How Britain voted: Charts and maps

The U.K. Labour party is celebrating a landslide victory.

Keir Starmer’s party has 411 seats, excluding the speaker’s, and a large majority in the House of Commons. His tally includes a number of “red wall” constituencies the party lost to the Conservatives in the previous election in 2019, and seats the Scottish National Party had dominated for nearly a decade.

But a closer look at the numbers suggests Labour strategists should not rest on their laurels.

Nigel Farage’s Reform UK party won five seats, but placed second in more than 100 other constituencies. By vote share, it is now the U.K.’s third-largest party.

Those same vote shares paint a far weaker picture for Labour than its seat number would suggest. The party recorded a 200-seat jump — but its vote share advanced by only an inch.

UK legislative election results

365 seats
CON

203 seats
LAB

48 seats
SNP

LD

DUP

SF

PC

SDLP

APNI

GREEN


Conservative Party

Labour Party

Scottish National Party

Liberal Democrats

Democratic Unionist Party

Sinn Féin

Plaid Cymru

Social Democratic and Labour Party

Alliance Party of Northern Ireland

Green Party

650 / 650 seats assigned
Turnout: 67.3%

412 seats
LAB

121 seats
CON

72 seats
LD

SNP

SF

IND

DUP

RE

GREEN

PC

SDLP

APNI

OTHER

UUP


Labour Party

Conservative Party

Liberal Democrats

Scottish National Party

Sinn Féin

Independent

Democratic Unionist Party

Reform UK

Green Party

Plaid Cymru

Social Democratic and Labour Party

Alliance Party of Northern Ireland

Other parties

Ulster Unionist Party

650 / 650 seats assigned

The Conservatives lost 250 seats, as their vote share plummeted from more than 40 percent in 2019 to below 25 percent now.

But both Labour and the Liberal Democrats recorded major seat gains despite barely making any advance at all in their vote shares.

The U.K.’s first-past-the-post election system means Labour will occupy about 60 percent of the House of Commons, with less than 35 percent of the votes. That vote share is less than former leader Jeremy Corbyn achieved in 2017, when he lost to Theresa May’s Conservatives.

Meanwhile, Nigel Farage’s Reform UK won five seats — but collected more than 14 percent of the vote, making it the third-largest party by vote share, ahead of the Liberal Democrats.

Labour’s anticipated win, while an extraordinary turnaround for a party that didn’t look electable just a few years ago, doesn’t appear to have enthused voters.

With turnout estimated at 60 percent, no election in the past 20 years drew fewer voters to the ballot box.

`Still, Labour made huge strides in the U.K.’s embattled swing seats.

Those constituencies were held by the Conservatives until 1997, before flipping to Labour and then back to the Tories from 2010.

Most of them have now swung behind Labour once more.

Labour’s loss in 2019 was punctuated by the crumbling of the “red wall,” as strongholds stretching from the Midlands to the north of England voted in a Conservative MP, many for the first time.

But that Tory control in these seats proved short-lived…

The Conservatives have had a terrible 2024 election, but so has the Scottish National Party.

The SNP has had a firm grip on power in Scotland since 2015, when it won nearly every Scottish seat — most of which had been occupied by Labour before.

But Thursday’s vote put an end to its winning streak. The party have lost around 80 percent of the seats total they held in 2019, with most going to Labour.

This election has radically changed the UK’s electoral map: a sea of red reminiscent of 1997 has the Conservative party reeling; a few dots of bright light blue and a significant vote share mark Reform UK’s entrance to mainstream UK politics, and the Lib Dems can enjoy a return from relative obscurity with more than 70 MPs, its highest number ever. Meanwhile, the shockingly poor performance of the SNP marks the end of an era north of the border.

*These figures have been updated following the last contituency’s declaration

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The Dutch kick off EU election

The Netherlands is going to the polls, kicking off an EU election in 27 countries that lasts until Sunday and in which 373 million Europeans are eligible to vote.

Most polling stations opened at 7:30 a.m. (a handful opened at midnight) and will close at 9 p.m.

Although the Dutch vote officially kicks off the election, Estonians began voting on Monday.

The Dutch will fill 31 of the 720 seats in the next EU Parliament, with Geert Wilders’ far-right Freedom Party (PVV) and the GreenLeft and Labor alliance (GL-PvdA) on the left locked in a close race to finish on top, with pollsters predicting both to get eight seats. 

For the PVV, such an outcome would be a major change from the last EU election, in 2019, when it failed to win any seats.

Wilders has already cast his vote, calling on the Dutch to go to the polls “and make sure that not Frans Timmermans but the PVV becomes the biggest party today,” referring to his political rival, the former European commissioner who is now leader of the GL/PvdA.

Although the official results will only be announced after the polls close continent-wide late on Sunday, Dutch exit polls will come out late Thursday and provide a first glimpse of the political mood on the continent. 

The Netherlands traditionally has a low turnout in EU elections, with only 42 percent of eligible voters casting a ballot in 2019 election.

Turnout is seen as particularly crucial for Wilders’ PVV.

Uncertain about who to vote for, many Dutch have been making use of an online tool called Kieskompas, which asks potential voters questions and, based on the answers, tells you which party might be most appropriate.

According to Kieskompas data cited by public broadcaster NOS, almost half of 51,000 respondents said they supported reinstating some kind of border between EU states as a barrier to immigration. 

A majority of those respondents were aged 65 or over and, perhaps unsurprisingly, 90 percent said they would vote for a far-right party such as the PVV or Forum voor Democratie (FvD.)

EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT ELECTION POLL OF POLLS

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For more polling data from across Europe visit POLITICO Poll of Polls.

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Von der Leyen faces Socialist revolt over her far-right flirtation with Meloni

Europe’s Socialists have warned Ursula von der Leyen they won’t back her for a second term as European Commission president if she continues to suggest she could work with hard-right MEPs aligned with Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni.

Perhaps most crucially — just as French President Emmanuel Macron visits Germany to try to forge Franco-German consensus on Europe’s political landscape after the June 6 to 9 election — even Chancellor Olaf Scholz and his Social Democratic Party are signaling that they are willing to torpedo a second term for von der Leyen.

Some even have a replacement in mind: former Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi. And that’s a choice that will go down well in Paris.

In multiple comments over recent days, high-ranking Socialists including Scholz and the SPD lead candidate for next month’s EU election Katarina Barley threatened to scuttle von der Leyen’s candidacy if she accepts the backing of the hard right to secure a majority in the European Parliament.

“We will not work with the far right,” Barley said on the Berlin Playbook podcast, reiterating the pledge made by the Socialists and Democrats, Renew Europe, the Greens and the Left to “never cooperate nor form a coalition with the far right and radical parties at any level.”

The comment was the latest sign of the left-leaning parties’ alarm at von der Leyen’s stance on Meloni’s Brothers of Italy party, which belongs to the right-wing European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) group in the European Parliament.

Von der Leyen, who hails from the center-right European People’s Party, has indicated that if she fails to secure a majority with the backing of center-left and liberal lawmakers after the EU election, she could work with the ECR

On Friday, Scholz warned von der Leyen against such a move, saying: “When the next Commission is formed, it must not be based on a majority that also needs the support of the far right.” He added that “the only way to establish a Commission presidency will be to base it on the traditional parties.”

Putting the boot in further, Nicolas Schmit, the Socialists’ lead candidate for the EU election, said in an interview published Sunday: “Von der Leyen wants us to believe that there are good right-wing extremists and bad ones.”

Meloni is “politically extremely right wing” and her vision is “certainly not a strong, integrated Europe,” Schmit said. “For Ms. von der Leyen, however, she is probably a conservative.”

The questions now are whether Scholz and his German Socialists would actually kibosh a second term for fellow German von der Leyen — and who they might have in mind to replace her.

One potential challenger to the incumbent is Draghi, the former European Central Bank chief.

EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT ELECTION POLL OF POLLS

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For more polling data from across Europe visit POLITICO Poll of Polls.

Just last week, Draghi received the backing of one of Emmanuel Macron’s closest allies, Pascal Canfin, an MEP from the French president’s liberal Renaissance party who is known to have a direct line to the Élysée.

Asked by POLITICO whether France supports von der Leyen’s reelection bid, Canfin said: “France and everyone in the presidential ecosystem would like Draghi to play a role.”

Macron has long been rumored to be maneuvering to put Draghi at the head of the EU executive — and now he appears to have allies in Berlin.

Markus Töns, a German MP from the Social Democrats, told POLITICO’s Brussels Decoded: “Draghi has experience at the European level and knows the current challenges. I would have no problem seeing him in this position — he might even be better than Ursula von der Leyen.”

Ralf Stegner, an influential SPD member of the Bundestag, on Friday said: “If Emmanuel Macron is critical of another term for Ursula von der Leyen, who lacks sufficient clarity regarding alliances with the right-wing bloc, I have every sympathy for him.”

With both Paris and Berlin expressing dissatisfaction with her stance on working with the ECR, von der Leyen’s bid for a second term as Commission chief faces a serious challenge.

While von der Leyen is the EPP’s lead candidate going into the EU election, in theory making her a shoo-in for the post, she will require support from European leaders like Scholz, Macron and Meloni to secure it.

The electoral arithmetic is difficult as she will need 361 votes in an approval vote in the European Parliament, and the EPP is on course only for some 176 seats. The Socialists and Democrats are expected to win 144 and von der Leyen’s prospects will be in severe trouble if the center-left MEPs do not support her.

If they do decide to forgo EPP lead candidate von der Leyen in favor of a curveball, it wouldn’t be the first time: That was precisely the way von der Leyen herself got the job after the 2019 EU election, installed after leaders shunned the EPP’s Manfred Weber.

Macron is currently in Germany for the first state visit with full ceremonial honors by a French president in 24 years. Macron will meet Scholz in Berlin on Tuesday.

It’s hard to believe there won’t be any mention of the electoral mathematics — and of Meloni and Draghi.

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Analysis: In the age of AI, keep calm and vote on

This article is part of a series, Bots and ballots: How artificial intelligence is reshaping elections worldwide, presented by Luminate.

When I started this series on artificial intelligence, disinformation and global elections, I had a pretty clear picture in mind.

It came down to this: While AI had garnered people’s imagination — and the likes of deepfakes and other AI-generated falsehoods were starting to bubble to the surface — the technology did not yet represent a step change in how politically motivated lies, often spread via social media, would alter the mega-election cycle engulfing the world in 2024.

Now, after nine stories and reporting trips from Chișinău to Seattle, I haven’t seen anything that would alter that initial view. But things, as always, are more complicated — and more volatile — than I first believed.

What’s clear, based on more than 100  interviews with policymakers, government officials, tech executives and civil society groups, is that the technology — specifically, generative AI — is getting more advanced by the day.

