European elections 2019: live updates


Greece’s Syriza counts its losses

Our correspondent in Athens Kerin Hope reports:

The scale of the losses incurred by Greek ruling party Syriza have proved too much for an increasingly unpopular government to handle in its final months in office.

Prime minister Alexis Tsipras threw in the towel on Sunday night after exit polls showed the party trailing the centre-right New Democracy by almost 10 percentage points, a record gap for a Greek election according to analysts.

Most opinion polls ahead of the vote gave the conservatives a lead of between 5.5 and 8 percentage points.

Mr Tsipras has called a snap election to be held next month, probably on June 30th.

He said that Syriza’ s performance “did not meet expectations” while Kyriakos Mitsotakis, the conservative leader, had earned “the right to question the course we took in order to exit the crisis”.

Both leaders campaigned intensively for the European election but issues of concern to other EU citizens such as immigration and the rise of the far right took second place in what was seen as a test run for the Greek general election.

Given the short time available for campaigning, Mr Mitsotakis had “a good chance of building momentum further and achieving a solid overall majority” said a veteran electoral strategist who declined to be identified.

But a conservative analyst warned that the Syriza leader is a “formidable and flexible election opponent” who transformed a left-wing splinter group into a mainstream political party in the space of less than three years.

“Tsipras is a street fighter and we can’t afford to be complacent,” he said.

Near-final results gave New Democracy 33.3 per cent of the vote to 23.7 per cent for Syriza. The Movement for Change (Kinal) came a distant third with 7.2 per cent. The old-style Greek communist party, with 5.5 per cent, beat the far-right Golden Dawn into fifth place with 4.9 per cent.

Turnout was 57 per cent, in line with Greek voters’ usual participation rate in elections.

Labour party faces civil war over Europe

Our chief political correspondent Jim Pickard reports:

Civil war has broken out inside the Labour party, with Jeremy Corbyn – for the first time in a long time – looking dangerously exposed.

With Labour losing a huge chunk of the vote to the more clearly “Remain” parties – Liberal Democrats, Greens, SNP and Plaid Cymru – Mr Corbyn is under pressure to shift towards an outright backing for a second referendum. But even if he does so, will he have left it too late to win back some of those voters?

Overnight the Labour leader issued a statement saying that “this issue will have to go back to the people”, either through a general election of a public vote. “Labour will bring our divided country together,” he said, echoing his message throughout the European election campaign.

That sounds a lot like the existing fudge of a policy which has got the party into trouble in recent days.

Mr Corbyn did say “we will have conversations across our party and movement” over the coming days. But some of the most senior members of his shadow cabinet are now openly calling for Labour to back a second referendum, full stop: they include Emily Thornberry, shadow foreign secretary, and John McDonnell, shadow chancellor.

Mr McDonnell’s apparent support for an unequivocal second referendum position is particularly striking as he is Mr Corbyn’s oldest political ally. He argued that it was time to unite the country by “taking the issue back to people in a public vote”, saying Labour couldn’t hide from the “hit” it took last night. “Bringing people together when there’s such a divide was never going to be easy.”

But there are still senior figures close to Mr Corbyn urging him to hold the line, mindful that shifting to a pure Remain position could cost support in the party’s heartlands in northern England and the Midlands. A majority of the party’s target seats at the next election voted Leave.

Len McCluskey, the all-powerful general secretary of Unite the Union, urged colleagues to “hold our nerve” and wait for a general election. “Labour losing votes, as we expected,” he tweeted. “But these elections aren’t relevant to where we are now.”

Greek debt in sharpest rally since late 2017

Greece’s government bond prices are roaring higher after prime minister Alexis Tsipras said he would call a general election following his Syriza party’s poor showing in European elections.

The benchmark 10-year bond yield dropped 32.6 basis points (0.326 percentage points) to 3.036 per cent, the lowest level on records stretching back to 2000, according to Bloomberg data. It marked the biggest fall in yield since December 2017.

Greek stocks also rallied, with the FTSE index of the country’s biggest companies up 4.7 per cent in morning trade.

The general election will probably take place either in June or July, said Andrew Kenningham, chief Europe economist at Capital Economics.

“Opinion polls suggest that New Democracy, which is more business-friendly and pro-European than Syriza, will win,” he said.

Only a small share of Greek government debt is traded regularly on public markets, something that can make daily swings particularly abrupt.

Commission president choice unlikely before the autumn: Danske

Fractious politics in the new parliament is likely to delay the selection of the next EU Commission president until September or October, Danske Bank analysts wrote in a note this morning, Joshua Oliver reports.

The new president could be picked by July “if the political process is smooth”, the analysts wrote. But the new parliament is more fragmented, making a delay more likely.

It’s up to EU leaders to nominate a candidate, but the parliament must approve their choice.

European stocks edge higher

Our FastFT team have been looking at the markets, which are showing signs of a slight rally.

Europe’s Stoxx 600 rose 0.5 per cent; Germany’s Dax 30 was up 0.6 per cent; in France the Cac 40 climbed 0.5 per cent; Italy’s FTSE Mib added 1.3 per cent; and Spain’s Ibex 35 rose 1.1 per cent. In London, the FTSE 100 was closed for the bank holiday. Trading in the euro against the dollar was little changed, meanwhile. 

Smiling Farage dominates UK front pages

The FT’s Joshua Oliver has been looking at this morning’s newspapers. A grinning Nigel Farage made an appearance on most front pages following his Brexit Party’s big win in the vote.

Mr Farage is pictured jubilant and clapping along with supporters on page one of the Guardian, next to the headline “Tories and Labour savaged as voters take revenge over Brexit”.

The Daily Telegraph ran the headline “Humiliation for Tories” next to a more restrained shot of Mr Farage smiling. Tory leadership front-runner and Telegraph columnist Boris Johnson topped the page with the quote: “If we go on like this, we will be dismissed”.

The Times of London showed Mr Farage with a Cheshire cat grin and the top line: “Farage surge sends main parties into meltdown”.

Finally, the Daily Mail showed Mr Farage and Mr Johnson nose-to-nose, anticipating a showdown over a no-deal exit from the EU.

Italy’s nationalists benefit in richest regions

Miles Johnson in Rome reports:

Are national populists parties the home of the poor and disenfranchised? Not in Italy. The League won 43 per cent of the vote in Lombardy and 50 per cent in Veneto, two of the country’s richest regions. Meanwhile the Five Star Movement failed to mobilise its support in its strongholds in Italy’s poorer south, costing the party dearly at the polls.

How the race for the Commission presidency will work

The presidency of the European Commission is elected using the “Spitzenkandidat” system, meaning top candidate or party list leader. It was first tried out in 2014 and propelled Jean-Claude Juncker to the EU’s top job.

The process involves the big pan-European parliamentary parties each putting forward a top candidate for the commission presidency before the vote. The eventual winner must convince a qualified majority of leaders of EU national governments, the European Council, to nominate him or her for the commission post. Then, the nominee will need to command support from the newly elected parliament of MEPs, essentially by building a coalition of supportive groups. 

The stand-out leader in the race so far has been Manfred Weber, the centre-right Bavarian.

Yet some European capitals still struggle to take him seriously. The 46-year-old, a top-to-toe product of the parliament, is attempting an unprecedented feat in Brussels. He would not only be the first German president in half a century, but the first with no executive experience at any level of a national government.

His rivals are circling, waiting for Mr Weber to stumble. One senior EU diplomat likened his candidacy to a Bauernopfer, a pawn sacrificed for advantage in a longer chess game. But for that to be the case, somebody must move to knock out Mr Weber.

UK: fallout among breakaway rebel MPs

The MPs who quit leading UK parties to form the breakaway Change UK grouping have been reacting to the results – and there’s a disagreement about their tactics in this election.

PA reports:

Anna Soubry, the party’s Brexit spokeswoman, accused leader Heidi Allen of “bizarre” behaviour for suggesting their supporters engage in tactical voting.

Change UK secured just 4% of the vote after rushing to register as a party in time for the European contest.

Former Tory minister Ms Soubry said “over 600,000 people went and voted for us, a genuinely new party” which was an “extremely good” result, she claimed.

But she criticised Ms Allen, telling BBC Radio 4’s Today: “I think it is rather bizarre for an interim leader on the eve of a poll to tell people essentially not to vote for their party.”

Mocking the idea, she said: “You do not stand candidates and then say to people ‘we are going through a complete farce, please don’t vote for them’.

“Let’s engage now in big, grown-up politics.”

