Politically, 2020 was different in many ways. In Europe, it was marked by voters returning to support parties organised in the two major groups in the EU Parliament—the centre-right European People’s Party (EPP) and the centre-left Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats (S&D)—which had both suffered a significant decline in voter support since their heyday in the second half of the twentieth century. The ‘rally round the flag effect’ suggests that the minor comeback of EPP and S&D parties is related to the coronavirus pandemic. The theory describes that voters tend to support their government in times of severe crisis or national disaster. This applies to the situation on the old continent in 2020 where S&D and EPP still held most government positions while COVID-19 ravaged Europe’s health care systems. However, the centre-right and the centre-left are still far away from regaining the strength they used to hold in the 2000s or in the twentieth century.
The Europe Elects’ EU Parliament projection offers an indication of how voters in the European Union would vote should there be an EU Parliament election today. The timeline of the data gives an overview of how strong the rally round the flag effect was over the course of the pandemic on the EU-level on a monthly basis. When comparing seats and the popular vote projected to the 2019 EU election result in this article, we contrast them to the EU27 scenario—meaning we exclude the United Kingdom.
The centre-right EPP Group in the European Parliament would currently remain the largest bloc in the assembly if there was an EU Parliament election today, with 190 out of 705 post-Brexit seats and a popular vote share of 24.1%. That is eight more projected seats than at the beginning of 2020. In the EU election in May 2019—discounting the United Kingdom and adding the post-Brexit Members in the EU Parliament (MEPs) around the EU—the EPP finished with 187 seats and a popular vote share of 22.6%. The EPP Group is home to christian-democratic and liberal-conservative parties from across the continent, like the Christian Democratic Union of Germany (Christlich Demokratische Union Deutschlands, CDU) and the French The Republicans (Les Républicains, LR) in the EU Parliament.
The centre-left S&D would come second with 138 out of 705 seats and 18.9% of the popular vote. This would be the same vote share and 10 seats fewer than in the 2019 election—again discounting the UK and adding the post-Brexit MEPs. Compared to the beginning of 2020, S&D gains seven projected seats. The S&D Group hosts socialist and social-democratic parties from across the continent, like the Social Democratic Party of Germany (Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands, SPD) and the Swedish Social Democrats (Socialdemokraterna, S) in the EU Parliament.
Trailing the two frontrunners by some margin, the third biggest European Parliamentary group in our December projection is the liberal Renew Europe (RE) Group with 97 seats, which is the same result that the group achieved in the 2019 EU election sans the UK. Moreover, it is five seats fewer than at the beginning of 2020. In terms of vote share, the RE Group receives 10.9% in our projection, a 1.4 point drop compared to the EU election 2019.
Europe Elects’ projection of seats of European Parliament in December 2020
With this level of support for EPP, S&D, and RE, the European Commission of Ursula von der Leyen would continue to hold a comfortable de facto-majority of 425 out of 705 seats. That is 10 more seats than at the beginning of 2020. EPP, S&D and RE were the groups that approved the incumbent commission in 2019.
Our December 2020 projection shows that the right-wing Identity and Democracy (ID) Group in the European Parliament continues to decline amidst the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The right-wing Le Pen-Salvini axis is projected to get 72 out of 705 seats and a vote share of 10.5%. This is four seats and 0.7 percentage points fewer than in the EU election 2019. The downward trend is even more stark when today’s numbers are compared with January 2020 when ID reached 86 projected seats. The decline knows prominent examples on the national level: in the Europe Elects polling average, Matteo Salvini’s party Northern League (Lega Nord), for example, achieved 34% during the time of the European election. Today, that vote share has dropped to 24%. The Alternative for Germany (Alternative für Deutschland, AfD) has dropped from 13% to 9% during the same timespan.
