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  • Writer's pictureFr. Vili Lehtoranta

European Parliament Protest Elections

The European Parliament elections are held from 6 to 9 of June 2024. The European Union (EU) is a confederation of 27 member states, and since 1979, the citizens of the EU states have voted in international elections to elect Members of the European Parliament (MEPs).

Usually the turnout in these elections has been pretty low. The highest percentage was in the very first direct elections in 1979, when 62% of eligible voters cast their vote, but ever since only rarely have more than half of the voters bothered to go to the polls.

Because of this low turnout, the European Parliament elections have sometimes been a fruitful venue for protest voting. This fact has benefitted especially the right-wing populist parties, but the momentum has usually died quickly, as have the parties involved.

In 1989, a German right-wing populist party Die Republikaner (The Republicans) received 7.1 % of votes in the European Parliament elections of West Germany. The Republicans was a party founded in 1983, and it had been since 1985 led by Franz Schönhuber, a journalist and well-known host of several TV programs.

The party’s success was short-lived, though. Schönhuber decided to join his party to the Technical Group of the European Right, which was the parliamentary union of Front National of France and Vlaams Blok of Belgium in the European Parliament. Because of this, a rebel fraction, led by MEP Harald Neubauer, stood against Schönhuber for the leadership at the annual party conference in 1990. Schönhuber’s challenger, another MEP Emil Schlee, was defeated, and therefore Neubauer’s supporters stormed out from the conference. By the end of the parliamentary session in 1994, three party MEPs had defected to another party, one had become an independent, and only one (Hans-Günter Schodruch) remained with Schönhuber’s Republicans the whole term. In the 1994 election the party lost all its seats. It never managed to win seats in any national elections in Germany, and nowdays the party seems to be defunct.

In Great Britain’s 2014 European Parliament elections the most successful party was the UK Independence Party, or UKIP, which won 24 seats and 27% of the popular vote. This was the first time a political party other than the Labour or Conservative Party had won the popular vote in a British election since 1906. The party was led by Nigel Farage, who had vigorously advocated Great Britain’s exit from the European Union (Brexit). His success culminated in 2016, when 52% of the British voters chose “leave” in the referendum if United Kingdom should remain a member of the European Union or leave.

But several of the UKIP’s MEPs grew dissatisfied with the party’s growing tendency for right wing politics. Farage established his new Brexit Party (now Reform UK), and was joined by some of his former party companions. Furthermore, one MEP joined the Social Democratic Party, and some became independent. So by the time of the elections of 2019, only three out of original 24 UKIP MEPs remained in the party. They all lost their seats in the 2019 European Parliament elections, after which UKIP has failed to win any national or local elected posts, and is now a mere fringe party.

There are few interesting glimpses of possible protest voting in 2024 EU elections. In the 2019 elections, the Finnish voters elected two members of the right-wing populist The Finns Party in the European Parliament, Teuvo Hakkarainen and Laura Huhtasaari. Hakkarainen only entered in politics when he was in his 50s, being first elected in the Finnish Parliament in 2011. He was a co-owner of a saw mill and lately has worked as a sawmill consultant in South America (he currently lives in Honduras).

Finnish MEPs Teuvo Hakkarainen and Laura Huhtasaari in the European Parliament
Finnish MEPs Teuvo Hakkarainen and Laura Huhtasaari in the European Parliament

Early in 2024, The Finns Party denied Hakkarainen to stand as a candidate on their party ballot. The reason given was “anti-party activity.” Hakkarainen has been very critical of Finland’s membership in the European Union, and a strict opponent of mass immigration. He therefore became a candidate on the ballot of the Freedom Alliance, a party which advocates Finland’s exit from the EU (Fixit). Freedom Alliance does not have members in the Finnish Parliament, but has some representatives in the local government level. Should Hakkarainen renew his mandate as a MEP, which is unlikely, it could start a protest movement against the liberal establishment in Finland.

In Ireland, a new party named The Irish People, is on the ballot for the first time. The party has distributed election posters around Ireland, where, according to the article by The Noticer, an anti-immigration sentiment is running high. In Ireland 79% of citizens believe that the number of immigrants arriving in the country is too high, and 64% say that the current government “isn’t in control of immigration to Ireland.” The article also reported that the party rallies in late April were met with a brutal police crackdown where women and young people were left bloodied by baton charges.

The Irish People’s candidate for the European Parliament in Dublin is Andy Heasman, a Traditional Catholic, who became nationally renowned as a protestor against the Covid lockdowns and vaccine mandates. As in Finland, it is very unlikely that The Irish People will achieve any electoral success, but stranger things have happened. In 2021 Catholic Family Podcast interviewed Andy, and his platform against government tyranny and for God and Ireland would certainly make in impact in the European Parliament.

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