Europe’s dozens of peoples never vote entirely in lockstep. Mercifully, this does much to prevent Brussels globalist federalism from establishing hegemony. The year 2022 was no exception, though prevailing trends left more reason for optimism than did America’s November midterms. Nationalist candidates enjoyed success in several countries across the Old Continent in a year in which major players like Viktor Orbán and Emmanuel Macron were on the ballot. Even in countries in which the left gained or maintained power, nationalist candidates generally could point to important achievements.
This could portend the environment and voter attitudes of our next key electoral year of 2024. European and American voting patterns are often correlated; the 2016 dual shock of Brexit and the election of Donald Trump is the most famous recent example. In the short term, these electoral outcomes mean less opportunity for the European political class to offer undisguised transatlantic support to the Democratic Party.
These are an American observer’s key takeaways from a year in European elections.
In this snap election triggered by a budget rejection, the Socialist Party unexpectedly won an absolute majority for only the second time in its history. As a result, it can govern without a coalition, and Prime Minister António Costa retains his position. Socialists now hold firm control of the Iberian Peninsula (Indeed, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez was among those who celebrated the result). Smaller populist parties on the right did well, but a lack of collaboration with the center-right Social Democratic Party ensured a Socialist victory. The result represented a blow to the right on the western half of the continent.
Arguably no one besides Donald Trump evokes the same degree of establishment hatred as Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán. Thus, it was no surprise corporate media seized on a coalition of all major opposition parties and a fresh-faced opposition figurehead as they touted the possibility of Orbán’s ouster. The incumbent prime minister and frequent Brussels adversary responded by winning his most impressive victory yet.
Orbán’s Fidesz-KDNP alliance won a parliamentary supermajority with 135 of 199 seats and an outright majority of votes. Hungarians distrust key politicians on the left, desire stability and de-escalation on the country’s eastern border, and see EU strongarm measures as unreasonable; all of these factors worked in Orbán’s favor. The result was so emphatic that critics didn’t expend much energy in drumming up charges of malfeasance. For at least the next four years, traditional values and the interests of the nation-state will continue to have at least one significant advocate on the continent.
Aleksandar Vučić, increasingly the subject of Brusselian indignation, led his big-tent ruling party to an easy victory with more than 60 percent of the vote. It comes at a particularly critical moment in the country’s history, as tensions are escalating in Kosovo (which Serbia claims as its sovereign territory) and Russia wages war in Ukraine.
Orthodox Serbia’s close relationship with Russia stretches at least two centuries, as any reader of Dostoevsky and Tolstoy can attest; the country did not enact sanctions against Russia this year. Bomb-ravaged buildings still stand in central Belgrade as a testament to the NATO aerial campaign from the 1990s. Serbia’s path to EU accession had seemed relatively straightforward, but the confident Vučić will have to lead his country through a turbulent period in which national wounds are resurfacing.
Michel Houellebecq’s 2015 novel “Submission” has proved a remarkably prescient commentary on French politics. Set in 2022, it imagines this exact presidential election. In the real-world version, a Muslim Brotherhood candidate did not burst onto the scene and lead the country dramatically into the Islamic world, but Emmanuel Macron does possess the youth, celebrity, and passion for the new world order of the fictional Mohammed Ben-Abbes. Houellebecq’s forecasted political collapse of the Socialist Party and the UMP/Republicans was already a reality by the previous national elections in 2017, and as in the novel, the Élysée Palace eluded nationalist Marine Le Pen.
Though some polls showed her statistically tied with Macron before the April 24 runoff, she never really threatened (she won 41.5 percent, compared to 33.9 percent in 2017). The internecine challenge from journalist Éric Zemmour, along with the retooling of the aforementioned Socialists and Republicans, suggests the nationalist camp would benefit from a new figurehead (27-year-old Jordan Bardella took charge of Le Pen’s National Rally in November).
Meanwhile, Macron will continue to carry the torch of post-Merkel European federalism. Le Pen and her colleagues have pioneered new possibilities in European politics, but actual power in Paris remains firmly in establishment hands.
Populist Prime Minister Janez Janša, an ally of both Trump and Orbán, unexpectedly lost his reelection bid. Incoming Prime Minister Robert Golob ran on a platform of orientation toward Western Europe and left-wing social policies. Just three months after the election, the new government embraced measures to redefine marriage. The result ensures one less committed nationalist and a currently atypical left-wing regime in the formerly communist half of the continent.
The nationalist Sweden Democrats shocked the establishment by winning 20 percent of the vote in what was a rebuke to the long-dominant Social Democrats. Voters ostensibly grew tired of skyrocketing crime and unrestrained immigration, and even the left-wing parties felt compelled to discuss these issues during the campaign.
The Sweden Democrats, once shunned by the leading political parties, will remain outside the new ruling coalition but will significantly influence its policies, particularly those related to migration and law and order. The election outcome represents arguably the most emphatic victory for the right in Sweden’s political history.
Just two weeks after the right’s triumph in Sweden, Italy became the most populous EU member to elect a right-wing government in recent years. The personable Giorgia Meloni announced herself on the European political stage with her victory. Joining her ruling coalition is the populist Matteo Salvini, a leading mass-immigration critic who previously served as deputy prime minister, and former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.
Meloni quickly made good on campaign promises by refusing to let a migrant NGO ship dock in an Italian port in October. As a meaningful right-wing victory still seems out of reach in European giants like Germany, France, and the United Kingdom, Meloni’s Italy can establish the blueprint for governance in European power.
The left-wing Social Democrats, already the largest party in parliament, won their highest vote total in two decades, keeping Mette Frederiksen in the role of prime minister. A breakup of the once-significant Danish People’s Party led to a splintering of the nationalist vote in a country that has been relatively strict on immigration by West European standards and has already adopted many of the populists’ policies on that issue. Collaboration of the three largest parties in a novel grand coalition will keep the establishment firmly in control and create a very different political atmosphere from the one across the Øresund in Sweden.
The United Kingdom did not hold a general election in 2022, but its recent leadership debacle deserves a word. Boris Johnson resigned after numerous scandals in his government. His Conservative Party elevated Liz Truss to the leadership position; just 44 days later, it undertook the same exercise and settled on Rishi Sunak. As long as the Labour Party embraces extreme leftism, the artist formerly known as the Conservative Party will likely remain in power on the electable center-left establishment ground. It will have perhaps two full years (the next general election will occur no later than January 2025) to heal its recent self-inflicted wounds.
Late 2023 will bring a slew of important elections on the continent. Unpredictable, fiercely independent Switzerland will hold federal elections in October. Poland, currently governed by a right-wing government that has restored at least some of its popularity since the war in Ukraine began, will hold parliamentary elections in November. Spain, currently featuring a socialist government, will be the largest country to hold a general election when it votes in December.
With a war in Ukraine, ongoing energy crises, and voters frustrated by years of Covid restrictions, European politics promises not to become dull anytime soon. Americans eager to gain insights about the 2024 election environment should closely follow events across the Atlantic.
The views expressed in this article are entirely the author’s own.