AuthorsFrançois Hublet , Jean-Toussaint Battestini , Lucie Coatleven , Charlotte Kleine , Mattéo Lanoë
Issue 3, December 2022
Elections in Europe: 2022
Evolution of the results of European groups
We open this summary with an analysis of the evolution of the balance of power between the different European political families in the first half of 2022. For this purpose, as in previous issues of BLUE, the results of national and regional parties are aggregated according to their groups in the European Parliament.
Overall, this semester has seen a weakening of the traditional center-left (S&D) and center-right (EPP) parties to the benefit of the Greens and regionalists on the one hand, and the radical right (ECR, ID, and some non-inscrits) on the other. At the same time, the radical left continues to decline, while the far right stabilizes its positions.
The radical left parties in the GUE/NGL group are experiencing a further decline (-2 pp), confirming those of the previous two half-years. The sharpest declines were observed in Saarland (-8 pp), where Die Linke seems to have lost its historical bulwark, Portugal (-5.5 pp), and Slovenia (-4.9 pp). Only the French presidential elections saw a rebound, despite scattered candidacies; there, the group saw a gain of 4.3 pp in the first round, but was unable to qualify a candidate to the second round. Elsewhere, the results of the radical left showed a slight downward trend.
In contrast, the Green and regionalist parties of the Greens/EFA group are up for the third consecutive quarter, with an average gain of 2.5 pp. Up in all elections except Portugal (-1.9 pp) and Hungary (where the LMP party ran in coalition, making it impossible to assess its individual performance), the Greens experienced strong growth in North Rhine-Westphalia (+11.76 pp), Schleswig-Holstein (+7.94 pp), and France (+4.63 pp). On the other hand, the provincial parties of Castilla y León (centered on the provinces of León, Soria and Ávila), which can be classified as ideologically close to the EFA, experienced a growth in their electoral share (+4.33 pp).
After six months of relative stability, the Social Democratic S&D group again suffered significant losses, averaging 1.8 pp. The group’s vote share went down in Schleswig-Holstein (-11.6 pp), France (-4.6 pp), Castilla y León (-4.9 pp), and North Rhine-Westphalia (-4.6 pp). The Social Democrats, however, had two spectacular victories — each time gaining an absolute majority — in Portugal (+4.3 pp) and Saarland (+13.9 pp), two territories that are strongholds of the S&D at European level.
Behind an apparent stability (-0.6 pp), the liberal-centrists of the Renew Europe (RE) group obtained very mixed results. Three significant defeats in Castilla y León (-10.6 pp), North Rhine-Westphalia (-6.4 pp) and Schleswig-Holstein (-4.9 pp) are matched by four more modest successes in France (+3.8 pp in the presidential election in April, but with incumbent Macron obtaining only a minority government after the June parliamentary elections), Portugal (+3.9 pp) and Saarland (+2.8 pp), and only one clear victory, that of Robert Golob’s Freedom movement in Slovenia (+13.9 pp for all RE-affiliated parties), which recently joined the group.
The conservative parties of the European People’s Party (EPP) have experienced the biggest decline of all EP groups in this half-year, at -2.6 pp. Their only two victories were in the Länder of North Rhine-Westphalia (+3.0 pp) and Schleswig-Holstein (+10.0 pp), where the incumbent Minister-President Daniel Günther saw his popularity confirmed. All other elections resulted in defeats, some of them severe: in France (-15.2 pp), Saarland (-12.1 pp), Slovenia (-4.4 pp), Portugal (-2.1 pp) and Malta (-1.9 pp), the electoral weight of traditional right-wing parties declined.
The national-conservatives of the ECR group were present in only two elections in BLUE’s main program, in France (DLF) and Castilla y León (Vox). In France, the ECR candidate experienced losses (-2.6 pp), while Vox’s vote share was up in Castilla y León (+12.3 pp). In the latter region, the ECR member party entered the regional government in coalition with the PP (EPP).
