The political landscape of Europe is getting increasingly exciting as the European election looms. But what are the odds for Manfred Weber, Marine Le Pen or the Greens? Which groups in the EU Parliament are going to gain seats, which groups may break apart?
If there is one thing we know about this upcoming election, it is this: it is currently extremely unpredictable how the groups in the European Parliament will look like after May. There are four main reasons for this.
Firstly, as many national parties have refused to make EU Parliament group arrangements ahead of the election, analysts like us at Europe Elects often can only guess which national party will be represented in which faction. Ahead of the election, national parties are conscious about not tying the knot with the wrong partner across borders and risk negative press coverage at home. It is an art to read connections, informal ties, and friendships between political parties and politicians to create projections and predictions about which national party is going to join which European Parliament group.
Unknown variables in this are especially ‘rising stars’ like the French parties affiliated with the Yellow Vest movement, the right-wing VOX of Spain, or the Polish Kukiz’15 party. None of these recently created national parties have yet announced who they will join after the election, but they may gain a significant number of seats.
Secondly, major shifts in voting trends in Europe since the Global Financial Crisis in 2007-8, the European Debt Crisis, and the (so-called) European Migrant Crisis make it difficult for pollsters to estimate voting behaviour. The latest example on the national level is the rise of the Spanish right-wing party VOX. After the regional election in Andalusia in December 2018, where VOX entered a regional parliament for the first time, the right-wing party jumped from less than five to more than 10
Thirdly, the eurosceptic EFDD group will, either due to Brexit or due to the European election, most likely break apart. The reason for this is that they will fail to bring together MEPs from at least seven countries, which is legally required to form a group in the European Parliament. (Soon to be ex-)EFDD members will need to look for a new political home in Brussels and Strasbourg once this happens. The potential but not certain breakup of EFDD makes it even more difficult to project the composition of the European Parliament post-May 2019.
Last but not least, it is still unclear when the United Kingdom will leave the European Union. This could have the consequence that British voters will need to head to the polls to elect their share of Members in the EU Parliament.
Despite all these unknown variables, we at Europe Elects still dare to take a peek into the future. In the following, we will have a look on which scenarios are reasonable to take into consideration.
Scenario 1: The national parties remain in their European Parliament groups
In the past, national parties have announced multiple times that they are willing to form new groups in the European Parliament. And multiple times they have failed.
The requirement of 25 or more seats in the European Parliament from seven or more member states has made it difficult to form new groups in the European Parliament. French President Emmanuel Macron is the latest example who lost the fight against, what could be called, Don Quixote’s windmills in the EU Parliament: after fighting for months to form a social liberal ‘L’Europe En Marche’ in the European Parliament, the latest information now indicates that his national party LREM will join the liberal ALDE group, which was founded in 2004. His opponent on the national level Marine Le Pen managed to form a right-wing group, what we now know as the ENF, after years of failed attempts in 2015. The currently second-largest party in Italy, M5S or the “Five Star Movement”, announced last autumn its intention to form a group by January 2019. With only two more days to go until February, the aspirations of M5S have not yet materialized. These examples show that it is very difficult to form new groups in the European Parliament. Hence, the “basic scenario” is the one to watch most closely. It is not unrealistic that the major parties on the national level remain in the groups they have been affiliated with so far.
According to the basic scenario, the centre-right European Peoples Party (EPP) with transnational spitzenkandidat Manfred Weber is currently projected to reach 177 seats. This is 40 seats less than in 2014, but despite these harsh losses EPP would remain the largest group in the European Parliament. Being in the pole position, Weber has a good chance that the EU Parliament will support him as the new President of the European Commission. The Bavarian is from the same group in the European Parliament as the incumbent President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker.
Candidates for the EU Commission Presidency— Europe Elects (@EuropeElects) January 22, 2019
EPP: Manfred Weber
PES (S&D): Frans Timmermans
ACRE (ECR): Jan Zahradil
EGP (G/EFA): Ska Keller/Bas Eickhout
ALDE: 1 Feb
EFA (G/EFA): 1 Feb
AENM, APF (NI)#EP2019
But EPP is not alone in its misery: the headlines in May will probably make for difficult reading for European Socialists. In the latest Europe Elects January 2019 projection, the Socialists and Democrats group (S&D) slides to a historic record low. Currently, the alliance of centre-left parties in the European Parliament is projected to receive 129 out of 705 Members in the European Parliament. The more S&D slumps to record lows in projections, the worse are the odds for PES-
The liberal group in the European Parliament ALDE is projected to advance from the fourth to the third position. The Europe Elects model projects a share of 12.8% of the votes for the ALDE group around Guy Verhofstadt and French President Emmanuel Macron. The 21.6 million votes from EU citizens would turn into 98 seats in the EU Parliament if there was an election today. ALDE holds 68 out of 751 seats in the current parliament.
The right-wing ENF group around Marine Le Pen and Matteo Salvini and the national-conservative ECR group around ACRE-spitzenkandidat Jan Zahradil are currently fighting for the fourth position in the European Parliament. Both are projected to receive 62 seats. ECR is currently the third largest group with 73 out of 751 seats, while the ENF has only 37 Members in the EU Parliament.
The Europe Elects projection includes VOX as a member of the ECR group. If the Spanish right-wing party decides to overcome their differences with Matteo Salvini and join ENF instead of ECR, the ENF would be clearly the fourth largest force in the European Parliament.
The left-wing GUE/NGL group – centred around Gregor Gysi, Jean-Luc Melenchon, and Alexis Tsipras – stands at 56 seats in the Europe Elects projection. At the moment, GUE/NGL currently holds 51 out of 751 seats in the European Parliament.