Ms Allen has previously revealed she offered to quit as a result of the spat over whether to support Liberal Democrat candidates outside London and the South East, saying that “had it been left to me, I would have absolutely advised tactical voting”.

Former Tory MP Ms Allen acknowledged that her party needed to learn from what went wrong in the European Parliament elections before the next general election.

She said Change UK should “work with other right-minded parties like us that are pushing for Remain”.

“The country has to come first, it is not about the brand, we must come together,” she said.

Italy: Salvini’s gains lay groundwork for an election

Our Rome correspondent Miles Johnson writes:

The large gains for Matteo Salvini’s League means, on paper at least, he now has the right numbers to make a right-wing coalition work if he could reproduce last night’s result at a future general election.

The League’s 34 per cent of the vote combined with Forza Italia’s 8.8 per cent and Brothers of Italy 6.4 per cent would give any putative rightwing coalition just under 50 per cent.

Meanwhile the collapse for Mr Salvini’s current coalition partners, the Five Star Movement, mean that its options are severely diminished.

Even a tie up between Five Star and the centre left Democratic Party – something both have for now ruled out – would only get them to just under 40 per cent.

Kurz faces no-confidence vote this lunchtime

Our correspondent in Vienna Sam Jones reports:

A surge in support for Austria’s mainstream conservative party in European elections is unlikely to save the chancellorship of Sebastian Kurz.

Both of Austria’s largest opposition parties, the Social Democrats and far-right Freedom Party have promised to back a no-confidence vote against Mr Kurz in Vienna on Monday lunchtime. The two parties command the votes between them to force the chancellor from office.

Mr Kurz had already said on Sunday morning he expected to lose the vote – though that was before the scale of his party’s victory in yesterday’s European elections became clear.

With turnout in Austria for the European elections up from 45 per cent in 2014 to 58.8 per cent, many are already characterising the vote as a significant popular mandate for Mr Kurz.

Preliminary results, not including postal ballots, showed Mr Kurz’s People’s Party had increased its share of the vote by 8.4 percentage points to 35.4 per cent — its strongest ever European parliamentary result.

The victory came at the expense of both the Social Democrats, who dropped 0.5 percentage point to 23.6 per cent, and the Freedom Party, which saw its vote fall by 1.6 percentage points to 18.1 per cent.

Late on Sunday, Pamela Rendi-Wagner, the leader of Austria’s Social Democratic Party, the second largest bloc in parliament, confirmed the party would press ahead in support of the vote against the chancellor.

Norbert Hofer, the new leader of the Freedom Party confirmed his MPs had also voted to support ousting Mr Kurz as a bloc on Monday morning.

‘The message is clear’: UK Tories react

Jacob Rees-Mogg, one of the most prominent hardline eurosceptics in the UK Conservative Party, reacted to the election results overnight by congratulating his sister, who was elected as an MEP for the Tories’ rival the Brexit Party. He also said that the message from voters was “clear” that the UK should leave the EU – “no more equivocation”.

https://twitter.com/Jacob_Rees_Mogg/status/1132915685020061696

“Many congratulations to Annunziata on her amazing result. The message is clear Brexit must be delivered with or without a deal on 31st October. No more equivocation.”

Other Conservatives have also been commenting on the results.

https://twitter.com/johnredwood/status/1132910392219504640

John Redwood: “A new Prime Minister should say to the EU we will leave immediately, offering free trade talks on exit. Lets have a Brexit budget to boost our economy with tax cuts and increased spending on public services from all the money we save. 3 times now the voters have voted to leave.”

https://twitter.com/OwenPaterson/status/1132910343209005061

Owen Paterson: “Clear lesson from these results. The Withdrawal Agreement is dead as the @Conservatives were the only Party promoting it. The UK must now leave the EU by 31st October, ideally with an FTA agreed in principle but, if necessary on WTO terms with practical side deals already agreed.”

Nigel Farage’s good day: a look at the Brexit party’s strong showing

FT Whitehall correspondent Sebastian Payne reports:

Nigel Farage set high expectations for European elections and has met them. His new Brexit party was founded just weeks ago, yet it has come first in the UK with 29 MEPs within the new European Parliament. It is a remarkable feat, whether you welcome its presence or not.

As expected, the Brexit party garnered most of its votes from disaffected Conservative voters, but also from Labour in its heartland constituencies outside of the big cities. Significant parts of England, Scotland and Wales who voted to leave backed them to make the point they still want to leave the EU. If there happens to be a general election this year, the two established parties should be concerned about the impact this new force could have on their vote.

Mr Farage surpassed the performance of his old UK Independence Party in the 2014 Euro elections. He has called on his 29 MEPs to be part of the UK’s Brexit negotiating team, arguing that his party has elected “men and women of considerable experience”. It’s a nifty soundbite but it’s hard to see this actually happening. That difficult task will be in the hands of the next British prime minister.

“Never before in British politics has a party just 6 weeks old won a national election,” Mr Farage said last night. “If Britain does not leave the EU on October 31, these results will be repeated at a general election. History has been made. This is just the beginning.”

Eyes will now turn to a by-election in June 6 in Peterborough, where Mr Farage is hopeful of returning his first MP to the House of Commons. The Leave-supporting town voted heavily for the Brexit party in these elections.

The Brexit party may turn out to be a pop-up party that achieves little else. But for Mr Farage, it has sent the clear message last night it was founded to make.

Macron accelerates negotiations over top EU posts

Our correspondent Victor Mallet in Paris reports:

French President Emmanuel Macron has invited Pedro Sánchez, Spain’s Socialist prime minister, to dinner at the Elysée palace in Paris on Monday night as negotiations over candidates for the top EU posts accelerate following the European elections.

The Elysée said Mr Macron would also meet other European leaders over lunch in Brussels on Tuesday before an informal EU summit in the evening.

The president’s French liberal alliance was narrowly beaten into second place by the far-right Rassemblement National of Marine Le Pen in the French vote, but it enters the European Parliament for the first time with more than 20 seats and expects to be at the forefront of a liberal grouping that will influence the choices to head the European Commission, the Council, the central bank and the parliament itself.

Mr Macron has already met Mark Rutte of the Netherlands and Antonio Costa of Portugal in Paris in recent weeks. He called German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Monday night and will meet prime ministers from the Visegrad group – Poland, Hungary, Slovakia and the Czech Republic – on Tuesday.

German governing parties set to meet today

Our correspondent in Berlin Tobias Buck writes:

The leaders of Germany’s embattled governing parties will meet in Berlin today to discuss the political fallout of the European elections, with the centre-left Social Democrats in particular facing intense pressure to change course after a disastrous showing on Sunday night.

Official results showed the SPD losing more than 11 percentage points compared to the last European ballot in 2014. With just 16 per cent of the vote, the Social Democrats were comfortably beaten by the Greens, the rising force on German politics, who almost doubled their previous result to 21 per cent.

Angela Merkel’s conservative bloc of Christian Democrats and the Bavarian Christian Social Union emerged as the winner, with 29 per cent of the vote, but was also down notably – by more than 6 points – compared to 2014.

The CDU/CSU and SPD renewed their so-called grand coalition government last year, but have long worried about the electoral price they are paying for their unpopular accord. Few expect the Merkel government to fall apart at this stage, but analysts and party officials alike warned on Monday that the coalition was heading for a rocky period.

Lars Klingbeil, the SPD secretary general, descibed the result as “crushing” in an interview with the ARD network on Monday. He pointed to climate change policy and digitalisation as two issues where the party had to strengthen its programme. But he also repeated his appeal to fellow party leaders not to start a debate about personnel – part of a broader effort by senior SPD officials to shore up the position of party chief Andrea Nahles.

Robert Habeck, the co-leader of the Greens, told a press conference on Monday: “This exceeded all our expectations…We have moved into the centre of the political debate.”

Paul Ziemiak, the CDU secretary general, voiced disappointment with the result, but insisted that there was no reason to call into question the candidacy of the CSU’s Manfred Weber for the job of European Commission president: “The result we received yesterday does not leave us satisfied but it is all the same a clear mandate for Manfred Weber as Commission president,” he told ARD.

Expect more polarisation on Brexit: analysts

Voters have punished UK political parties that tried to find a middle-ground on Brexit and rewarded those with clear positions on either side, according to analysts interpreting last night’s vote.

