AHEAD OF THE European elections results tomorrow, eastern Europe has a number 0f seats up for grabs. However, despite the on-going criticism of the EU in western Europe it appears that there are fewer Eurosceptic parties in eastern Europe. One factor explaining this may be the fact that eastern European countries have only recently acceded to the EU, with the accession of the A8 countries in 2004 and the most recent member, Croatia, joined less than twelve months ago.
Many eastern European countries have important domestic elections coming up in the coming years and therefore it has been suggested that these EU elections are in effect opinion polls on national governments and a chance for citizens to protest against domestic policies which they disagree with, rather than voting on European issues, a trend which affects the entire union.
There have been a number of important factors which help to explain the current voting trends in eastern Europe however, most notably the growing influence of Russia and the issues of military and energy security that the crisis has brought to the fore.
Poland is arguably one of the few places in central and eastern Europe which has a mainstream party which can be described as ‘Eurosceptic’ in its rhetoric and beliefs. The Law and Justice party is currently in opposition in Poland and is part of the Alliance of European Conservatives and Reformists group in the European Parliament – the same group as the British Conservative Party. Poland has four major elections coming up between now and Autumn 2015.
The Law and Justice party were set to do well in the upcoming European elections, however have been caught out electorally by the ruling Civic Platform party over the issue of Ukraine. Civic Platform, and its leader Donald Tusk, performed well in portraying the Ukraine crisis as a grave threat to Polish interests and were highly visible in their attempts to appear strong in the face of Russian aggression against its neighbour. The Law and Justice Party were wrong-footed by this and lost their electoral lead. However, with a combination of stronger rhetoric over Ukraine and criticism of the actions of Civic Platform, the polls have narrowed and the election is likely to be split between the two main parties.
There have been a number of new parties emerging in Poland in recent years, however many of them are fragmented. The party most likely to breach the five per cent threshold for representation in the European Parliament is the Congress of the New Right under its eccentric, and controversial, leader Janusz Korwin-Mikke. He is strongly Euro-sceptic and has a strong online following which has increased his popularity. This party is likely to make a breakthrough in these elections but it is unclear whether they will remain a potent influence in the future.
Much the same as in other European nations, these EU elections are seen as an opinion poll on the ruling government – Hungary recently had a General Election and the ruling Conservative Party continued its dominance. Fidesz, the Conservative party, is not expected to do as well electorally as it did in 2009, but is still expected to retain a number of its MEPs. The concerns over Ukraine have been less prominent in Hungary and the opposition social democrats and leftists in general has remained fragmented. However, there is a chance that the Greens may win a seat.
However, one major political issue is the continuing presence of the far-right, ultra-nationalist Jobbik party. The party emerged in the last European Parliament elections where it won two out of the 22 seats on offer in Hungary. The party has links to other radical nationalist European parties such as the British National Party (BNP) in the UK. Polls have suggested that Jobbik may improve on its 2009 turnout and come in second place in these elections with over 20 per cent of the vote.
Ukraine has proven to be a concern among many Romanians ahead of these European Parliamentary elections. Furthermore there has been a growing awareness of EU relations following the controversial coverage and political rhetoric in the UK about the movement of migrant workers from Bulgaria and Romania.
Much like many other eastern European states, Romania has a significant election in the coming year – the presidential election in November 2014. In addition to this the ruling coalition government has split. A censure motion within the government has also been declared and will be debated on Monday following the announcement of the European Parliament election results.
European themes have been brought into the debate in Romania, especially about the growing influence of the EU over the country. However, many are looking at these elections in the build up to the presidential election.
The Popular Movement party, which is a splinter group from the Liberal Democrats, has emerged as a potential vote-winner, however on the whole the election has been fought by mainly mainstream parties – smaller parties have been less prominent. The Social Democrats and Liberals are the main parties and it is expected that the Social Democrats will do well in these elections.
An interesting protest movement has emerged in Romania called the ‘United We Save’ movement which is encouraging people to boycott the European elections on 25th May or alternatively spoil their ballots.
The traditional parties of left and right in the Czech Republic have begun to decline in their influence. The ‘Ano’, centre-right political party has been increasing its vote under the stewardship of Czech-Slovak millionaire Andrej Babis. This party looks set to take some seats in the upcoming European elections after a strong showing in last year’s Czech parliamentary elections.
The Social-Democrats are performing well but are described as ‘treading water’ in terms of the votes they attract. The Communist Party is expected to retain its four seats that it won in the 2009 European Parliamentary elections.
The dominance of the centre-left in Slovakia has continued. The current party of the Prime Minister lost the presidential election, however the ruling Direction – Social Democracy remain popular with many Slovak voters. However, the far-right may pick up one seat among some disenchanted voters.
Slovene politics has been characterised by fragmentation and division, as such there is no dominant party. The centre-right are expected to pick up three of the seven seats on offer. The left has been increasingly fragmented between five different parties and one of these groupings may win a seat.
Slovene politics has been characterised by a number of issues in recent years with senior politicians becoming embroiled in corruption allegations. The main centre-right leader has recently been charged with corruption allegations and is facing possible jail-time.
The ‘I believe list’, which has been formed by the former head of the Slovene audit agency has started to generate some support among voters and may have an influence in these elections.
The most recent addition to the European Union will be participating in its first cross-continental elections since its accession last year. The country joined the EU with a moderate majority and has been divided between right and left rule since its independence.
The current government under the Social Democratic party is increasingly unpopular and the HDZ has reformed itself quite a bit in recent years. The Social Democrats have been accused of leaving their traditional leftist, worker-based support behind which could open the door for more leftist parties to gain recognition among voters in these EU elections.
The majority of the 25 seats in the Baltic states of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia will most likely go to parties established in the 1990s. However, much like many other countries in eastern Europe, the European Parliament elections will likely take a back- seat to national elections; Lithuania’s presidential election takes place on the same day as the European Parliamentary elections.
The same goes for Latvia where national elections are on the horizon. Estonia is the exception as it doesn’t have national elections for quite some time.
The on-going crisis in Ukraine and the resurgence of Russia as a geopolitical power is an important factor in these elections. There are divisions between more pro-Russia parties and those who favour further European integration.
By Greg Bianchi
Special thanks to CEPSI round table at UCL-School of Slavonic and East European Studies