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Polls Closing As Europe's Future Hangs In The Balance; Highest Turnout For European Parliament Election In 20 Years; Big Gains For The Pro-Environment Greens Party; Exit Polls: French Populists Come Out On Top; Exit Poll: Greens Party Makes Big Gains In Germany; U.K. Taking Part In European Elections Due To Brexit Delays; Exit Polls: French Populist Party Of Le Pen Is Leading. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired May 26, 2019 - 14:00   ET



[14:00:20] HALA GORANI, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Hala Gorani live in Brussels with special coverage of the European parliamentary election. Polls are closing today across the continent in this decisive election that will shape the future of the European Union.

More than 400 million people from 28 countries were eligible to cast their ballots this go around. Many E.U. countries saw a particularly strong voter turnout, which is unusual normally for European elections, up from the last election five years ago in 2014.

Exit polls have been trickling in over the past couple of hours. In Germany, the Greens celebrated some big gains. We're keeping an especially close eye on how populist and in some cases anti-E.U. parties are doing because they're expected to do well this time around. We are expecting exit polls from France, Denmark, and Spain.

Now, just to set the scene for you, here's a look at how parliament looked before these elections. The makeup is already changing. We'll get an update and look at these seats coming up in the next 15 minutes. And the big question is, will these establishment parties, these pro-E.U. parties, maintain their majority or will they be threatened by the populous, the far-right and the anti-E.U.?

We have more reporters stationed around Europe to cover these decisive elections. Melissa Bell is in Paris. Atika Shubert is live in Berlin. We start with Erin McLaughlin at E.U. headquarters in Brussels. Erin, talk to me about early exit polls. What do they tell us?

ERIN MCLAUGHLIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Hala. Well, here at the election headquarters, parliament has just released the figures for voter turnout and those figures show a turnout that's the highest in at least 20 years. And this is a big deal because ever since the E.U. has first held the European elections in 1979, voter turnout has steadily declined 42 percent in 2014, but we've seen a spike in 2019 to 51 percent for 27 E.U. countries. The 51 percent voter turnout figure excluding the U.K., if you include the U.K., that figure is at 49 percent to 52 percent. So this is seen as an indicator of the overall health of the European project and it's a good sign for pro-E.U. officials.

Now, other trends we've been seeing based on the first national estimates released for six countries, Germany, Austria, Ireland, the Netherlands, Cyprus, and Malta, big gains for the Greens.

Now, the Green Party is all about climate change. They have the very pro-E.U. stance. They're pro-humane migration policy as well. Their scene is very attractive party to the youth vote.

In Germany, they're up 22 percent taking second place behind Angela Merkel's party. They've gone from 13 seats in 2014, according to these preliminary estimates, to 23 seats. In 2019, Greens also making gains in the Netherlands, increasing one seat, and in Ireland going from zero seats to two seats.

Now, all eyes also on the Euro-skeptic parties here in the E.U. showing Euro-skeptics losing ground in Germany, losing ground in Austria, and holding firm with the same number of seats they had in 2014 in the Netherlands. Hala?

GORANI: All right. Erin, we're just actually starting to digest some of these exit polls coming from France, because Melissa Bell who's in Paris, you can add to this, obviously. The big battle here is between Marine Le Pen's new rebranded National Front, the RN.

And Emmanuel Macron has really put a stake into this election. He made it personal, Melissa. And according to exit polls, it seems as though they're neck and neck, but Marine Le Pen's party is ahead. That cannot be good for the French President.

MELISSA BELL, CNN PARIS CORRESPONDENT: Hala, it was a crucial test, one in which both Marine Le Pen and Emmanuel Macron had invested an awful lot of time in political capital and energy. Because here in France, of course, we're talking about a political landscape that was entirely redrawn, you remember Hala in 2017. So on one hand, an untested political force electoral since Emmanuel Macron's La Republique En Marche Party, and on the other, as you say that rebranded party of Marine Le Pen.

And it was this battle that was going to allow us after all of these months of (INAUDIBLE) protest to work out precisely where once people actually went to vote, things stood. And what we're hearing, the exit polls as they come to us, and again, these are exit polls just at 8:00 p.m. As polls close, we're hearing that from two different ones, Hala, that the Marine Le Pen's party, the Rassemblement National, the National Rally could be on 24 percent with Emmanuel Macron's party on 22.

