Poland’s ruling eurosceptics celebrate victory
The FT’s James Shotter in Warsaw reports that Poland’s the ruling Law and Justice party is on course to win the most votes in an election that all sides are hoping to use as a stepping stone to crucial national parliamentary elections this autumn.
According EP estimates on Sunday night, Jaroslaw Kaczynski’s conservative nationalist grouping won 42.4 per cent of the vote. European Coalition – an alliance of five parties built around the centre-right Civic Platform – came second with 39.1 per cent.
Spring, a new left-wing party founded by Robert Biedron, an openly gay atheist who backs the separation of Church and State, came third with 6.6 per cent, while Konfederacja, a new coalition of nationalist and far right groups won 6.1 per cent.
The result is a boost for Law and Justice ahead of the autumn elections, and follows a campaign that has increasingly become a battle over identity, with fights over the Catholic Church and LGBT rights among the most prominent issues in final weeks of the campaign.
Mr Kaczynski hailed the exit poll numbers, but warned his supporters that the party still had work to do. “We should remember that the crucial battle for the future of our motherland is in the autumn and we have to win that too, with even higher [support] than now. It’s a huge challenge,” he told supporters at an event in central Warsaw.
Grzegorz Schetyna, head of Civic Platform, the largest opposition grouping, said that the results were the “first half” of the match. “We need to stay together and we can win in the autumn. That is our promise,” he said
Pro-EU parties hold their ground against the populist wave
It’s 2130 CET local time and here’s our take on the results so far:
A diffuse alliance of pro-EU parties largely held their ground in Sunday’s European elections, after a bruising battle with anti-establishment groups that saw Emmanuel Macron’s En Marche defeated in France.
With indications of turnout rising for the first time 40 years, early estimates produced by the European Parliament suggest voters returned a more fragmented pro-EU majority, with traditional centre-ground parties losing seats to Greens and Liberals. Eurosceptic and far-right parties made modest gains but remained roughly a quarter of MEPs.
How it breaks down in Germany
Courtesy of the FT’s crack graphics team:
The FT’s Nordic and Baltic correspondent, Richard Milne reports on a defeat for Denmark’s populists:
The populist Danish People’s party have suffered a huge collapse in support only 10 days before national elections in Denmark.
The anti-EU, anti-immigration party is set to lose more than half of its share of the vote, sliding from 26.6 per cent in 2015 to 11.8 per cent, according to a Danish TV exit poll.
Political scientists credit the centre-left Social Democrats – in first place on 23.6 per cent – with having somewhat neutralised the populists by becoming more restrictive on immigration themselves.
“Europe is back”
Guy Verhofstadt, leader of the liberals, has celebrated the return of Europe and a shifting balance of power in the EU after the centre-right and centre-left looks to have lost its joint majority. Mr Verhofstadt’s Liberals will form a joint group with Emmanuel Macron’s Renaissance:
“We are the pro-European group that has won the election.
“Europe is back and Europe is popular. We will form and establish a new group of around 100 seats. It will be a crucial group. For the first time in 40 years, the two classical parties will no longer have a majority. That means that no solid pro-European majority is possible without the help and participation o f our new centrist groups.
“The Greens will be indispensable”
If the results stay as they are, the Greens will be among the big winners gaining around 20 seats in the new European Parliament. That will also make them potential “kingmakers” in aby broad alliance of pro-EU parties forming a majority in the parliament.
Philippe Lamberts, co-leader of the Greens in Brussels, has said the party will be “indispensable” in the horse-trading to come:
“With the uptick in nationalism, the Greens will be indispensable. You can count on us to say we can bring about a radical change for a sustainable and democratic Europe”.
Mr Lamberts says the Greens will extract a high price for being part of any coalition, which is up for negotiations.
“The Greens will not just sign a piece of paper and let others take our place.”
Manu v Le Pen
More from Victor Mallet in Paris
Although there were 34 party lists vying for votes in France, the contest quickly became a two-way battle between President Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen.
Mr Macron and his supporters will seek to take comfort from the fact that the far right National Rally tends to do better in European elections than in national ones. Its preliminary score of 24.2 per cent was slightly below its result in 2014, when it emerged as the largest French party with 24.9 per cent, against 20.8 per cent for the right-wing UMP.