During the course of my reporting, I was shown deepfake videos, purportedly portraying global leaders like U.S. President Joe Biden and his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron, that were indistinguishable from the real thing. They included politicians allegedly speaking in multiple languages and saying things that, if true, would have ended their careers.

They were so lifelike that it would take a lot to convince anyone without deep technical expertise that an algorithm had created them.

Despite being a tech reporter, I’m not a fanboy of technology. But the speed of AI advancements, and their ease of use by those with little, if any, computer science background, should give us all pause for concern.

The second key theme that surprised me from this series was how much oversight had been outsourced to companies — many of which were the same firms that created the AI systems that could be used for harm.

More than 25 tech giants have now signed up to the so-called AI Election Accords, voluntary commitments from companies including Microsoft, ByteDance and Alphabet to do what they can to protect global elections from the threat posed by AI.

Given the track record of many of these firms in protecting users from existing harms, including harassment and bullying on social media, it’s a massive leap of faith to rely on them to safeguard election integrity.

That’s despite the legitimate goodwill I perceived from multiple interviews with corporate executives within these firms to reduce politically motivated harm as much as possible.

The problem, as of mid-2024, is that governments, regulators and other branches of the state are just not prepared for the potential threat — and it does remain potential — tied to AI.

Much of the technical expertise resides deep within companies. Legislative efforts, including the European Union’s recently passed Artificial Intelligence Act, are, at best, works in progress. The near total lack of oversight of how social media platforms’ AI-powered algorithms operate makes it impossible to rely on anyone other than tech giants themselves to police how these systems determine what people see online.

With AI advancing faster than you can say “large language model” and governments struggling to keep up, why am I still cautious about heralding this as the year of AI-fueled disinformation, just as billions of people head to the polls in 2024?

For now, I have a potentially naive belief that people are smarter than many of us think they are.

As easy as it is to think that one well-placed AI deepfake on social media may change the minds of unsuspecting voters, that’s not how people make their political choices. Entrenched views on specific lawmakers or parties make it difficult to shift people’s opinions. The fact that AI-fueled forgeries must be viewed in a wider context — alongside other social media posts, discussions with family members and interactions with legacy media — also hamstring the ability for such lies to break through.

Where I believe we’re heading, though, is a “post-post-truth” era, where people will think everything, and I mean everything, is made up, especially online. Think “fake news,” but turned up to 11, where not even the most seemingly authentic content can be presumed to be 100 percent true.

We’re already seeing examples of politicians claiming that damaging social media posts are deepfakes when, in fact, they are legitimate. With the hysteria around AI often outpacing what the technology can currently do — despite daily advances — there’s now a widespread willingness to believe all content can be created via AI, even when it can’t. 

In such a world, it’s only rational to not have faith in anything.

The positive is that we’re not there yet. If the nine articles in this “Bots and Ballots” series show anything, it’s that, yes, AI-fueled disinformation is upon us. But no, it’s not an existential threat, and it must be viewed as part of a wider world of ‘old-school’ campaigning and, in some cases, foreign interference and cyberattacks. AI is an agnostic tool, to be wielded for good or ill.

Will that change in the years to come? Potentially. But for this year’s election cycle, your best bet is to remain vigilant, without getting caught up in the hype-train that artificial intelligence has become.

Mark Scott is POLITICO’s chief technology correspondent. He writes a weekly newsletter, Digital Bridge, about the global intersection of technology and politics. 

This article is part of a series, Bots and ballots: How artificial intelligence is reshaping elections worldwide, presented by Luminate. The article is produced with full editorial independence by POLITICO reporters and editors. Learn more about editorial content presented by outside advertisers.



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Far-right leader Geert Wilders wins Dutch election: Exit poll

SCHEVENINGEN, Netherlands — The anti-Islam, euroskeptic radical Geert Wilders is projected to be the shock winner of the Dutch election. 

In a dramatic result that will stun European politics, his Freedom Party (PVV) is set to win around 35 of the 150 seats in parliament — more than double the number it secured in the 2021 election, according to exit polls.

Frans Timmermans’ Labour-Green alliance is forecast to take second place, winning 25 seats — a big jump from its current 17. Dilan Yeşilgöz, outgoing premier Mark Rutte’s successor as head of the center-right VVD, suffered heavy losses and is on course to take 24 seats, 10 fewer than before, according to the updated exit poll by Ipsos for national broadcaster NOS.

A win for Wilders will put the Netherlands on track — potentially — for a dramatic shift in direction, after Rutte’s four consecutive centrist governments. The question now, though, is whether any other parties are willing to join Wilders to form a coalition. Despite emerging as the largest party, he will struggle to find an overall majority in parliament.

To the soundtrack of Rocky, Eye of the Tiger, Wilders greeted his supporters in a cafe on the Dutch coast with a big smile. “The voters have spoken tonight and they have said that they are fed up,” he said. “We are going to make sure that Dutch voters will be put first again.”

The party wants to work toward curbing the “asylum tsunami,” putting more money in people’s wallets and better security, Wilders added.

He extended a hand to other parties, declaring it is time to work together to come up with solutions. Wilders even suggested he would be willing to compromise on his anti-Muslim ideals for the sake of entering government. “I understand very well that parties do not want to be in a government with a party that wants unconstitutional measures,” he said. “We are not going to talk about mosques, Qurans and Islamic schools.”

Nexit?

Wilders’ anti-Islam rhetoric was a clear part of the PVV’s program for government. The party proposed to ban mosques and the Quran, and forbid Islamic headscarves in government buildings. Wilders is also a hardline euroskeptic, who has called for a so-called “Nexit” referendum on leaving the EU. Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán was quick to congratulate Wilders, writing on X: “The winds of change are here!”

