With a very large increase in the number of seats for the far-right, there may well be a realignment of the right-wing forces in the next parliament – says Tim McNamara
Taking into account several recent European Union-wide opinion polls on the forthcoming European Parliament elections, certain voting trends can be discerned. The largest group in the EP, the centre-right European People’s Party seems to be heading for a significant loss of support. Projections are that it will fall from the current number of 274 MEPs to between 205 and 215 MEPs. The total number of seats in the next parliament will be 751.
The Socialists and Democrats group will benefit from the decline in EPP support with their predicted number of S&D MEPs set to increase by 5-10 per cent. The collective currently has 194 MEPs with a predicted range after the ballot on May of 202-213.
The Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe seem to be facing a slight weakening of their position in the next parliament, with 85 MEPs now, going down to between 60 and 66. It looks like the biggest losers proportionately will be the Greens-European Free Alliance group going down from 58 seats to between 35 and 45.
One possible surprising outcome from the next parliament is that, counter-intuitively, it may well be a more consensual one than now. Relations between the EPP and S&D should be on a more equal basis and the far-right – such as the French Front National – will find it difficult to work with the assorted right-wing mavericks from other rightist groups. The relative collapse in the green vote, by one-third, may well impact on EU policy makers when considering the delicate balance between economic growth and environmental sustainability.
Analysis of voting intentions in France, Germany, Italy, Poland, Spain and the United Kingdom indicates that the balance between the EPP and S&D will shift dramatically. While all MEPs are equal, parliamentarians from the six largest member states have a greater influence borne of the relative weight of the member states in the Council of Ministers.
Presently, the EPP has a decisive lead over the S&D among the big six – by 159 to 102. This is significant when it comes to selecting the highly influential chairs and rapporteurs of committees. Present projections indicate that the EPP representation among the big six will suffer a large decline from 159 seats to 119. While the S&D group will increase from 102 seats to 122.
The viability of the Europe of Freedom and Democracy group’s future – including UKIP – will be called into question, as will the European Conservatives and Reformists. On current predictions, the Polish PiS – Law and Justice Party – will be the largest group in the ECR moving from 11 MEPs to 20. The UK representation will decline from 26-27 to 16-17, while the Czech ODS will collapse from 9 MEPs to 2. This will dramatically change the dynamic of this group. However, it also looks like they will no longer have MEPs in BE, DK, HU and IT. Overall, the group representatives will fall from 57 seats to between 38-42 seats.
This, however, will be ignored by the British members of the ECR group as its viability takes precedence. The UK members of the ECR are significantly more Eurosceptic than their fellow party members in the UK parliament. They are also far less likely to follow the lead of the party leadership on EU matters. The predictions should also be worrying for the Europe of Freedom and Democracy group in the parliament. Although, they should stabilise the number of MEPs with good results in DK, FI and UK. It looks like they will not have any representatives in BG, EL, and PL.
The recent German Constitution court’s ruling on the country’s electoral law will result in about 9 MEPs coming from new political groups in Germany. This will also impact on the formation of political groups with the ECR, EFD and a new far-right party group looking to Germany for new members in order to help them cross the line with MEPs from six or more member states – the 20 per cent threshold.
With a very large increase in the number of seats for the far-right, there may well be a realignment of the right-wing forces in the next parliament. We know that UKIP has ruled out a coalition with the French Front National but other members of the EFD group – like the 2 Lega Nord members – may be tempted to switch.
With the French FN rivalling the centre-right in France, Marine Le Pen’s party will play a pivotal role in any new centre-right group. However, the recent poor result for Geert de Wilders party in local elections in the Netherlands must be of concern to Le Pen and like-minded prospective member states. Perversely, the Front National’s success in the current local elections in France may not work to Le Pen’s advantage in the EP elections. Time and time again, many French voters appear to be quite happy to ‘flirt’ with the far-right in the first round of elections and then fail to support them in the second round. Le Pen’s new found success might actually deter some voters from supporting the party in the single round EP election.
Leftist group the European United Left/Nordic Green Left will enjoy a large increase in their share of the vote. Their current representation of 35 MEPs should increase to between 41 and 49 MEPs. Besides FR, EL and HU, there does not seem to have been any significant increased support for far-right parties – with their share of the vote collapsing in the UK and BE.
Tim McNamara is head of the Peercourt consultancy firm. He was previously political editor at the European Commission