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European election round-up: Q2 2023

  • In the second quarter of 2023, elections will take place in Montenegro (March 19th), Finland and Bulgaria (both April 2nd), Greece (April or May) and Turkey—the only G20 economy in Europe with an election this year (May 14th). 
  • Of these, only Finland is likely to see a stable outcome and policy continuity. We expect Sanna Marin to remain as prime minister at the head of another centre-left coalition, and continue to push for NATO accession.
  • Montenegro’s presidential election and Bulgaria’s snap parliamentary election are both likely to entrench existing political divisions. We expect both countries to remain without a government for most or all of this year.
  • The fatal train crash in Greece and earthquakes in Turkey have shaken up both countries’ campaign periods. In each case, we expect the incumbents to win another term, but both elections will be very close and politically fraught. 

The presidential election in Montenegro on March 19th is unlikely to resolve the country’s deep divisions—specifically between a pro-EU and pro-Serbia orientation and over the current president, Milo Djukanovic. Mr Djukanovic, in his multiple terms as prime minister and head of state since the 1990s, has done much to bring the country closer to the EU, but has also presided over growing clientelism and state capture. The leading opposition candidate, who was also pro-EU, has been disqualified for holding dual Montenegrin and Serbian nationality. Legally this is ambiguous, but the court voted along party lines, in an illustration of how politicised the country’s institutions have become. Mr Djukanovic is now the favourite to win a second term, despite the controversy that surrounds him. With no government in place since August, and a snap election possible later this year, a return to political stability remains out of sight.

Finland’s election presages policy continuity under Ms Marin

In Finland the centre-right National Coalition (KOK) is likely to emerge as the largest party at the parliamentary election on April 2nd, in large part because this party’s long-standing position that Finland should join NATO has now become the consensus opinion. However, coalition negotiations will favour another centre-left coalition, probably led by Ms Marin, the current prime minister. This will underpin policy continuity, including on the country’s NATO bid alongside Sweden, which is currently stalled by opposition from Hungary and Turkey. 

Bulgaria’s fifth successive election will not solve parliamentary deadlock

Bulgaria will also hold a parliamentary election on April 2nd, the country’s fifth vote in two years as successive parliaments have failed to produce a government. Once again, this snap election is likely to lead to parliamentary deadlock. Both of the country’s two major parties are pro-Western and pro-Ukraine, but differ in their liberal, reformist versus conservative policy stances. Polarisation has deepened between them over the past two years, and despite the many common policy priorities, they are unlikely to work together. No parties appear likely to abandon their red lines and so finding a durable governing formula will prove very difficult. We expect the political crisis to continue at least until the local elections that will take place in late 2023.

Greece set to hold a scheduled vote and snap election in quick succession

Greece will hold a parliamentary election in April or May, at which the incumbent centre-right New Democracy (ND) will attempt to win a second term. We do not expect ND to win a majority in this vote, but forecast a snap election shortly following this, at which a change in the electoral law will come into effect, meaning that the winning party will benefit from a bonus of up to 50 seats. We believe that ND will emerge as the largest parliamentary party in this second vote, enabling it to form a new government. During the campaign, the party will point to its success in managing the economic fallout from the pandemic and the war in Ukraine. However, ND’s support has been damaged by revelations about a wiretapping scandal, and a fatal train crash in February has brought attention to shortcomings in investment spending and regulations, and released a public wave of anger and recriminations. Forming a government may be tricky even after this second vote, therefore.

Turkish presidential and parliamentary elections overshadowed by earthquake

The humanitarian disaster of the Turkey-Syria earthquakes in February, which killed over 50,000 people, has fundamentally changed the nature of the run-up to the Turkish presidential and parliamentary elections scheduled for May 14th. The president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, will make maximum use of his influence over the media and control of public institutions to highlight his party’s support for people affected by the earthquakes, and to defame and hamper the opposition. The administration has announced extensive assistance and rebuilding programmes, on top of its existing electoral promises. 

Our core forecast is that the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and Mr Erdogan will be re-elected by a narrow margin, but the race is likely to be very close. The earthquake has revealed years of shortcuts taken over building regulations that greatly increased the death toll, which reflects poorly on the AKP. However, Mr Erdogan’s domination of the media will ensure that mainstream coverage of the government’s handling of the disaster will be positive. In addition, the six-party opposition alliance continues to face challenges in sticking together and elaborating a campaign plan. One electoral ploy that no longer seems open to Mr Erdogan was to stir up nationalist public opinion by creating a foreign- policy crisis. With Greece taking a co-operative attitude in the aftermath of the earthquake, this would now be counterproductive, so the risk of rising tensions in the eastern Mediterranean this spring has declined.

The analysis and forecasts featured in this piece can be found in EIU’s Country Analysis service. This integrated solution provides unmatched global insights covering the political and economic outlook for nearly 200 countries, enabling organisations identify prospective opportunities and potential risks.