Finally, the far-right group ID stabilizes its positions after two half-year declines (+0.5 pp), thanks to significant gains in Portugal (+6.0 pp) and France (+1.9 pp in the first round of the presidential elections, 7.7 pp in the second) at the expense of the traditional right. On the other hand, they declined in the three German Länder that voted this semester (from -0.5 to -2.0 pp).
Non-affiliated parties and cross-group coalitions made significant gains, averaging 2.9 pp (+1.3 pp ignoring the specific case of Hungary). Outside of Hungary, the French presidential election saw the strongest increase in the number of non-affiliated parties (+7.8 pp), in particular because of the candidacy of ultranationalist candidate Éric Zemmour.
Parties entering and exiting regional and national parliaments
With the exception of those in North Rhine-Westphalia and Malta, all parliamentary elections in the first semester of 2022 saw parties entering or leaving the respective regional or national legislatures.
Slovenia was the country with the most party upheaval. Between the elections of 2022 and 2018, nine new parties from the centre, the right, the environmental movement and also a conspiracy-inspired party in reaction to the anti-covid19 policy competed in the general elections. Only the Movement for Freedom, which brought together a large coalition of centrist parties, made it into parliament by winning the elections against the outgoing right-wing Prime Minister, Janez Janša, who was accused of undermining the rule of law and press freedom in the country. The Slovenian Pensioners’ Interest Party left parliament, dropping from around 5% to less than 1%, which was not enough to remain in the Slovenian parliament.
In the French National Assembly, the NUPES coalition enabled Europe Écologie Les Verts (EELV) to obtain 23 seats, allowing it to make a comeback in the National Assembly after a gap between 2017 and 2022 when there was no group representing this party. While the National Rally (far right) already had just under 10 seats between 2017 and 2022, the breakthrough in June 2022 allows the party to be fully represented in the National Assembly and to have a group.
In Hungary, the far-right party “Our Homeland,” founded by dissidents of Jobbik, a former ultranationalist party but which has made its aggiornamento towards the conservative right, and which then guided the coalition of the United Opposition against Viktor Orban, entered the Hungarian Parliament winning 6 seats.
Finally, in Portugal where early elections were held following the collapse of the left-wing coalition, the center-right Popular Party, which held 5 seats, lost its representation in the Portuguese Parliament, dropping from just under 5% to 1.60%.
In Northern Ireland, the Green Party, which does not take a position on the institutional future of Northern Ireland, lost its 2 seats and joined the extra-parliamentary opposition. The party had had seats in the Northern Ireland Parliament since 2007. Between 2016 and 2022, the party obtained between 16,000 and 18,000 votes without making any progress.
Ciudadanos (center-right) continues its process of disappearance from the Spanish political scene, but manages to save a meager representation in the regional parliament of Castilla y León, going down from 12 seats to 1. The party for the defense of the interests of rural Spain, “Empty Spain,” obtained 3 seats and entered the regional parliament.
Finally, in Schleswig-Holstein, the far-right Alternative for Germany (AFD) party leaves the regional parliament, losing its 5 seats acquired in the 2017 elections.
In the period covered by this issue, the average voter turnout decreased. This trend affected several crucial elections, despite Europe facing major crises.
In France, two major elections took place between April and June 2022: the presidential election on April 10 and 24, and the legislative election on June 12 and 19.
The two rounds of the presidential election attracted fewer voters than in 2017. There was a -4.08 pp drop for the first round compared to the last election, and a -2.57 pp drop for the second round. As the war in Ukraine began, incumbent President Emmanuel Macron ran a relatively low-key campaign, and there were fewer public debates between candidates. This produced a form of ‘non-campaigning’ which was abundantly discussed in the French media.
As regards the legislative election, no clear trend emerges. Turnout was down -1.19 pp in the first round compared to the 2017 election, but up 3.59 pp in the second round. However, turnout remains very low, below 50%.
