Personal Wealth Management / Politics

Europe’s Protest Politics Take Centre Stage—for Now

In our view, political gridlock and falling uncertainty are stock market tailwinds.

Editors’ Note: MarketMinder Europe prefers no party nor any politician. We assess developments for their economic and market impact only.

European Parliament election results are rolling in, and commentators we follow are warning about the rise of so-called right-wing parties—especially in France, which prompted President Emmanuel Macron to call a snap legislative election, with the first round commencing 30 June.[i] Yet we think chatter around a sharp shift misses a simple point: Political gridlock likely continues in Brussels, reducing legislative risk, whilst France’s election likely provides one more opportunity for uncertainty to fall. This outcome is likely just fine for stocks, in our view.

Based on their tone, most publications we follow seemed to suggest the European Parliamentary election was a centrist bloodbath. Yet their losses were actually rather small. The next Parliament will have 720 seats, which go to broad parties of national parties, aligned by their general political thrust.[ii] The latest preliminary results grant 400 of those to the main three centrist parties: the centre-right European People’s Party (EPP), the centre-left Socialists and Democrats (S&D) and the centrist Renew Europe (RE), which includes Macron’s group. This is still more than enough for a solid majority. It just happens to be down from their 417 (of 705) seats at the prior election.[iii]

Exhibit 1: Preliminary European Parliament Results

 

Source: European Commission, as of 10/6/2024.

Nor were the losses uniform. The EPP actually gained 10 seats, whilst S&D lost only 4. RE bore the brunt, losing 23. So, in our view, the story seems less about angst across Europe than dissatisfaction in France.

European Parliamentary elections have historically been a protest vote, according to our analysis. Our research shows turnout is usually low, and it appears those who turn up often do so to vote their feelings about their current government. It is the only direct opportunity to vote on an EU governmental body! And, in our view, it is perhaps a way of sticking it to the proverbial man without having to think about who will govern and what they will do.

A decade ago, during the eurozone debt crisis, a lot of those protest votes went to the left.[iv] With centrists mandating austerity, we found the populist left easily captured the zeitgeist. But the last several years have seen leftist groups moderate in the name of taming public finances and attracting investment, seemingly making the populist right a more attractive protest destination to many. People also voted their frustration over mounting costs of net-zero and the green transition, taking protest votes away from Green parties.[v]

Hence, the traditionally conservative European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) gained 4 seats, the more right-wing Identity and Democracy Group (IDG) gained 9, and the Greens lost 18.[vi] And 55 candidates with no pan-European party grouping won seats, including Germany’s Alternative for Deutschland (AfD), which was kicked out of the IDG after a series of recent scandals and controversies.[vii]

Some analysts we follow speculate that ECR and IDG will try to form a right-wing coalition with the EPP. Perhaps, but we don’t think the math is there presently. Getting a working majority would require sealing alliances with other small parties, which seems like a tall order to us. Whilst ideologically similar on some things, a lot of these parties disagree on key items. Plus, coalitions are usually where populist movements go to die, according to our review of recent political developments. It is probably in a lot of these parties’ political interests to sit in opposition, make noise, and let the centrist parties take the heat as they aim for even bigger gains in 2029.

As for national implications, commentators we follow pounced on AfD’s gains as a tough blow against German Chancellor Olaf Scholz. But we think this misses some key points. For one, Scholz’s centre-left Social Democrats (which sit with S&D in Europe) polled similarly to 2019 (14% now, 15.8% then).[viii] Two, they came second not to AfD, but to the centre-right Christian Democrats, which took around 30%.[ix] AfD won just 16%, compared to 11% in 2019.[x] So it seems to us that Germany’s results are typical: Centrists winning the most, with protest votes going to a noisy fringe.

Scholz announced he won’t call a snap election in response.[xi] But Macron did—which French markets didn’t take happily. Stocks stumbled, whilst long-term bond yields jumped.[xii] Why? Whilst Scholz lost to the main centre-right opposition, Macron’s En Marche! party lost to the National Rally (NR), which we have seen widely described as far right.[xiii] We understand why that is: It began as the National Front, a quasi-fascist movement spearheaded by Jean-Marie Le Pen.[xiv] But under his daughter, Marine Le Pen, the rebranded movement softened on several fronts and pushed traditionally leftist economic policy coupled with nationalist rhetoric.[xv]

Hence, in our view, markets’ fear: If NR wins the legislative election and has enough clout to override a Presidential veto, its agenda of higher public spending, taxes and borrowing could become reality, along with barriers to foreign acquisitions and restrictions on stock buybacks.