The Greens and Regionalists (Greens/EFA group) are projected to receive 47 seats in the European Parliament. More than half of the votes for these seats come from only one country: Germany. The Greens currently hold a total of 51 out of 751 seats in the EU Parliament.
The national parties which are currently organised in the eurosceptic EFDD group would get 46 Members in the European Parliament from three countries. Based on these numbers (remember, dear reader, the requirement of seven member states represented in one group), the group would cease to exist or survive through the integration of individual MEPs from parties not affiliated with EFDD. This is how EFDD managed to avoid deregistration for a number of years in the past and it cannot be outruled that they will manage to do so in the future. There are, however, significant problems for EFDD on the horizon, which will be outlined in the next scenarios.
The NI group is a technical group which forces Stalinist, right-wing extremist and satire parties under one formal roof. Out of the 12 seats, two would go to the Greek Communist party KKE, one to the German satire party of Martin Sonneborn Die PARTEI, and the rest to right-wing extremist parties from across the continent.
16 seats will also go to mostly right-wing parties who are currently unaffiliated.
Scenario 2: EFDD breaks apart and affiliates with existing groups
The EFDD has had significant bloodletting since 2014. Numerous EFDD MEPs have left the group since 2014, the most prominent case was the departure of the British UKIP party to the ENF group this month. Either Brexit or the European election could put the nail on the group’s coffin: If the group fails to integrate individual Members of the European Parliament, the group will not represent MEPs from seven or more countries anymore.
The death of EFDD is not unlikely, also because there are only four relevant national parties left in EFDD and three of them – M5S from Italy, DLF from France, and AfD from Germany – are openly declaring their allegiance to other groups or are intending to form new groups. M5S has announced that they intend to leave EFDD, the AfD dreams about a united right in the European Parliament and DLF openly flirts with ECR membership after May 2019.
It remains unclear whether M5S will create a group of their own with flamboyant personalities from all across Europe or join an already existing group. Manuel Muller from Humboldt University Berlin projects that M5S will join ECR due to the unwillingness of the other groups to accept the Italian government party. The ECR consist of two transnational parties: the Christian fundamentalist ECPM and the national conservative ACRE. Both have been reaching out to new parties in order to gain influence across the continent and have fallen for the temptation to form alliances with more exotic politicians and parties. M5S’s marriage with EFDD in 2014 was similarly unexpected, which leads to the alluring conclusion that M5S may actually join the ECR despite their fundamental ideological differences.
Scenario 3: A United Right
Another – not too unlikely – scenario includes a new group in the European Parliament which could be called: the ‘United Right’, a dream project of Germany’s AfD. The right-wing vote in the European Parliament is currently split up over up to five groups: the national-conservative ECR, the eurosceptic EFDD, the right-wing ENF, some minor right-wing parties in the NI group as well as the right-wing of the EPP group. The five sections are united in their disapproval of the Juncker Commission and the growth of Islam in Europe. In most other policies, first and foremost their attitude towards Russian President Vladimir Putin, they tend to differ. Surely the third, potentially second, and maybe even the first position can only come into reach for the right-wing and eurosceptic parties depending on how successfully they manage to integrate ECR, EFDD, ENF and parts of EPP and NI into one major group. It would be up to politicians like Matteo Salvini, Viktor Orbán, and Jarosław Kaczyński to unite the European right and far-right. All three politicians have already been in touch with each other and Viktor Orbán has already ‘outed’ himself as Salvini-fan, but it is unclear whether this is enough to unite the right.
A united right-wing may help the Five Star Movement to find partners to build a new European Parliament group of its own, as proposed by the party’s leadership. Right-wing Eastern European parties would certainly be hesitant joining a group with Putin-allies like Marine Le Pen or Matteo Salvini.
It is rather unlikely that the Five Star Movement will join a ‘United right’ group.
Scenario 4: Five Star Movement goes European
M5S has made clear that they intend to leave EFDD behind and create a new group by January 2019.
As of now, however (30 January 2019), it looks like that the Italian government party has been unsuccessfully in bringing together a new group. The national parties M5S reached out to so far are the Polish right-wing party Kukiz’15 party, the Croatian populist ŽZ or the largely irrelevant neoliberal party Liike Nyt from Finland. Moreover,
the M5S leader Luigi di Maio praised the yellow vests in France, who increasingly organize in various minor political parties. The only thing which unites these parties is that they advertise themselves as ‘anti-establishment’.
Given the ideological diversity of the parties mentioned, the speculation about other potential partners for the Five Star Movement becomes quickly level unicorn: One could include the right-wing Slovak parties who are currently only half-heartedly affiliated with ECR or ENF as potential partners for M5S; European Pirates who are currently openly breaking with the Greens/EFA group; the Austrian Green split-off JETZT who are unsure about joining the Greens/EFA group; Catalan and Flemish separatists who are unhappy with or expelled from their respective groups; the Portuguese Alianca; the Hungarian Jobbik who has attempted to rid themselves of their Nazi image by desperately looking for new European Parliament group affiliations (last failed attempt: EPP); or even the 50PLUS party in the Netherlands which is a pensioners’ interest party. It depends on the ability of the M5S leadership to attract seven or more parties for an M5S-led group in the European Parliament. Currently, it is absolutely unpredictable which national parties will end up in a ‘Five Star Movement goes Europe’ group.
To make matters more complex, some of the four scenarios showcased here may occur in combination with each other. One thing is for sure: we have an exciting election ahead of us!
Tobias Gerhard Schminke is the founder of Europe Elects and is the leader of the Europe Elects team. He was supported writing this article by the Europe Elects team member Dylan Marshall.