In Portugal, an early parliamentary election was held after the Left Bloc (BE) and the Unitary Democratic Coalition (including the Greens and the Portuguese Communist Party) withdrew their non-participatory support for António Costa’s Socialist government. The turnout in this crucial general election increased slightly compared to 2019, exceeding the symbolic threshold of 50%: it gained +2.85 pp from 48.57% to 51.42%.
In Hungary, turnout remained stable at 69% as Victor Orbán succeeded in mobilizing his electorate, in particular by organizing, on the same day, a referendum on issues of sexual education, officially aimed at ending the alleged “promotion of homosexuality and transidentity” in Hungarian schools.
In Malta, despite a well above-average turnout in a European comparison (85.44%), voter mobilization decreased. The March 26, 2022 election saw the lowest turnout since 1955, down 6.62 pp from the 2017 election.
In Germany, three regional elections were held between March and May 2022.
In Saarland, Germany’s smallest state, an election was held on March 27, 2022. Turnout dropped by more than 8 points (-8.34 pp) compared to the previous election in 2017.
In Schleswig-Holstein, an election was held on May 8, 2022. Turnout was also lower than in the previous election, falling below the 50% mark as it declined by more than 8 points (-8.76 pp).
In North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW), an election was held on May 15, 2022. NRW is the state where turnout fell most sharply, losing more than 10 points (-10.62 pp).
The election renewing the Northern Ireland Assembly saw for the first time the Republican and Irish nationalist party Sinn Féin come out on top, in a context where participation remained relatively stable, falling by only -1.17 pp.
In Finland, the first elections for the new regional councils were held on January 23, 2022. Less than half of all voters turned out to vote (47.53%).
Finally, municipal elections were held in the Netherlands. The turnout was historically low, at just over 50%, whereas figures in previous elections were usually around 55%. The large parties dominating the Dutch political scene (VVD, CDA, and the Socialist Party) have seen a considerable decline in their vote shares, with more local parties gaining ground.
In contrast to this general trend, two elections showed a significant increase in turnout, in Slovenia and Castilla y León.
In the Slovenian parliamentary elections, turnout rose by 18.33 pp, from 52.63% to 70.96%. Robert Golob, head of the new center-left political party “Freedom” (RE), won the election, while the Slovenian right (SDS) lost its government majority.
Finally, in the regional elections in Castilla y León, voters turned out in large numbers. Turnout on February 13, 2022, increased by more than 10 points compared to the 2019 election, partly to increased mobilization around the future of the region’s rural areas.
Interactions between elections
Three regional elections took place in Germany in the first six months of 2022. Schleswig-Holstein, the Saarland and Nordrhein-Westfalen (NRW) each elected new parliaments. These elections were the first to be held since the general elections in September 2021 (see BLUE #2), and they all happened after the war in Ukraine had already started. However, as the analyses show, their mutual interactions were rather limited.
The Saarland election was held first. As Minas argues in his analysis, the Saarland campaign had a distinctively regional character, thus leaving little room for generalizations about the national political climate, and restricting the ballot’s impact on subsequent elections.
While the campaign in the Saarland focused on regional policies such as unemployment and infrastructure, the one in Schleswig-Holstein was largely dominated by matters relating to the war in Ukraine (foreign policy, energy dependency and prices, purchasing power amongst others), in which the competence lies with the federal government. Here, the CDU largely won the election. However, given the popularity of incumbent (and re-elected) Minister-President Daniel Günther, this victory should not necessarily be interpreted as a signal of dissatisfaction vis-à-vis the current federal government. Both Günther’s persona – he has one of the highest personal approval rates among Ministerpresidents in Germany — and the record of his outgoing coalition — which also involved the Greens and was deemed highly successful in the polls — largely contributed to the CDU’s and Greens’ strong results, with the two parties coming first and second respectively.