“This exit poll is historic; it is the biggest shift we have ever seen in the Netherlands,” political scientist Tom van der Meer told national broadcaster NOS.

According to Van der Meer, three things might explain Wilders’ unexpected win. “First, we have had a center cabinet for 11 years. In response to that, voters mainly went to the flanks. Second, migration was a big theme and voters quickly think of the PVV when they think of that issue. Lastly, VVD leader Yeşilgöz opened the door to the PVV as a coalition partner. In the Netherlands, people have long been looking for a party that is more outspoken than the VVD, but can govern. Now that door to the PVV is open, they have found it.”

Even though Wilders has won the most seats, it is unlikely that he will end up as prime minister.

Yeşilgöz said on Tuesday that she ruled out supporting Wilders as prime minister if he won the largest share. And Pieter Omtzigt, whose newly formed party is projected to win 20 seats, has previously ruled out joining forces with Wilders at all, saying his anti-Islam policies go against freedoms of expression and religion that are enshrined in the Dutch constitution. Timmermans has also set himself firmly against supporting Wilders.

Wilders’ PVV held its election campaign party in a small café in Scheveningen, a beach town next to The Hague. The cramped room erupted in cheering when the first exit poll was announced.

The result was a big shock for PVV officials, too. The venue was only booked three days ago after Wilders made an unexpected surge in the polls.

The green-left alliance led by Timmermans gathered to watch the results at a large venue in the Westerpark in Amsterdam.

Loud cheers filled the main room after the VVD’s losses were announced, along with the alliance’s own projected gains.

But afterwards, the room was abuzz with talk of Wilders’ win.

Hold each other tight

The Greens’ Jesse Klaver, who leads the faction in the Dutch parliament, was the first to climb onto the stage in Amsterdam, to loud applause. He said he was “shocked” by the result. “We always defended the rule of law and this will be more needed than ever in the future.”

Timmermans spoke after Klaver. While he congratulated Wilders on his win, Timmermans took aim at his far-right PVV, vowing he will “never enter into a coalition with a party that excludes Dutchmen.”

Timmermans began his speech by asking his audience to hold each other tight, because “in the Netherlands we never let go of anyone.” He added: “Let’s make a fist against exclusion.”

He admitted he was disappointed by the outcome, and “also our own result.” Timmermans added: “Now is the time when we are going to defend democracy.”

Almost one hour after the first exit poll dropped, Yeşilgöz spoke to her party colleagues, admitting the result had not been what they expected.

“I think there are big lessons for politicians in this. People were not listened to enough, and not enough workable solutions were offered. The lead is not with us now. But I am incredibly proud of the party and of all of you,” she said.

She ended the short speech thanking her team and supporters, and left the stage to the sound of Dua Lipa’s Dance the Night followed by Avicii’s Wake me Up.

Omtzigt responded enthusiastically to the “great results” of the first exit poll. Speaking to his supporters, he said he wanted to be in the next government, but acknowledged that it will not be “easy,” and will require politicians to step over their own shadow. “The Netherlands will have to be governed and we are available for that.” Omtzigt had previously ruled out joining forces with Wilders. His comments did not specify which parties he’d be willing to work with.

Pieter Haeck reported from Amsterdam and Jakob Hanke Vela reported from The Hague.

This story is being updated.



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The EU’s reply to Qatargate: Nips, tucks and paperwork

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STRASBOURG — The European Parliament’s response to Qatargate: Fight corruption with paperwork.

When Belgian police made sweeping arrests and recovered €1.5 million from Parliament members in a cash-for-influence probe last December, it sparked mass clamoring for a deep clean of the institution, which has long languished with lax ethics and transparency rules, and even weaker enforcement.

Seven months later, the Parliament and its president, Roberta Metsola, can certainly claim to have tightened some rules — but the results are not much to shout about. With accused MEPs Eva Kaili and Marc Tarabella back in the Parliament and even voting on ethics changes themselves, the reforms lack the political punch to take the sting out of a scandal that Euroskeptic forces have leaped on ahead of the EU election next year.

“Judge us on what we’ve done rather [than] on what we didn’t,” Metsola told journalists earlier this month, arguing that Parliament has acted swiftly where it could. 

While the Parliament can claim some limited improvements, calls for a more profound overhaul in the EU’s only directly elected institution — including more serious enforcement of existing rules — have been met with finger-pointing, blame-shifting and bureaucratic slow-walking. 

The Parliament dodged some headline-worthy proposals in the process. It declined to launch its own inquiry into what really happened, it decided not to force MEPs to declare their assets and it won’t be stripping any convicted MEPs of their gold-plated pensions.

Instead, the institution favored more minimal nips and tucks. The rule changes amount to much more bureaucracy and more potential alarm bells to spot malfeasance sooner — but little in the way of stronger enforcement of ethics rules for MEPs.

EU Ombudsman Emily O’Reilly, who investigates complaints about EU administration lamented that the initial sense of urgency to adopt strict reforms had “dissipated.” After handing the EU a reputational blow, she argued, the scandal’s aftermath offered a pre-election chance, “to show that lessons have been learned and safeguards have been put in place.”

Former MEP Richard Corbett, who co-wrote the Socialists & Democrats group’s own inquiry into Qatargate and favors more aggressive reforms, admitted he isn’t sure whether Parliament will get there.  

“The Parliament is getting to grips with this gradually, muddling its way through the complex field, but it’s too early to say whether it will do what it should,” he said. 