Labour and the Conservatives were “punished for the impasse in the UK parliament and their mixed messages on Brexit”, Unicredit analysts wrote in a note this morning, while smaller parties with clear positions prospered. This result is expected to put more pressure on the Tories to back a no-deal exit, and to push Labour towards a second referendum.

Dismal results for the two biggest parties in Westminster “should really put a rocket under them” Commerzbank analysts wrote, making it hard to imagine a further delay to Brexit from the current October departure deadline.

UK Labour: ‘we took a hit’

The UK Labour party’s shadow chancellor John McDonnell has called on his party to back a fresh Brexit vote.

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https://twitter.com/johnmcdonnellMP/status/1132911401750679552

For those who don’t have access to Twitter, it says: “Can’t hide from hit we took last night.Bringing people together when there’s such a divide was never going to be easy. Now we face prospect of Brexiteer extremist as Tory leader & threat of no deal, we must unite our party & country by taking issue back to people in a public vote”

Pro-Europe coalition poised for victory in Slovakia

James Shotter, the FT’s central European correspondent, reports on the election results in Slovakia:

In Slovakia, the elections were won by the liberal, pro-EU coalition of Progressive Slovakia and Spolu, in the second straight electoral victory for the central European nation’s progressive forces after Zuzana Caputova won the presidential election in March.

According to figures released on Sunday, Progressive Slovakia and Spolu, which will join the ALDE and EPP caucuses in the European parliament respectively, won 20 per cent of the vote. Smer, the left-wing grouping controlled by former prime minister Robert Fico, came second with 15.7 per cent, while Marian Kotleba’s extreme right LSNS grouping won 12.1 per cent.

The result is a remarkable victory for PS and Spolu, both of which were only founded within the last 18 months, and the latest sign of how Slovakia’s politics have been upended by the murder of the investigative journalist, Jan Kuciak, and his fiancee, Martina Kusnirova, last year.

The brutal murders shocked the 5.4m-strong nation, and ultimately forced Mr Fico, who had dominated Slovak politics for a decade, to stand down as prime minister. Smer’s weak showing in the European poll – its worst result in a national vote since 2006 – underscores the battle the party will face to retain its hold on power in Slovakia’s parliamentary elections, due to be held early next year.

Martin Dubeci, from Progressive Slovakia, told the FT that the success of his party and Spolu was a reflection of voters’ desire for a new politics in Slovakia. “It’s similar to the dynamics we saw in Zuzana [Caputova’s] campaign. People are longing for a change in the style of politics, and we’ve been able to show this in our approach to the European topic in general,” he said.

“We were openly pro-European, we didn’t have this campaign of saying: “Ok we are European, but…” that you see in other [central European] countries… We see that there is a mobilisation of the pro-European part of society right now, which is very exciting and good for us.”

Austria’s Kurz garners strong support in European election

Austria’s mainstream conservative party enjoyed a strong showing in European elections, suggesting the chancellor Sebastian Kurz has maintained popular support despite a deep scandal that has engulfed the government. Mr Kurz faces a no-confidence vote in Austria’s Parliament later today.

The FT’s Sam Jones reports:

Preliminary results, not including postal ballots, showed Mr Kurz’s People’s Party had increased its share of the vote by 8.4 percentage points to 35.4 per cent — its strongest ever European parliamentary result.

The victory came at the expense of both the Social Democrats, who dropped 0.5 percentage point to 23.6 per cent, and the far-right Freedom Party, which saw its vote fall by 1.6 percentage points to 18.1 per cent. 

The surge of support comes amid a significant rise in turnout this year compared with 2014.

Mr Kurz has said he still expects to lose a vote of no-confidence that was tabled by lawmakers last week, as Austria faces what local media has described as the deepest political crisis since the second world war.

You can read about Austria’s election result here.

Can Italy’s coalition government survive?

The FT’s Joshua Oliver has been reading the main analysts’ views on the picture in Italy. He writes:

Analysts are divided on the likely fate of Italy’s coalition after yesterday’s vote. Strong results for Matteo Salvini’s League party and falling support for their coalition partner the 5 Star Movement, previously the larger of the pair, has fueled speculation that Mr Salvini may force an election to capitalise on these gains.

Former chief economist at the Italian treasury Lorenzo Codogno wrote this morning that Mr Salvini is most likely to stay in the coalition “with a sharp rebalancing of power”, although he “may still pull the plug from the government” if he thinks he can win a majority in coalition with other right-wing groups.

ING analysts agree that an election is now less likely in the short term because Mr Salvini’s party gained less than they had hoped — although they anticipate tensions over the national budget.

Barclays anticipates that the Italian result “will likely be perceived negatively on the margin by markets”. 5 Star is still strong enough to limit the League’s “reasonable growth-friendly fiscal policies,” the analysts wrote.

In contrast, UniCredit analysts expect the government to fall sooner rather than later, writing: “the difficulty in finding a new balance of power between these two parties increases the likelihood of a collapse of the government in the next months.”

A more fragmented legislature

Our Europe editor Ben Hall analyses the results. He concludes:

One lesson from the elections, where turnout was the highest in 20 years, is that pro-Europe voters were ready to switch parties to make their voice heard. 

The Green waves in Germany and France will reverberate. And in the UK, the combined vote share of pro-Europe parties was significantly ahead of the hardcore Brexiters. European politics is in tumult, but it is not all moving in the nationalists’ favour.

“A night that lived up to the hype”

Our Brussels team have published this morning’s Brussels Briefing, which is a bumper edition. Last night was “a night that lived up to the hype”, they say.

They write:

The constellation of the new European Parliament may not have transformed radically but the steady dissolution of the EU’s dominant blocs will set the tone for Brussels policymaking and its new batch of politicians for the next five years.

Key themes that our Brussels team have identified include peak populism v the Green wave; flirt with the far-right, get burnt; turning the tide on turnout; Macron is still a winner; Brussels is the gift that keeps on giving to Nigel Farage; the maths of picking the president; the domino effect – domestic ramifications; and Silvio Berlusconi is back – he has been elected as an MEP.

Spain: liberals fall short of ambitions

Ian Mount, our correspondent in Madrid, reports:

Spanish prime minister Pedro Sánchez pushed the liberal Ciudadanos party to negotiate a coalition with his PSOE socialists after Ciudadanos won 12 per cent in the European elections but fell well short of its ambition to displace the traditional centre-right People’s Party (PP) as Spain’s second biggest party.

PSOE won 32.8 per cent and the PP took 20.1 per cent in the European elections.

Ciudadanos leader Albert Rivera had supported Mr Sánchez’s failed 2016 bid for the premiership but more recently had moved to isolate Mr Sánchez — ruling out governing with him after April’s general election — and positioning Ciudadanos as the leader of the right-wing opposition. Ciudadanos objected to Mr Sánchez’s alliance with Catalan separatist parties during his previous administration.

After Sunday’s elections, Ciudadanos is positioned to be a junior partner in PP-led governments in the city and region of Madrid, as well as in several other regional governments. But the Madrid governments will require a coalition with the new far-right nationalist Vox party, which would clash with Ciudadanos’s place in the European ALDE group.

“In those places where the PSOE has won the elections but cannot govern, it will be because the PP and Ciudadanos form coalitions with the ultra-right. It’s time to lift the quarantine on the PSOE, which has won the elections roundly,” Mr Sánchez said late Sunday night, referring to Mr Rivera’s refusal to form coalitions with the PSOE. “I appeal to the responsibility of our political leaders not to leave governance in the hands of the extreme right.”

Spain’s two newest parties fared poorly Sunday.

The socialists’ leftist ally, Podemos, flopped at the polls, taking 10.1 per cent in the European polls, down from the 18 per cent it took combined with other left-wing parties in 2014, and losing mayoral coalitions in Madrid and Barcelona.

And while Spain’s new far-right Vox party entered the European Parliament for the first time, with three seats, it took only 6.2 per cent of the vote, a sharp drop from the 10.3 per cent it received in the general election in April.

Brexit Party storms to UK victory

Here is our latest report from our Westminster political team, on a night that exposed Britain’s stark Brexit divides. They write:

Nigel Farage’s newly formed Brexit party has stormed to victory in the European Parliament elections in the UK, as support for the Conservatives and Labour collapsed on a night when Britain’s deep divide over the EU was starkly exposed.

Mr Farage’s party had won 32 per cent of the vote with results from nine out of 10 UK regions declared, but the anti-Brexit Liberal Democrats surged to second place with 20 per cent — reflecting the polarisation of public opinion.