The election in North-Rhine-Westphalia (NRW), on the other hand, is often described as a “little general election” and seen as a good indicator of the national political climate, since it takes place in the most populous of the German states. Here, the CDU won as well, and the Greens achieved their best result to this day. The two parties have now entered a coalition, the first of its kind in NRW. The coalition formation process may indeed have benefitted from the perceived success of the Black-Green (CDU/Greens) coalition in Schleswig-Holstein. While the SPD lost 2.7 pp, the FDP, the third party of the national coalition and the previous junior coalition partner in NRW (CDU/FDP), lost 6.7 pp. As Constantin Wurthmann notes in his analysis, it seems that there is a national and regional trend emerging where the Greens tend to replace the FDP as the third strongest party and preferred (junior) coalition partner.
BLUE constructed an indicator to measure the polarization of the vote between urban and rural areas. Given the aggregate vote shares u1, …, up of the parties in the urban electorate and the aggregate vote shares r1, …, rp of these same parties in the rural electorate (in percent), we consider
1/2 ( |r1 – u1| + … + |rp – up| ).
The result is a percentage that varies between 0% and 100%, where 0% means that the shares of the different parties in the urban and rural electorates are identical, and 100% means that the urban electorate votes for entirely different parties than the rural electorate.
For most of the elections covered by this issue, our indicator remained stable. The main exception concerns the Dutch municipal elections, where the indicator is also much higher than in other regions. In fact, 57% of urban voters voted differently from rural voters. In these municipal elections, which showed the lowest turnout since 1955, the rural/urban divide increased even further, by 5 pp.
In the French presidential elections, the gap also widened, increasing by 6 pp from 24% in the previous election of 2017, to 30% in 2022. A clear divide could be observed between the larger metropoles, where support for Jean-Luc Mélenchon was high, the countryside in the North and South of the country which rather voted for Marine Le Pen, and the West of France dominated by the Macron vote. The 2022 election thus saw a deepening of the trends already observed in 2017.
In Slovenia, the gap only widened slightly by +2 pp, with the indicator raising from 29% to 31%. Overall, the electoral divide between urban and rural voters remained relatively stable.
For the early parliamentary elections in Portugal, the indicator did not change: with around 14%, it is relatively low compared to other European states.
Hungary, on the other hand, stands out for a decrease in the vote gap between urban and rural voters. In these parliamentary elections, won by incumbent Viktor Orbán, the indicator has dropped by -4 pp, from 34% in 2018, to 30% in April 2022 election.
In Germany, the results of two regional elections can be analyzed, in Saarland and Schleswig-Holstein. In Saarland, the indicator fell slightly, losing -1 pp, from 22% to 21%. In Schleswig-Holstein, on the other hand, it increased by 6 pp, to 27%; the divide has thus been reinforced in this state.
After an electoral campaign marked by the issue of rural exodus, Castilla y León showed a decrease in the gap, which was already very low in the last election. The indicator declined by 2 pp compared to the last regional elections, to 13%.
Socio-economic determinants of the vote
This semester, the net migration and birth rates were the most significant explanatory factors of electoral behavior. The effect of net migration on the Greens/EFA vote share was positive, while its effect was negative on the S&D, RE, and ECR vote shares. This is in line with findings from previous semesters, except for the RE group, whose good performance in parts of rural France and lower performance in its most attractive metropoles might explain different outcomes. In terms of the effect of birth rates on vote shares, the EPP and ID groups show inverse trends, with the EPP benefiting from higher birth rates while the ID group performs better in regions with less births.
Quite unsurprisingly, the Greens/EFA group obtained better results in regions with high population density, but, less intuitively (and just as in previous semesters), a low GDP per capita had a positive effect on its vote share.
Finally, on average, low unemployment had a positive effect on the share of EPP vote.