Bags of cash

The sense of resignation that criminals will be criminals was only one of the starting points that shaped the Parliament’s response. 

“We will never be able to prevent people taking bags of cash. This is human nature. What we have to do is create a protection network,” said Raphaël Glucksmann, a French MEP who sketched out some longer-term recommendations he hopes the Parliament will take up. 

EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT ELECTION POLL OF POLLS

For more polling data from across Europe visit POLITICO Poll of Polls.

Another is that the Belgian authorities’ painstaking judicial investigation is still ongoing, with three MEPs charged and a fourth facing imminent questioning. Much is unknown about how the alleged bribery ring really operated, or what the countries Qatar, Morocco and Mauritania really got for their bribes.

On top of that, Parliament was occasionally looking outward rather than inward for people to blame. 

Metsola’s message in the wake of the scandal was that EU democracy was “under attack” by foreign forces. The emphasis on “malign actors, linked to autocratic third countries” set the stage for the Parliament’s response to Qatargate: blame foreign interference, not an integrity deficit. 

Instead of creating a new panel to investigate how corruption might have steered Parliament’s work, Parliament repurposed an existing committee on foreign interference and misinformation to probe the matter. The result was a set of medium- and long-term recommendations that focus as much on blocking IT contractors from Russia and China as they do on holding MEPs accountable — and they remain merely recommendations. 

Metsola did also turn inward, presenting a 14-point plan in January she labeled as “first steps” of a promised ethics overhaul. The measures are a finely tailored lattice-work of technical measures that could make it harder for Qatargate to happen again, primarily by making it harder to lobby the Parliament undetected.

The central figure in Qatargate, an Italian ex-MEP called Pier Antonio Panzeri, enjoyed unfettered access to the Parliament, using it to give prominence to his human rights NGO Fight Impunity, which held events and even struck a collaboration deal with the institution. 

This 14-point package, which Metsola declared is now “done,” includes a new entry register, a six-month cooling-off period banning ex-MEPs from lobbying their colleagues, tighter rules for events, stricter scrutiny of human rights work — all tailored to ensure a future Panzeri hits a tripwire and can be spotted sooner.

Notably, however, an initial idea to ban former MEPs from lobbying for two years after leaving office — which would mirror the European Commission’s rules — instead turned into just a six-month “cooling off” period.

Internal divisions

Behind the scenes, the house remains sharply divided over just how much change is needed. Many MEPs resisted bigger changes to how they conduct their work, despite Metsola’s promise in December that there would be “no business as usual,” which she repeated in July.  

The limited ambition reflects an argument — pushed by a powerful subset of MEPs, primarily in Metsola’s large, center-right European People’s Party group — that changing that “business as usual” will only tie the hands of innocent politicians while doing little to stop the few with criminal intent. They’re bolstered by the fact that the Socialists & Democrats remain the only group touched by the scandal.

“There were voices in this house who said, ‘Do nothing, these things will always happen, things are fine as they are,’” Metsola said. Some of the changes, she said, had been “resisted for decades” before Qatargate momentum pushed them through. 

The Parliament already has some of the Continent’s highest standards for legislative bodies, said Rainer Wieland, a long-serving EPP member from Germany who sits on the several key rule-making committees: “I don’t think anyone can hold a candle to us.”

MEP Rainer Wieland holds lots of sway over the reforms | Patrick Seeger/EFE via EPA

Those who are still complaining, he added in a debate last week, “are living in wonderland.”

Wieland holds lots of sway over the reforms. He chairs an internal working group on the Parliament’s rules that feeds into the Parliament’s powerful Committee on Constitutional Affairs, where Metsola’s 14-point plan will be translated into cold, hard rules. 

Those rule changes are expected to be adopted by the full Parliament in September. 

The measures will boost existing transparency rules significantly. The lead MEP on a legislative file will soon have to declare (and deal with) potential conflicts of interest, including those coming from their “emotional life.” And more MEPs will have to publish their meetings related to parliamentary business, including those with representatives from outside the EU. 

Members will also have to disclose outside income over €5,000 — with additional details about the sector if they work in something like law or consulting. 

Negotiators also agreed to double potential penalties for breaches: MEPs can lose their daily allowance and be barred from most parliamentary work for up to 60 days. 

Yet the Parliament’s track record punishing MEPs who break the rules is virtually nonexistent.

As it stands, an internal advisory committee can recommend a punishment, but it’s up to the president to impose it. Of 26 breaches of transparency rules identified over the years, not one MEP has been punished. (Metsola has imposed penalties for things like harassment and hate speech.) 

And hopes for an outside integrity cop to help with enforcement were dashed when a long-delayed Commission proposal for an EU-wide independent ethics body was scaled back. 

Stymied by legal constraints and left-right divides within the Parliament, the Commission opted for suggesting a standards-setting panel that, at best, would pressure institutions into better policing their own rules.

“I really hate listening to some, especially members of the European Parliament, who say that ‘Without having the ethics body, we cannot behave ethical[ly],’” Commission Vice President for Values and Transparency Věra Jourová lamented in June.

Metsola, for her part, has pledged to adhere to the advisory committee’s recommendations going forward. But MEPs from across the political spectrum flagged the president’s complete discretion to mete out punishments as unsustainable.

“The problem was not (and never really was) [so] much the details of the rules!!! But the enforcement,” French Green MEP Gwendoline Delbos-Corfield — who sits in the working group — wrote to POLITICO.

Wieland, the German EPP member on the rule-making committees, presented the situation more matter-of-factly: Parliament had done what it said it would do.

