Think-tank predicts European Parliament will become fragmented in three blocs

A new report released yesterday predicts that the European Parliament elections on 23 – 26 May will result in an increase in votes for Eurosceptic parties and a division of the parliament into three almost equal party blocs which could result in a deadlock in its decision-making.

The report was published by the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR), a pan-European think-tank from 2007 with offices in several EU capitals. Its methodology is based on the historical relationship between the outcomes of European elections and public opinion polls.

For 16 countries, people were asked in February and March this year on how they will vote. As turnout varies by country, figures were weighted for the likelihood that respondents will vote. In the other member states, a statistical model was applied on publicly available national opinion polls.

At a press conference on Tuesday (23 April) at Press Club Brussels, political science Professor Simon Hix, one of the co-authors of the report, admitted that much depends on the timing of the polls and that a higher voter turnout can influence the outcome. The turnout in the European elections has been steadily decreasing and was only 43 % in 2014.

“A lot is still to play for, but one thing looks certain, the next European Parliament will be highly fragmented, with no clear majority and multiple forces, with radically different visions for Europe, battling for influence,” he summarised the report.

While the balance of the new parliament is not expected to change significantly, the two main party groups, the centre-right (EPP) and the Socialists (S&D) are predicted to lose their majority, down together to 43 % of the seats.

Assuming that the UK will participate in the elections, something that looks inevitable after the deadline for leaving EU was extended to end October 2019, EPP will likely receive 180 – 190 seats (217 today) and S&D 140 – 150 seats (187 today) of the 751 seats in the parliament.

In broad terms, the reports foresee the new parliament divided into three blocks, each with roughly one-third of the seats: A Left Bloc with 34%, a Right Bloc with 32%, and anti-EU or Eurosceptic parties with 35% of the seats – up from 30% today.

How will this influence the working of the new parliament? EPP will lose its dominant role in the parliament and will have difficulties in pushing through its lead candidate, Martin Weber, to the post as European Commission president.

The Liberals (ALDE), with a predicted 14% of the votes (including the new French party En Marche!), and/or the Greens (G/EFA) with 8 % of the votes might become “kingmakers” in the parliament.

How and with whom this centre bloc chooses to work in the next parliament will, therefore, be critical in edging either the left block or the EPP ahead of the anti-European parties, says the report.

Anti-European parties could form the second-largest coalition in the European Parliament, with or without UK participation, but opinions are divided if they will be able to overcome their nationalist sentiments or fall apart as a united bloc in the parliament.

According to Doru Frantescu, director and co-founder of VoteWatch Europe, there were relatively stable coalitions in the past on most issues in the parliament, but these coalitions will be smaller and less stable in the new parliament. Internal party discipline is also likely to decline.

As on average 60% of the current MEPs are likely to be replaced, he also thinks that the elections will result in a loss of institutional memory. We might have more debates in the parliament but, in the worst scenario, a dysfunctional parliament incapable of passing legislation and cooperating with the Commission.

“For most voters, the elections aren’t so much about Europe but for voting for smaller parties to punish the bigger parties in their national governments,” he said.

That said, there is still time for the parties to influence the outcome. According to another recent report by ECFR, 15 – 30% of the electorate does not have any preference yet. As much as 70% of those who have a voting preference – 97 million people – are swing voters who are not committed to any one party.

A higher turnout among young voters is expected to benefit centrist and green parties in most countries.

Susi Dennison, a senior policy fellow at the ECRF, lists several issues, in particular, climate change, that could mobilise voters across party boundaries. “Parties participating in the European elections need to be seen as agents of changes and not defenders of the institutional status-quo in the EU,” she says.

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