//Europe Elects in 2019: January-May

Europe Elects in 2019: January-May

2019 is shaping up to be a very exciting year for politics in the European Union. From the European Elections in May to national elections across the continent, Europe Elects plans to bring you the best coverage of these events in the coming months.

Estonian Parliamentary Election – 3 March

Voting in the Estonian Parliamentary Election is already well underway as of February 27th; 39.3% of the electorate have cast their votes during the early voting period.

Prime Minister Jüri Ratas and his Centre Party (K-ALDE) will face their first electoral test since forming government in 2016. The Centre Party is the social-liberal faction of the Estonian Liberal movement. It is currently the second largest in the Riigikogu, having won 27 seats in the 2015. The centre-right liberal Reform Party (R-ALDE) is currently the largest party, with 30 seats. They led the governing coalition that formed after the 2015 parliamentary election, which included the Social Democratic (SDE-S&D) and Pro Patria (I-EPP) Parties as junior partners. When the Rõivas cabinet fell apart in 2016, SDE and Pro Patria joined a new coalition with the Centre Party to form the current government.

Since independence, the political landscape has been dominated by the two ALDE parties. Since recent polling puts R and K at around 30% and 20% respectively, it’s unlikely that this dynamic will change. Worth watching, however, is how the right-wing eurosceptic Conservative People’s Party of Estonia (EKRE-ECR) does, which has been gaining ground in recent polling. A recent poll from Norstat puts them at 19%, just three points shy of Centre’s 22%. Barring a massive change of heart, it’s unlikely that EKRE will be a kingmaker in government negotiations– Reform and Centre have adopted a de facto cordon sanitaire against governing with the national-conservatives. However, as Pro Patria and SDE continue to slide in the polls, the liberal rivals may have to start considering the possibility of governing together.

Slovakian Presidential Election – 16 and 30 March

The Slovakian presidential election will take place in two rounds this month. Unusually popular independent president Andrej Kiska, who handily beat former Prime Minister Robert Fico (Smer-S&D) in the previous presidential election, has decided not to run for a second term. This leaves the field wide open to new political challengers.

The governing Slovakian social democrats, Direction (Smer-S&D), have had a very tumultuous year. After two years of governing in coalition with inter-ethnic liberals and right-wing nationalists, Robert Fico’s entire cabinet resigned due to mass outrage over the murder of journalist Ján Kuciak, who was investigating corruption among Slovakian politicians. Despite years as the country’s largest party, it would be difficult for a Smer candidate to win a runoff election. Their candide for the 2019 election is Maroš Šefčovič, a respected figure in the party who spent the last five years as European Commissioner for the Energy Union. He previously intended to run for S&D Spitzenkandidat in the upcoming European Elections, but dropped out in favor of Frans Timmermans’ candidacy.

Zuzana Čaputova, an pro-European environmentalist and social-liberal backed by Progressive Slovakia (PS-ALDE), is the other candidate likely to reach the second round on March 30th. Robert Mistrik, who polled closely behind the other two in last month’s polling, recently dropped out of the race and endorsed Čaputová. All of the parties who supported him also shifted their allegiance to her. Since then, her first round polling has skyrocketed from 28% to 53% over the past month according to a recent AKO poll. In a hypothetical second round matchup, she beats Šefčovič with 64% to his 36% according to this Focus poll.

Finnish Parliamentary Election – 14 April

One month after their neighbours to the South go to the polls, Citizens of the Republic of Finland will do the same.

Prime Minister Juha Sipilä’s Centre Party (KESK-ALDE) currently leads a centre-right government with the liberal-conservative Kokoomus (KOK-EPP) and Blue Reform (SIN-ECR). Centre and Kokoomus have exchanged the position of senior coalition partner in the Finnish government throughout the 2000s and 2010s. While Kokoomus’ polling numbers have stabilised around the level they reached in the 2015 election (around)18%, the Centre Party has experienced a notable decline of around 5 percentage points on average. It also appears that the 2017 splintering of the right-wing Finns Party (PS-ECR) that birthed Blue Reform has hurt both parties: the Finns have lost around 7-8 points and Blue Reform risk irrelevancy, reaching 1% in a recent Kantar poll.

Bucking the European trend, the Finnish left is looking much stronger this time around due in large part to dissatisfaction with the dominant parties. The Social Democratic Party (SDP-S&D) is likely to become the largest party for the first time in the 21st century, leading Kokoomus by 1-3 points on average. The centre-left Green League (VIHR-G/EFA) and, to a lesser extent, the Left Alliance (VAS-LEFT) are set to improve substantially on their 2015 results.

Spanish General Election – 28 April

In February, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez called a snap election for the 28th of April after failing to secure enough votes to pass his budget proposal.

The third general election in four years will present a new challenge for the balance of power in the country. Tensions with political forces in the autonomous community of Catalonia have subsided since the controversial independence referendum in October 2017. Nowadays, the political elephant in the room takes the form of VOX (VOX-ECR), an insurgent far-right party. VOX made headlines after December’s regional election in Andalusia, the party’s home base, when they became the first far-right party to win seats in a Spanish legislature since the end of the Francoist regime in 1978. Since then, their standings in the polls have seen a dramatic increase on the national level. This comes at the expense of the two main centre-right parties: the People’s Party (PP-EPP) and Ciudadanos (C’s-ALDE). An anti-Socialist coalition is now near impossible without VOX support.

