The V4 After the EP Election: Glass Half Empty, Half Full

The 2019 European Parliament election brought a visible decline in the popularity of the
centre-left and relatively good results for all kinds of right-wing populists are unsettling.
Fortunately, this tilt to the right is not significant enough to meaningfully affect the functioning

of the European Union. Looking at the election results in the Visegrád countries (V4), we see
how much they were determined by the dynamics of the domestic political scene.

The left is in decline in East-Central Europe. In Czechia, the Social Democratic Party (ČSSD) received a catastrophic result of less than 4%, falling below the electoral threshold. This not only deprived Czech Social Democrats of all their seats in the EP but also put their governing coalition with the centrist-populist ANO in doubt. At the same time, even Andrej Babis’ victory wasn’t stunning (21%), and the Czech political scene remains very fragmented, with no distinctive
alternative leader.

On the contrary, in Poland and Hungary the governing right-wing parties petrified their poll positions. However, whereas in Poland a deep polarisation is visible, as the united opposition, the so-called European Coalition, won 38,47%, against 45,38% for the governing Law and Justice party (PiS), in Hungary, the hegemony of Fidesz proved untouched, with 52,14% of all ballots cast
in their favour and no serious competitor in sight. In both countries, the once governing Social Democrats (SLD and MSZP, respectively) no longer play a significant role. To improve their chances in May 2019, both parties decided to join forces in broader opposition blocks, either by joining a multi-party coalition (Poland) or seeking alliances with the greens (Hungary).

In Poland, this decision proved to be a strategic masterpiece: the SLD will send five MEPs to Brussels. In Hungary, similar endeavours proved futile: MSZP lost two of three seats, winning only 6,66% of all votes. However, the Socialists & Democrats Group (S&D) will still welcome representatives of other formations from the Visegrád. In Poland, a new left-liberal initiative Wiosna debuted in this EP election by winning three seats in the European Parliament. Four other MEPs will join the S&D Group from Hungary, representing the social-liberal Democratic Coalition (DK), which won 16.18% of all votes

Viktor Orbán and Jarosław Kaczyński’s influence at the European level will be limited: Orbán’s Fidesz is struggling to remain part of EPP and Kaczyński’s PiS is affiliated with the unsuccessful ECR.

Of all traditional social-democratic parties in the Visegrád states, only the Slovak Smer-SD managed to independently reach a meaningful result of 15,72%. However, it still lost 8% compared to 2014. Three MEPs from Slovakia will join the S&D Group, losing one seat. Nevertheless, Slovakia still stands out in the Visegrád Group, resisting Euro-sceptic moods. At the same time, voter turnout was the lowest there among all V4 countries: 22,74% as compared to exceeding 40% in both Poland and Hungary and almost 51% on average in the EU.

It seems that in the V4 countries, the traditional left – Social-Democrats – struggle to survive, despite their popularity in the past. Radical or social left (even the most successful Czech communists – KSČM, not to mention the Hungarian Workers Party or grass-root RAZEM in Poland) remain practically insignificant, with hardly any political influence. However, speaking of fringes, the right wing is far more visible in the V4, like the Hungarian Jobbik, the Slovak People’s Party Our Slovakia or the nationalist Konfederacja in Poland, for whom the final result of 4,55% was a close call to make it to the EP. Yet, even if they were able to enter elected bodies, be it at a regional, national or European level, it seems that the far right will remain a loud but impactless opposition.

As of political alternatives, the green wave that hit the political scene in Western and Northern Europe does not exist in the V4 states. Green parties are generally marginal there, some not even present in any elected body. Most probable reason for it is of historical nature: When the environmentalist movement was forming in the European core, the South and the East were wrestling with authoritarianism, be it far-right or authoritarian real socialism, respectively. Thus, values such as freedom, democracy, human rights were represented and associated by other well-established opposition actors. Also, in times of latter socio-political transformations, the green agenda had to yield to bigger tasks of forming new state institutions, launching functioning economies, resetting social structures.

As of today, it seems the major beacons of pro-European hope in V4 are liberal actors, like newly elected president Zuzana Čaputová and her Progressive Slovakia party, or two surprise wins: Momentum in Hungary and the Pirates in Czechia. In fact, the Czech governing ANO party, which also won the EP election, despite populist tendencies and corruption charges against its leader, remains in the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe Group (ALDE). Moreover, the great anti-PiS mobilisation in Poland was initiated by the liberals from the Civic Platform (PO) and the Modern Party (Nowoczesna), both joining either EPP or ALDE in Strasbourg. Even the Polish Wiosna and Hungarian Democratic Coalition, although joining the S&D Group, set on a liberal agenda not only regarding values but also some economic issues. It seems that in the eyes of the voters, there is more potential in this “fresh” left wave than in the traditional social democracy.

To sum up, the political scene in the V4 is visibly tilted to the right and polarised, with two Eurosceptic leaders – Viktor Orbán and Jarosław Kaczyński – cementing their power. Nevertheless, their influence at the European level will be limited: with Fidesz struggling to remain part of the European People’s Party (EPP) family and PiS affiliated with the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR). At the same time, there is a slight refreshing breeze in the V4, with new parties emerging and trying to counterbalance the sinister Euro-sceptic mood. Nevertheless, the left, once so powerful, does not seem able to redefine itself, with their social agenda hijacked by right-wing populists and progressive ideals seemingly more appealing if advocated by new faces.

This text was originally published in The Progressive Post:

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