Eurosceptic MEPs will have “marginal” influence in EU Parliament

EU flags in the European Parliament. [European Parliament]

The number of Eurosceptic MEPs has increased significantly, but the lack of a blocking minority means their influence in the Parliament will remain “marginal”. EURACTIV France reports.

The Eurosceptic election victory, notably in France, the UK and Denmark, should not drastically affect the work of the European Parliament.

With 140 MEPs in the next legislature, Eurosceptic parties will still represent a minority out of the 751 MEPs in the EP.

“Their influence will be low. They will only have a slow-down effect on proceedings,” said Henri Weber, an outgoing French MEP. “They will obstruct more, and turn up to sessions with their national flags, as did Nigel Farage’s UKIP party during the last mandate,” he continued.

No blocking minority

Law-making should only be marginally affected by the increase of Eurosceptic MEPs, as most plenary session voting in Strasbourg is taken by absolute majority.

With 751 MEPs from 28 EU member states, the Eurosceptic vote cannot reach the absolute majority alone (376 seats).

“The National Front is definitely not the dominant political party in Europe. The party that came out on top in these elections was the EPP, followed by the PES and ALDE” stated Nathalie Griesbeck, French centrist MEP.

Unlike the European Council, there can be no blocking minority in the Parliament. This would have allowed a minority number of MEPs to oppose decisions made by the majority.

At a European level, only three states of the 28 can block a decision made in the Council. During Marine Le Pen’s campaign, she regularly claimed that her party was going to “be the blocking minority which would stop further austerity and prevent greater material losses for France” (4 May edition of the Journal du Dimanche). However, this is practically impossible.

No coalition possible

To effectively influence plenary voting, Eurosceptic MEPs will have to resort to dialogue and negotiation with the different parliamentary groups.

This culture of negotiation between different political groups is central to the European Parliament, seeing as no one group has a majority.

“It means that 70% of decisions are done via deals between the three main groups (centre-right, socialist and liberal),” said Yves Bertoncini, director of the Notre Europe think tank. However, the main parties have made it clear that they will not negotiation with the Eurosceptic parties.

“I do not work with the far-right” stated Jean-Claude Juncker, the EPP candidate for president of the European Commission, during an interview with France Info before the EU elections.

For Nathalie Griesbeck, the rise of Euroscepticism could split the European Parliament. “There will be a real political divide, with pro-Europeans on one side, and Eurosceptics on the other,” she said.

“Perhaps necessity will reign, but only in extreme cases, because basic differences are too deep-rooted,” explained Yves Bertoncini.

Parliamentary group-forming stalled

The far-right in the European Parliament is too weak to influence voting alone and too isolated to form alliances. Marine Le Pen has taken on the difficult task of forming a parliamentary group.

The different political parties have until July 1 to form groups, which require a minimum of 25 MEPs from at least a quarter of EU member states (7 countries). This will be challenging for parties with such diverse ideologies.

The National Front MEPs are currently unattached, but hope to assemble their historic alliances in the Parliament – the Freedom Party for Austria (FPÖ) and Vlaams Belang in Belgium – as well as other far-right and anti-European parties (the Dutch Party for Freedom, the Italian North League, the Sweden Democrats, etc).

As of yet, nothing is set in stone. “Europhobe MEPs are portrayed as one faction, but they are not,” said Bertoncini. “There are three countries where right-wing Europhobes came out on top in the EU elections: the National Front in France, UKIP in the UK, and the Danish People’s Party,” he added.

“At the moment, UKIP and the Danish People’s Party do not want to associate themselves with the National Front. We must not forget far-right parties like Golden Dawn in Greece or Jobbik in Hungary, which the National Front has distanced themselves from, will probably end up as independent,” Bertoncini continued.

Marginal changes

“Forming a parliamentary group will not make a fundamental difference. It will provide them with a bit more money and vocal influence,” he stated. A parliamentary group does come with benefits, such as an annual operating grant.

Other advantages include access to the Conference of Presidents, which decides the plenary agenda. Forming a group also facilitates the work of MEPs, such as writing reports, amendments and speaking time, although this can also be done by “non-attached” MEPs.

In other areas, the institutional influence of Eurosceptics will remain “marginal”. If their past activities are anything to go by, National Front MEPs will not do much work during the last mandate.

“We know from experience that National Front MEPs do not work. There will be a French team of at least 20 MEPs in the European Parliament,” said Constance Le Grip (UMP), who was re-elected for a second term.

“Do we really have 74 MEPs today? Or are we in a football game where half the team stayed in the dressing room?” asked Sylvie Goulard (UMP), who was also re-elected for a second term.

The European elections in France (May 25) were characterised by the election of 24 MEPs for the National Front, a jump from just three during the last mandate. With 20% of votes, France's main opposition party, the UMP, will have 20 seats, followed by the Socialist Party with 13.The French Green Party went from 16 MEPs to just 6 and the centrist alliance, UDI-Modem, secured 7 seats. The Left Front has just 4 seats in the European Parliament.

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