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EU Parliamentary Projection: Historic Setback for the Centre-Right

Europe Elects’ European Parliament projection offers an indication of how voters in the European Union would vote should there be an EU Parliament election today. The timeline of the data presents how the national voting intentions of European citizens have shifted over the course of the pandemic on the EU level on a monthly basis. When comparing seats and the popular vote projected to the 2019 EU election result in this article, we contrast them to the EU27 scenario—meaning we exclude the United Kingdom, which left the EU in January 2020, also from 2019 election results.

March 2021 was the month with the most significant shift in the Europe Elects seat projection ever recorded for the centre-right European People’s Party (EPP) Group within a single month. Two different trends drove an incredible drop of 21 projected seats compared to February. Firstly, 12 Members of the European Parliament from the Hungarian government party Fidesz (NI) left the EPP on 4 March—a split that weakens the EPP by ten seats in our projection.

Secondly, the polling support for the German party alliance between the Christian Democratic Union of Germany (CDU-EPP) and the Christian Social Union in Bavaria (CSU-EPP) deteriorated this past month, leading to a loss of five projected seats for the EPP. Beyond this dramatic decline, EPP also faces losses of two projected seats each in Italy and France. Europe Elects projects that just 22.5% of the seats in the EU Parliament would go to the EPP—the smallest seat share in the history of EU Parliament elections for the centre-right group.

Despite its sharp drop, the centre-right EPP Group in the European Parliament would currently still remain the largest bloc in the assembly if there was an EU Parliament election today, with 159 out of 705 post-Brexit seats and a popular vote share of 21.6%. In the EU election in May 2019—discounting the United Kingdom and adding the post-Brexit MEPs around the EU—the EPP finished with 187 seats and a popular vote share of 22.6%.

The centre-left S&D would come second with 151 out of 705 seats and 18.7% of the popular vote. This would be practically the same vote share albeit resulting in three seats more than in the 2019 election—again discounting the UK and adding the post-Brexit MEPs.

Trailing the two frontrunners by some margin is the liberal Renew Europe (RE) Group, comprising the third largest European Parliamentary group in our March projection with 93 seats—four seats less than the group received in the 2019 EU election sans the UK. In terms of vote share, the RE Group receives 11.2% in our projection, a 1.1 per cent drop compared to the 2019 European elections.

Europe Elects’ projection of seats in European Parliament since the last EU election

With this level of support for EPP, S&D, and RE, the European Commission of Ursula von der Leyen (EPP) would continue to hold a comfortable de facto majority of 403 out of 705 total seats as these three groups were the ones that voted to confirm the now-incumbent Commission in 2019.

Europe Elects’ projection of popular vote in the EU since the last EU election

Our March 2021 projection shows that the right-wing Identity and Democracy (ID) Group in the European Parliament continues its subtle decline amidst the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Peaking at 85 projected seats in January and February 2020—having won 76 in the 2019 elections—the Le Pen-Salvini axis is now looking at a projected 74 out of 705 seats, with a vote share of 10.8%, a nudge lower than at the 2019 elections. The decline knows prominent examples on the national level: in the Europe Elects polling average, despite low overall losses. Matteo Salvini’s Lega party, for example, achieved 34% at the time of the European election. Today, that vote share has dropped to 23%. The Alternative for Germany (AfD) has dropped from 13% to 11% during the same timespan. Such examples have been almost covered elsewhere, compared to the election.

The national-conservative European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) Group enjoys a more positive trajectory. The group is projected to get 74 seats should an EU election be held now, tying with ID for the fourth place. ECR received 62 seats in the 2019 EU election, discounting the UK and distributing the post-Brexit MEPs. Across the EU, the national parties affiliated with the ECR Group have a combined popular vote share of 10.2% in March, which is 2.1 points above ECR’s 2019 election result, and—alongside the same projected result in December last year—the strongest performance measured since Brexit. The overall increase in projected seats can most prominently be attributed to the rise of the Italian Brothers of Italy (FdI)  and the Romanian Alliance for the Unity of Romanians (AUR) in recent times.

