EU elections: a more fragmented Parliament emerging from the vote

Employment and Social Affairs

Up to 400 million European citizens have elected 751 MEPs to represent them in Brussels and Strasbourg over the next five years. After years of diminishing interest in the European elections, this year finally brought a rise in turnout with data in many member countries around 50 %. This is off course one of the main outcomes of the important elections on 26th of May, that determine the composition of the new European Parliament and then of the new Commission. The interests of the voters have been stimulated by many issues at stake in this vote: climate change, migration, economic development, youth unemployment; all this envisaged by populists announced battle against “Brussels elites”. The clash between pro EU parties and movement, and populistic and nationalistic approach of the new political landscape that is gaining ground in many countries was and will be the main stimulus to keep the eyes on Europe and on the composition of the new EU institution. 

A grand coalition of left and right’s main traditional parties lost its 40-year long majority to political forces looking to radically change the “status quo”. As emerged by the vote, the centre-right European People’s Party was down to 180 MEPs from 217 (and they could loose 13 MEPs more if Hungary’s Fidesz leaves the party family), and the Socialists & Democrats will have 145 compared to 184 seats gained in 2014. Thus we can observe that the voters have chosen a more fragmented parliament and for this reason the majority coalition will need to include more parties. On the one hand European People’s Party lead candidate Manfred Weber called for an EPP, Socialists, liberal and green alliance highlighting the need for “stability”. On the other hand socialist lead candidate and Dutch EU commissioner Frans Timmermans called for a “progressive alliance” with liberals, the greens and the far-left, without the EPP. This innovative proposal could be the real revolution in the composition of the EU Parliament, because no other credible alternative are possible according to 26th of May results. But even the one proposed by Timmermans, for now, it is not easy to being implemented. And is also a very risky move, because Epp is still the main single party in the European Parliament, although the poor result of its party in many cases as for the party of the President Antonio Tajani in Italy. “There is no stable majority against the EPP possible. My message is ‘join the EPP’,” said Weber.

Another evolving situation is that, despite the “spectre” of Brexit, the UK kicked off voting on Thursday, and its representative will be elected in the new institution. In the UK anti EU movements reached a really good result, giving an even stronger position to populistic forces within the Union. But despite other wins for eurosceptics in big countries, including Italy, France, Poland and would-be ex-member Britain, the result was taken as a vote of confidence by mainstream leaders after turnout surged and nationalists advanced only modestly. “The European elections were tangible proof that European democracy is alive and well,” Margaritis Schinas, chief spokesman of the executive European Commission, told reporters. “The populists didn’t win this election”, he added.

This view is not completely supported by reality because the rise of nationalists and eurosceptics, with different results in each member country, was matched by a remarkable growth of support for Greens and Liberals. Those parties made impressive gains, notably in France, Germany and Ireland, and this result should be taken in consideration not only by analyst but also for the composition of the new EU institutions. Thus it is beyond doubt that the major loosers of the elections were the two main groupings on the centre-right and the centre-left, the European People’s Party (EPP) and the Party of the European Socialists (PES). They lost 42 and 38 seats respectively, but they need to cooperate and to negotiate a broader coalition in order to form a majority in the parliamentary body.

And now the clash for “top jobs” in the new EU institution may also be divisive for parliament. Another reason for Epp and Pes to try to cooperate with liberals. But Weber is pushing to be nominated as Juncker’s successor, and Timmermans also aims at this position. In this situation it should be considered even the role of liberal forces, that may push for one of the few women in the race, Danish EU antitrust chief Margrethe Vestager, or French Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier.

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