June 8, 2009

European Union Elections

These have been a common sight in the streets of Paris in recent days. Yesterday, Sunday, June 7, France held its elections for its parliamentary seats in the European Union.

(As an aside, Eva Joly is one of Xavier's relatives).

So, the results. Across Europe and in France, center-right parties took majorities. More specifics on that in a minute. As they were announcing the results of the election in France last night, I got to thinking about the structure of the European Union and I realized that I didn't really get it. After some basic research I found this: there are 736 parliamentary seats and European countries are awarded seats on the basis of population. France has 72 seats. Germany has 99, with the highest population in Europe.

Many countries in Europe, like France, have a multitude of political parties (France has at least 20), unlike the binary two-party system of the United States. The posters above are just a few of the many fliers floating around representing the various political interests in France.

On the extreme left we have the Trotskyists, Anticapitalists, and then the French Communists. Further toward the center, there are the Socialists, the Green party (ecologists) and then further toward the center, we have the left-centrists (the Democratic Movement) and then the center-right (the UMP, Nicolas Sarkozy's party), further right the Eurosceptics, all the way to the extreme right and the Nationalists and Le Pen (the ever famous, almost fascist Frenchman in politics). That is just an overview and certainly does not include all of the parties or their interests, but it does give a picture of the broad spectrum of the political landscape in France (and in many other countries in Europe).

With that as background, the fact that France gets 72 seats becomes complicated when you begin to consider how these seats are awarded and how delegates themselves are appointed in various countries and regions of countries (and within parties). With a political system like France's, with so many different political parties, the final results and the delegates who get sent to the European Union will represent the voting population. In other words, one party does not win the seats based on a majority of votes. So, the voting in France broke down into these percentages (and number of seats) for the respective parties:

There are the 2009 election results.

For comparison, these are the 2004 election results.

The right-center party (again Nicolas Sarkozy's and here in blue, the PPE: Parti Populaire Européen) took the highest number of seats, while the socialists (PSE, in pink) took a far lower number of seats than previous years. In fact, in France, the socialist party and the center-right literally flipped positions between 2004 and this year's election. The green party also made advances this year taking 14 seats compared to only 6 in 2004. This is a trend throughout Europe.

Many people are surprised that socialists, across the board, have taken such a hit, particularly given the economic situation at the moment. It is clear that the political landscape has something to do with this result; for example, in France the right-center party is the 'ruling' party at the moment and so Sarkozy has political capital because he and his party are already in the spotlight. This isn't just the case in France, but in other countries where the right-center party also won a majority of seats. This result is also surprising given regulation and domestic policy choices in the US at the moment. The irony.

The results are also ironic because the general attitude in France is that people are unhappy with Sarkozy. His approval ratings aren't great and yet, his party has done well here. In their response, Sarkozy and his party certainly see these elections as something of a mandate from the French population. For example, Xavier Bertrand: the secretary general of Sarkozy's party said of the elections: "Le référendum anti-Sarkozy a échoué" (The referendum against Sarkozy has failed).

All of that said, the one factor that should be considered and examined in all of this is voter abstention. Only 40% of France's population voted in this election for the European Union. Compare that to an almost 85% turnout for the last Presidential election. Voter abstention wasn't limited to France; it was across Europe, even in countries which have recently entered the European Union, surprisingly.

Here are a few good articles on all of this that I have read and used in coming up with all of this:

Voters Steer Europe to the Right (BBC)

Center-Right Parties Gain in Europe (NYTimes)

EU Voters Shift to the Right: Conservative and Far-Right Parties Notch Up Wins; Socialists Lose Seats (WSJournal)

Les résultats des élections européennes (Le Monde)

And here is a graphic from le Monde representing what happened across Europe in these elections:


Isabelle said...

Just to let you know: at the beginning of your post you wrote that the UMP was left-right. Of course you meant center-right!!

Gwouigwoui said...

The difference of perception is quite astonishing !
For French people, the Socialist Party is certainly not on the extreme-left ! It's much more considered left-centrist.
In fact, the differents parties would divide like this :
- extreme left : trotskyists, anticapitalists (NPA), communists
- left : greens and "front de gauche"
- left-centrists : socialists
- right-centrists : democratic movement (modem)
- right : UMP and further right eurosceptics
- extreme right : Nationalists and Le Pen.

Isabelle said...

Totally agree with what Gwouigwoui wrote!

When my father in law (who happens to be American) calls Obama a "socialist" I really have to laugh!!

I wish our socialists were like Obama...

Emilie said...

My post was clearly poorly written in some ways. I would never claim that the extreme left includes socialists; when I wrote extreme left, it meant to set the bracket with the trotskyists and communists and then move toward the center from there. The spectrum you've set up is exactly what I intended to write, Gwouigwoui. Thank you for doing a better job.

Brad said...

Another insightful post. The indifference of the electorate throughout Europe on these elections is interesting. The WSJ had a great article a couple of weeks ago about how people in Europe have trouble getting excited about the EU elections.

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