Autonomy — independence
The historic victory of Sinn Féin (far left, Irish nationalist) in Northern Ireland, taking advantage of the partial collapse of the Democratic Unionist Party (radical right, unionist) to become the leading political force in the region, is a major development in Northern Irish politics. For the first time since the formal independence of the Republic of Ireland in 1922, republicans have been able to win in this historically Protestant and unionist region. If Sinn Féin hopes to capitalise on this victory and accelerate the unification of the island, the result of the nationalist party is not a plebiscite and should be put in perspective with the emergence of a third non-partisan party, positioned in the centre of the political spectrum. By obtaining 17 seats, 9 more than in the 2017 elections, the Alliance wants to be a pivotal force in Northern Irish politics, especially as the issue of the Northern Ireland Protocol, allowing the free movement of goods and people between the North and the South of the island of Ireland, is at the heart of political tensions in the region. While the Unionists would like to denounce the agreement, the Nationalists and the Alliance are keen to preserve it for reasons of identity, culture and trade.
In the French National Assembly, the Corsican autonomists of Femu a Corsica and Partitu di a nazione corsa keep the 3 seats out of 4 obtained in June 2017. The 1st constituency of Corse-du-Sud remains in the hands of the insular right, allied to the party of former Prime Minister Edouard Philippe. The 3 autonomist deputies will undoubtedly be part of the negotiations on the institutional future of Corsica initiated following the unprecedented riots in Corsica in March 2022, following the death in prison of pro-independence militant Yvan Colonna, murdered by a fellow prisoner. Brittany officially elects Paul Molac, who ran under the regionalist banner, formerly a Socialist MP and then LREM. He left the LREM group during the 2017-2022 legislature to form the “Liberté et Territoires” group with centrists and Corsican autonomists. In the overseas territories, the Tahitian and Martinique independence parties and the Reunionese regionalists also obtained seats and strengthened the NUPES coalition (left to far left) in the National Assembly.
While corruption issues were discussed in the campaign preceding some of the elections, most notably Hungary, Slovenia and Malta, it seems that only in Slovenia these accusations translated into political change.
There are obvious corruption issues in Hungary, additionally to breaches in the rule of law and biases in the campaign funding. Yet the anti-Orbán coalition did not manage to become a credible anti-corruption movement and they eventually lost the election — as Eszter Farkas explains, this can be explained, among others, by the different parties themselves not being free of corruption scandals.
In Slovenia, whose political scene has been characterized by relative political instability since 2008, several corruption scandals emerged during the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as allegations of meddling with independent state institutions. This led to anti-government protests centered on anti-corruption demands. Eventually the relative newcomer Robert Golob, who encouraged anti-government feelings, was elected. However, shortly before the election, he was also accused of having undeclared foreign bank accounts. But this seems to have had little impact on his election.
Also notable is that Janša’s ousted government distributed energy vouchers to the general population just two weeks before the election.
Finally, Malta was shaken by large scale corruption scandals in the past few years in Europe. The “Golden Passport Scheme” as well as the murder of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia and the revelations of the Panama and Pandora papers influenced national politics in the last few years and impacted this year’s election. Similarly to Slovenia, the Maltese government distributed “supplementary cheques” and offered tax rebates in the weeks prior to the election. Despite consistent negative press on the island, the anti-corruption movement did not manage to capitalize on the dissatisfaction; on the contrary, it seems that citizen’s anger rather resulted in abstention, with participation dropping by 7 pp (from 92% to 85%).
Two elections discussed in this issue have taken place in part in Outermost Regions (OMR) and Oversea Countries and Territories (OCT) of the EU: The French presidential and legislative election has been held in all French oversea territories, and the Portuguese general election in the Portuguese OMRs of Azores and Madeira.
