European Parliament Elections: Preview

Stockholm (Ekonamik) – The European Union goes to the polls to elect a new European Parliament (EP) from May 23-26, an election that will certainly have consequences for the other principal European institutions, create a new division of powers in the EP and which could send an unprecedented number of populists and far-right agitators to the 751-member parliament, potentially disrupting the work of the bloc.

The most immediate consequences of the new constitution of the chamber will be felt in the European Commission and the European Council of Ministers, the former of which will elect a new president to replace Jean-Claude Juncker and the latter of which will be replaced by a new set of ministers, alongside the apportionment of other key roles. The election of EC president takes place under the auspices of the much-criticised Spitzenkandidat system, in which each major bloc in the parliament puts forth a candidate whose chances depend on the fortunes of his or her bloc. The most likely next president will come from either the European People’s Party (EPP), which has nominated EPP chairman Manfred Weber, or the European Socialists and Democrats, which has nominated commissioner Frans Timmermans.

The European Parliament published the final round of seat projections based on reliable polling data by national polling institutes published throughout the 28 EU member states up until April 15 2019 and aggregated by Kantar Public, a research institute. While there are methodological problems with the projection based on the impossibility of harmonising available figures across the bloc, it remains at this time the only indicator as to the constitution of the future chamber, which will no doubt also include surprises.

Source: Kantar Public

The chamber can be divided into six central categories: the “far left”, which is anything to the left of the Socialists and Democrats, the “left”, which is essentially the Socialists and Democrats, the “centre”, which includes the Greens and the European Free Alliance, the “right”, which includes the EPP, the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats in Europe (ALDE) and European Conservatives, and the far right, which will include the smattering of new and traditionally Eurosceptic parties but which is projected to grow substantially. Finally, there is the group of ‘non-attached’ members, who are either running for the first time or do not sit in the established political groupings.

The numbers according to the final EP projection show the far left with a combined 108 seats, the European Socialists and Democrats with 149 seats, the “centrist” parties with a combined 133 seats, the EPP with 180 seats, and the far right with a potential, unprecedented and worrying 181 seats, increasing the potential for severe Eurosceptic disruption in the next sitting.

 Wild Cards

The UK, which is included in the EP projection, is presently set to participate in the election unless Prime Minister Theresa May’s Withdrawal Agreement is ratified before May 23. Should the UK participate, its votes are likely to be increasingly apportioned among smaller fringe parties of the right and left due to the polarisation of domestic politics and the split in the country along lines of Remain and Leave, with supporters of the former disillusioned by Labour’s lack of a clear plan and support for a second referendum, and supporters of the latter fed up with Mrs May’s inability to deliver Brexit. This will dampen the representation of the British vote in the larger European blocs, the EPP and the European Socialists and Democrats, in which the main parties sit.

Hungarian Prime Minister Victor Orbán’s Fidesz party, which is projected to win 13 sears, may well leave the EPP grouping following the election and join the alliance of far right parties, having already declined to support the EPP’s Spitzenkandidat and having been threatened with expulsion by a tergiversating EPP for its lurch ever-rightwards and Mr Orbán’s domestic policies on immigration and freedom of speech. Both the EPP and Fidesz will see which way the political wind blows during the election prior to a decision as to the party’s future with the EPP, but the 13 seats could be crucial to assembling a coalition on the right.

Possible Coalitions

Assuming that no one party will emerge with enough seats to govern outright and that any party left of the EPP will refuse to cooperate with the far right, there are three possible scenarios: a coalition of the centre, the left and the far left, a coalition of the right and the far right, and a coalition across the centre involving the three largest parties.

A coalition of the centre, left and far left is likely to fall just short of the required majority of 375 and in any event would likely be rather fragile, given that the Socialists and Democrats, though the largest group in this scenario, will not by itself command enough seats. Other questions are whether Mr Timmermans can assemble the support he needs from the far left and whether his bid would be supported by the likes of Netherlands Prime Minister Mark Rutte, who himself is suspected to have his sights set on the European Commission Presidency or the Council of Ministers.

A centrist coalition of S&D, ALDE, and EPP and possibly the Greens would require concessions by all the parties with the biggest question being the EPP’s advantage of being able to force through their choice of President of the European Commission by virtue of being the largest bloc in parliament. This does not mean, though, that it will be able to jam through Mr Weber, its Spitzenkandidat, but rather that it may be compelled to put forth a more broadly acceptable candidate, such as e.g. Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier.

A coalition of the EPP with any of the parties to its right is, like a coalition of the left, a near-statistical impossibility that would be unlikely to hold in the longer term, with the EPP likely to prefer to seek coalition partners with more moderate centrist partners, such as ALDE.

The essential analysis ahead of the elections from May 23-26 appears to be that no matter what happens the EPP will remain the largest party and will have the most sway in terms of what kind of coalition is assembled, which simultaneously improves the chances of ALDE and the Greens to determine the direction of the bloc. The S&D and the parties to the left of it are likely to be marginalised, in this scenario, while the far right parties, which are by no means homogeneous, are still likely to form a solid voting bloc of their own in which they attempt to stall the parliament’s agendas.

Image: Hemicycle, Empty (Wikimedia Commons)

 

 

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