4 weeks after the European Elections: what to remember and what to watch out for?
5 things to remember from the last four weeks:
1. OMG. Turnout increased, for the first time in years, reversing decades of decline. In some member states, like Germany and Poland, the increase in the number of voters going to the polls was spectacular. With more than 50% turnout, the European Parliament elections performed better than the US midterm elections.
This will certainly give a boost to the legitimacy of the European Parliament, but the effect will be short-lived, as in half a year nobody will talk about it anymore. If you’re not convinced of this, ask yourself: did the low turnout in 2009 affect the European Parliament, except for in the immediate post-election analysis season?
2. Wow. The opinion polls were right. A Green wave was expected, but only in the North-West of the Union. Similarly, the Liberals grew, but only because of electoral doping, not because of winning the elections: the extra seats won by the LibDems (a temporary effect that will wear off once Brexit has taken place) and the alliance with Macron’s Renaissance.
Also as predicted, the Grand Coalition of EPP and S&D is not so grand anymore, since it lost its absolute majority for the first time since the direct elections of the Parliament in 1979. But here too there is more continuity than change, as the Grand Coalition already ceased to exist in the second half of the 2014-2019 legislature. Remember that Antonio Tajani was elected President without the support of the S&D Group.
3. Relax. The populists caused a wave, but not a tidal wave. Matteo Salvini and his friends gained seats but have not been able to put together the 3rd largest EP Group. This is basically because of internal disagreements in the ‘populist’ family and because of the decreased popularity of parties like FPÖ and the Danish People’s Party. In other words: the populists are here to stay, but with winners and losers, like everyone else.
4. More representative? Seriously? Some claimed the new European Parliament is more representative. Fine, but wait, more representative vis-à-vis what or whom? Thanks to the Green and the populist wave, the new Parliament is certainly differently composed - and much more fragmented - compared with the outgoing Parliament; but that is exactly what elections are for.
Or are some claiming that the votes in 2014 were not representative? Or that voters in 2014 did not vote for the right parties? If it means that a new parliament is more up to date with the voters’ opinion, then it applies to every election, not only this one, and as such the statement is meaningless.
5. Stability versus change. During the campaign, but also when the votes are cast and the battle for interpretation starts, some favour stability, while some favour change. Interestingly, on election night EPP Spitzenkandidat Manfred Weber made a plea for stability, stating that now it is not the time for revolution.
ALDE Spitzenkandidat Margrethe Vestager, by contrast, reminded the audience that as the Commissioner responsible for Competition Policy, she worked to break corporate monopolies, and announced her intention to do the same with political monopolies. Clearly, Vestager wants to oust the EPP from the Commission Presidency.
PES Spitzenkandidat Frans Timmermans was much more diplomatic - after all, that is his profession. He had probably already foreseen that an anti-EPP-coalition of Socialists, Liberals, Greens and the extreme-left would still narrowly lack a majority.
5 things to look forward in the coming days and weeks:
1. The informal European Council two days after the elections resulted in a draw. Neither the heads of state and government nor the European Parliament group leaders were able to impose something, neither a Spitzenkandidat nor the end of the Spitzenkandidaten system.
While the Europarty delegations meet in order to help forward the search for a package deal (Commission, European Council, Parliament and European Central Bank presidents), Donald Tusk has the formal task of finding a majority within the European Council for the nomination of a new Commission President. If he fails to do so by 20-21 June, there is still some time left for an extra Summit before the new Parliament meets on 2 July.
2. The first thing the European Parliament has to do, however, is to vote on a president. Likely, this will indicate the composition of the working majority for the 2019-2024 legislature.
3. Next, onto the positions, where there is an ongoing battle over content. Formally, the Commission is in charge of setting the agenda for the next five years, given its prerogative of legislative initiative. However, both the European Council and the European Parliament want to have a say on this strategic agenda. In other words: will the new deputies or the member state governments decide what the priorities of the new Commission will be?
4. Once the Commission President-elect is known, national governments will be asked to nominate their Commissioners. This raises the question: what kind of strategy will the governments of Poland, Hungary, etc. follow? Will they oppose the Commission by sending candidates with clear Eurosceptic profiles, relying on these Trojan horses to undermine from within? Or will they accommodate the new Commission President, hoping to receive powerful portfolios for their Commissioners in return?
5. Brexit. Exactly in the same period, the Tories will choose a new leader. He (there are no female candidates left) will become the new UK Prime Minister. In any case, October 31st is the new Brexit deadline. Preparing for a no-deal scenario or granting another extension will be the responsibility of the ancien regime, but whatever the outcome will be, it will be an issue on the table for everyone taking up political responsibility in the EU for the forthcoming 5 years.