Explaining the EP election results: UK

Commentary

UKIP’s win puts even more pressure on Cameron

UKIP’s win puts even more pressure on Cameron

 

Winners, Losers, and Eurosceptics

With turnout unchanged from the last EU elections, the UK Independence Party (UKIP) emerged, as expected, as the largest party in the UK.

UKIP won 27.5 percent of the vote compared to 16.6 percent in the last European election in 2009 and just three percent in the general election in 2010 – though some polls had suggested UKIP could win up to 33 percent. Labour came second with 25.4 percent of the vote and the Conservatives third with 24 percent.

The Liberal Democrats, the most “pro-European” European party whose leader Nick Clegg had debated Farage on television during the campaign, took just 7 percent of the vote and will lose nearly all of its 12 seats in the European Parliament.

Upshot for domestic and EU politics

UKIP leader Nigel Farage called the result an “earthquake”. It was the first national election since 1910 in which a party other than the Conservatives or Labour election had won and seemed to confirm a shift to a four-party system. The result will put David Cameron under even greater pressure on Europe ahead of the referendum on British membership Cameron has committed to hold in 2017 if he wins the next general election (one senior Conservative backbencher has already called for Cameron to promise to hold the referendum a year early). On Monday morning Foreign Secretary William Hague said the election underlined the need for a Europe that is more accountable, competitive and flexible and less centralised and remote. Meanwhile Clegg now faces a backbench revolt from within his own party.

Another difficult question for Cameron thrown up by the election is whether the Conservatives will co-operate with the German Eurosceptic party Alternative für Deutschland, which won seats in the European Parliament for the first time. Since leaving the European People’s Party (EPP) in 2009, the Conservatives now belong to the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) grouping in the European Parliament, which won a total of 44 seats. But the Christian Democrats – the Conservatives’ former sister party in the EPP – have sought to marginalise the AfD as a far-right party and would see any co-operation with it by the British Conservatives as a “declaration of war”, as one senior Christian Democrat puts it. Thus while Cameron finds himself under even greater pressure than before from UKIP and Eurosceptics within his own party, he may also find it harder to win German support for his attempt to renegotiate Britain’s relationship with the EU.

 

Read the views from the other European capitals here

The European Council on Foreign Relations does not take collective positions. This commentary, like all publications of the European Council on Foreign Relations, represents only the views of its authors.

Read more on: European Power, Cohesion & Governance, European Elections

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