In our view, this is a stretch. We think Macron, like all politicians, is self-interested and shrewd. He has faced gridlock in Parliament since 2022’s election, and he has reportedly looked since then for an opportunity to snatch a majority. He will remain in office no matter what the outcome of this vote is, but he probably also knows the EP election was very likely a protest vote. In our view, Macron seems to be banking on voters making a different choice when faced with living with the implications. Olympic cheer could also boost the feel-good factor.

Most likely, in our view, no party wins a majority in France. NR has historically flopped in legislative elections, even at times of high popularity.[xvi] Whilst its leaders are visible (Marine Le Pen made it to the final round of the prior two presidential elections), its nationwide ground game isn’t great.[xvii] Supporting candidates for the European Parliament is one thing. That contest awards votes proportionally, making local canvassing less of a factor. In legislative elections, all 577 National Assembly seats are awarded by constituency.[xviii] We think fielding 577 candidates in 577 constituencies—with all the door-knocking and stumping this requires—is a very tall order, especially when the first-round vote is 20 days out. Even in 2022, when Le Pen ran a strong presidential campaign, NR won just 89 seats.[xix]

Therefore, we think a coalition government seems the likeliest outcome—more gridlock. According to our research, this is typically a fine scenario for stocks. One, it is the status quo investors are used to. Two, gridlocked governments typically get little done, keeping legislative risk low. When governments are busy, we find investors get preoccupied with potential changes to property rights, taxes and other key areas. This spikes uncertainty, as we find all legislation creating winners and losers does. It often discourages risk-taking and investment. When governments don’t do much, these risks usually fade. We find markets have less to worry about. Politics is only one market driver, in our view, but gridlock tends to ease uncertainty—a powerful tailwind.

We think this is an unsung theme in global markets. In Europe, major 2024 elections will be over by early July. Belgium just voted, likely kicking off another ultra-long coalition building process. Britain votes on 4 July. Now France will vote on 30 June and 7 July. The only other item on this year’s calendar, at present, is Austria’s general election on 29 September. We think uncertainty, elevated now, is about to fall fast.

In our view, stocks move most on the gap between reality and expectations. Right now, our research suggests many people see Europe as a collection of struggling economies and contentious politics. But in reality, economies are recovering, and noisy populism tends to mask gridlock. To us, the gap here looks bullish and wide.


[i] “Macron Gambles on Snap French Election in Bid to Stop Le Pen,” Ania Nussbaum and Andrea Palasciano, Bloomberg, 10/6/2024. Accessed via MSN.

[ii] Source: European Commission, as of 10/6/2024.

[iii] Ibid.

[iv] Source: European Parliament, as of 10/6/2024. 2014 European election results.

[v] “Rightward Shift After Election Could Limit Future EU Climate Policies,” Kate Abnett, Reuters, 10/6/2024. Accessed via MSN.

[vi] Source: European Commission, as of 10/6/2024.

[vii] “EU’s Far-Right Parties Expel Germany’s AfD from Their Group,” Jon Henley, Jennifer Rankin and Lisa O’Carroll, The Guardian, 23/5/2024.

[viii] Source: European Commission, as of 10/6/2024.

[ix] Ibid.

[x] “German Far Right Gains as Governing Parties Decline, but Conservatives Lead in European Election,” Geir Moulson, Associated Press, 10/6/2024.

[xi] “EU Election: Germany Rules Out Snap Election After AfD Gains,” Staff, Deutsche Welle, 10/6/2024.

[xii] Source: FactSet, as of 11/6/2024. MSCI France index price and France 10-year bond yield, 7/6/2024 – 10/6/2024.

[xiii] Source: European Commission, as of 10/6/2024.

[xiv] “How Far has France’s Far-Right National Rally Come in 50 Years?” Jessica Phelan, RFI, 8/10/2022.

[xv] Ibid.

[xvi] Source: France National Assembly, as of 10/6/2024.

[xvii] “‘We’re Everywhere Now’: National Rally Members Toast EU Elections Success,” Angelique Chrisafis, The Guardian, 9/6/2024.

[xviii] Source: France National Assembly, as of 10/6/2024.

[xix] Ibid.

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