The result of the vote of French oversea residents diverged strongly from the national average. In the first round of the presidential election, third-placed Jean-Luc Mélenchon (FI, GUE/NGL) won a majority of the vote in three OMRs (Guadeloupe, Martinique, Guyane) and a plurality in two others (Saint-Martin and Réunion), while in Mayotte — the EU’s least developed first-level region —, Marine Le Pen (RN, ID) obtained 43% in the first round. Unlike a majority of left-wing voters in mainland France, and largely due to dissatisfaction with the incumbent’s performance after years of unresolved social and political tensions, oversea voters more often supported Le Pen against Macron in the second round, giving her a majority in all OMRs. In two other OCTs located in the Atlantic Ocean (Saint-Pierre-et-Miquelon and Saint-Barthélémy), similar trends were observed, while in the Pacific OCTs of French Polynesia, New Caledonia, and Wallis and Futuna, Emmanuel Macron came out on top in both rounds. Turnout was lower than average in all oversea territories, with the very low figures registered in New Caledonia (35%) largely reflecting pro-independence parties’ refusal to participate in the voting process. Overall, the vote of oversea residents highlighted the growing disconnect between metropolitan French dynamics and the public opinion of oversea territories, as well as the dissatisfaction of the latter vis-à-vis central authorities.
In comparison, the electoral behavior in the autonomous regions of Azores and Madeira, whose level of political autonomy is larger than that of their French OMR counterparts, was less distinctive. In the two regions, the PSD (EPP), unlike in other constituencies in the country, ran on a common list with other right-wing parties. The PSD-led coalition won in the Madeira constituency (its only victory in a Portuguese constituency), obtaining its third best result nationwide, while the PS won in the Azores constituency. Both the far-left BE and the far-right Chega underperformed in the two regions.
These elections were also impacted by EU news and developments, and in some cases, their outcome is likely to have consequences for EU decision-making, especially in the European Council.
Firstly, the invasion of Ukraine on 24 February 2022 largely captured media interest, turning the coverage of national and regional elections into a secondary priority. In the Netherlands, Malta or
Castilla y León, the elections were less covered by the national press. It is also likely that the onset of the war disserved pro-Russian parties and those with close ties to the Putin regime — except in the case of Hungary, where Fidesz won a parliamentary majority. The impacts of the war — in particular the European sanctions on Russia, its consequences on supply chains, and the energy situation — were also at the heart of electoral debates within member states. In Hungary, the victory of Viktor Orban’s Fidesz party, which since the beginning of the war has pursued a policy of strategic ambiguity towards the Putin regime, threatened European unity. Indeed, while Hungary accepted the first five packages of European sanctions against Moscow, it blocked the adoption of the sixth package, which included an embargo on Russian oil. Hungary finally obtained a temporary exemption for oil imports by pipeline, allowing it to continue buying cheap oil from Russia. Since then, Orbán has met with Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov in Moscow to discuss the purchase of 700 million cubic meters of gas.
While the Russian-Ukrainian monopolized media attention and shaped electoral debates, more specific trends are also of European relevance.
In Northern Ireland, the Irish nationalist Sinn Féin became for the first time the leading party in the Northern Ireland assembly with 27 seats, relegating the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) to the second place with 25 seats. After DUP First Minister Paul Givan resigned in February to protest against the implementation of the Northern Ireland Protocol as part of the Brexit process, his party still refuses to form a new government unless border controls are abandoned. Although British MPs unilaterally voted to revise the protocol in June, this decision is subject to an infringement procedure by the European Commission, leaving the conflict unresolved. The appointment of a new First Minister in Northern Ireland remains suspended to the renegotiation of the protocol and to the election of the new British Prime Minister, scheduled for early September.
Finally, we note that some anti-European populist parties gained representation. In Hungary, Fidesz strengthened its position while the far-right parties in Castilla y León and Malta, respectively Vox and Chega, saw their vote share increase to 7.2% and 17.5%, respectively. On the other hand, Volt, a pan-European political party, was represented in the Dutch municipal elections and the Maltese parliamentary elections. In the Netherlands, it was only present in a few municipalities, while in Malta, its result appeared disappointing, partly due to its pro-abortion position which is not consensual on the island.
Seat shares of European political families, 1 June 2022
The Continental Map
To cite the article
François Hublet, Jean-Toussaint Battestini, Lucie Coatleven, Charlotte Kleine, Mattéo Lanoë, The Continental Review, Oct 2022,
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