The Lives of Others
The popular winner in the press after the European Parliament elections is ‘others’, a mix of national eurosceptic, extreme right and anti-establishment parties that together represent the 3rd highest grouping (estimates put EPP at 213 seats, S&D at 189 seats and other at 105 seats).
These parties are not affiliated to other established groups. They may well try to form their own group (as is the wish of Mrs Le Pen from France’s Front National) or join some of the established groups.
The presence of these ‘others’ is going to present a real challenge in the European Parliament. While the EPP and the S&D will continue to be the two big groups, they will only command just over 50% of the house. This will make it difficult for those two groups alone to ensure any legislation through a grand coalition and could lead to the ALDE group being drafted in to create a more solid alliance (up to around 63% of the house). The question remains as to whether these groups have enough in common to make such an alliance meaningful. At the same time ‘left to centre’ (GUE, Green, S&D, ALDE) and 'centre to right' (ALDE, EPP, ECR, EFD) coalitions don’t even reach 50%, making a grand coalition the only way of guaranteeing any certainty on key votes.
President of the Commission
The EPP has won the most votes, entitling them to put forward their candidate, former Luxembourg Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker, for the Presidency of the European Commission. S&D candidate Martin Schulz is still jockeying for position though, and keeping the pressure up by noting that the EPP haven’t got an outright majority and will need socialist support for Juncker to get through. Socialist support will mean something in return and Schulz may well be the German Commissioner in the next College. If/Once Junker is put forward then the Member States will have their say. Some mischievous rumours suggest that Juncker will be put forward knowing that the Member States will reject him and a runner-up prize that both he and they would prefer, perhaps Herman van Rompuy’s spot as Council President. Given the weak majority that the Socialist support would bring, Guy Verhofstadt is no doubt trying to underline the value of his group, ALDE, in supporting Juncker and secure something for himself at the same time.
The first process after the elections will be to form European Parliament groups. While the traditional groups (NGL/GUE, S&D, Greens, ALDE, EPP, ECR, EFD) will probably continue (with the possible exception of EFD), as mentioned in the introduction, the big impact will be from the ‘others’. Having a group in the European Parliament has certain advantages – it brings a not insignificant amount of financial support to pay for a group secretariat and advisors, interpreters for meetings and so on. A group must be made up of at least 25 MEPs from at least 7 Member States. Mrs Le Pen has already announced her intention to try to form a group. While her party alone provides 24 MEPs she now needs to find 6 other national parties (the Netherlands, Belgium and Austria will probably form 3 of the 6, with the possibility of drawing Italy’s Liga Norde from the current EFD group leaving parties from 2 more Member States to be found).
Big winners and newly elected parties like the Italian Five Star Movement (17 seats), or the handful of new parties from Germany will probably receive overtures from established groups to beef up their numbers.
The extremist parties have traditionally been non-participative. If this continues it will have a significant impact on the power of some countries’ delegations. As the best example Mrs Le Pen’s victory in France decimates the power of the French delegation which has potentially lost 21 MEPs plenary votes on issues of importance to France.
The German delegation on the other hand comes out of the elections even stronger being the biggest delegation in the EPP group (34 out of 213 seats) and the second biggest in the S&D group (27 out of the 189 seats, after Italy with 31). This will give Germany considerable clout when voting on issues of national importance.
Once the groups have been decided, the committees and committee members (and chairs and vice presidents) will be established. This is where the delegations can have an impact in guaranteeing chairmanship positions in key committees etc. So far the only call for a new committee has come from Dutch liberal MEP Marietje Schaake who would like to see a digital affairs committee. The impact of the ‘others’ will then depend on whether they continue their previous tradition of non-participation (not drafting, amending or voting on reports) or decide to engage in the Parliament processes. This could mean more reports on issues such as migration or limiting EU powers.
The rise of the ‘others’, predominantly made up of Eurosceptic and far-right parties, will probably make votes on more Europe difficult in the coming 5 years. What might be the impact of that on issues such as tax-harmonisation or strengthening the internal market for services? There may also be an impact on trade agreements with the TTIP negotiations likely to be lengthier in the face of growing popular opposition to the deal in countries like Germany.