Between May 23rd and May 26th next year, voters all across the European Union will have the chance to vote for their representatives in the European Parliament for the next five years. The EP is one of the five ‘core’ EU institutions, and acts in a largely supervisory capacity. It has the rather modest powers of deciding the budget, scrutinising legislation and asking the European Commission to bring forward legislation in a specific area. Since 2014 the largest party in the Parliament nominates a President of the European Commission – currently the EPP’s Jean Claude Juncker.
The Parliament has historically been led by a centre-right bloc called the European People’s Party (although it has never had a majority), with the Liberal Democrats and the Social Democrats being the two other major blocs. However, recent trends have shown a wide decline in support for all three parties.
In the 6th Parliament (elected in 2004) these three parties held 609 seats between them, or around 80%. In the current Parliament these parties have been reduced to around 63%. In tandem with this fall in support, more extreme fringes have emerged. Left wing parties have 103 seats (14%), and Right wing parties have 156 (21%) with the remainder being various independents, (known as ‘Non Inscrit’).
These figures make the extremes seem more powerful than they are. However, the left vote is split between two groups, the right amongst three – and the centrist blocs have previously used their clout to block an extreme grouping from gaining influence when they collectively blocked a far-right group known as ‘Identity, Tradition, Sovereignty’ from chairing EU committees.
Recently however, we have begun to see a coalescing of the Right. Steve Bannon, formerly of the White House and Breitbart, announced he would start an NGO to provide assistance to Nationalist parties. Although some have spoken against its usefulness, there has been intense groundwork laid to bring the three disparate right wing nationalist groupings under a single banner, alluded to by an MEP for Germany’s AfD party.
Opinion polling for the next European Parliamentary election has shown a much more rapid deterioration in the traditional centrist parties’ supports. The three blocs can be expected to bring around 52% of the vote, down massively in only a few years. Britain’s exit from the EU (and thus the Parliament) will reduce the total MEP count to 705.
Conversely, the nationalist Right has seen a strong increase in its position. The ECR, EFDD and ENF (the three mainstays of the right/nationalists) are set to be joined by dozens of ‘independents,’ (between 35 and 40). If the polling is accurate, and these nationalists manage to shelve their minor differences to form a coherent bloc, they could be estimated to take up to 190 seats.
On the higher end, this would place them almost on par with or ahead of the EPP (175-190 seats), in contention to be the largest bloc in the Parliament. With the policy of Spitzenkandidaten (the largest party nominating the President of the Commission) in place, this gives the far-right an unlikely but plausible chance of taking control of some of the institutions they want most dearly to be rid of.
However it remains unlikely, not only because of ideological and logistical issues but also because the Parliament holds the ability to fire the entire Commission, and they would likely do it. What such a result would achieve would likely be the grinding of the EU and its institutions into a halt. Such a halt would see their support strengthened and enthusiasts of the EU falter.
Such seat projections will no doubt fluctuate rapidly, given national concerns and the potential for centrist schisms. Fidesz (Viktor Orban’s party, in the EPP) and PSD (Romanian PM Viorica Dăncilă, in the Social Democrats) have both come under the eye of the European Commission, and both would likely find themselves more ideologically at home in the radical wings of the European Parliament.
The picture being painted is one of tectonic shifts in European politics, and it shall soon be played out. We are certainly living in interesting times.