No. 41




On the Latest European Parliament Elections in Europe and Estonia

10 June 2020


RiTo No. 41, 2020

  • Piret Ehin

    Senior Research Fellow, Deputy Head for Research of Johan Skytte Institute of Political Studies, Uni-versity of Tartu

  • Liisa Talving

    Liisa Talving

    Tartu Ülikooli Johan Skytte poliitikauuringute instituudi teadur

The key words of the European Parliament elections in May 2019 were increased turnout, political fragmentation, and stable support for populist, extremist, and Euro-sceptic forces.

For the first time since 1979, the voter turnout increased instead of decreasing. The over 50 percent turnout strengthened the EP mandate, encouraging it to speak more confidently on behalf of the majority of European voters.

The 2019 European Parliament is more fragmented than ever. The two major forces – the EPP and S&D parliamentary groups – no longer hold a majority in the 9th European Parliament. ALDE and Greens gained the most extra seats. The representation of populist, extremist, and Euro-sceptic parties remained more or less the same as in the 8th EP.

A well-known theoretical view describes the EP elections as second-order national elections. An analysis of the election results in 28 Member States only partially confirms this thesis. A place in the government did not predict a party’s increased or reduced popularity in the EP elections compared to the national elections held earlier. The success of government parties also did not depend on the phase in the election cycle where the EP elections fell. However, there was a clear link between the size of the party and the votes gained or lost at the EP elections: the more successful the party at national elections, the more it saw its votes drop at the EP elections.

It is impossible to outline one single reason why the voters turned their backs to large parties at the latest EP elections and favoured smaller political forces. Different trends could be observed in Member States and the voters cared about different topics, ranging from climate change, security and limiting migration to stimulating economic growth and keeping nationalism under control. It would not be an exaggeration to claim that the EP elections were a cluster event composed of 28 separate stories.

In Estonia, the voter turnout remained far below the 2019 European average, staying more or less at the 2014 level. In Estonia, government parties have always lost votes at the EP elections (compared to the earlier Riigikogu elections) – the biggest loser is usually the leading government party. This was also the case at the 2019 EP elections, despite the government only having been in place for barely a month. So the hypothesis that the voters use the EP elections to punish the government parties seems to hold true for Estonia.

The increased fragmentation and polarisation complicate the decision making processes and formation of coalitions in the EP. However, we have not seen the dreaded joining of forces of the Euro-sceptics. The fact that the top-ranked candidate of the most popular party at the EP elections did not become the head of the European Commission means a major loss for the Parliament in the long-standing inter-institutional conflict over how the provisions of the Treaty of Lisbon on filling the position of the President of the Commission should be translated into practice. The global pandemic is forcefully interfering with the 2020 plans of the Parliament, stopping it from meeting in person and compelling it to use electronic voting.