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Europe’s New Political Battle Lines

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras recently declared that a united front of “all progressive, democratic, and pro-European forces have a duty to stand side by side on the same side of history.” But will that be enough to offset gains by nationalist populists in the May 2019 European Parliament election?

PARIS – French President Emmanuel Macron has framed the European Parliament election in May 2019 as a battle not between the traditional right and left, but between populists and pro-European progressives like himself. Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras recently adopted similar rhetoric, declaring that “all progressive, democratic, and pro-European forces have a duty to stand side by side on the same side of history.” Would such a fundamental Europe-wide political shift – much like the one in France that brought Macron to power last year – actually come to pass?

The European People’s Party (EPP) on the right and the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats (S&D) on the left have long shared control of the European Parliament, where they have governed by compromise. But, over time, this has produced a kind of political homogenization in Europe, leading to mass abstentionism. Those who do vote increasingly choose anti-establishment parties that often espouse extreme views.

As a result, whereas the EPP and S&D controlled 61% of the European Parliament in 2009, they won only 54% of the vote in 2014, meaning that the body was very nearly dominated by extremist parties. The 2019 election is likely to produce even more losses for the establishment parties, which are expected to win only 45% of seats.

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