A Divided Europe Elects A New Parliament

May 26, 2019
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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Results are coming in from elections in 28 nations that voted for seats in the European Union's Parliament. Commentators have called the vote a battle for the soul of Europe because of the rise of nationalist populist parties that want to weaken the EU. NPR's Eleanor Beardsley is following the results from her base in Paris, and she is with us now.

Eleanor, welcome. Thanks so much for joining us.

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: Great to be with you, Michel.

MARTIN: Do you see any big trends emerging?

BEARDSLEY: Well, the first big trend is that turnout was huge, and no one expected that. In France and mostly everywhere, I was standing out of - outside of polling places, and just many young people - there was just a lot of voters. Secondly, the preliminary vote count shows that the two principal pro-European parties - you know, the mainstream moderate parties that have governed in a coalition for many years - they both lost about 40 seats each, and they no longer have a majority. That means they're going to have to find another party to work with.

And at the same time, far-right, populist, euroskeptic, you know, parties - they gained many seats. And thirdly, the ecologists did really well. They gained at least 20 seats. They may be the fourth biggest force in the Parliament now. And the French Green Party leader talked about a green wave sweeping over Europe.

MARTIN: One thing that I think people may be curious about is that the United Kingdom had to vote in this election even though it voted three years ago to leave the EU. So what happened there? And what about France, where you are?

BEARDSLEY: Yeah, Michel. It is very ironic. Britain voted to leave the EU, but it's still in the EU today, so by law, they had to organize these elections for Britain's 73 seats in the Parliament. The two mainstream - you know, the Conservative and Labour Parties both lost seats. And the Brexit party of Nigel Farage did very well - gained 24 seats. You remember he pushed for the Brexit vote to begin with. But, you know, those elected today will probably never go to the EU Parliament because when Britain leaves, its seats will be redistributed to other countries.

MARTIN: And what about...

BEARDSLEY: And...

MARTIN: What about France? Because Macron is obviously very pro-EU.

BEARDSLEY: Absolutely. Marine Le Pen did very well. That was expected. It wasn't a huge shock. She got about 24% of the vote. Macron avoided disaster. He personally invested in the campaign. He got about 22%, so came in, you know, second. But it was clearly a rebuke - a rebuke to him. And the - you know, the top person in Marine Le Pen's party lists said, the president - he turned this vote into a plebiscite, and he got his answer. The people are against him and his policies.

MARTIN: That is NPR's Eleanor Beardsley in Paris.

Eleanor, thanks so much.

BEARDSLEY: Michel, good to be with you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.