Europe Elects’ projection of popular vote in the EU in December 2020
The national-conservative European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) Group enjoys a more positive trajectory. The group is projected to get 73 seats should an EU election be held now, pulling ahead of ID to the fourth position. ECR received 62 seats in the 2019 EU election and 70 projected seats at the beginning of 2020, discounting the UK and distributing the post-Brexit MEPs. Across the EU, the national parties affiliated with the ECR Group have a combined EU popular vote share of 10.2% in December, which is 2.1 points above ECR’s 2019 election result and the strongest performance measured since Brexit. ECR’s December gains of five projected seats stem from the Romanian newcomer party Alliance for the Unity of Romanians (Alianța pentru Unirea Românilor, AUR). AUR was only founded in 2019 and appeared in polls for the first time less than ten days before the national parliament election on 6 December, in which they celebrated a breakthrough of 9.2%. The party promotes the unification of Moldova with Romania and has called itself ‘the defenders of the Church’ in the past. AUR is not a member of any organisations affiliated with the ECR Group, but has expressed its desire to join the conservative political family.
The European United Left–Nordic Green Left (GUE/NGL) is projected to be the sixth-largest bloc in the European Parliament. Europe Elects’ December projection predicts the left-wing group would receive 55 out of 705 seats, up from 40 in the EU election 2019 and 54 projected seats in January 2020 sans the UK. In the popular vote projection, the group stands at 8.4%, up from 7.0% in the 2019 election. However, GUE/NGL was overestimated in the polls before the 2019 EU Parliament election, by 11 seats, based on the fact that GUE/NGL parties appeared stronger in polls ahead of the EU election than in the actual election result.
The Greens/European Free Alliance (Greens/EFA) was the fifth-largest parliamentary group in the European election in May 2019 without the UK but has since slid to the seventh position. In terms of seats, Greens/EFA decreased from 68 seats and 11.5% in the election night to only 47 MEPs and 7.5% in Europe Elects’ December 2020 projection. One year ago, Greens/EFA stood at 52 projected MEPs. The Greens’ vote share tends to be somewhat underestimated in EU projections extrapolated from national polling. In the 2019 election, for example, Greens/EFA was underestimated in our projection by 15 seats.
The Non-Inscrits—those parties left without a parliamentary group in the European Parliament—would send 22 MEPs with a 3.6% vote share in the popular vote to the European Parliament. 11 seats would go to unaffiliated parties that have no relationship to the groups mentioned before and are currently not yet represented in the EU Parliament. This includes eight seats for the centrist Poland 2050 (Polska 2050, P 2050) and three seats for the centrist Bulgarian party There Are Such People (Ima Takûv Narod, ITN). Europe Elects is in the process of examining which groups in the EU Parliament these parties intend to join.
Notable losses also occurred on the national level. In Romania, for example, centre-right parties, sitting in the EPP group in the European Parliament, lost projected seats in the context of the national parliament election 2020. The National Liberal Party (Partidul Național Liberal, PNL) stood at 32% in the Europe Elects polling average in November, and achieved only 25% in the December election. The party remains at this level in polls right after the election. Subsequently, the party drops from 12 to 10 projected seats in our EU Parliament election projection.
A second Romanian EPP affiliate, People’s Movement Party (Partidul Mișcarea Populară, PMP) lost both seats that were projected for PMP in November. Pro Romania (Pro România, PRO) is haunted by the same fate, resulting in a loss of three seats. However, the Social Democratic Party (Partidul Social Democrat, PSD) makes up for the S&D losses incurred by PRO by winning three more projected seats than in the previous month.
Significant swings also occurred in Poland over the past 30 days. The centre-right alliance of Koalicja Polska – PSL, UED and Konserwatyści (Polish Coalition – PSL, UED, Conservatives) is now projected to bring home three seats for the EPP, surpassing the relevant five percent threshold in EU elections in Poland. On the flip side, the right-wing to far-right Koło Poselskie Konfederacja (Confederation Deputies’ Circle) alliance has dropped from five to three projected seats since November.
In addition, the Dutch centre-right Christian Democratic Appeal (Christen-Democratisch Appèl, CDA) has risen from two to four projected seats since November, gaining steam just three months ahead of the 2021 national parliament election in the country. CDA is part of the EPP. Group.
Disproportionate or sometimes opposite developments in the popular vote share and the seat projection can be explained with the slight disproportionality of the electoral system for the European Parliament.
Visit our European Parliament projection site for a more in-depth overview and the methodology behind the monthly projection.