With votes shifting en masse to parties which either favoured a no-deal Brexit or a second referendum to reverse Brexit, the prospect of a Westminster compromise looked more remote than ever.

Conservatives and Labour were eviscerated as pro-hard Brexit parties — Brexit and Ukip — polled 35 per cent, while anti-Brexit parties — Lib Dems, Greens, Change UK, SNP and Plaid Cymru — polled a combined 40 per cent.

The big losers on the night were the Conservatives, whose vote slumped to 9 per cent, prompting warnings from Tory leadership contender Boris Johnson that the party risked being “dismissed from office” unless it delivered Brexit.

Jeremy Hunt, foreign secretary and another challenger for Theresa May’s job, said the Tories faced “an existential threat”, on a night where the Brexit party won most votes in the prime minister’s Maidenhead constituency, pushing the Conservatives into third.

The party’s Eurosceptic MPs and Tory activists will now clamour for a new leader to take on Mr Farage by promising to take Britain out of the EU on October 31, if necessary without a deal.

Low turnout in the UK’s Brexit heartlands

Our north east England correspondent Chris Tighe reports that these elections do not seem to have attracted the same turnout from eurosceptic voters as the 2016 referendum did. She writes:

The 2016 referendum was remarkable in mobilising people in poorer areas who had given up voting. By contrast, in north east England turnout this time suggests that those areas have gone back to most people not voting – or at least not seeing much point in voting for MEPs that they don’t want to have anyway.

In Hartlepool – which was the 13th highest Leave-voting share nationally in 2016 (69.6 per cent voted Leave on a 65.6 per cent turnout) saw turnout in these 2019 EU elections of just 25.5 per cent.

Redcar and Cleveland, the north east’s second-highest 2016 Leave vote, had a 29.7 per cent turnout for these EU elections. Middlesbrough, the third highest north east Leave vote in 2016, had a 25.8 per cent turnout this time.

The north east average turnout was 32.7 per cent this time.

In contrast, in Newcastle, the only one of 12 local authority areas in the north east of England to vote Remain in 2016, the turnout in these EU elections was 38.8 per cent, much higher than anywhere else in the region.

This of course, makes the strong overall Brexit Party result all the more striking.

European stocks climb at the open

And we’re off…

Continental bourses are climbing with analysts and investors generally relieved by preliminary results from parliamentary elections that suggest Europe’s centre held.

Here’s a look at how things stand just after the open:

• European Stoxx 600 +0.46 per cent
• German Dax +0.58 per cent
• French Cac 40 +0.53 per cent
• Italian FTSE Mib +0.2 per cent
• Spanish Ibex 35 +0.67 per cent
Bank holiday in UK

Marco Valli at UniCredit said the results were “market friendly”.

He sums it up as such:

The outcome of the European Parliament elections was broadly in line with expectations. Pro-EU parties secured a clear majority of total seats, although parliament looks more fragmented than it did five years ago, with traditional center-right and center-left groups losing seats to Liberals and Greens, and Eurosceptic parties increasing their share of votes.

Disappointment for Germany’s ruling parties

Our correspondents Guy Chazan and Tobias Buck in Berlin reports:

Germany’s Social Democrats have suffered their worst result in a national election since the second world war, as the Greens pushed them into third place for the first time and cemented their status as the rising force in German politics.

The results were also a big disappointment for Angela Merkel’s ruling Christian Democratic Union. Together with its Bavarian sister party the Christian Social Union, its share of the vote slumped by 6 points to 29 per cent, a historic low, according to official results. The Greens surged to 21 per cent, almost doubling their result from the last European Parliament elections.

But the SPD was the big loser, its vote share plummeting by more than 11 percentage points to 16 per cent. The centre-left party also suffered a stinging defeat in the northern city state of Bremen where it was beaten by the CDU for the first time in more than seven decades. The Social Democrat share of the vote in its former stronghold fell 8 percentage points to 25 per cent, while the CDU rose 4 points to 26 per cent.

The SPD is now expected to come under mounting pressure from the grass roots to pull out of the governing “grand coalition” with internal critics arguing that it has little prospect of recovery as long as it serves as junior partner to the CDU in Berlin. The alliance, they argue, has blurred the party’s profile and encouraged left-leaning voters to back rival parties.

However, most party leaders along with a majority of members of parliament are committed to staying the course — at least for now. They point out that the SPD has promised to reassess its role in the coalition government at the end of this year, and argue that it makes little sense to have that debate now.

Analysts’ reaction: Eurosceptics failed to break through

The FT’s Joshua Oliver has been parsing the reaction of market and economic analysts to the election results, and reports:

Eurosceptic parties failed to make the big gains some expected in this vote, according to analysts examining the results this morning.

“The wave of populist and anti-establishment Right remained contained,” analyst Lorenzo Codogno wrote in a note early today. He expects right-wing eurosceptics to stop short of 24 percent of seats, with left-wing anti-Europeans below 10 percent.

ING analysts shared this view, writing that “the often-feared rise of EU-skeptical parties has not materialized”, while Barclays analysts wrote that mainstream parties are “holding their ground over populist movements”.

In addition, ING said the eurosceptics are unlikely to unite into a reliable block in this parliament due to their splits on migration and foreign policy.

Still, ING said the parties’ modest gains “provide a signal that eurosceptic parties are here to stay” and that their impact could be seen on a local level.

Mr Codogno added that the persistence of anti-European elements in the parliament may change its political dynamics, writing: “It is not clear whether Parliament will be divided into the traditional Left-Right political families or in a new cleavage between pro-/anti-EU integration.”

Kaczynski’s nationalist group poised for strong win in Poland

The FT’s James Shotter reports from Warsaw:

With 99.31 per cent of votes counted in Poland, the ruling Law and Justice party was on course for a better than expected victory in an election that all parties are hoping to use as a launchpad for Polish parliamentary elections due in the autumn.

Powered by a booming economy, generous social transfers, and the relentless backing of state-controlled media, Jaroslaw Kaczynski’s conservative nationalist grouping was on course to win 45.6 per cent of the vote – a strong showing in elections that have traditionally been difficult for his party.

The opposition European Coalition – a pro-European grouping of five parties centred around Civic Platform – was on course for 38.3 per cent. Spring – a new left-wing party founded by Robert Biedron, was on track for 6.04 per cent.

Konfederacja, a new coalition of far right and nationalist groups that had been forecast to win over 6 per cent in last night’s exit poll, had fallen to 4.6 per cent, meaning it was unlikely to make it across the EU parliament’s 5 per cent threshold.

UK Lib Dems enjoy their gains

The FT’s George Parker reports on the latest reaction from Westminster:

Jo Swinson, a contender to succeed Vince Cable as leader of the UK Liberal Democrats, said it was “an excellent” night for her party, which polled 20 per cent.

She said it would put pressure on Labour “to get off the Brexit fence” and join the Lib Dems in calling for a second EU referendum.

“Labour have had an atrocious night,” she said.

Salvini hails Italian results

Our Rome correspondent Miles Johnson has some reaction from Italy’s Matteo Salvini:

“Only five years ago the newspapers were talking about the League being extinct. Now we are the biggest party in the north, and the south [of Italy],” he said. “It is not only the League that is the first party in Italy. Marine Le Pen is the biggest party in France. Nigel Farage has the biggest party in Great Britain. It is a sign of a Europe that has changed.”

But while he made sure to pay lip service to his party’s role in galvanising Europe’s nationalist right, it was the domestic impact of his victory that had put beaming smiles on the faces of his advisors at the League’s Milan headquarters.

The result – which before the final count indicated Mr Salvini’s anti-migration party had taken over 30 per cent of the vote – formally confirms the transformation of the League from a fringe northern separatist party polling in low single digits into a truly national force.

In doing so Mr Salvini has established himself as the dominant figure on Italy’s political right, banishing ex-prime minister Silvio Berlusconi’s long-fading Forza Italia party to its worst-ever result in national vote since it was formed in 1993.

More immediately the result is likely to have an important impact on the future of Italy’s populist coalition government made up of the League and the anti-establishment Five Star Movement, which has lost its crown as Italy’s biggest party in painful fashion.

Mr Salvini success has come as support collapsed for his partners and rivals. Having won 32 per cent of the national vote in general elections last year the Five Star Movement was on track to win less than 20 per cent in the European election, slipping into third place behind the centre left Democratic Party.

Mr Salvini, who in the run up to the vote had been engaged in increasingly acrimonious infighting with the Five Star, immediately attempted to calm the situation in the wake of his victory, declaring that the coalition would stay together regardless. “As far as I am concerned nothing should change at the national level,” he said.