[14:05:07] So that is a blow to Emmanuel Macron. It's a blow to his political party. It is a blow to a party that was really seeking to show that despite the trouble over the last few months, it could win with this extremely pro-European message. What the exit polls tell us is that that has not happened, Hala.

GORINA: All right. And Atika Shubert in Berlin, talk to us about what you're hearing in Germany, the Greens. And this is something we'll be discussing with my next guest, by the way, but the environmental parties are doing extremely well. They have a clear message on Europe and it appears to me, looking at some of these exit polls early days, but it appears to me as the other parties with clear messages on Europe, whether it's anti or pro, have done quite well. Talk to us about what the Greens -- what their performance is like in Germany.

ATIRA SHUBERT, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely. I mean the story of the night for Germany is this Green surge coming in at more than 20 percent. That's a huge win for them, gaining by 11 percentage points. The only -- the other big party that gained was actually the far-right of the AFD.


SHUBERT: They did gain 3 percentage points. However, they actually did less well than they did in the national election, so that is a disappointment for the far-right populous. The big losers, however, are those establishment parties, the Christian Democrats, the Social Democrats. They lost quite a few of votes, 7 -- you know, 7 percentage points for the CDU losing and 12 percentage points for the Social Democrats.

Even though the so -- the Christian Democrats do reach -- got the most votes overall, it clearly shows that voters are not happy with the performance of those big centrist parties. They voted far more to the fringes. But, again, it's the Greens that really took it here and it's probably because of a youth vote.

What we saw was a lot of first-time voters coming out and they overwhelmingly seemed to vote for the Greens Party. And we actually spoke to a number of climate change activists, they really made a big push. The Fridays for future protest just before the vote saying this election is the climate election and they do seem to have mobilized a lot of voters, Hala.

GORINA: All right. Melissa, Atika and Erin, standby, we'll get back to you very soon. Germany's Greens Party, as we were discussing there with Atika, celebrating some big gains in this European election. They say today was a Sunday for the future. They are vowing to be the voice of the climate movement in parliament. It's not just about the environment, though, if you're with the Greens, it's also about what it means for Europe. And that's what this election is about in many ways.

Philippe Lamberts joins me now. He's the President of the European Greens. He's a Belgian member of the European Parliament. First of all, you're quite happy with the performance of your party.


GORINA: Yes. LAMBERTS: You bet I am.

GORINA: Why do you think they did so well?

LAMBERTS: Because I think increasingly the Green Parties are perceived as parties that have comprehensive responses to the challenges of this century. We used to be seen as French Parties or Niche Parties. But in countries like Germany, like the Benelux, like France, et cetera, we are increasingly seen as parties who basically can govern.

And that is the result of 40 years' work and that means being strong on the environment, of course, strong on economic and social policies, strong on civil liberties and democracy, and in a very pro-European stance. That must be very clear for everyone. We are committed to the deepening of the European project.

GORINA: Now, those parties that also did well according to these exit polls are the anti-E.U. parties that have very clear anti-E.U. messages, whether it's Marine Le Pen's RN in France or other populist movements across Europe. What do you make of that?

LAMBERTS: Well, that indeed, there's a choice to be made. Either it's to retrieve behind nationalist attitudes and borders or it's embracing the European Union as the leader that we have to reconquer sovereignty. Because what they -- they speak a lot about sovereignty. But what is sovereignty? It's the ability to make the choices that shape your future. And we say, as Europeans, the only way to do that is together. And that resonates with many voters.

So, now, the next five years will be decided either we can shift the European policies in a way that gets wider acceptance by our fellow citizens or the national populist will win next time.

GORINA: Now, here's my question. You are going to be taking your seat in a parliament. There are 751 seats that will be less when the U.K. leaves the E.U., but right its 751.


GORINA: Were you're going to have probably a record number of very anti-E.U. MEPs --

LAMBERTS: Absolutely.

GORINA: -- who ran in order to get into that building behind us to spread an anti-E.U. message? What is this going to do to this parliament?

LAMBERTS: Well, actually, it will -- it may be a blessing in disguise. In a way, that's what Archimedes once said, give me a lever and an anchor point and I will lift the world. Well, actually, the two big parties, Social Democrats, CBP, no longer have a majority between them.