“We fully delivered” on Metsola’s plan, Wieland told POLITICO in an interview. “Not more than that.”



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Spain election repeat more likely after expat vote count

Spain’s already complicated electoral landscape just got a lot more complex.

On Saturday, the count of the 233,688 ballots deposited by Spaniards living abroad — which are tallied five days after the in-person vote is held — led to the redistribution of seats in the Spanish parliament. As a result, Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez’s Socialist Party lost one of the spots it was allocated in Madrid, which will now go to the center-right Popular Party.

The Popular Party is now set to have 137 MPs in the next legislature; together with the far-right Vox party’s 33 MPs and the single MP belonging to the affiliated Navarrese People’s Union (UPN), the right-wing bloc is set to control at least 171 seats the same number as Sánchez and his preferred partners. Should the Canarian Coalition revise its stated position, which is against backing any government that includes Vox, the conservative bloc could add another seat to its tally.

Those numbers do not improve conservative leader Alberto Núñez Feijóo’s chances of becoming prime minister. Even with an additional seat under Popular Party control, he still does not have enough support to overcome the crucial simple majority vote that a candidate must win in parliament in order to form a government.

But with the technical tie created by the reallocation of seats, Prime Minister Sánchez’s already narrow path to victory has become much more precarious, making the possibility of new elections in Spain more likely.

Prior to the loss of the seat in Madrid, Sánchez’s options for remaining Spain’s head of government involved persuading nationalist and separatist MPs to back a left-wing coalition government formed by his Socialist Party and the left-wing Sumar group. The combined forces of those parties and the 153 Socialist and Sumar MPs would have enabled Sánchez to count on 172 favorable votes, slightly more than the 170 the right-wing bloc was projected to control. As long as he convinced the Catalan separatist Junts party to abstain, Sánchez would have had more yeas than nays and been able to form a new government.

But now, with only 171 votes in its favor, the left-wing bloc will be facing at least an equal number of right-wing MPs capable of rejecting Sánchez’s bid to remain Spain’s prime minister. Getting Junts to abstain is no longer enough — Sánchez will need one or potentially two of the separatist party’s MPs to vote in his favor.

A hard circle to square

If getting Junts to abstain was already unlikely, getting the party to explicitly back the Socialist candidate seems virtually unthinkable right now.

Since 2017 the party’s founder, former Catalan President Carles Puigdemont, has been pursued by the Spain’s judiciary for his role in the Catalan independence referendum. As a member of the European Parliament, Puigdemont has been able to sidestep Madrid’s efforts to extradite him from Belgium, where he lives in self-imposed exile. But in June a top EU court stripped him of his immunity and just days ago Spanish prosecutors called for a new warrant to be issued for his arrest.

Earlier this week Junts said that it would only negotiate with Sánchez if he agrees to declare a blanket amnesty for everyone involved in the 2017 referendum and commits to holding a Catalan independence vote.

“The party that needs our support will have to be the one to make the effort,” said incumbent Junts MP Míriam Nogueras. “These negotiations need to be held from one nation to another … Things are not going to be as they have always been.”

Spain’s Deputy Prime Minister María Jesús Montero was quick to reject both demands, saying on Tuesday that the Socialist Party could only negotiate “within the margins of legality set out within the Spanish constitution.”

SPAIN NATIONAL PARLIAMENT ELECTION POLL OF POLLS

For more polling data from across Europe visit POLITICO Poll of Polls.

Holding new national elections would almost certainly hurt separatist parties. With the exception of Basque group EH Bildu, all of them lost seats in last Sunday’s vote, and they’re likely to lose even more support if they force electors to go back to the polls in December or January.

On Saturday, Raquel Sans, spokesperson for the Republican Left of Catalonia party, admitted that her group had begun to hold discreet talks with Junts with the goal of forging “strategic unity” among Catalan separatists and avoiding repeat elections that “are not in the interest of the public.”

The tie between the two blocs may allow conservative leader Feijóo to press Spain’s King Felipe VI to name him as his candidate to be the next prime minister when parliament is reconvened next month.

Although there is no chance that Feijóo will be able to win the required support from fellow MPs, a failed bid in parliament will allow him to momentarily quiet the dissenters in his ranks who have been calling for him to step down in the aftermath of last Sunday’s result, in which the Popular Party won the most votes in the election but failed to secure the seats needed to form a government.

There is still the possibility, however, that enough party leaders will tell the king that they back Sánchez’s bid and that he has a viable path to form a coalition government. While the now-caretaker prime minister is keeping a low-profile this week, Socialist Party representatives are said to be hard at work, holding informal chats with partners with the objective of stitching up that support in the coming weeks.

Regardless of whether the candidate is Feijóo or Sánchez, the moment one of them fails their first investiture vote, a two-month deadline will begin counting down, at the end of which the Spanish constitution dictates that the king must dissolve parliament and call new elections. That new vote must be held 54 days after the legislature concludes, so if no deal is struck in the coming months, Spaniards would go to the polls again at the end of this year or, more likely, at the beginning of 2024.



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Questions mount over latest migrant tragedy in Mediterranean

Anger is growing over the handling of a migrant boat disaster off Greece last week that has become one of the biggest tragedies in the Mediterranean in years. The calamity is dominating the country’s political agenda a week ahead of snap elections.

The Hellenic Coast Guard is facing increasing questions over its response to the fishing boat that sank off Greece’s southern peninsula on Wednesday, leading to the death of possibly hundreds of migrants. Nearly 80 people are known to have perished in the wreck and hundreds are still missing, according to the U.N.’s migration and refugee agencies.

