Malloch: Coming Soon – EU Elections in May 2019
The next big election in the Western World is just six months away.
On May 23rd-26th 2019, at least 27 simultaneous elections will take place in European Union member states.
Two perspectives on European integration will be put to the test of the ballot box, with untold consequences for the transatlantic alliance and the rest of the world.
The 705-member European Parliament will have mighty responsibilities facing it: Voting in a new President of Europe plus the cabinet.
The new chief of European foreign policy (currently held by pro-Iranian Federica Mogherini, a radical Italian Socialist) will be a major appointment to watch.
With the likely delay of a final withdrawal agreement (Brexit deal), voting through the final agreement will also be under the purview of the 2019-2024 cohort. A change of Brexit negotiator, currently the hardline globalist-Frenchman, Michel Barnier, may also be a major forthcoming change.
Another considerable responsibility will be crafting a European budget:
Even Macron’s people are on the record complaining that the current lame-duck legislature (elected in 2014) has no right to pass a budget.
Oddly the EU budget lasts seven years, past the term of the legislature that’s about to be elected. This is an unusual point of agreement between Macron, a pro-European federalist and the various Eurosceptic movements currently sweeping Europe.
It is safe to say the next cohort of MEPs (Members of the European Parliament) will be very different to the current one.
Already in 2014, Nigel Farage’s UKIP placed first in the UK’s poll, netting 24 of Britain’s 73 members. Marine Le Pen’s party also came first in France.
Given that seats are apportioned by population, the swing against Brussels evident in countries like Italy, where the ruling coalition of Eurosceptic parties polls in the low 70s, cements this long-term trend.
Germany’s two major centrist parties are now polling below 50%. Even the more modest gains of Germany’s AfD are signs that a substantial swing towards Eurosceptic parties is likely to take place.
The top six countries (by population and therefore also by seats) comprise a majority of the legislature – denying the other side a majority here is crucial to wrangling the presidency away, be it from the Eurosceptics or the Europhiles.
Assuming Britain does resort to a Brexit extension, this effect would be even greater: a 28th election, in what would be the third largest member state, stacked with MEPs advocating for Britain against Brussels from within – from left and right, embedded in every party.
A British Commissioner would be running a department of the European institutions, traditionally a major one. The substantial contribution London makes to Brussels’ budget would be wielded as a point in London’s camp within budget negotiations – unlike now. From London’s point of view, this negotiating position is far superior to its current one.
Which parties are likely to come out ahead in the scrum remains to be seen.
Parties in the European Parliament are made up of MEPs from many countries, not all of which see eye to eye. Viktor Orbán’s Hungarian Fidesz, for example, sits with the federalist EPP grouping, with Merkel’s CDU.
Their 2014 weak presidential candidate – Jean Claude Juncker – ascended to the European presidency with votes from the center-left Socialists & Democrats (S&D) group, an exact replica of Merkel’s current coalition in Germany.
The victory condition for Eurosceptics in 2019 is to keep out both the S&D and the EPP groups from the ruling coalition.
The opposite is true for Europhiles.
The appearance of inevitability can and should be cultivated through the defections of whole parties such as Orbán’s, which will have a twofold effect: bolstering the chance of securing an outright majority and pushing the EPP further toward the left.
As Manfred Weber, the German EPP presidential candidate for 2019 knows, appeasing Orbán is a full time job. Likewise, the EPP and S&D have better options (both ideologically and in the delivering of parliamentary votes) than some of their current membership.
These realignments are desirable and necessary, whatever their political consequences.
It is a fact of parliamentary mathematics that a majority is unattainable with a single party.
The confluence of countries and political memberships do not obey the rules of logic or the American model of bipartisanship. Steve Bannon, who has been trying to set up a sort of pan-European Super PAC to aid Eurosceptic electoral efforts, has admitted to running into this problem.
How do you make dozens of different parties run on the same platform?
The answer is: You don’t. The time to form alliances is after the elections, once parliamentary math based on hard numbers is available.
How much help the Eurosceptic movement needs in the first place is an open question. Anyone betting against Poland’s ruling PiS party should remember that they trounced the socialists so hard in their own national elections that the socialists ended up — without a single seat.
The efficient route is to focus on large-population member states with weaker Eurosceptic movements. Germany and Spain, for example, round up 155 seats in total. If the EPP/S&D center holds it will be because they held the line in countries like these.
Another phenomenon to underline is the rise of the Eurosceptic left.
Syriza, a party that caucuses with the radical left in Brussels, currently rules Greece, which has suffered the most loss of sovereignty.
The GUE/NGL grouping of communist and formerly communist parties like the Spanish Podemos, German Die Linke, and France’s Mélenchon are as hardline anti-Brussels as any right wing equivalent. Their capacity to steal seats from the EPP/Socialist blocs should not be underestimated, nor is the degree to which they share agendas with parties considered “far to the right”.
Six months is a long time in politics, especially these days.
With the campaign set to begin early next year, the focus will shift to the swing states – middle-weight (by population) where strong Eurosceptic movements are present but have produced lackluster results so far: Romania, Netherlands, Belgium, Sweden, Denmark, the Czechs.
Given a middling performance in the big 6, over performing in states such as these will grant the keys to the European kingdom.
Stay tuned for electoral change…