A beaming Ms Le Pen called on other parties to join with the RN to mount a united opposition to Mr Macron and said that the president should “at the minimum” dissolve the National Assembly and introduce a more representative national election system. “A big movement for a future government is born tonight,” she said.
This year Ms Le Pen – who lost to Mr Macron in the second round of the French presidential election in 2017 – also took advantage of the anti-government gilets jaunes protests over the past six months to turn the election into a national referendum on Mr Macron’s performance.
Instead of shirking the challenge, Mr Macron entered the political fray in support of his faltering European election leader Ms Loiseau, declaring in Romania at an EU summit earlier this month: “I will use all my energy to ensure that the Rassemblement National does not come out on top.”
It was a calculated risk by Mr Macron, who has framed the elections as an existential struggle between pro-EU politicians such as himself and nationalists who want to weaken Europe. A loss to the RN suggests the charisma and energy that helped sweep him and his party to power two years ago have started to lose some of their appeal for French voters.
Mr Macron is unlikely to risk his party’s control of the lower house of parliament with a new national election, although French political commentators have predicted a government reshuffle in the event of a severe loss to the RN.
Le Pen celebrates
The FT’s Victor Mallet in Paris reports celebrations among the National Rally, whose MEP candidate Jordan Bardella has welcomed a “popular rising against the government in power, which today has suffered a real setback”. Emmanuel Macron, he added, had been taught a lesson in humility by the French people. “It’s him and his policies that have been rejected.”
“The progress of our allies in Europe opens the way for a powerful group at the heart of the European Parliament.”
The early calculations showed a strong performance from Europe Ecologie-Les Verts (EELV, the French greens), with 12.7 per cent of the vote, while the centre-right Les Républicains – the inheritors of the traditional French right – had a score of only 8.5 per cent, much lower than in the opinion polls.
“We are today the third force in politics [in France],” said Yannick Jadot of the EELV. “This is indeed a European green wave.”
Updated estimates from Germany
Still looking ok for the CDU, very good for the Greens, and pretty grim for the SPD. Here’s the data compiled by the EU parliament:
Le Pen narrowly beats Macron in France, according to EP estimates
France’s far-right National Rally has narrowly beaten Emmanuel Macron’s centrist En Marche party according to the EP’s estimates. Marine Le Pen’s party, which won in 2014, gained per cent 23.7 per cent of the vote, with En Marche at 22.47 per cent. But the difference is just one seat in the parliament. (See below)
The conservative Les Republicains, part of the centre-right EPP, fall to just 8 per cent while the socialists get wacked,falling to just over 6 per cent.
First look at the new European Parliament
We have 11 member state exit polls allowing the EP to come up with its first distribution of seats. At first glance, we see that the conservative EPP bloc retains its position as the largest. The biggest winners look to be the Greens, who jump nearly 15 seats to 71.
As it stands, the eurosceptic alliance grows slightly to form around 26-27 per cent of the chamber, up from around a fifth in 2014.
However this comes with a big health warning as we don’t have full results from a majority of member states and voting is still going on in many.
We don’t have any official results yet, but that hasn’t stopped the Socialists and Democrats, the parliament’s main centre-left group, from making plans for the future.
Despite unofficial data showing a poor result in Germany, the S&D has put out a press release announcing its intention “to forge a strong progressive alliance” in the assembly. Let’s see if other parties want to play ball…
Portugal bucks turnout trend
As polls close in Portugal, Peter Wise in Lisbon reports that local media reports projected turnout for the election is at 33.5-29.5 per cent, among the lowest in Europe. Turnout in 2014 was 33.7 per cent. Polling continues in Portugal’s Azores islands.
The 40-year curse could be broken
For the first time since the first EU elections elections 1979, turnout looks like it will be up.
The European Parliament’s spokesman has just told journalists that estimated turnout in the 28 member states is around 49-51 per cent this year. That would be up from 42 per cent in 2014 – and if we breach 50 per cent, it will be the first time since 1994.
Hungary’s record turnout
The FT’s Valerie Hopkins is hanging out at Hungary’s Fidesz party HQ tonight.
She reports that Hungarians have turned out in record numbers. A Fidesz spokesperson said the unofficial turnout at 18:30 local time, half an hour before the polls closed, was 41.7 per cent. In 2014, the total turnout was below 30 per cent.