[14:10:06] They will need pro-European partners to gather a stable majority in the parliament. They might end up needing the Greens. And if they need us, we are going to leverage the power that our citizens gave us to really enact change in E.U. policy for the next five years.

GORINA: Currently you have 52 seats?

LAMBERTS: Fifty-two, and we are, I think, going for 70 also.

GORINA: Now, again, as we were saying, this is the big contest, this election, between the establishment and the smaller parties. This appears to be a big win for the smaller parties.

LAMBERTS: I agree. I agree in a way -- I think that people no longer feel owned by the big parties.


LAMBERTS: So their loyalty is more shifting --


LAMBERTS: -- to places. So basically you have to earn that trust much more than before. You know, back in time, people were voting socialist from father to son. This is not over.


LAMBERTS: So you have to earn them and that's -- building trust takes time. And this is why maybe it's only now that you see 20 plus results for the Greens. We've been around for 40 years.

GORINA: And that -- yes. And I was going to say, sorry to jump in --


GORINA: -- the Greens did well in France as well. But the socialists that you mentioned, this is an establishment party that for decades as you were saying --


GORINA: -- made big scores or achieved big scores.


GORINA: The projections are 7 percent in France.


GORINA: It's the disintegration of the socialists.

LAMBERTS: Yes. But the best way to lose the trust of the people is not to know what you want to do. And the socialists in France have been formed by disputes about what they wanted to do. Did they want to be a socialist party? Did they want to be a Neoliberal Party in disguise? Did they want to be a national -- a Nationalist Party like Manuel Valls in disguise? They didn't know what to do. That's the best way to lose the trust of the people.

GORINA: So it's a bit of an alphabet soup all these acronyms for parties and this parliament behind this. What we're going to try to do over the next hour is explain to our viewers essentially the big trends, because it's about big trends, this election. It's about the establishment parties. It's about parties like yours doing better than expected. And then it's about the populist parties as well making big gains. But we want to thank you Philippe Lamberts for joining us.

LAMBERTS: My pleasure.

GORINA: I really appreciate having your perspective. As we continue to cover this story, we are following breaking news on European elections. What will the next parliament look like? What are the powers of the MEPs anyway? We'll tell you all of that after a short break.


GORINA: Well, we're moments away from our first glimpse into the makeup of the new European Parliament and we'll bring the first estimate of its composition to you as soon as it's announced. Country after country is reporting high voter turnout, in fact, the highest in 20 years.

It will shape the future of the E.U. It's a bit of a referendum, rather, as far as European voters are concerned. Anyway, the ones I spoke to, I was in Paris a little bit earlier, and those who were voting were saying essentially that they thought it was important to cast the ballot, especially based on or whether or not they thought the E.U. was a project they supported or instead if they were anti- E.U.

[14:15:10] And so, you have this battle lines drawn in election for a European Parliament that if we're completely frank, it's not something we usually cover as big breaking news. This time around, it is though for the reasons that I just explained.

Britain is taking part in the elections despite their efforts to leave the E.U., they're still a member. So -- because of Brexit delay, so that means they still have to run and MEPs will still have to take their seats.

Nina dos Santos is in the counting center for the Southeast of England in Southampton where Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage is watching results from. So, Nina, talk to us about the atmosphere and the mood where you are.

NINA DOS SANTOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, as you can see behind me here in the city of Southampton, they're still counting the ballots. We're expecting Nigel Farage to arrive here in about an hour and 15 minutes' time. He is, of course, the MEP for this constituency in the U.K., a very large and also affluent one, one where the age demographic is also skewed, especially here on the south coast more towards the elderly population who you've seen really come out in the past in his favor.

I can give you an indication of turnout so far. And although we don't have exit poll numbers at the moment because as you can see they're still counting, I can tell you that the turnout appears to be a bit higher than in previous years gone by. It is 39 percent for the city of Southampton and this part of the U.K. versus a previous national average. I mean the last time we saw the European parliamentary elections of 34 percent.

And as you mentioned in your introduction, Hala, the European parliamentary elections are elections that the U.K. generally doesn't get very hot under the collar about. In fact, there were elections that the U.K. wasn't supposed to be taking part in and that has given the man himself, Nigel Farage, such a podium to come back to politics when -- after he said she was resigning from them, stepping down from the U.K. independence party after the U.K. did vote in favor of Brexit. He has returned to the fore with only one ambition here, and that is to try to deliver Brexit as soon as possible, Hala.

