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How well did the left do in the June 9 European elections?

At first glance, it appears that the parties to the left of social democracy have held their ground against the wave of far right and mainstream right that marked the June 9 parliamentary elections in the European Union (EU) (see here for detailed results).

Although the Left was the smallest of the European Parliament’s seven groups, it managed to keep its vote share across the EU at 5.4% and increase the number of seats in the 720-seat assembly from 37 to 39.

Moreover, the left-wing Green Members of the European Parliaments (MEPs) and those representing stateless nations (part of the Greens as the European Free Alliance) at least retained their numbers in the Chamber.

Yet the Greens group as a whole shrank from 71 seats to 53, while that of the Liberals (known as Renew) fell from 102 to 79. This decline reflected the environmental concerns that partly drove these parties’ big advances in the 2019 election were less important to many voters this time.

The campaign was dominated by uncertainty about the future, the cost of living (particularly housing), fear of war, the ‘immigration threat’ and intolerance of difference.

In this grim atmosphere, the biggest growth went to the mainstream right-wing European People’s Party and the two far-right groups (Identity and Democracy and Conservatives and Reformists): together the right and far right won 30 additional seats, bringing the number to 324.

With only 37 ungrouped MEPs needed to join them from a reactionary majority, the June 9 result poses with new urgency two old questions about politics in the European Parliament. To what extent does the real balance of political forces in the House differ from that of the formal groupings? And to what extent does membership in a group represent a disciplined commitment to its views?

Left-wing division over Ukraine

The questions are of great importance in the case of the left group, where disagreements over the attitude towards the Russian invasion of Ukraine indicated a rift even before June 9.

On May 31, Li Andersson, chairman of the Finnish Left Alliance, told the newspaper Helsinki times that these differences within the faction could not be tolerated in the new legislature. Referring to Clare Daly and Mick Wallace, Irish left-wing independent opponents of military aid to Ukraine, Andersson said: “The Nordic Green Left as a whole (which includes Finland, Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Iceland, Greenland and the Faroe Islands) is of the opinion that if they manage to win re-election, they cannot join our group.”

For Andersson, the same applied to the new Sahra Wagenknecht Alliance: For Reason and Justice (BSW), a split in Germany from the leading left-wing group member Die Linke (Left). BSW opposes military aid to Ukraine and supports resuming gas trade with Russia, as do most far-right parties in Europe.

At the bottom, the different positions towards Ukraine within the left-wing group reflect social reactions that differ according to European regions and the extent to which they are connected to Russia.

Is the invasion of Ukraine by the Putin regime the main threat (position of the Nordic left-wing parties as well as those in the Baltic states and Poland) or does it arise from war, rearmament and the NATO alliance (position of Podemos and EH Bildu in the Spanish state, parties of the Italian and French left, and Irish left independent parties)?

Or is Russia’s war against Ukraine merely a side issue compared to declining living standards, global warming, rising racism and the right’s counteroffensive against women’s achievements?

Gain

The June 9 national-level vote for left-wing forces (and also for left-green forces and those representing the stateless nations of Europe) shed some light on this complex issue.

The largest gains in seats and votes occurred in the Nordic countries, where support for Ukraine and solidarity with Palestine against Israel’s genocidal state were factors.

The Finnish Left Alliance rose from 6.9% to 17.3%, while the number of Members of the European Parliament rose from one to three. Andersson said Jacobin on June 12, voters in Finland punished the far right for betraying workers and low-income people and attacking social and healthcare services within the government.

In Denmark, Green Left – formerly the Socialist People’s Party and left-wing member of the Greens – rose from 10.9% to 17.4% and one seat to three.

The Swedish Left Party rose from 6.8% to 11% and one seat to two. The Red-Green Alliance’s vote share in Denmark rose from 5.5% to 7% as it retained one MEP.

The other positive gains occurred in France, Belgium and Italy. France Insoumise (LFI) increased its votes from 6.3% to 9.9% (six seats to nine); the Workers’ Party of Belgium (PTB-PVDA) in Flanders added a seat to the one it already held in French-speaking Wallonia (its votes rose from 4.95% to 8.1%); and the Italian left will now re-emerge in Europe with two seats (the vote increased from 4.1% to 6.8%).

Support for Palestine has been a major factor in these gains, especially in France, where LFI has established itself as the leading party in the working-class and immigrant neighborhoods of Paris and Marseille. The same was true to a lesser extent in Italy, but another important factor was the unity achieved by Green Europe and the Italian Left in the Left-Green Alliance (which operated separately in 2019 and neither had won a seat).

In Belgium, the European elections involved federal, regional and local elections, and the PTB-PDVA’s European performance may have suffered as polls showed it winning a second seat in Wallonia. However, any disappointment would have been tempered by the outcome in the 150-seat Belgian federal parliament, where the party increased its number from 12 to 15 seats, overtaking the Socialist Party as the main force on the left.

Such an effect would not have been felt in Ireland: there Sinn Fein had won a whopping 26% of the vote, with the possibility of four MEPs. The result was an increase from one MEP to two, despite a drop in votes (from 11.7% to 11.1%). Neither Clare Daly nor Mick Wallace were re-elected.

To lose

The worst losses were in Southern Europe. In Greece, Syriza fell from 23.8% to 14.9% (six seats to four), AKEL in Cyprus from 27.5% to 21.5% and in Portugal the Left Bloc fell from 9.8% to 4.3 % and the Unitary Democratic Coalition (centered on the Portuguese Communist Party) from 6.9% to 4.1%. These last three forces were reduced from two Members of the European Parliament to one each.

In both cases, different causes were at play, but a shared factor – common across Europe, but most noticeable in the South – was the rightward shift of young male voters in response to the wave of feminism.

The most extreme symptoms of this trend were the two-seat gain (with 9.8%) of the Portuguese Chega! (Enough!) and the gain of three seats for The Party’s Over, the alt-right, social network-driven instrument of ‘influencer’ Alvise Pérez, which stands for ‘freedom’ in the style of Argentine President Javier Milei.

In Spain, losses on the left were magnified by the competition between Podemos and Sumar, which had its roots in Sumar leader Yolanda Diaz’s ban on Podemos from holding portfolios in the left-wing governing coalition with the Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party.

To achieve product differentiation from Sumar, Podemos conducted a rhetorical pro-peace campaign, strongly supporting Palestine but centering on calls for an immediate ceasefire in Ukraine, an end to arms shipments, and no demand for a Russian withdrawal.

This played well enough into the deep anti-war feeling in the Spanish state (especially in Catalonia) allowing Podemos to retain two of its six seats (with 3.28%), while Sumar (in the Green group) won three seats (4 .65%). ). The price of the split was a 2.14% drop in votes and the loss of one seat.

All told, probably the most devastating setback came in Germany, where Die Linke’s vote halved from 5.5% to 2.7% (five seats to three), while the ‘red-brown’ BSW polled 6.2 on its first outing. % scored (six seats). .

Overall, and despite these losses, left forces within and outside the formal left group survived the test of the June 9 elections, with a relative strengthening of those who supported military aid to Ukraine, while the military ended aid to Israel.

Nevertheless, the possibility remains that disagreements over Ukraine will inflame the left, as the debate continues across the left over whether Putin’s invasion is the greatest threat we face or not.

(Dick Nichols does Green Left European correspondent.)

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