Observers say low turnout will help the nationalist premier Viktor Orban’s ruling Fidesz party while several small opposition parties struggle to meet the five per cent threshold to enter the European Parliament.
The Millenial vote in Germany
The SPD – look away now:
It’s not all bad for the centre-left
Germany’s SPD is making all the headlines so far this evening after suffering what looks to be big defeats in European elections and a regional vote in Bremen.
But it’s not all doom and gloom for other social democrats. The Netherlands benefited from what the Dutch media are calling the “Timmermans effect”, where the country’s lead candidate to replace Jean-Claude Juncker came first in elections, surprising most observers. Mainstream Dutch centre-left and centre-right parties also held their ground in the face of a new populist far-right force called the Forum for Democracy.
Malta’s ruling Labour Party is also expected to increase its vote share to 55 per cent. Spain’s socialists are also hoping to capitalise on last month’s general elections by usurping the centre-right to become the biggest party. Italy’s Democratic Party, which won big in 2014, is also hoping to bounce back from terrible polls over the last two years and become the main opposition force to Matteo Salvini’s right-wing League.
The FT’s Sam Jones reports on a jubilant Sebastian Kurz’s reaction to the EU elections results in Austria, where exit polls indicate his Austrian People’s Party won a clear victory.
Speaking in front of a jubilant crowd of supporters in front of the Austrian People’s Party headquarters on Sunday evening, just off Vienna’s elegant Ringstrasse, a visibly pleased Mr Kurz thanked voters repeatedly.
“I am not often lost for words, but I am almost speechless,” the Austrian prime minister said, praising “the historic best ever” vote his party had polled in Europe.
No big turnout rises in Italy
France, Germany, the Netherlands, Spain and others are likely to see decent leaps in turnout this weekend, but not so much in Italy.
The FT’s Miles Johnson in Rome reports turnout in Italy counted at 19.00 local time was 39.2 per cent, up slightly compared to 38.53 per cent at the same point in 2014.
Data earlier in the day pointed towards turnout in the north of the country being slightly higher in the northern regions of Italy compared to 2014, and lower in the south and islands.
This may auger well for Matteo Salvini’s League, which has the bulk of its core vote in the north, and poorly for the Five Star Movement, which draws much of its support from the south.
Far-right party makes early gains in Belgian election
While much of Europe is focused on the EU parliament vote, Belgians also went to the polls today for general and regional elections.
Early results show a breakthrough in the Dutch-speaking north of the country for the Vlaams Belang, a far-right, anti-immigrant separatist party.
With close to 30 percent of results counted, it looks like the party could become the second-largest in the Flemish parliament behind the N-VA, another nationalist party.
“Bitter result” for German centre-left
Guy Chazan in Berlin reports on what looks to be a punishing night for Germany’s SPD.
Carsten Schneider, the German Social Democrats’ chief whip, said it was a “bitter result, a defeat for us”.
“I think the main issue was climate change and we didn’t succeed in putting that front and centre, alongside the big social issues”.
The ruling conservatives remain the biggest party despite having a falling vote share. Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, CDU leader, said the party had achieved its two main objectives: it emerged as the strongest, and so helped Manfred Weber’s campaign to become European Commission president.
The CDU has also apparently won the election in the city state of Bremen, which has been ruled for the last 73 years by the SPD.
Austria’s Freedom party unharmed by #IbizaGate
Austria’s far-right Freedom party looks to have emerged relatively unscathed from its recent #IbizaGate scandal that has forced them to leave Vienna’s governing coalition in disgrace. They’ve emerged with 17.5 per cent of the vote, down from 19.2 per cent in 2014 and retain third place in the country.
Sebastian Kurz’s ruling centre-right party gained nearly 10 percentage points and will have seven seats according to the EP estimates. The centre-left social democrats treaded water with the Greens also making small gains.
Timmermans wins in the Netherlands
According to the unofficial EP estimates, the Dutch Labour party has secured first place in the Netherlands with 18 per cent of the vote. One reason may be the presence in the campaign of Frans Timmermans, who is the European centre-left’s candidate to become the next EU commission president.
Green surge in Germany according to EP estimates
We have the first lot of national estimates from seven member states from the European Parliament compiled by Kantor.
They show that Germany’s Green party has jumped significantly to gain 23 per cent of the vote with 23 seats, just behind Angela Merkel’s CDU, which has fallen to 28 per cent (28 seats) The biggest victim seems to be the Germany SPD, with falls also for the liberal FDP led by Christian Lindner.