Farage looks to UK election

Our political editor George Parker reports that Brexit Party leader (and former UKIP MEP) Nigel Farage, who has just been re-elected to the European Parliament, is already looking ahead to consolidate his gains at a domestic level:

Nigel Farage tells the BBC’s Today programme that his plan is for the Brexit Party to fight the next general election.

“It’s a heck of a job,” he admitted. He said he would not believe a new Tory leader who promised to take Britain out of the EU, with or without a deal.

“It’s a hugely ambitious thing to do, but we’re going to try,” he said. “The two-party system now serves nothing but itself.”

European stock futures on the rise

European equities markets are set to kick off the day on an upbeat note, with investors paying close attention to the results of EU elections.

Here’s a quick breakdown of how futures are looking ahead of the open in half an hour:

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*Continent-wide Stoxx 600 +0.43 per cent
*German Dax +0.46 per cent
*French CAC 40 +0.68 per cent
Bank holiday in the UK

Far-right and nationalist parties were poised to make significant gains in the European Parliament elections. But the pro-Europe centre appears to have held. Goldman Sachs reckons “Eurosceptic populist groups will increase their seats share, gaining 173 seats or 23 per cent of seats in the parliament.”

Ulrich Leuchtmann, currencies analyst at Commerzbank, said: “Europe has been to the polls. The result is much less anti-EU than could have been feared.”

Looking for a quick-read on the results? Ben Hall’s Instant Insight is a good place to get started.

The race for the Commission

The elections are the first step on the road to Europe’s top political jobs, in particular the chairmanship of the European Commission. While the EPP remains the biggest group in the parliament, its diminished size may hamper Manfred Weber, its lead candidate, in making a claim to the presidency.

Speaking after the vote, Mr Weber argued that pro-EU parties were “facing a shrinking centre” and needed to stick together.

Other group leaders by contrast were quick to stress the need to forge a broader alliance that broke the EPP’s dominant position in Brussels. Margrethe Vestager, the EU competition commissioner and liberal election candidate, said voters had “broken the monopoly” of power within the EU.

Philippe Lamberts, leader of the Green group, said: “To make a stable majority in this parliament the Greens are now indispensable.” 

Explore the results so far

Our interactive team has crunched all the data that’s coming out from national counts, and you can check out their visual display of the results here.

Sterling shines

Well, you don’t see this one every day … at least not recently.

Sterling is kicking the week off on a strong note, gaining both against the US dollar and the common currency. The rise comes as investors weigh results of the European Parliament elections, both in the UK and in Europe.

Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party was poised to score a victory, with the pro-Europe Liberal Democrats in second-place. The Conservative party was on course to finish fifth, with just 10 per cent of the vote, behind Labour and the Greens.

Just after 7am in London, the UK pound rose 0.2 per cent both on the greenback and the euro, to $1.2735 and €1.1363 respectively.

It is a market holiday today in both the UK and US, both major centres for currency trading. That means volumes are likely to be light, potentially magnifying moves in the FX market.

Official results in France confirm narrow far-right victory

Our correspondent Victor Mallet in Paris reports:

Marine Le Pen’s far-right Rassemblement National beat President Emmanuel Macron’s liberal Renaissance alliance, which includes his governing La République en Marche party, by less than a percentage point in the French voting, according to official results on Monday from the interior ministry.

The narrow victory for the RN gives the parties the same number of seats in the European Parliament – 23 – assuming Brexit is completed. Without Brexit, the RN wins 22 seats and Renaissance 21.

Headed for the election campaign by the 23-year-old activist Jordan Bardella, the RN scored 23.31 per cent of the French vote – slightly less than its winning tally in the previous European vote in 2014 – against 22.41 per cent for Renaissance under Mr Macron’s former Europe minister Nathalie Loiseau.

The results showed a strong performance by the Europe Ecologie-Les Verts, the French greens, with 13.47 per cent. It also confirmed the collapse of the traditional left-wing and right-wing parties of French politics: the centre-right republicans won only 8.48 per cent and the French Socialists just 6.19 per cent.

The only other party to cross the 5 per cent threshold required to hold seats in the European Parliament was the far-left France Insoumise (France Unbowed), with 6.31 per cent.

The state of play

Here’s what we know so far:

Pro-EU parties have largely held their ground in the face of a threat from anti-establishment groups across the continent, according to the European Parliament’s early estimates of the results;

Traditional centre-ground parties have lost seats to the Greens and Liberals; Eurosceptic and far-right parties made modest gains but are set to take roughly a quarter of MEP seats;

The early indications suggest that voting patterns have become more fragmented, which could spell the end of the centre-left and centre-right majorities that have held sway in the parliament for the last four decades;

Turnout rose, bucking a 40-year downward trend, and topped 50 per cent of eligible voters for the first time since 1994;

In the UK, the Brexit Party has picked up the most seats with the Liberal Democrats and Greens also putting in strong performances; Labour and the Conservatives have both lost a large proportion of their seats in what proved to be a night of reckoning for the biggest UK political parties.

Good morning

We are back to catch up with events overnight and assess the state of European politics this morning, after the second-biggest democratic exercise in the world (India’s elections are the largest). More than 400m people were eligible to vote in the elections, which started on Thursday and concluded yesterday. Votes were still being counted overnight.

Wrapping up for the night

We’re still counting in the UK but the rest of the EU’s estimates are in. We’ll be wrapping up the live blog for the night and will be back for 7am Monday morning to sweep up the rest of the results and reactions. Here’s the FT’s take on events tonight:

A diffuse alliance of pro-EU parties largely held their ground in Sunday’s European elections, after a bruising battle with anti-establishment groups that saw Emmanuel Macron’s En Marche narrowly defeated in France.

With indications of turnout rising for the first time in 40 years, early estimates produced by the European Parliament suggest voters returned a more fragmented pro-EU majority, with traditional centre-ground parties losing seats to Greens and Liberals. Eurosceptic and far-right parties made modest gains but remained roughly a quarter of MEPs.

The results across the EU’s 28 member states will have a decisive impact on the political direction in Brussels for the coming five years, determining the parliament’s stance on sensitive issues such as green taxes and international trade deals. They will also weigh heavily on the race for the bloc’s top jobs.

If the estimates are confirmed, it would spell the end of the centre-left and centre-right majority that has held sway in the parliament since 1979, giving way to a more divided pro-EU bloc that will include up to four parties.

Labour’s losses

The FT’s Whitehall correspondent Sebastian Payne writes in on Labour’s troubles in the UK’s biggest cities and pro-Brexit regions from tonight’s vote:

The initial results for the Labour party in Britain paint a troubling picture of its future. In metropolitan parts of the country such as Islington in north London – the home patch of opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn – it has been beaten by the Liberal Democrats, who ran on a fervently pro-Remain message.

But in pro-Brexit parts of the land, such as the north east of England, its voters have drifted to Nigel Farage’s new Brexit party. It appears that by sitting on the fence with its stance reguarding leaving the EU, Labour is tearing up its long-standing voting coalition – which brought together metropolitan middle class voters in cities with working class voters in the provinces.

One Labour grandee said:”[Jeremy] Corbyn himself is apparently shaken by the Islington result. He thinks he’s been let down by the leaders’ office. But others are saying Corbyn is killing Corbynism.

Mr Corbyn tried to have it both ways: promising to deliver Brexit, but also to put any deal negotiated by the Conservative government to a second referendum. For the last three years, this position mostly worked. But in these European elections, which have been dominated by Brexit and little else, it has ended up pleasing no one.

There will now likely be a big push from some quarters of the party to fully back a second referendum. Emily Thornberry, the shadow foreign secretary, summed up this argument: “These are really bad results for Labour…we were not clear on the one single thing people cared about.” Expect plenty of infighting over the next few days about where the party goes next.

The Spitzenkandidaten speak

The candidates to become the next European Commission president are speaking in the wake of the final vote estimates.

Manfred Weber of the European People’s Party has said his door is open to agree a new,stable coalition – but not one that will include the far left and far right:

“We are facing a shrinking centre. We will not support any candidate who did did not run as a Spitzenkandidat.

I don’t see a majority against the Liberals, Socialists or the EPP…I would call on us to join forces.”

Frans Timmermans, of the centre-left, called for progressive parties to form an alliance and acknowledged the losses for his party group.