Critics say that the Greek authorities should have acted faster to keep the vessel from capsizing. There are testimonies from survivors that the Coast Guard tied up to the vessel and attempted to pull it, causing the boat to sway, which the Greek authorities strongly deny.

The boat may have been carrying as many as 750 passengers, including women and children, according to reports. Many of them were trapped underneath the deck in the sinking, according to Frontex, the European Border and Coast Guard Agency. “The ship was heavily overcrowded,” Frontex said.  

About 100 people are known to have survived the sinking. Authorities continued to search for victims and survivors over the weekend.

The disaster may be “the worst tragedy ever” in the Mediterranean Sea, European Commissioner for Home Affairs Ylva Johansson said on Friday. She said there has been a massive increase in the number of migrant boats heading from Libya to Europe since the start of the year.

Frontex said in a statement on Friday that no agency plane or boat was present at the time of the capsizing on Wednesday. The agency said it alerted the Greek and Italian authorities about the vessel after a Frontex plane spotted it, but the Greek officials waved off an offer of additional help.

Greece has been at the forefront of Europe’s migration crisis since 2015, when hundreds of thousands of people from the Middle East, Asia and Africa traveled thousands of miles across the Continent hoping to claim asylum.

Migration and border security have been key issues in the Greek political debate. Following Wednesday’s wreck, they have jumped to the top of the agenda, a week before national elections on June 25.

Greece is currently led by a caretaker government. Under the conservative New Democracy administration, in power until last month, the country adopted a tough migration policy. In late May, the EU urged Greece to launch a probe into alleged illegal deportations.

New Democracy leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis, who is expected to return to the prime minister’s office after the vote next Sunday, blasted criticism of the Greek authorities, saying it should instead be directed to the human traffickers, who he called “human scums.”

“It is very unfair for some so-called ‘people in solidarity’ [with refugees and migrants] to insinuate that the [Coast Guard] did not do its job. … These people are out there … battling the waves to rescue human lives and protect our borders,” Mitsotakis, who maintains a significant lead in the polls, said during a campaign event in Sparta on Saturday.

The Greek authorities claimed the people on board, some thought to be the smugglers who had arranged the boat from Libya, refused assistance and insisted on reaching Italy. So the Greek Coast Guard did not intervene, though it monitored the vessel for more than 15 hours before it eventually capsized.

“What orders did the authorities have, and they didn’t intervene because one of these ‘scums’ didn’t give them permission?” the left-wing Syriza party said in a statement. “Why was no order given to the lifeboat … to immediately assist in a rescue operation? … Why were life jackets not distributed … and why Frontex assistance was not requested?”

Alarm Phone, a network of activists that helps migrants in danger, said the Greek authorities had been alerted repeatedly many hours before the boat capsized and that there was insufficient rescue capacity.

According to a report by WDR citing migrants’ testimonies, attempts were made to tow the endangered vessel, but in the process the boat began to sway and sank. Similar testimonies by survivors appeared in Greek media.

A report on Greek website news247.gr said the vessel remained in the same spot off the town of Pylos for at least 11 hours before sinking. According to the report, the location on the chart suggests the vessel was not on a “steady course and speed” toward Italy, as the Greek Coast Guard said.

After initially saying that there was no effort to tow the boat, the Hellenic Coast Guard said on Friday that a patrol vessel approached and used a “small buoy” to engage the vessel in a procedure that lasted a few minutes and then was untied by the migrants themselves.

Coast Guard spokesman Nikos Alexiou defended the agency. “You cannot carry out a violent diversion on such a vessel with so many people on board, without them wanting to, without any sort of cooperation,” he said.

Alexiou said there is no video of the operation available.

Nine people, most of them from Egypt, were arrested over the capsizing, charged with forming a criminal organization with the purpose of illegal migrant trafficking, causing a shipwreck and endangering life. They will appear before a magistrate on Monday, according to Greek judicial authorities.

“Unfortunately, we have seen this coming because since the start of the year, there was a new modus operandi with these fishing boats leaving from the eastern part of Libya,” the EU’s Johansson told a press conference on Friday. “And we’ve seen an increase of 600 percent of these departures this year,” she added.

Greek Supreme Court Prosecutor Isidoros Dogiakos has urged absolute secrecy in the investigations being conducted in relation to the shipwreck.

Thousands of people took to the streets in different cities in Greece last week to protest the handling of the incident and the migration policies of Greece and the EU. More protests were planned for Sunday.



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Turkish century: History looms large on election day

ISTANBUL — From the Aegean coast to the mountainous frontier with Iran, millions of Turks are voting at the country’s 191,884 ballot boxes on Sunday — with both President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his main rival Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu warning the country is at a historical turning point.

In the last sprints of the nail-bitingly close election race, the dueling candidates have both placed heavy emphasis on the historical resonance of the vote falling exactly 100 years after the foundation of the secular Turkish republic by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk in 1923.

In the Istanbul district of Ümraniye on the final day of campaigning, Erdoğan told voters the country was on “the threshold of a Turkish century” that will be the “century of our children, our youth, our women.”

Erdoğan’s talk of a Turkish century is partly a pledge to make the country stronger and more technologically independent, particularly in the defense sector. Over the past months, the president has been quick to associate himself with the domestically-manufactured Togg electric car, the “Kaan” fighter jet and Anadolu, the country’s first aircraft carrier.

