By Paul Chartrand*
HAVANA TIMES – European Parliament elections last week brought out over 50% of four hundred million eligible voters in 27 European countries, the second largest democratic election on the planet. The recent Indian Parliamentary election more than doubled the number of European voters.
This total Euro vote turnout was the highest in over 20 years due to high participation in many member states. Many commentators here believe the new Parliamentary groups to be formed by party representatives from each member state will more clearly reflect the attitudes of millions of voters in member countries than did past Parliaments.
Each member state’s vote reflected current politics and concerns of that country more than citizen opinions on pan European issues. But there was an amazing similarity in citizen concerns and resulting votes across many member states. It is difficult and would require much more detail to break down the origins and results of each national vote by party, so we focus here on upcoming changes within Parliamentary groups now that national votes are counted.
Winners and losers
Media reports focused on three effects of the recent vote: More support for conservative nationalist or populist parties with euro skeptic views, more support for ecology parties and less support for the historic ruling center left and center right parties from many countries.
The weakening of the two large center groups in Brussels reflects a loss of support for similar national parties from which their members came: historic and well-established Social Democrat or Socialist parties who shared or alternated power with their established and mildly Conservative counterparts in many member states.
The two groups shared power in Brussels and between them had a strong enough majority to dominate votes. Although they espoused somewhat different economic and social views, both parties until recently represented the most powerful political machines in their member states, equivalent to the Republicans and Democrats who control US debate.
National votes over the past few years weakened support for these centralist parties as they struggled to understand and include growing numbers of disenfranchised young and/or working people.
Macron took power in France away from the established order with his new Republic en Marche party in 2017. He offered a new and more independent image filled with youthful energy. Although Trump is nominally a Republican, he also shattered the grip that centrists of his party had on U.S. votes. Similar erosion of long-term center oriented politicians has occurred in other parts of Europe since the last 2014 Parliamentary election.
Three groups in the Euro Parliament benefited from this move from the center in the recent election. The free market or Liberal group includes parties like Macron’s in France, who will add 23 members to the Euro group. Before this year there was no such equivalent party in France. These new Liberal members will add significantly to the existing group of 70 members, bringing it to a strong minority of 105 among the total 751.
The Ecology or Green group in Brussels will also benefit from an influx of young Euro voters who chose not to support established parties that have not shown courage on environmental issues. This resulted in Green gains in many European countries and will grow with each election as younger voters become increasingly active.
The Green group in Parliament will grow from 58 to 69 this year, with potentially over 100 votes if we also include the allied European United Left-Nordic Green Left group, who should also gain a few new members. This now significant minority will have much more influence in coalitions that will be needed by former ruling centrist groups.
The third group to gain members this year will be the loosely aligned right wing nationalists, populists and euro skeptics in the Euro Parliament. Three groups known as the European Reformists, the Europe of Freedom & Direct Democracy and the Europe of Nations & Freedom, are all to the right of the larger centrist European People’s Party. These far right groups will grow to about 171 members from 148 during the past five-year session.
This potentially large minority group, with varied national priorities, may have difficulty agreeing enough to have as strong an impact as numbers suggest. But they will certainly wield more voting power than in the past and national politics in several member states continue to support some of this group’s leaders. This will force formerly strong center Right & Left groups to align with Liberals and Greens on more votes, to continue constructively working on a democratic European Union that can respond to voter concerns that increased support for populist leaders: immigration, terrorism and economic inequality.
Although very few nationalist members continue to espouse completely ending or leaving the European Union, many ran on that in past years. The Brexit debacle continues to show how difficult a simple “Leave” proposition will be for any country with decades long participation in the Union.
An exception to this is a group of 29 new pro-Brexit members from Great Britain. Although a minority of the 70 members elected in Britain, these 29 will be vocal and certainly do want to leave the European Union. Leave they might, before the end of this five-year session of European Parliament.
The above numbers are provisional but close enough to offer a good picture of the new European Parliament. Changes in member states’ national politics over the five years since the last Euro election will now be reflected in the makeup of Parliament in Brussels. Although majorities will be more difficult to reach and maintain, the stronger minority groups more democratically represent voters throughout Europe. The recent turnout over 50% strengthens each group’s claim to at least a minority “mandate”. It is difficult to predict how alliances will form and among which groups.
The European Parliament is only one of three chambers or bodies that effect decisions in the Union. The European Council, made up of the leader from each member state, and their chosen executive branch nominees who will run the European Commission and Central Bank, will continue to exert the most influence on any changes. The members of the Council are not changing, but their choices for Commission executives must reflect new Parliamentary groups in order to get final confirmation by Parliament.
Although a fresh breeze of democracy will renew the 751 members of Parliament, they will have their hands full as they struggle to approve legislation needed to answer citizen anxieties and avoid the growth of groups hoping to use the same anxieties to increase nationalist fervor and support less democratic leaders..
European Parliament: 2019 – 2024 Provisional results
|Political groups in the European Parliament||Number of seats||% of seats|
EPP Group of the European People’s Party (Christian Democrats)
S&D Group of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats in the European Parliament
ALDE&R Group of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe + Renaissance + USR PLUS
Greens/EFA Group of the Greens/European Free Alliance
ECR European Conservatives and Reformists Group
ENF Europe of Nations and Freedom Group
EFDD Europe of Freedom and Direct Democracy Group
GUE/NGL Confederal Group of the European United Left – Nordic Green Left
NI Non-attached Members
Others Newly elected Members not allied to any of the political groups set up in the outgoing Parliament
*Paul Chartrand contributed this article from France