“We have more than 150 seats in this parliament and this gives us the chance to do something positive. We need to build a coalition on the basis of a programme. Then we can play Game of Thrones over the jobs.”

“I want to work with parties that know we need to make bold decisions on the climate crisis, on the need to tax companies that don’t pay tax. The only ones I’ve said I don’t want to work with is the extreme right.”

Margrethe Vestager of the Liberals called for a gender balanced commission, and celebrated gains for her centrist alliance that will include En Marche. She also hinted at a deal that would exclude the conservative EPP.

“I have worked with breaking monopolies. This is what voters have done today. There is room for talks in the coming days that are different to what we had before, and a different composition of the top jobs”.

Final estimates of the European Parliament

Here’s the last look of what the EP will look like, according to the latest seat estimates:

– EPP 178
– Socialists 152
– European Conservatives 61
– Alliance of Liberals plus En Marche 108
– United Left 39
– Greens 67
– European Freedom and Direct Democracy 53
– Europe of Nations 55
– Non attached 31

Turnout hits 50.5 per cent

Polling stations are closed across Europe and the European Parliament can confirm the first significant increase in turnout since the first EU elections in 1979 at 50.5 per cent. That’s up from 42 per cent in 2014 and bucks a 40-year trend.

Tsipras calls snap Greek elections

Greece’s prime minister Alexis Tsipras – whose Syriza party came second in EU elections – has used the opportunity to call a snap general election but has not yet named the date.

The FT’s Kerin Hope reports:

Speaking tonight, Mr Tsipras said:

“We took the country out of these vicious bailouts and stood it on its feet…but the results of the (European) election were not what we expected.

He said he would wait until after next weekend’s second round of local government elections before presenting his government’s resignation to President Prokopis Pavlopoulos.

A Syriza party official said the vote would probably be held on June 30.

Kyriakos Mitsotakis, leader of New Democracy, said :”Greece needs a new government with a fresh vote from the people.”

With more than one-third of votes counted in Greece, the conservatives were leading with 33.27 per cent to 23.91 per cent for Syriza. The centre-left Movement for Change held 7.21 per cent followed by the Greek communist party with 5.76 per cent and the far-right Golden Dawn with 4.94 per cent.

Salvini wins in Italy, Five Star suffer

From the FT’s Miles Johnson in Rome:

Matteo Salvini’s League party is on track to be Italy’s largest party in the European elections as exit polls indicated it would achieve between 27 and 30 per cent of the vote.

The result would mark the transformation of the League from a one-time fringe northern separatist movement polling in low single digits into a pan-Italian nationalist anti-migration party that has come to dominate Italy’s political right.

https://twitter.com/matteosalvinimi/status/1132759347472338945

At the same time Mr Salvini’s coalition partner, the anti-establishment Five Star Movement look on course to suffer a significant drop in support, falling into third place in the polls behind the centre left Democratic Party (PD).

The Five Star Movement was forecast to win 20-23 per cent of the vote, putting it behind the PD on 21.5 to 24.5 of the vote, according to an exit poll conducted by Quorum YouTrend. This is sharply lower than the 33 per cent the Five Star Movement won in general elections last year that made it Italy’s largest party.

The result also throws open the question over the future of Italy’s coalition between the League and Five Star, with Mr Salvini’s strong showing expected to see him force a rebalancing in the government. In recent weeks relations between the two had become increasingly acrimonious, with senior figures on both sides questioning if the coalition could continue.

The exit polls indicated that Mr Salvini would confirm his place as the centre point for any future right wing Italian government. Ex-prime minister Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia party, Italy’s member of the centre right European People’s Party in the European parliament, was predicted to win just between 9 and 11 per cent of the vote.

How it looks so far in the UK

We have three constituencies who have voted and here’s how it’s shaking out in the UK so far.

UK results trickle in: Brexit Party sweep the board in North East and Wales

From Chris Tighe in Sunderland

The Brexit party has stormed to victory in Sunderland. Its total vote – 25,918 – was more than the combined total of Labour, the Liberal Democrats and Change UK. Across the North East, the results give Nigel Farage’s outfit 2 MEPs with one for Labour.

Labour, which in 2014 won two of the north east’s three MEP seats, won 13.625 votes, the LibDems 7,653 and Change UK 2,385.UKIP which in 2014 won an MEP, polled 5,925 votes. The Conservatives polled 4,402 votes, less than the Green party on 5,252.

Here’s some more results courtesy of Britain Elects:

https://twitter.com/britainelects/status/1132758087121743878

https://twitter.com/britainelects/status/1132757583658397696

https://twitter.com/britainelects/status/1132757111727894530

https://twitter.com/britainelects/status/1132756949391564800

https://twitter.com/britainelects/status/1132756123646341121

Weber rules out deal with far-right

Manfred Weber, the centre-right’s pick to replace Jean-Claude Juncker, has emerged for the first time tonight to the sounds of Tina Turner’s “Simply the Best”.

https://twitter.com/MehreenKhn/status/1132749438152261632

With big doubts among EU capitals about the Spitzenkandidate system designed to appoint the new commission president, Mr Weber said his EPP will fight to keep the process alive. He’s also ruled out working out with populist forces to get a majority in the new parliament but said the centre-right is willing to compromise with other parties.

“First of all for me, one thing is crystal clear. We will not work with those who don’t believe in Europe, who want to destroy Europe.”

There is no stable majority without the EPP. But we are ready to compromise.”

Losses for Romania’s ruling socialists

The FT’s Valerie Hopkins reports on a bad night for the ruling socialist government.

Romania’s ruling Social Democrats, or PSD, experienced a major loss, with 25.8 per cent of the vote, a decrease of 12 per cent from the 2014 elections. In April, the European alliance of Socialists froze their ties to the party due to rule of law backsliding.

After the results, Liviu Dragnea, the party’s leader, who cannot hold office because of two corruption convictions, said he would not be running in presidential elections later in the year, as widely expected.

The National Liberal Party, a centre-right EPP member, won about the same, a decrease of four per cent. The big winner is the Alliance 2020, a coalition of the Union to Save Romania and Plus parties, which garnered almost 24 per cent of the votes — the first time they participated in the elections. According to the preliminary results, they will hold nine of Romania’s 35 seats in the European parliament.

Dan Barna, the leader of the list, called on prime minister Viorica Dancila, to resign.

More than forty per cent of eligible voters participated in a referendum called by President Klaus Iohannis, who has clashed with the Social Democrats, on some of the changes they have made in recent years to the criminal justice codes and judicial appointment system.

“This crash of the Romanian democracy, the PSD government, must disappear,” Mr Iohannis said, addressing the media after the turnout figures were published

Takeaways from the night so far

It’s approaching 2230 in Brussels and we’ve got national estimates from 14 member states so far. Here’s a summary of what we know:

Turnout rises Voter participation has risen for the first time in 40 years according to projections which show turnout is up to around 49-51 per cent. Should it breach 50 per cent, that’ll be the first time since 1994.

Greens celebrate Germany’s Green party has beaten the social democrats to become the second largest in the country. All in all, the Greens could win as much as 20 new MEPs in Brussels, making them a force to be reckoned with in the new European Parliament and even “kingmakers” in any new pro-European alliance.

Conservatives hold onto first place The centre-right EPP will retain its position as the largest group in the parliament, but with much slimmer margins. The EPP will fall to around 177 seats in the new chamber according to latest projections, with the socialists in second and the expanded liberals (with En Marche) in third.

Le Pen narrowly beats Macron There’s likely to be just one seat between the far right National Rally and centrist Renaissance in France. Marine Le Pen looks to have won the election again – as in 2014 – but just by a whisker.

Is this peak populism? We’re still awaiting results from Italy and Spain, but far-right populists have made modest gains so far. In Denmark, the hard-right People’s Party had a bad night. The ruling eurosceptic party in Poland won the election and Hungary’s ruling Fidesz should also gain.

What are we waiting for?

There are three big member states where we’re still waiting for estimated results: Spain, Italy, and the UK. The latter two will drop around 2300 BST. As for Spain, there are some exit polls doing the rounds but the FT won’t be reporting on them just yet due to legal restrictions.

In a couple of minutes, the European Parliament will also be updating its projections on seat distributions based on estimates from 16 member states and voter intentions data from the other 12.

We’ll bring them as soon as they land.

Poland’s ruling eurosceptics celebrate victory

The FT’s James Shotter in Warsaw reports that Poland’s the ruling Law and Justice party is on course to win the most votes in an election that all sides are hoping to use as a stepping stone to crucial national parliamentary elections this autumn.