But Erdoğan’s Turkish century is about more than home-grown planes and ships. Few people doubt the president sees 2023 as a key threshold to accelerate his push away from Atatürk’s secular legacy and toward a more religiously conservative nation. Indeed, his campaign has been characterized by a heavy emphasis on family values and bitter rhetoric against the LGBTQ+ community. Unsurprisingly, he wrapped up his campaign on Saturday night in Hagia Sophia — once Constantinople’s greatest church — which he contentiously reconverted from a museum back into a mosque, as it had been in Ottoman times.    

The state that Atatürk forged from the ashes of the Ottoman empire in 1923 was secular and modernizing, often along Western models, with the introduction of Latin letters and even the banning of the fez in favor of Western-style hats. In this regard, the Islamist populist Erdoğan is a world away from the ballroom-dancing, rakı-quaffing field marshal Atatürk.

The 2023 election is widely being cast as a decisive referendum on which vision for Turkey will win through, and Erdoğan has been keen to portray the opposition as sell-outs to the West and global financial institutions such as the International Monetary Fund. “Are you ready to bury at the ballot box those who promised to give over the country’s values ​​to foreigners and loan sharks?” he called out to the crowd in Ümraniye.

This is not a man who is casting himself as the West’s ally. Resisting pressure that Ankara should not cozy up so much to the Kremlin, Erdoğan snapped on Friday that he would “not accept” the opposition’s attacks on Russian President Vladimir Putin — after Kılıçdaroğlu complained of Russian meddling in the election.   

All about Atatürk

By contrast, Erdogan’s main rival Kılıçdaroğlu is trying to assume the full mantle of Atatürk, and is stressing the need to put the country back on the path toward European democratic norms after Erdoğan’s lurch toward authoritarianism. While Erdoğan ended his campaign in the great mosque of Hagia Sophia, Kılıçdaroğlu did so by laying flowers at Atatürk’s mausoleum.

Speaking from a rain-swept stage in Ankara on Friday night, the 74-year-old bureaucrat declared: “We will make all of Turkey Mustafa Kemal’s [Atatürk’s] Turkey!”

In his speech, he slammed Erdoğan for giving Turkey over to drug runners and crony networks of oligarch construction bosses, saying the country had no place for “robbers.” Symbolically, he chided the president for ruling from his 1,150-room presidential complex — dubbed the Saray or palace — and said that he would rule from the more modest Çankaya mansion that Atatürk used for his presidency.

Warming to his theme of Turkey’s “second century,” Kılıçdaroğlu posted a video in the early hours of Saturday morning, urging young people to fully embrace the founding father’s vision. After all, he hails from the CHP party that Atatürk founded.

“We are entering the second century, young ones. And now we have a new generation, we have you. We have to decide altogether: Will we be among those who only commemorate Atatürk — like in the first century — or those who understand him in this century? This generation will be of those who understand,” he said, speaking in his trademark grandfatherly tone from his book-lined study.

At least in the upscale neighborhood of Beşiktaş, on Saturday night, all the talk of Atatürk was no dry history lesson. Over their final beers — before an alcohol sale ban comes in force over election day — young Turks punched the air and chanted along with a stirring anthem: “Long Live Mustafa Kemal Pasha, long may he live.”

In diametric opposition to Erdoğan, who has detained opponents and exerts heavy influence over the judiciary and the media, Kılıçdaroğlu is insisting that he will push Turkey to adopt the kind of reforms needed to move toward EU membership.

When asked by POLITICO whether that could backfire because some hostile EU countries would always block Turkish membership, he said the reforms themselves were the most important element for Turkey’s future.

“It does not matter whether the EU takes us in or not. What matters is bringing all the democratic standards that the EU foresees to our country,” he said in an exclusive interview on the sidelines of a rally in the central city of Sivas. “We are part of Western civilization. So the EU may accept us or not, but we will bring those democratic standards. The EU needs Turkey.”

Off to the polls

Polling stations — which are set up in schools — open at 8 a.m. on election day and close at 5 p.m. At 9 p.m. media can start reporting, and unofficial results are expected to start trickling in around midnight.

The mood is cautious, with rumors swirling that internet use could be restricted or there could be trouble on the streets if there are disputes over the result.

The fears of some kind of trouble have only grown after reports of potential military or governmental involvement in the voting process.

Two days before the election, the CHP accused Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu of preparing election manipulation. The main opposition party said Soylu had called on governors to seek army support on election night. Soylu made no public response.  

Turkey’s Supreme Election Council (YSK) has rejected the interior ministry’s request to collect and store election results on its own database. The YSK also banned the police and gendarmerie from collecting election results. 

Erdoğan himself sought to downplay any fears of a stolen election. In front of a studio audience of young people on Friday, he dismissed as “ridiculous” the suggestion that he might not leave office if he lost. “We came to power in Turkey by democratic means and by the courtesy of people. If they make a different decision whatever the democracy requires we will do it,” said the president, looking unusually gaunt, perhaps still knocked back by what his party said was a bout of gastroenteritis during the campaign.

The opposition is vowing to keep close tabs on all of the polling stations to try to prevent any fraud.

In Esenyurt Cumhuriyet Square, in the European part of Istanbul, a group of high-school students gathered on Saturday morning to greet Ekrem İmamoğlu, the popular mayor of Istanbul, who would be one of Kılıçdaroğlu’s vice presidents if he were to win.

Ilayda, 18, said she would vote for the opposition because of its position on democracy, justice and women’s rights.

When asked what would happen if Erdoğan won, she replied: “We plan to start a deep mourning. Our country as we know it will not be there anymore.”



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