On the other side of the political spectrum, Pedro Sanchez and his Socialist Workers’ Party (PSOE-S&D) are looking better than they have in years, as they are likely to gain seats for the first time since the 2008 general election. The PSOE was propelled into government for the first time in seven years when Sanchez tabled a successful vote of no confidence against Mariano Rajoy’s government on grounds of corruption. As the left-wing Unidos Podemos coalition (UP-LEFT) suffers a blow in popularity largely due to internal conflict, some voters are flocking to the PSOE. In a field as divided as it is, the PSOE currently stands as the most popular party in opinion polls. However, the fragmented political landscape will make it exceedingly difficult for Sanchez to scrape together a coalition or confidence and supply deal without Unidos Podemos or regional nationalist parties to prop up his government once more. By May we will have found out whether or not Pedro Sanchez’s first term as presidente del gobierno faced a premature end.

Lithuanian Presidential Election – 12-26 May

Incumbent Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaitė is term-limited and cannot run for a third term. Lithuanian voters will go to the polls on 12 May for the first round of the Presidential election.

So far, three declared candidates to succeed Grybauskaitė stand out in the first round polls. Economist Gitanas Nausėda is in the lead, with 27% in the February 2019 poll. Independent former Finance Minister Ingrida Šimonytė currently polls second at 20%. Current Prime Minister Saulius Skvernelis rounds out the top three at 16%. Despite being an independent, he ran for his seat in the Saeimas on the centre-right Farmers and Greens (LVŽS-G/EFA) electoral list in 2016 and was previously supported by the right-wing Order and Justice Party (TT-EFDD). Another significant declared candidate is the European Commissioner for Health and Food Safety Vytenis Andriukaitis of the Social Democratic Party (LSDP-S&D). He is currently polling at around 3%.

European Parliament Election – 23-26 May

In May, every European Union citizen of legal voting age will be eligible to cast their ballot in the elections for European Parliament. Each member state functions as a single constituency with a specific number of Parliament seats allocated proportionally according to population size. Electoral system varies from state to state.

What will come of this election? Europe Elects’ Chief Executive Tobias Gerhard Schminke can tell you much more about that. We project that the traditional governing coalition of the centre-right European People’s Party (EPP) and centre-left Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats (S&D) will take a significant hit– the two are likely to collectively lose over 100 seats of their current 404. Even so, the groups will likely retain their first and second-place spots in the Parliament. This makes the EPP’s Bavarian Spitzenkandidat Manfred Weber (CSU-EPP) a likely pick for Commission President and the S&D’s Dutch Spitzenkandidat Frans Timmermans (PvdA-S&D) likely to reprise his role as First Vice President of the Commission.

The far-right nationalists in Europe of Nations and Freedom (ENF) are likely to win a substantial amount of seats thanks in large part to the meteoric rise of Italy’s Lega (Lega-ENF).

The Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE) is set to gain around 30 seats if Emmanuel Macron’s La Republique En Marche (LREM -ALDE) follows through on their current plans for cooperation with ALDE. ALDE can be expected to play a bigger role in the next coalition formation.

The eurosceptic Europe of Freedom and Direct Democracy group (EFDD) is a bit of a wild card this time around. Italy’s Five-Star Movement (M5S-EFDD) has very clearly expressed their intention to end their membership within the EFDD. It is unlikely that they will be able to scrounge together a new group focused on direct democracy as they intend – only a few small parties (and some French Yellow Vests) have shown the intention of joining. If they do leave the EFDD and are unable to secure enough support for a new group, M5S will likely find themselves with the Non-Inscrits (NI) and the EFDD could cease to exist.

Of course, Brexit is the other source of uncertainty. Since it seems less and less likely that the United Kingdom will actually leave the EU before May, it’s unclear whether or not UK citizens will go to the polls for the European elections after all. If an Article 50 extension necessitates the election to be held in the UK, the S&D and ECR groups will benefit from the retention of Labour (LAB-S&D) and the Conservatives (CON-ECR).

Belgian Federal Election – 26 May

An oddity in the EU, Belgium’s political parties are usually confined to a certain geographic/language-speaking community, so polling is usually conducted regionally rather than nationally. As a result, it’s difficult to make broad claims about Belgium’s extremely colourful political landscape.

One thing we can definitely observe is a backlash against the parties that won in each region last time around. This is largely part of the political fallout over the UN Global Compact for Migration late last year.

The French-speaking Socialists (PS-S&D) who are traditionally powerful in the predominantly French-speaking regions of Brussels and Wallonia have dropped around 8 percentage points respectively since the last election, according to recent polling. Prime Minister Charles Michel’s French-speaking Reformist Movement (MR-ALDE) and their Flemish coalition partners CD&V (EPP) and Open Vld (ALDE) have also seen a substantial drop. Flanders’ nationalist New Flemish Alliance (N-VA-ECR), who are the largest party in Belgium and some of the loudest voices against the Global Compact, will likely lose seats in the upcoming election.

Bolstered by political disaffection and recent protests in favour of action on climate change, Belgian Greens are set to have a very good day on the May 26th. The French-speaking Ecolo (Ecolo-G/EFA) currently leads in the Brussels polls and is closing in on the second-place MR in Wallonia. The Flemish Greens (Groen-G/EFA)  are also beginning to pull ahead of the Flemish Christian Democrats (CD&V-EPP) to reach the second place spot behind N-VA. Also worth noting is the substantial rise of the far-left Worker’s Party (PVDA/PTB-LEFT) in each regional poll, as well as the far-right Flemish Interest (VB-ENF) reclaiming some of N-VA’s nationalist voters.

The first half of 2019 will be incredibly consequential for the EU and its member states. However, there are just as many elections to pay attention to in the second half of the year.

Stay tuned for our next EU Election Briefing, and follow Europe Elects on social media for full coverage of all the elections mentioned.

José is a member of the Europe Elects team, and an expert in European politics

José Alvarado has been part of Europe Elects since September 2017. He is finishing his Bachelor’s degree in International Relations at the American University in Washington, D.C. and is currently in Brussels studying and working as an intern for Confrontations Europe, a French EU policy think tank.