Europe’s Fringe

The press had a field day with the election of various racist and oddball parties to the European Parliament over the weekend.

A quick scan of the headlines: “European election results Battered and bruised” (The Economist); “European elections 2009: far-Right and fringe parties make gains across Europe amid low turnout” (The Telegraph); “European elections: extremist and fringe parties are the big winners” (The Times); “The European Parliament: Now further right and pirate-friendlier” (National Post); “Angry Europe embraces the fringe” (The Globe and Mail); “Fringe Gains Four EU Seats In Dutch Vote” (Wall Street Journal); “The European Parliament: Where the Fringes Flourish” (TIME); “Europe’s shift to the right – Why conservatives, far-right fringe parties, and Swedish pirates won big in EU elections” (The Week); and “European fringe parties set to gain seats in European Parliament” (Vox Africa).  And those are just stories that had the word “fringe” in the headline.

As I argue in my New Atlanticist essay , Europe’s Lunatic Fringe in Charge?” that’s journalistic hyperbole rather than solid political analysis.  In fact, the centrist parties won 75 percent of the seats and most of the so-called “fringe” are harmless small parties elected only because Europe’s voting system isn’t winner-take-all like ours.

Photo: Reuters Pictures.

FILED UNDER: Europe, Politics 101, World Politics,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Steve Plunk says:

    Journalistic hyperbole? Really? How could that be?

    Good point and even more so in Europe. With so many kooky parties the press can go ape with this.

    Ours is only winner take all in executive positions, not legislative assemblies.

  2. Ours is only winner take all in executive positions, not legislative assemblies.

    For individual seats, ours is winner-take-all. Many European parliaments (not Britain’s, but, say, Germany’s) allocate seats according to the proportion of total votes won by each party in the nationwide balloting. Thus the Greens were able to get into the Bundestag years ago merely by receiving at least 5% of the vote, even if no locality ever voted a majority for them.

    On the other hand, even if a particular locality does vote a majority for a given minor party, if it doesn’t get at least 5% of the national vote it won’t get any seats.

  3. kb says:

    Many European parliaments (not Britain’s, but, say, Germany’s) allocate seats according to the proportion of total votes won by each party in the nationwide balloting.

    Not quite accurate.

    In the German model ,half the seats are contested on a first past the post system where the candidate with the largest no of votes in a particular seat is elected. In these seats the voter picks a particular candidate.

    The other half are allocated via party lists in each lander according to the percent of the party votes received in each lander. For these seats the voter has a 2nd vote which they use to vote for a party rather than a candidate.

    So in 2005 the greens won 1 seat in the first group but ended up with approx 8% of the seats in total matching their 8% of the total party list vote.

  4. An Interested Party says:

    Another angle that most American observers might miss…

  5. In the German model ,half the seats are contested on a first past the post system where the candidate with the largest no of votes in a particular seat is elected. In these seats the voter picks a particular candidate.

    Thank you for the correction.