European elections 2019: Euro press sees populist advance 'halted'

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Front pages of European newspapers, 27 May 2019Image source, BBC Monitoring
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The elections have dominated front pages across the European Union

The press and news sites across Europe agree that populist groups made gains in the EU parliamentary elections, but failed to overwhelm mainstream parties of the centre-right and centre-left.

They largely attribute this to higher voter turnout, especially among young people, and awareness of climate issues, rather than enthusiasm for the European Union's institutions.

'Milkshake election'

The vote in Britain could not compete for attention with the results in each given country, but a few papers did consider its impact.

For Italy's centre-left La Stampa, Nigel Farage is the "big winner" in what its correspondent Francesco Guerrera dubs the "milkshake election".

The main impact, in his view, is that the result has "completely shaken up British politics".

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For La Stampa, "Brexit has split Britain"

Germany's Handelsblatt business daily was unusual in thinking Brexit was significant in stalling the populist wave elsewhere in Europe.

"Brexit... led citizens to understand the importance of the EU and the dangers of leaving it. Europe's political and economic elites were much more consistent in and committed to promoting the EU ahead of the elections than in the past. For the first time, the pro-European forces have mobilised en masse against nationalism - and it has paid off," the paper says.

'Spectre of the right'

"A populist front from Paris to Warsaw, but its advance has been halted," says La Stampa, voicing the consensus media view.

Germany's centre-right Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, in common with many other papers, sees climate concerns as having boosted the Greens in all countries.

The Greens are "singing victory songs after their success... both the spectre of a shift to the right and the major climate issue ensured a significant leap in turnout," it says.

The Czech centre-right daily Lidove Noviny thinks the "migration crisis most likely boosted turnout" in central Europe, but not enough to benefit the populists, noting that centre-right parties still beat the Czech right-wing ANO movement.

Belgium's liberal daily Le Soir is more cautious, saying the gains are "far from trivial for the European populist radical right", which will "move in the next few days to form alliances".

'Voice of protest'

Some papers warn that the populist tide was halted not by enthusiasm for the European Union, but rather by voters demanding change.

In Italy's centre-left La Repubblica, columnist Andrea Bonanni says European citizens "sent a clear request for a fresh start... when they pushed back the dark shadows that appeared on the continent".

He says the result is thanks mainly to young people - "if today Europe is saved, the credit first and foremost goes to them".

Romania's centre-right Adevarul agrees that "young people have found their electoral appetite, understand that their vote is important, and the significant increase in the vote... is due mainly to them.

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Poland's Rzeczpospolita: "Status quo is big risk for EU"

But the conservative Polish daily Rzeczpospolita sees challenges for the EU in the higher voter turnout, as it was motivated "not by large integration projects, like the euro, the EU expansion to the east and the development of the Schengen area", as before, but by the "voice of protest against the current principles the Union is following".

Spain's conservative La Razon sees this as reason for the mainstream parties of centre-right and centre-left to reach out to liberal parties and the Greens, in order to "restrain the Europhobic boom".

Speculation over EU top post

Hungary's Magyar Hirlap daily, which supports the country's populist government, says the increase in the populist vote could frustrate the hopes of the leading candidates to succeed Jean-Claude Juncker as president of the EU Commission.

"The Commission leadership process appears to have broken down because the traditional party blocs have haemorrhaged support, meaning Manfred Weber, the top candidate of the centre-right European People's Party, and Frans Timmermans of the Socialists, can wave goodbye to their ambitions," it says.

Italy's centre-right Il Foglio sees the main centre-right and centre-left blocs uniting around the Danish Commissioner Margrethe Vestager to succeed Mr Juncker.

"She starts in pole position... after the voters decided to mobilise en masse and back the most pro-European parties, and the feared populist wave never materialised," it says.

Germany's centre-left Sueddeutsche Zeitung sees this as a promising boost for democratic debate.

"Finding a majority in the European Parliament will be more difficult, but also more exciting - there will be more arguments in Strasbourg and Brussels," it says.

'Symbolic victory'

At the national level, the French press thinks President Emmanuel Macron could gather some comfort from an election that saw his La Republique en Marche! party beaten by Marine Le Pen's far-right National Rally.

The main centre-right daily Le Figaro see a "symbolic victory" that "wipes out Marine Le Pen's humiliating defeat by Emmanuel Macron two years ago" in the presidential election.

Nonetheless, La Republique en Marche!'s result is "proof of the strength and political coherence of the president's electoral base" only two years after it was formed, the paper says.  

"Even coming in second, even beaten, it is not an accident of history, but still one of the two parties that set the national agenda," the left-wing Liberation daily agrees.

In Germany, Sueddeutsche Zeitung says the poor showing of Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats and the slide in support for her Social Democrat coalition partners are "in line with the European trend", attributing this to their "losing touch with many younger voters".

The right-wing tabloid Bild sees the Social Democrats' "debacle making Merkel's grand coalition stumble", and wonders "how much longer the government can hold on".

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