According EP estimates on Sunday night, Jaroslaw Kaczynski’s conservative nationalist grouping won 42.4 per cent of the vote. European Coalition – an alliance of five parties built around the centre-right Civic Platform – came second with 39.1 per cent.

Spring, a new left-wing party founded by Robert Biedron, an openly gay atheist who backs the separation of Church and State, came third with 6.6 per cent, while Konfederacja, a new coalition of nationalist and far right groups won 6.1 per cent.

The result is a boost for Law and Justice ahead of the autumn elections, and follows a campaign that has increasingly become a battle over identity, with fights over the Catholic Church and LGBT rights among the most prominent issues in final weeks of the campaign.

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Mr Kaczynski hailed the exit poll numbers, but warned his supporters that the party still had work to do. “We should remember that the crucial battle for the future of our motherland is in the autumn and we have to win that too, with even higher [support] than now. It’s a huge challenge,” he told supporters at an event in central Warsaw.

Grzegorz Schetyna, head of Civic Platform, the largest opposition grouping, said that the results were the “first half” of the match. “We need to stay together and we can win in the autumn. That is our promise,” he said

Pro-EU parties hold their ground against the populist wave

It’s 2130 CET local time and here’s our take on the results so far:

A diffuse alliance of pro-EU parties largely held their ground in Sunday’s European elections, after a bruising battle with anti-establishment groups that saw Emmanuel Macron’s En Marche defeated in France. 

With indications of turnout rising for the first time 40 years, early estimates produced by the European Parliament suggest voters returned a more fragmented pro-EU majority, with traditional centre-ground parties losing seats to Greens and Liberals. Eurosceptic and far-right parties made modest gains but remained roughly a quarter of MEPs.

How it breaks down in Germany

Courtesy of the FT’s crack graphics team:

The FT’s Nordic and Baltic correspondent, Richard Milne reports on a defeat for Denmark’s populists:

The populist Danish People’s party have suffered a huge collapse in support only 10 days before national elections in Denmark.

The anti-EU, anti-immigration party is set to lose more than half of its share of the vote, sliding from 26.6 per cent in 2015 to 11.8 per cent, according to a Danish TV exit poll.

Political scientists credit the centre-left Social Democrats – in first place on 23.6 per cent – with having somewhat neutralised the populists by becoming more restrictive on immigration themselves.

“Europe is back”

Guy Verhofstadt, leader of the liberals, has celebrated the return of Europe and a shifting balance of power in the EU after the centre-right and centre-left looks to have lost its joint majority. Mr Verhofstadt’s Liberals will form a joint group with Emmanuel Macron’s Renaissance:

“We are the pro-European group that has won the election.

“Europe is back and Europe is popular. We will form and establish a new group of around 100 seats. It will be a crucial group. For the first time in 40 years, the two classical parties will no longer have a majority. That means that no solid pro-European majority is possible without the help and participation o f our new centrist groups.

“The Greens will be indispensable”

If the results stay as they are, the Greens will be among the big winners gaining around 20 seats in the new European Parliament. That will also make them potential “kingmakers” in aby broad alliance of pro-EU parties forming a majority in the parliament.

Philippe Lamberts, co-leader of the Greens in Brussels, has said the party will be “indispensable” in the horse-trading to come:

“With the uptick in nationalism, the Greens will be indispensable. You can count on us to say we can bring about a radical change for a sustainable and democratic Europe”.

Mr Lamberts says the Greens will extract a high price for being part of any coalition, which is up for negotiations.

“The Greens will not just sign a piece of paper and let others take our place.”

Manu v Le Pen

More from Victor Mallet in Paris

Although there were 34 party lists vying for votes in France, the contest quickly became a two-way battle between President Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen.

Mr Macron and his supporters will seek to take comfort from the fact that the far right National Rally tends to do better in European elections than in national ones. Its preliminary score of 24.2 per cent was slightly below its result in 2014, when it emerged as the largest French party with 24.9 per cent, against 20.8 per cent for the right-wing UMP.

A beaming Ms Le Pen called on other parties to join with the RN to mount a united opposition to Mr Macron and said that the president should “at the minimum” dissolve the National Assembly and introduce a more representative national election system. “A big movement for a future government is born tonight,” she said.

This year Ms Le Pen – who lost to Mr Macron in the second round of the French presidential election in 2017 – also took advantage of the anti-government gilets jaunes protests over the past six months to turn the election into a national referendum on Mr Macron’s performance.

Instead of shirking the challenge, Mr Macron entered the political fray in support of his faltering European election leader Ms Loiseau, declaring in Romania at an EU summit earlier this month: “I will use all my energy to ensure that the Rassemblement National does not come out on top.”

It was a calculated risk by Mr Macron, who has framed the elections as an existential struggle between pro-EU politicians such as himself and nationalists who want to weaken Europe. A loss to the RN suggests the charisma and energy that helped sweep him and his party to power two years ago have started to lose some of their appeal for French voters.

Mr Macron is unlikely to risk his party’s control of the lower house of parliament with a new national election, although French political commentators have predicted a government reshuffle in the event of a severe loss to the RN.

Le Pen celebrates

The FT’s Victor Mallet in Paris reports celebrations among the National Rally, whose MEP candidate Jordan Bardella has welcomed a “popular rising against the government in power, which today has suffered a real setback”. Emmanuel Macron, he added, had been taught a lesson in humility by the French people. “It’s him and his policies that have been rejected.”

“The progress of our allies in Europe opens the way for a powerful group at the heart of the European Parliament.”

The early calculations showed a strong performance from Europe Ecologie-Les Verts (EELV, the French greens), with 12.7 per cent of the vote, while the centre-right Les Républicains – the inheritors of the traditional French right – had a score of only 8.5 per cent, much lower than in the opinion polls.

“We are today the third force in politics [in France],” said Yannick Jadot of the EELV. “This is indeed a European green wave.”

Updated estimates from Germany
Still looking ok for the CDU, very good for the Greens, and pretty grim for the SPD. Here’s the data compiled by the EU parliament:

EmoticonLe Pen narrowly beats Macron in France, according to EP estimates

France’s far-right National Rally has narrowly beaten Emmanuel Macron’s centrist En Marche party according to the EP’s estimates. Marine Le Pen’s party, which won in 2014, gained per cent 23.7 per cent of the vote, with En Marche at 22.47 per cent. But the difference is just one seat in the parliament. (See below)

The conservative Les Republicains, part of the centre-right EPP, fall to just 8 per cent while the socialists get wacked,falling to just over 6 per cent.

EmoticonFirst look at the new European Parliament

We have 11 member state exit polls allowing the EP to come up with its first distribution of seats. At first glance, we see that the conservative EPP bloc retains its position as the largest. The biggest winners look to be the Greens, who jump nearly 15 seats to 71.

As it stands, the eurosceptic alliance grows slightly to form around 26-27 per cent of the chamber, up from around a fifth in 2014.

However this comes with a big health warning as we don’t have full results from a majority of member states and voting is still going on in many.

We don’t have any official results yet, but that hasn’t stopped the Socialists and Democrats, the parliament’s main centre-left group, from making plans for the future.

Despite unofficial data showing a poor result in Germany, the S&D has put out a press release announcing its intention “to forge a strong progressive alliance” in the assembly. Let’s see if other parties want to play ball…

Portugal bucks turnout trend

As polls close in Portugal, Peter Wise in Lisbon reports that local media reports projected turnout for the election is at 33.5-29.5 per cent, among the lowest in Europe. Turnout in 2014 was 33.7 per cent. Polling continues in Portugal’s Azores islands.

The 40-year curse could be broken

For the first time since the first EU elections elections 1979, turnout looks like it will be up.

The European Parliament’s spokesman has just told journalists that estimated turnout in the 28 member states is around 49-51 per cent this year. That would be up from 42 per cent in 2014 – and if we breach 50 per cent, it will be the first time since 1994.

https://twitter.com/MehreenKhn/status/1132705633558511616

Hungary’s record turnout

The FT’s Valerie Hopkins is hanging out at Hungary’s Fidesz party HQ tonight.

She reports that Hungarians have turned out in record numbers. A Fidesz spokesperson said the unofficial turnout at 18:30 local time, half an hour before the polls closed, was 41.7 per cent. In 2014, the total turnout was below 30 per cent.

Observers say low turnout will help the nationalist premier Viktor Orban’s ruling Fidesz party while several small opposition parties struggle to meet the five per cent threshold to enter the European Parliament.

