Strategists in the European Parliament have started crunching numbers to find a palatable coalition, despite the political earthquake in France, Denmark and the UK, where Eurosceptic parties came out first in the EU election.
Voters significantly weakened the majority enjoyed by mainstream parties until now.
The European People’s Party (EPP) and the Socialists and Democrats (S&D) are still the two biggest political groups in Parliament, with 213 and 190 seats respectively (out of 751).
But while the EPP retained its place as the biggest political group, it also recorded the biggest loss, shedding 61 seats. The S&D, meanwhile, saw its numbers decline too, but more moderately, from 196 to 190.
As a result, the gap between the EPP and the S&D has narrowed from 81 to 25 seats following the election.
Other mainstream political groups also took a hit. The liberals got 64 seats (down from 83), Green parties 53 (down from 57) and the right-wing Conservatives and Reformist group, 46 (down from 57).
The far-left obtained 42 seats (up from 35), while the far-right Europe of Freedom and Democracy group got 38 (down from 31). However, a contingent of 105 new MEPs from unaffiliated parties is expected to upset the balance of power in the EU assembly.
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Part of the explanation is that the overall numbers have been reduced. The 2009 Parliament had a total of 766 MEPs, compared to 751, at present. The German contingent suffered the biggest loss, losing three seats – from 99 to 96. And other countries lost one seat, including Romania, Greece, Belgium and Portugal (full list here).
“What we see are deep structural changes going on in European politics,” said Simon Hix, a professor of European politics at the London School of Economics, insisting about the worrisome trends of Northern and Southern Europe, pulled in opposite directions towards the extremes, respectively on the right and the left.
“It will be very difficult for mainstream parties to react to what we have seen yesterday,” added Hix.
Unlike in national parliaments, the formation of a majority in Brussels often comes about by changing majorities instead of fixed coalitions. “The Conservatives and the Social Democrats will have to work together,” said Daniel Gros, director of the Centre for European Policy Studies (CEPS).
In the past, broad left and right coalitions have been formed to influence the outcomes of any particular vote. The ALDE and the Greens Group (respectively third and fourth political group in the previous legislature) have played the kingmakers to pull up a comfortable majority on certain policy areas.
Coalitions more important than in the past
According to Stefan Vetter, from the Deutsche Bank Research in Frankfurt, coalition-building will play a bigger role than before. However, ‘the grand coalition (EPP and S&D) is not that grand’. “Even if they work together, they are just above the 50%.
“The numbers show that the groups would need to be better organised, not to let members deviate,” Vetter said, stressing the need for greater discipline. But at the same time the parties will need to be more strategic and farsighted, he argued.
Looking at the data, Vetter said experience shows that coalitions with two parties are stable, those with three are doable, but the ones with more than three parties become very difficult to manage. “On issues where EPP and S&D disagree it will be difficult to form a majority,” he added. Yet, taking Germany as an example, what seemed unthinkable a few years ago – Chancellor Angela Merkel accepting minimum wage, and a reduction of the retirement age – is now being worked out by the SPD-CDU coalition in her government.
As experts try to make sense of the results, PollWatch has developed a few scenarios.
Which coalitions will have a majority of 376 seats? And which ones offer a comfortable majority of over 400 seats? Here’s an overview: