 1 seat (±0)
Social Liberals 1.09% (new) winning 0 seats (-5)
Secessionist/Nationalist Parties 35.96% (+11.82%)
The marking thing about the Flemish election is the decline of the major parties (CDV, VLD, SP) at the profit of right-wing nationalist parties, notably the N-VA (a very good result for them) and Dedecker (not so good, compared to polls which had him on 16% not so long ago). The current grand coalition (CDV, VLD, SP, and N-VA) led by Kris Peeters (CDV) will likely continue. However, the N-VA could drop out due to the Socialist’s reticences of working with them. Some have warned that the N-VA’s language policy (force everybody in Flanders, Francos included, to speak Dutch) and nationalism could be dangerous for Flanders’ international standing. However, the CDV base is still very attached to their former electoral partners.
Socialist 32.77% (-4.14%) winning 29 seats (-5)
Liberals 23.41% (-0.89%) winning 19 seats (-1)
Ecolo 18.54% (+10.02%) winning 14 seats (+11)
Catholics 16.14% (-1.48%) winning 13 seats (-1)
FN 2.86% (-5.26%) winning 0 seats (-4)
As in Flanders, the major parties took a hit in Wallonia, but to a lesser extent. The Socialists, yet again involved in scandals, held up remarkably well. While Ecolo’s result is not as good as they might have expected based on some polls which put them second, the party is the only winner in these elections and they’re the kingmakers. The Rudy Demotte (PS) coalition between the PS and the CDH has a majority, but the CDH has been very reticent to continuing it. They had productive talks with the liberal MR and they’re opening talks with the Ecolos, who seem to enjoy the courting they’ve recevied very much. A MR-CDH coalition does not have a majority, but a MR-CDH-Ecolo one obviously does. The MR has flat-out refused to form a grand coalition with the PS. A PS-Ecolo coalition also has a majority.
Brussels – French Seats
Liberals 29.82% (-2.68%) winning 24 seats (-1)
Socialist 26.24% (-7.10%) winning 21 seats (-5)
Ecolo 20.22% (+10.53%) winning 16 seats (+9)
Catholics 14.80% (+0.72%) winning 11 seats (+1)
FN 1.91% (-3.51%) winning 0 seats (-4)
The PS-CDH-Ecolo has a majority, but I doubt it will survive. Here, a MR-Ecolo, MR-CDH-Ecolo, or PS-Ecolo coalition all have majorities. I personally would put my money on a MR-led coalition.
Brussels – Dutch Seats
Liberals 23.07% (+3.17%) winning 4 seats (±0)
Vlaams Belang 17.51% (-16.56%) winning 3 seats (-3)
Socialists 19.46% (+1.78%) winning 4 seats (+1)
Catholics 14.85% (-1.92%) winning 3 seats (±0)
Green 11.20% (+1.4%) winning 2 seats (+1)
New Flemish Alliance 4.99% (new) winning 1 seat (+4)
Lijst Dedecker 3.78% (new) winning 0 seats (±0)
A so-called “Jamaican” coalition (using the German party colours, with black for Catholics and yellow for Liberals) has been formed between the VLD, CDV and Groen. The Flemish community in Brussels has two of the five portfolios and one of the three state secretary jobs but this government will govern the city’s Flemish Community Commission (in charge of linguistic affairs, education, healthcare from Flemings in Brussels). The old government was composed of the VLD and Socialists.
Catholics 27.02% (-5.77%) winning 7 seats (-1)
Socialists 19.30% (+0.29%) winning 5 seats (±0)
Liberals 17.52% (-3.47%) winning 4 seats (-1)
Ecolo 11.50% (+3.32%) winning 3 seats (+1)
ProDG (German minority party) 17.49% (+5.8%) winning 4 seats (+1)
Vivant 7.16% (-0.18%) winning 2 seats (±0)
The government of Belgium’s small German community has been formed. It is the same as before, a Socialist-Liberal-ProDG coalition led by Karl-Heinz Lambertz (Socialist).
Dutch-Language Electoral College
Note that the Catholics and N-VA had an electoral cartel here, as did the Socialists and the Social Liberals (then called Spirit)
Catholics 23.26% (-4.89%) winning 3 seats (nc)
Liberals 20.56% (-1.35%) winning 3 seats (-4)
Vlaams Belang 15.88% (-7.28%) winning 2 seats (-1)
Socialists 13.23% (-4.60%) winning 2 seats (-1)
New Flemish Alliance 9.88% (new) winning 1 seat (+1)
Green 7.9% (-0.08%) winning 1 seat (nc)
Lijst Dedecker 7.28% (new) winning 1 seat (+1)
These results, compared to the Flemish regionals, tell the popularity of Guy Verhofstadt, the former Prime Minister of Belgium. Verhofstadt was the VLD’s top candidate and could become a major player in future European politics.
French-Language Electoral College
Liberals 26.05% (-1.53%) winning 2 seats (-1)
Socialist 29.1% (-6.99%) winning 3 seats (-1)
Ecolo 22.88% (+13.03%) winning 2 seats (+1)
Catholics 13.34% (-1.80%) winning 1 seat (nc)
FN 3.57% (-3.88%) winning 0 seats (nc)
There seems to be much more facility in voting for a Green at the Euro level than at the regional level. Maybe it’s because Brussels is included, but there remains a higher Green vote at the Euro level than at the regional level. Maybe it’s because voters know that voting Green at the Euro level has quasi-null impact on the European Parliament, while they’re more skeptical of placing Greenies in power at a level which directly concerns them.
German-Language Electoral College
Catholics 32.25% (-10.23%) winning 1 seat (nc)
Liberals 20.37% (-2.42%)
Ecolo 15.58% (+5.09%)
Socialists 14.63% (-0.31%)
The German seat should use STV.