The Greens/European Free Alliance (Greens/EFA) was the fifth-largest parliamentary group in the European election in May 2019 discounting the UK, but has since fallen significantly and to sixth place. In terms of representation, Greens/EFA decreased from 68 seats and 11.5% in the May 2019 elections to 52 seats and 8.2% in Europe Elects’ March 2021 projection, a slight uptick from the projected 7.5 pp and 48 seats in February. In European Parliament projections extrapolated from national polling, the Greens’ vote share has previously proved smaller than the ultimate election results: in 2019, Greens/EFA outdid the Europe Elects projection with 15 seats, proving out to be the biggest upset of the election.

The Left group in the European Parliament – GUE/NGL (LEFT) is projected to be the seventh-largest bloc in the European Parliament, trailing Greens/EFA with a sole projected seat. Europe Elects’ March projection projects that the left-wing group would receive 51 out of 705 seats, up from 40 in the EU election 2019. In the popular vote projection, the group stands at 8.0%, up from 7.0% in the 2019 election.

It has been previously seen, however, that the LEFT Group has been overestimated in opinion polls. At the 2019 European Parliamentary elections, the party received 11 seats less than the voting projection by Europe Elects, as multiple of the group’s parties appeared stronger in polls ahead of the EU election than in the actual election result.

The Non-Inscrits—those parties left without a parliamentary group in the European Parliament—would send 32 MEPs with a 4.9% vote share in the popular vote to Brussels. Hungarian Fidesz joined the Non-Inscrits this month and thereby adds 10 projected seats to the batch. There is, however, a realistic chance that Fidesz joins the national-conservative ECR or the right-wing ID in the upcoming months—or even forms a completely new group—which could edge either of those two groups closer to becoming the third-largest group in the EU Parliament projection. 17 seats would go to unaffiliated parties that have no relationship to the groups mentioned previously and are currently not yet represented in the EU Parliament, including fourteen seats for the centrist Poland 2050 (PL2050-*) and three seats for the centrist Bulgarian party There Are Such People (Ima Takûv Narod, ITN-*).

National Developments

Most notable national losses perhaps occurred in Germany. The governing centre-right CDU/CSU party alliance has plunged 5.4 pp since the New Years, ahead of the September federal election—from 35.8% on 1 January to 30.4% in the latest Europe Elects polling average. The party elected a new federal CDU leader, underperformed in two regional elections, and, most recently, has been scrutinised in both national and international media due to a group of national MPs profiting off the production and distribution of protective equipment to supply the fight against the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Should the current result in our polling average be repeated in a European Parliamentary election, the CDU/CSU alliance would send 21 of Germany’s 96 MEPs to Brussels, down from 29 in the last European Parliamentary election.

While CDU/CSU retains its status as the largest party in the German national polls, recent data has suggested that the Alliance ‘90/The Greens (Grüne-Greens/EFA) is closing the gap, now tied for first in the Europe Elects EP seat projection with the CDU/CSU, standing at 21 seats, up three from February.

In Poland, the centrist PL2050, founded in 2020 by former presidential candidate Szymon Hołownia, continues to surge—now standing at 14 projected seats, up another three from last month, a mere half year after its founding. The party has not yet announced an intention to affiliate with any existing group in the European Parliament.

National parliamentary elections and their accompanying bandwagon effects have also shown to trigger swings in the European Parliament projection. For instance, the liberal D66 (RE) of the Netherlands is—after its overperformance in the Dutch elections on March 17—risen to five projected EU Parliament seats compared to just three in February. The forthcoming elections in Bulgaria (4 April) and Cyprus (23 May) are also expected to be reflected in opinion polling and hence carry with them a change to our projection.

Disproportionate or sometimes opposite developments in the popular vote share and the seat projection can be explained with the slight disproportionality of the electoral system for the European Parliament.

Visit our European Parliament projection site for a more in-depth overview and the methodology behind the monthly projection.

This article was contributed on by Tobias Gerhard Schminke