GORANI: OK. Nina, we'll get back to you when we have some projections. With the big wins for the Greens and more results expected any minute now, the next European Parliament will have a different makeup and balance of priorities.

Let's bring Karel Lannoo. He is the chief executive of the Center for European Policy Studies, a thing tank based here in Brussels or CEPS.


GORANI: Hello.


GORANI: By the way, what kind of -- I just want our viewers to be reminded of something important. What power does an MEP have?

LANNOO: Basically, members of parliament like national parliament vote on legislation. But the big difference with national parliaments is that they do not vote on taxes. That's left to national parliaments. And they basically cannot really have a motion of (INAUDIBLE) in the government, which is the have commission on our case. They could do, but much more difficulty.

GORANI: So they don't have as much power as a national parliament has?

LANNOO: And there are many areas, but they don't have powers. The biggest area where they have powers is basically the single market, all single market legislation. And then secondly, I mean also approving the .E.U budget and not getting discharged. It don't agree with the budget.

GORANI: Now, let's start -- and it's a five-year term.

LANNOO: It's a five-year term.

GORANI: Based on the exit polls you've seen, what stands out to you as the headline so far?

LANNOO: Basically the most important message for me is space (ph) rate has increased for the first time since 1979. It has been in a free decline since 1979 from around 80 percent to the last time it was around 38 percent or 39 percent. Now, the first estimations give around 43 percent to 44 percent, which is very important. Let's say interest in increase, so that means that people seem to realize that Europe matters.

The second thing is that so far -- of course, we haven't seen the Italian results yet and the French results only started to come in, but the extreme right or let's say the extremist parties on the right, it's nothing yet dramatic. Of course, we've seen Austria where the extreme right party is in decline because of what happened last week. But also in Germany, the -- I mean, the big winner is the Greens.

GORANI: Last week, meaning the vice chancellor in this --


LANNOO: Exactly, the whole parliament (INAUDIBLE).

GORANI: But, you're saying it's nothing dramatic for the extreme right parties, explain.

LANNOO: No, it's not. Let's that there will have an enormous group in the European parliament, of course, it may be that's -- I mean the Italians --

GORANI: Much more than they have now, yes?

LANNOO: No. The Le Pen group was basically the size they have today if you follow their prognosis, because five year ago Macron's party didn't exist.


LANNOO: They still have their socialist, but the Le Pen's will have the same size. The big difference will be Italy. But then look on the other side, let's say where we probably see Spain coming to work with the bigger group of socialist. So we'll have to see the full picture and to see the full picture is not easy.

GORANI: But for France in particular, because Macron has been the figurehead of the pro-E.U. political movement in this part of the world.

[14:20:06] He really put his personal stake in this race. He came out and campaign. He looks according to exit polls, like he's trailing Marine Le Pen, so that is a defeat.

LANNOO: Yes, but we've seen what happened in France over the last six months with the (INAUDIBLE), let's say. And I think personally, let's say the reaction of the president was inadequate. But I think also -- I mean, Macron appointed somebody weak to lead the least, Nathalie Loiseau, Minister for European Affairs, which is contested and I don't think she played a good role.

But also you see that basically this party is still information. The party exists only since two years. So, you need to have a very strong base as Philippe has just explaining with the Greens in Germany, if you want to do something, and that's what basically Le Pen's party has done in France again.

GORANI: So, let's talk a little bit about what the parliament might look like if you have a lot of strong anti-E.U. sentiment coming from some of these MEPs, the Brexit Party, and the others.

LANNOO: Yes. First of all, the Brexit Party will probably only play a role for the next three or four months and I assumed that by the end of October they won't be --

GORANI: So you still think Brexit is going to happen?

LANNOO: I think it will happen, let's say because all the prognosis from the U.K. predict that Farage's party will win, so.

GORANI: But you still think Brexit itself will happen?

LANNOO: I think it will happen let's say because it's too difficult for the U.K. to stay. I mean, they will have a kind of deal with the E.U. but that will happen. But the most important thing for this parliament will be, how will they appoint the next commission president.


