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EU Elections Highlight Political Polarization Throughout Europe

Voters in the 28 European Union (EU) member states went to the polls last week to elect 751 new Members of the European Parliament (MEPs). Results reveal that many traditional political parties struggled in this election and some were outperformed by both far-right populist parties and liberal green parties. The long-time center-left, center-right coalition that has been central to governing the EU for 40 years lost its majority: moving from holding 54% of seats before the vote to only 43% of seats. The newly elected EU Parliament officially takes power in July, but with the substantial number of new MEPs, it is unlikely that the Parliament will be fully up and running until this fall. Once the new Parliament begins to govern, the larger implications of these election results will be clearer.  

How This Impacts Mobility

The results of the EU elections have the potential to dramatically impact the mobility industry. While far-right populist parties did make gains in this election, they were smaller than many predicted, and a large majority of voters still bolstered political parties that support the EU. It remains to be seen if the various far-right, nationalist parties that picked up seats in this election will be able to band together as a unified voting bloc. With the far right now representing about 25% of seats in the EU Parliament, the group will have more influence, but still does not hold the majority. It is more likely that the EU election results will have an impact in their home countries, with far-right parties using the outcomes to boost their visibility back home.

As the United Kingdom (UK) has not yet left the EU, the UK still was able to participate in this election. Results show the new Brexit Party, led by Nigel Farage, coming in first place, far ahead of the Conservative Party that currently runs the British government. This strong showing for the Brexit party could add to the challenges for the next UK Prime Minister as the party pushes for Brexit even without a deal.  

A no-deal Brexit could end UK citizens’ right to free movement in the EU immediately, and possibly require UK nationals in the EU—and vice versa—to apply for work permits. A no-deal Brexit would also mean that there would be no transition period to ease the UK’s exit from the EU. Most companies had been planning on using this transition period to maintain stability while the UK and EU worked to define their future relationship. Having no transition period would be extremely troubling for the mobility industry, which would have no time to adjust to massive changes in immigration processes. If the UK does leave the EU later this year, the British MEPs will lose their seats in the EU Parliament.

Italy’s far-right party made big gains in the election, and France’s far-right partyled by Marine Le Penjust edged out French President Emmanuel Macron’s more centrist party. While many of the far-right leaders who won seats in this election are anti-migrant and anti-immigration, there is no consensus among the different countries on how best to handle these issues. From a mobility perspective, the fact that these anti-immigrant voices are gaining traction is concerning, but no EU policy changes are imminent. Even if positive results for far-right parties do not translate into policy successes back home, when these parties gain a positive result, politics that were formerly considered “fringe” are moved into more of a mainstream position. 

On the other side of the political spectrum, “the Greens”political parties advocating for plans to address climate changegained enough seats to make them the fourth largest voting bloc in the EU. The Greens are proposing sweeping environmental changes that would impact the economy and boost companies related to green energy, renewables, etc. If they gain traction, this could be an area of growth for the mobility industry, as countries take steps to promote clean energy and more environmentally friendly products.

While the initial results of the EU election are informative, the larger implications are still not entirely clear. As noted, far-right and more progressive parties will try to leverage successes in this election in their home countries, but may or may not be successful. Worldwide ERC® will continue to monitor the impact of the EU elections as the new Parliament is seated and begins to shape policy.

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