Elections 2019. What changes to expect?

(B2) The 2019 European elections could be a game-changer. Without being the expected or feared revolution, some developments could be radical

(credit: European Parliament)

Who will lead Parliament tomorrow?

The European Parliament is currently led by a large right-left coalition. The 'populars' of the EPP (to which belong the Republicans) and the Social Democrats of the S&D (of which the PS is a member) now have the absolute majority of the seats (408 out of 751). This gives them the option of choosing the President of Parliament as well as that of the Commission. The latest polls indeed give these two losing government parties. The EPP could lose around forty seats, while the Socialists will undergo a drastic purge: between 50 and 60 fewer seats, out of the current 189. The departure of Labor British, but also the poor results expected in France, Italy and Germany explain this bleeding. Result: to form and reach the new threshold of the majority (353 seats *), pro-European, in Parliament, it will be necessary to join the liberal and democratic troops, even the Greens.

Liberals on the rise?

Here again, the enthusiasm should be more measured than expected. Admittedly, ALDE could (re)become the third group in the assembly and it will become a centerpiece of the new European power game, giving it hope of being able to obtain one of the leading positions (presidency of the European Parliament, of the Council or High Representative) . But for that, he will have to count on the support of the Working French.

Will the 'En Marche' be able to form a separate group?

It seems difficult. The only possibility, serious for the moment, is to come and strengthen the Liberals and Democrats (ALDE). The regular crushing in the polls of Emmanuel Macron's troops leaves no real hope for the French president to constitute a sufficient force of attraction to 'unhook' the liberal and democratic parties from their current group.

Who should advance in Parliament?

The left and the communists (GUE) should win a few seats. Same for the Greens. But, it will not be the great leap hoped for. This increase will not compensate for the loss of the social and democrats and will prove incapable of providing enough troops to compose an alternative majority. According to our calculations (**), the three 'left' groups would barely reach a third of the hemicycle (35%). Even with the reinforcement of the Liberals and Democrats, they would only arrive at 48% of the seats. It is especially on the other side of the hemicycle that the major evolution will take place...

Who could be the big winner?

Currently dead last of the political groups, the extreme right should climb to fifth, even fourth place on the scale. This will make it difficult to oust nationalist deputies from certain positions of prestige or power: vice-presidency of Parliament or chairmanship of committees, for example. The current “cordon sanitaire” could thus burst. The distribution to these functions being done, according to the D'Hondt rule, following a kind of improved proportional.

What will become of the other Eurosceptic groups?

Contrary to what some claim, it is a real unknown. Despite a certain eurosceptic wind blowing in Europe, it is difficult to predict their future weight. MEPs hostile to European integration are, in fact, split into two main groups who are bearing the full brunt of Brexit. The conservatives of the Polish PiS will find themselves orphans of the Tories British with whom they formed the conservative group ECR. Ditto for the Italians of 5 star movement who suffer from the departure of anti-Europeans from UKIP and no longer have the minimum number of countries to constitute a group. Their influence will therefore depend on their ability to merge and attract new members to form a solid group (***). The challenge is daunting for the Eurosceptics.

Why is it so hard to predict?

In the European Parliament, the political groups are quite mobile from one legislature to another. Several questions arise in particular on the far right. The German AFD today is present in the Eurosceptic group (EFDD). Its positioning in 2014 was largely anti-European. But it evolved, in the meantime, towards a more clearly nationalist position, while the National Front took the opposite path, becoming the National Rally. Will there be a reunion? Likewise, the Democrats Swedish members of the EFDD group have recently (June 2018) joined the Conservatives. It is therefore difficult to predict the evolution. Finally, many MEPs today find themselves without a precise affiliation to the European Parliament. A good fifty are thus from parties or lists which either were not present in 2014, or are difficult to classify today.

Is the break-up of the EPP possible?

It's a pending question, with the turn taken by Hungarian leader Viktor Orban ostensibly on display. Does the Fidesz Hungarian woman who is now a member of the EPP will leave this group to sail together with the Polish conservatives (PiS)? On the ideological, political and economic level, the two parties have a number of points in common, with a more 'social' policy than certain parties of the EPP group, but vigorously national and anti-European integration for certain other aspects. But leaving the fold of the EPP for Viktor Orban would be risky… The same question arises for the most 'social' of the EPP if Viktor Orban stayed. The break-up of the Christian-Democratic family would be a real storm for the European Parliament. Brussels is currently buzzing with rumours. But the natural, conservative tendency of the forces making up the EPP could ultimately lead them to stay together. The solidity of the group is perhaps more solid than what some centrifugal tendencies on which some people bet - notably the Working or LibDem — to try to wrest power from this party which has been involved in all European battles.

(Nicolas Gros-Verheyde)

(*) The number of seats in the European Parliament has been revised downwards, following the expected departure of British MEPs, from 751 to 705. Some countries, hitherto under-represented due to demographic changes, have benefited with a nudge. France will thus benefit from 79 seats instead of 74. Read: MEPs not super enthusiastic about transnational lists

(**) Source B2 elections database based on figures provided by foederalist.eu

(***) To form a group in the European Parliament, it is (today) necessary to have 25 MEPs from seven Member States (at least a quarter of the Member States). But this rule could be modified in the next legislature, by limiting the number of MEPs from a single Member State to a quarter. Which could make life the hardest for Eurosceptic groups like ECR and EFDD. MEPs are due to debate it this week in the AFCO committee (constitutional affairs).

Paper published for Sud-Ouest, completed and detailed

Nicolas Gros Verheyde

Chief editor of the B2 site. Graduated in European law from the University of Paris I Pantheon Sorbonne and listener to the 65th session of the IHEDN (Institut des Hautes Etudes de la Défense Nationale. Journalist since 1989, founded B2 - Bruxelles2 in 2008. EU/NATO correspondent in Brussels for Sud-Ouest (previously West-France and France-Soir).

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