European Parliament chamber

2019 European Elections: results and next steps

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From 23-26 May 2019, people across the countries of the European Union voted in the ninth European Parliament elections. The UK voted on Thursday 23 May and the final results for Scotland were announced four days later.

Who was elected in Scotland and the UK?

In Scotland, the SNP returned three MEPs (up from two in the last election) and gained 37.7% of the vote. The newly-formed The Brexit Party led by Nigel Farage returned one MEP in Scotland with the second highest share of the vote at 14.8%. The Liberal Democrats gained and Conservatives retained one MEP each in Scotland with 13.8% and 11.6% of the votes respectively. Full results are available from Elections Scotland.

Looking across the whole of the UK, the picture is markedly different. The Brexit Party won the largest number of seats (29) and gained the largest share of votes (31.6%). In contrast, Nigel Farage’s former political party, UKIP – which returned the largest number of UK MEPs in the last European elections in 2014 – gained no seats.

The Liberal Democrats made big gains, returning the second largest number of UK MEPs (16) – up from one in the last elections – and 20.3% of the vote. The Conservative and Labour parties both lost representation: Labour MEPs fell from 20 to 10 and Conservative MEPs fell from 19 to four. The Green Party of England and Wales increased its number of MEPs from three to seven.

map of the UK with dots representing MEPs elected to each region


Vote data at a Scottish local authority level is also available. Support for the SNP was highest in Dundee, West Dunbartonshire and North Lanarkshire, and lowest in Orkney. The Brexit Party’s support was highest in Moray and Dumfries and Galloway, and lowest in the cities of Edinburgh and Glasgow. The Conservative vote was highest in Dumfries and Galloway and South Ayrshire, and lowest in Shetland.

Voter participation

The proportion of eligible people participating in the European election (referred to as turnout) in Scotland (39.9%) was slightly higher compared to the UK-wide average of 36.6%. Turnout across the EU was significantly higher at 50.9%, an increase from a figure of 42.6% in the last elections in 2014. The UK’s turnout places it at 21 out of the EU’s 28 countries for participation in 2019.

City of Edinburgh Council saw the highest turnout (50.2%) of all Scottish local authority areas, followed by East Renfrewshire (48.4%). East Ayrshire and North Lanarkshire saw the lowest turnout at 33.2% and 33.6% respectively.

What does the European Parliament now look like?

MEPs in the European Parliament organise themselves into Europe-wide political groupings. Despite losses, the largest of these groups remains the centre-right EPP (Group of the European People’s Party). The centre-left S&D (Group of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats in the European Parliament) also held onto its place at the second largest grouping.

Traditionally the EPP and S&D groups have often worked together to form a working majority in the European Parliament. However, in the new parliament these groups will have to work with at least one other grouping to form a simple majority.

semicircle split up by the proportion of seats in each political grouping

(The political grouping data is provisional, based on political groups formed at the end of the last parliament and may change.)

Where do UK parties sit in the EU political groups?

The 29 MEPs from The Brexit Party form a significant part of the Europe of Freedom and Direct Democracy Group. The Liberal Democrat MEPs are part of Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE). Labour MEPs are members of S&D. The Greens and SNP are both members of the Greens/European Free Alliance group. The Conservative MEPs are part of European Conservatives and Reformists.

Next steps: forming, storming and naming the Commission

After the elections, who gets to form and lead the new European Commission is the next big question.

The EU treaties state that:

Taking into account the elections to the European Parliament and after having held the appropriate consultations, the European Council, acting by a qualified majority, shall propose to the European Parliament a candidate for President of the Commission. This candidate shall be elected by the European Parliament by a majority of its component members.”

In an evolution of the process, the last Commission President, Jean-Claude Juncker, was elected in what has become known as the ‘Spitzenkandidaten’ (or lead candidate) approach. In this process European political groups, ahead of European elections, appoint lead candidates for the role of Commission President, with the presidency of the Commission then going to the candidate capable of marshalling sufficient parliamentary support. This process can be said to wrest some power away from the European Council (formed of heads of state and government in the 28 member states) and provide it to the European Parliament.

In 2019, most political groups appointed lead candidates and appear to be insisting that the ‘Spitzenkandidaten’ process is used again.

If the Spitzenkandidaten process is used, the EPP’s Manfred Weber – as lead candidate for the largest political grouping – may be in line to be the next Commission President. But this would require support from at least two other political groupings.

What happens to the UK’s seats after Brexit?

After Brexit, the 73 MEPs elected from the UK will lose their seats. But what happens to those seats?

  • 27 places are due to be re-allocated to 14 other countries considered to be under-represented. While France and Spain are due to gain five MEPs each, Ireland will be the biggest winner in percentage terms – its representation is due to increase from 11 to 13 MEPs (+18%). However, the candidates who successfully contested these seats in May 2019 will not take their place until the UK leaves the EU. An analogous situation arose in 2011 when 18 additional MEPs joined the parliament mid-term when the Treaty of Lisbon was ratified.
  • 46 seats are due to be held in “reserve” therefore reducing the size of the parliament. The European Parliament’s press room states that these places could bereallocated to new countries joining the EU or preserved to keep the institution smaller”.

The overall effect is that the number of MEPs in the European Parliament would shrink from 751 to 705 when the UK leaves the EU.

Iain Thom
SPICe Research

Photo by Oprea Marius on Unsplash