Not all the results are in, but the shape of the next European Parliament is clear enough to give some analysis of the general trend and impact of the results.
The results at the moment are: (Numbers taken from European Voice here).
EPP: 263 [-25]
PES: 163 [-54]
ALDE: 80 [-20]
Greens/EFA: 52 [+9]
GUE-NGL: 33 [-8]
UEN: 35 [-9]
InDem: 19 [-3]
No Group: 91 [+61]
No Group includes the British Conservatives and the Czech ODS. The InDem group doesn't have enough to survive unless it can attract more MEPs from the No Group, and the UEN is likely to be dissolved, with members probably moving to the new European Conservative Grouping that the Tories want to set up.
[Contents: 1. Centre-left losses; 2. Far-right gains; 3. Lower Turnout]
1. The Centre-left is slaughtered:
It was a disastrous elections for the centre-left across Europe - this is the biggest story of the elections, despite the big headlines for the far right. Though media commentators have been saying that the centre-left should benefit from the crisis - and from the fact that the centre-right is largely in government across Europe - it was generally held, and predicted (see Predict 09), that the EPP would win the election.
It is the scale of the defeat that is most striking. The PES had been expected to go slightly under the 200 mark, but 163 seats will leave them reeling. This defeat will be a significant factor in the politics of the EP for the next 5 years.
First, Barroso will get re-elected/re-appointed. A second term was always the most likely outcome, given how hard it would be to hold together a disparate anti-Barroso coalition on the left. The EPP may be weakened by the departure of the British Conservatives, but any new Conservative grouping is likely to back Barroso and any liberalising moves (see NI's Conservative/UUP candidate's stance on Barroso and regulation here). Still, whatever the PES does to oppose a second term, or even the shape of the next Commission, their influence at an executive level will be diminished. They will received fewer Commissioners.
Second, the conservative, centre-right majority has been maintained across the EU institutions. Legislation will be more favourable to business and market liberalisation and there will be less protection for workers in legislation. The economic crisis will mean that more regulation for financial services is almost unavoidable, and considering the (EPP aligned) UMP's and CDU's favouring of regulation over bailouts, it's likely that there will be more financial regulation. However, it won't be as tough as it would be, had the centre-left been stronger, and it doesn't translate into an agenda more favourable to employees.
Third, it strengthens the new European Conservatives as a group, should they form. With the PES weakened, and the EP as a whole more fractured, the new EC group is likely to have a bit more bargaining power than was first assumed. However, it should be noted that the EPP isn't as right-leaning as the Tories, so common ground with the Liberals and the greater number of votes they hold, means that there are a few dampening factors on any influence the EC may hope to have, including a lack of influence in Committees, which are the most powerful positions from which to exercise influence and shape legislation.
Why did the PES do so badly?
Well, naturally the second order perception of the EP elections and the tendency to vote for smaller parties at EP elections, as well as the indirectness of the vote's impact on the formation of the Commission, are factors. These factors apply to all main parties, but the effect was greater on the left due to its general disarray. It failed to put forward a vision in a national context, never mind a European one - perhaps due to Third Way-ism in some cases discrediting the parties' new found love for regulation. The centre-right are in most cases more stable and, despite the economic crisis, more consistent if they can draw successfully on the more social elements of Christian Democracy.
The left was also undermined by the far right who traditionally draw support from the left/far-left's power based of the working class. The strength of the Greens could indicate a loss of support among the left-leaning section of the middle class. I certainly know people who would have voted PES but voted Green instead. The effect was most dramatic in France, where the Greens equaled the Socialists, though here the far-left, rather than the far-right, benefited as well.
This trend is reversible, though. The Greens tend to be further left than the PES, and the increasing promotion of Green policies by the PES may mean that the can win back support from the middle classes once they get their act together. The far-right's gains may - hopefully - be an aberration of the crisis, and as the economy returns to normal, their support will drop. The main thing now for the PES is to work on a social vision that can win voters back, and to counter any exploitation of the far-right's gains.
2. The far-right's gains:
The most impressive far-right gains were in the UK and the Netherlands, where there usually isn't that much support for the far-right. Nevertheless, the rise in the far-right has been an expected effect of the economic crisis, and though they've won seats across Europe, they still only control a handful of seats. Low turnout helps. It means that the EP will be more splintered - as noted above - and the most important thing now is to ensure that they don't capitalise on their gains.
It should be noted that in some places the hard Eurosceptics didn't do too well; most notably in Poland, where the InDem and No Group were wiped out, both being reduced to no seats. (Though I don't know the make up of the Polish No Group contingent, No Group MEPs tend to be on the extremes).
3. Lower Turnout:
Turnout fell again despite the EP campaign to raise turnout and awareness of the elections. It was around 43%, down from 45%. Annoyingly, the media coverage of the elections in the run up to the vote seemed to consist of talking about low turnout predictions. Think of how better the time asking politicians about low turnout could have been spent asking them questions about the environment, financial regulation, the economy and the next Commission! Has financial regulation become less of a issue? Not only have the elections not been a debate on European issues, but they haven't even been a good debate for national issues or any issues at all!
Here's the BBC interview of the 3 main EP group leaders (Link).
Note that the BBC interview them only after the result, and that the BBC is now parroting the myth that the majority of all legislation comes from the EU. (Perhaps reading Nosemonkey's excellent article on the subject should be made required reading for all journalists and politicians).
It might be unfair to only pick out the BBC for this, but they are the main PBS channel for the UK, and the "most watched" column ruined the last Apprentice episode for me. Two damning reasons, I'm sure you'll agree.