The Millenial vote in Germany

The SPD – look away now:

It’s not all bad for the centre-left

Germany’s SPD is making all the headlines so far this evening after suffering what looks to be big defeats in European elections and a regional vote in Bremen.

But it’s not all doom and gloom for other social democrats. The Netherlands benefited from what the Dutch media are calling the “Timmermans effect”, where the country’s lead candidate to replace Jean-Claude Juncker came first in elections, surprising most observers. Mainstream Dutch centre-left and centre-right parties also held their ground in the face of a new populist far-right force called the Forum for Democracy.

Malta’s ruling Labour Party is also expected to increase its vote share to 55 per cent. Spain’s socialists are also hoping to capitalise on last month’s general elections by usurping the centre-right to become the biggest party. Italy’s Democratic Party, which won big in 2014, is also hoping to bounce back from terrible polls over the last two years and become the main opposition force to Matteo Salvini’s right-wing League.

The FT’s Sam Jones reports on a jubilant Sebastian Kurz’s reaction to the EU elections results in Austria, where exit polls indicate his Austrian People’s Party won a clear victory.

Speaking in front of a jubilant crowd of supporters in front of the Austrian People’s Party headquarters on Sunday evening, just off Vienna’s elegant Ringstrasse, a visibly pleased Mr Kurz thanked voters repeatedly.

“I am not often lost for words, but I am almost speechless,” the Austrian prime minister said, praising “the historic best ever” vote his party had polled in Europe.

No big turnout rises in Italy

France, Germany, the Netherlands, Spain and others are likely to see decent leaps in turnout this weekend, but not so much in Italy.

The FT’s Miles Johnson in Rome reports turnout in Italy counted at 19.00 local time was 39.2 per cent, up slightly compared to 38.53 per cent at the same point in 2014.

Data earlier in the day pointed towards turnout in the north of the country being slightly higher in the northern regions of Italy compared to 2014, and lower in the south and islands.

This may auger well for Matteo Salvini’s League, which has the bulk of its core vote in the north, and poorly for the Five Star Movement, which draws much of its support from the south.

Far-right party makes early gains in Belgian election
While much of Europe is focused on the EU parliament vote, Belgians also went to the polls today for general and regional elections.
Early results show a breakthrough in the Dutch-speaking north of the country for the Vlaams Belang, a far-right, anti-immigrant separatist party.
With close to 30 percent of results counted, it looks like the party could become the second-largest in the Flemish parliament behind the N-VA, another nationalist party.

“Bitter result” for German centre-left

Guy Chazan in Berlin reports on what looks to be a punishing night for Germany’s SPD.

Carsten Schneider, the German Social Democrats’ chief whip, said it was a “bitter result, a defeat for us”.

“I think the main issue was climate change and we didn’t succeed in putting that front and centre, alongside the big social issues”.

The ruling conservatives remain the biggest party despite having a falling vote share. Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, CDU leader, said the party had achieved its two main objectives: it emerged as the strongest, and so helped Manfred Weber’s campaign to become European Commission president.

The CDU has also apparently won the election in the city state of Bremen, which has been ruled for the last 73 years by the SPD.

Austria’s Freedom party unharmed by #IbizaGate

Austria’s far-right Freedom party looks to have emerged relatively unscathed from its recent #IbizaGate scandal that has forced them to leave Vienna’s governing coalition in disgrace. They’ve emerged with 17.5 per cent of the vote, down from 19.2 per cent in 2014 and retain third place in the country.

Sebastian Kurz’s ruling centre-right party gained nearly 10 percentage points and will have seven seats according to the EP estimates. The centre-left social democrats treaded water with the Greens also making small gains.

Timmermans wins in the Netherlands

According to the unofficial EP estimates, the Dutch Labour party has secured first place in the Netherlands with 18 per cent of the vote. One reason may be the presence in the campaign of Frans Timmermans, who is the European centre-left’s candidate to become the next EU commission president.

EmoticonGreen surge in Germany according to EP estimates

We have the first lot of national estimates from seven member states from the European Parliament compiled by Kantor.

They show that Germany’s Green party has jumped significantly to gain 23 per cent of the vote with 23 seats, just behind Angela Merkel’s CDU, which has fallen to 28 per cent (28 seats) The biggest victim seems to be the Germany SPD, with falls also for the liberal FDP led by Christian Lindner.

Italy’s blackout

Italy will be the last member state to close its ballot boxes at 2200 BST tonight.

The FT’s Miles Johnson in Rome reports on how populist leader Matteo Salvini’s Twitter account is causing consternation.

Matteo Salvini, leader of Italy’s anti-migration League party, was criticised by opposition politicians over the weekend for continuing to tweet about the elections even as the country was under a formal “electoral silence” ahead of voting.

https://twitter.com/matteosalvinimi/status/1132673664804106241

Italy’s laws against campaigning in the days running up to an election were written long before the existence of the internet and do not formally include social media. As interior minster Mr Salvini’s own ministry is responsible for policing elections in Italy.

Matteo Renzi, the Democratic Party ex-prime minister, wrote himself on Twitter: “Salvini, minister of the interior, should set an example by respecting the electoral silence instead of violating it”.

Mr Salvini has continued to tweet throughout Sunday.

What will the new European Parliament look like?

We get the first estimated look at the new EP at 19.15 BST but before then you can keep updated with the national polls using the FT’s poll tracker:

A big thing to note is the “new” category which for now will include the UK’s Brexit party and other new parties that haven’t formally joined existing alliances in the parliament, like Spain’s far-right Vox. Emmanuel Macron’s En Marche is counted with the liberal Alde group.

Voters turnout rises sharply in Poland and Hungary
There have been big rises in turnout in Hungary, up almost 11 per cent so far today and 9 per cent in Poland (the ballots are still open), according to estimates seen by the Financial Times.

Of the votes that have already closed, only Malta reported a slight decrease in turnout.

“We think the average turnout will rise 2-3 percentage points” says one parliament official.

What to watch from the EU’s biggest member state

The FT’s Guy Chazan reports from Berlin on how the EU election and another regional vote in Bremen today will be the first big test for Germany’s two dominant mainstream parties:

In Germany, the poll is the first electoral test for Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, the woman who succeeded Angela Merkel as CDU leader last December and is widely expected to replace her as chancellor when her fourth and final term ends in 2021. But her standing in the CDU could be dealt a big blow if the party garners substantially less than the 30 per cent it won in 2014.

Germany’s left-of-centre Social Democrats will also come under pressure if, as expected, their share of the vote drops far below the 27 per cent they garnered in 2014. A poor performance will likely trigger calls from the grass roots for the SPD to quit its grand coalition with Ms Merkel’s CDU, which many activists blame for the party’s misfortune.

The SPD is also braced for bad news from Bremen, the city state which is today electing a new parliament. The Social Democrats have governed the city since 1945. But polls suggest it could be overtaken as the largest party this year by the CDU.

Turnouts rise across Europe
A big thing to watch before the ballot boxes close tonight is reported turnout levels. Historically, EP elections have had very poor voter participation (it last broke 50 per cent in 1994) but the tide might be turning in 2019.

At 5pm in France, turnout is up significantly at around 43 per cent, compared to 35p per cent in 2014 (see tweet below). In Sweden, the country’s electoral authority has noted record high turnout at 20.3 per cent. In Slovakia, which reported the lowest turnout of any member state in 2014 at just 13 per cent, it has risen to around 20 per cent.

https://twitter.com/Place_Beauvau/status/1132662781537390593

A quick thing to note from the FT’s coverage tonight. Due to legal restrictions in the UK, we will not be reporting national exit polls from member states and instead using estimates compiled by the European Parliament throughout the night. The first batch – from Austria, Cyprus, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Malta, and the Netherlands will drop at 1700 CET.

Hello and welcome to the FT’s live coverage of the EU elections coming to you from the European Parliament in Brussels. Team Brussels, composed of myself, Jim Brunsden and Alex Barker, will be guiding you through the night until the early hours of the morning along with contributions from our correspondents across the continent.

The last ballot box in the EU closes at 2200 BST in Italy. Before then we’ll be giving you regularly updated estimates from across Europe. Here’s some useful timings to note (in BST):

19.00: The first estimate of France’s election results from the European Parliament

19.15: the first set of aggregate numbers for the new look European Parliament based on 12 national estimates

20.15: the second set of aggregate numbers of the European Parliament based on 17 national estimates

22.15: The first official EP results projection





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