LANNOO: And that's an important task, which they have. Let's say it's not a formal task according to their curative, but at least five years ago they did it with Juncker. Will they do it this time? The big problem is that the two big parties, the socialists on the one hand and European people's party on the other hand, will not have the majority to appoint their person. So they will have to have three parties to appoint their person. And who will this be? Nobody knows.

GORANI: Well, it sounds like it's certainly not going to be as simple as some people would hope that particular process.

LANNOO: If that would be the case, no.

GORANI: Karel Lannoo, thank you very much, the CEO of CEPS.

LANNOO: Thanks a lot.

GORANI: We will be right back with more of our breaking news coverage.


GORANI: All right. We are coming to you live from Brussels and we're starting to get a better picture with early projections of what the European parliament composition will look like. It is a battle between these establishment parties, the pro-E.U. establishment parties and some of these fringe parties that don't seem so fringe anymore, by the way, that are making some pretty big gains.

Erin McLaughlin is live in Brussels, meters away from me, but inside the parliament building. So, Erin, talk to me a little bit about these early results, these exit polls that we're seeing come out country by country.

MCLAUGHLIN: Yes. One of the big stories of today, Hala, so far is voter turnout. Preliminary figures released by European parliament shows that turnout has been the highest it has been in at least 20 years with 51 percent voter turnout in 27 countries, that's excluding the U.K. But if you include the U.K., it really doesn't change that figure that much voter turnout at 49 percent to 52 percent.

That's important to note, because voter turnout has declined pretty much every election since 1979. It was at 42 percent in 2014, seen as a sign of voter apathy, something that's really disturbed E.U. officials in the past that I've been talking to. So that will be seen as a positive here for Brussels.

Also a big trend that we've seen so far, big gains for the Greens Party. Now, the Greens Party is strong on climate change. They're also pro-E.U. party. They also are pro-humane migration.

[14:25:02] They've done really well in countries such as Germany. They've increased the number of seats by 22 percent, gone from 13 seats in 2014 to 23 seats in 2019. In Netherlands, the Greens picked up one seat, and in Ireland, the Greens went from zero seats in 2014 to two seats in 2019.

Now, another big area of concern for E.U. officials that I've been talking to, the Euro-skeptic vote and according to exit polls there in France, Marine Le Pen's party has done better, has fared better than Emmanuel Macron's party, something that will be very disturbing for people here in Brussels that are wary of the Euro-skeptic vote.

In Germany, the far-right AFD has picked up three seats in Austria. All eyes would be on the Freedom Party there, which lost a seat but managed to hold on to three seats despite the scandal embroiling the Freedom Party there, a bribery scandal involving Russia managed to retain at least three seats, even though that led to the collapse of the coalition government there.

So, that's kind of the trends we're looking at, but we're expecting a preliminary projection for the whole of parliament pretty much any minute.

GORANI: And one of our guests said that one of the big challenges for this new parliament will be selecting a new council president after Jean-Claude Juncker. And I'm wondering, any early contenders? What's being talked about in terms of who that job might go to, Erin?

MCLAUGHLIN: Yes. Well, it's a whole package of jobs that are up for grabs at this point. The president of the European council, the president of the European commission, the president of the ECB, all of that will be begun to be decided at a summit that's expected to kick off at the council on Tuesday. But these results will most definitely play into that package, especially when it comes to the commission president, because any nominee that is made by the council will need to be approved by a majority of the next sitting parliament.

So these results, the strong showing by the Greens in Germany and other countries, as well as the Euro-skeptic vote has the potential to play into that. But at this point, its way too soon to be giving out names, Hala.

GORANI: All right. And then looking forward, when are we expecting, we've got about a minute here, the next big projection here that will give us a better idea of what the parliament will look like, Erin?

MCLAUGHLIN: Yes. We're expecting that projection really at any minute. At this point, Hala, it will be preliminary, but it will be telling. We'll be looking at how the mainstream parties are faring. The EPP and the S&D, have they lost ground? How much ground has the Greens made in all of this?

And then, of course, looking at that Euro-skeptic vote, how many seats have they been able to capture? That will all be factored in to the overall makeup of the parliament and we're expecting again those preliminary results momentarily.

GORANI: All right. Erin, standby, and everyone else, of course, covering this important day. We'll have continuing coverage out of Brussels as the European election results start to take shape with official results coming out in about two and a half hours. I'm Hala Gorani. I'll see you very soon on CNN.