Italy will be the last member state to close its ballot boxes at 2200 BST tonight.
The FT’s Miles Johnson in Rome reports on how populist leader Matteo Salvini’s Twitter account is causing consternation.
Matteo Salvini, leader of Italy’s anti-migration League party, was criticised by opposition politicians over the weekend for continuing to tweet about the elections even as the country was under a formal “electoral silence” ahead of voting.
Italy’s laws against campaigning in the days running up to an election were written long before the existence of the internet and do not formally include social media. As interior minster Mr Salvini’s own ministry is responsible for policing elections in Italy.
Matteo Renzi, the Democratic Party ex-prime minister, wrote himself on Twitter: “Salvini, minister of the interior, should set an example by respecting the electoral silence instead of violating it”.
Mr Salvini has continued to tweet throughout Sunday.
Here’s a summary of those turnout jumps. They’re figures from national authorities compiled by the European Parliament which the FT has seen:
What will the new European Parliament look like?
We get the first estimated look at the new EP at 19.15 BST but before then you can keep updated with the national polls using the FT’s poll tracker:
A big thing to note is the “new” category which for now will include the UK’s Brexit party and other new parties that haven’t formally joined existing alliances in the parliament, like Spain’s far-right Vox. Emmanuel Macron’s En Marche is counted with the liberal Alde group.
Voters turnout rises sharply in Poland and Hungary
There have been big rises in turnout in Hungary, up almost 11 per cent so far today and 9 per cent in Poland (the ballots are still open), according to estimates seen by the Financial Times.
Of the votes that have already closed, only Malta reported a slight decrease in turnout.
“We think the average turnout will rise 2-3 percentage points” says one parliament official.
What to watch from the EU’s biggest member state
The FT’s Guy Chazan reports from Berlin on how the EU election and another regional vote in Bremen today will be the first big test for Germany’s two dominant mainstream parties:
In Germany, the poll is the first electoral test for Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, the woman who succeeded Angela Merkel as CDU leader last December and is widely expected to replace her as chancellor when her fourth and final term ends in 2021. But her standing in the CDU could be dealt a big blow if the party garners substantially less than the 30 per cent it won in 2014.
Germany’s left-of-centre Social Democrats will also come under pressure if, as expected, their share of the vote drops far below the 27 per cent they garnered in 2014. A poor performance will likely trigger calls from the grass roots for the SPD to quit its grand coalition with Ms Merkel’s CDU, which many activists blame for the party’s misfortune.
The SPD is also braced for bad news from Bremen, the city state which is today electing a new parliament. The Social Democrats have governed the city since 1945. But polls suggest it could be overtaken as the largest party this year by the CDU.
Turnouts rise across Europe
A big thing to watch before the ballot boxes close tonight is reported turnout levels. Historically, EP elections have had very poor voter participation (it last broke 50 per cent in 1994) but the tide might be turning in 2019.
At 5pm in France, turnout is up significantly at around 43 per cent, compared to 35p per cent in 2014 (see tweet below). In Sweden, the country’s electoral authority has noted record high turnout at 20.3 per cent. In Slovakia, which reported the lowest turnout of any member state in 2014 at just 13 per cent, it has risen to around 20 per cent.
A quick thing to note from the FT’s coverage tonight. Due to legal restrictions in the UK, we will not be reporting national exit polls from member states and instead using estimates compiled by the European Parliament throughout the night. The first batch – from Austria, Cyprus, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Malta, and the Netherlands will drop at 1700 CET.
Hello and welcome to the FT’s live coverage of the EU elections coming to you from the European Parliament in Brussels. Team Brussels, composed of myself, Jim Brunsden and Alex Barker, will be guiding you through the night until the early hours of the morning along with contributions from our correspondents across the continent.
The last ballot box in the EU closes at 2200 BST in Italy. Before then we’ll be giving you regularly updated estimates from across Europe. Here’s some useful timings to note (in BST):
• 19.00: The first estimate of France’s election results from the European Parliament
• 19.15: the first set of aggregate numbers for the new look European Parliament based on 12 national estimates
• 20.15: the second set of aggregate numbers of the European Parliament based on 17 national estimates
• 22.15: The first official EP results projection