‘Grand coalition’ to end after May’s EU parliament poll, survey suggests

Shape of things to come? Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz (L) talks to Vice Chancellor Heinz Christian Strache (R) from the far-right Freedom Party. [Christian Bruna/EPA/EFE]

The ‘grand coalition’ of the centre-right and left groups in the European Parliament is set to end after May’s European elections, according to a projection by VoteWatch, the Brussels-based think-tank famous for monitoring how MEPs vote, published on Wednesday (9 January).

According to the survey, if current trends are confirmed, for the first time since direct elections to the European Parliament in 1979, the two largest groups (EPP + S&D) would not be able to command a majority of seats. However, pro-EU forces would still be able to hold a majority of seats, mainly due to the likely gains of the liberal ALDE group.

Right-wing nationalists are set to gain, although they are likely to fall short of getting over 25% of the seats. A potential joint group of right-wing nationalists could become the second largest group if all their current members decide to join.

Such a group could be led by MEPs currently in the ECR (the European Conservatives and Reformists group) created by the UK Tories when they left EPP under Prime Minister David Cameron, and which includes Poland’s ruling Law and Justice party the ruling party. Alongside them could sit deputies currently in the ENF (Europe of Nations and Freedom), the far-right group where Marine Le Pen’s Rassemblement National sits, together with parties such as the Freedom Party of Austria, Vlaams Belang of Belgium, the Party for Freedom of Netherlands, and Italy’s League, and the eurosceptic EFDD (Europe of Freedom and Direct Democracy) group where Italy’s 5-Star Movement and Alternative for Germany (AfD) currently sit.

However, according to VoteWatch, this scenario is highly unlikely due to the big diversity of views among these forces, as well as the charisma-heavy personality of their leaders. More realistically, a reshuffle of the affiliations of right-wing nationalists could lead to the establishment of the third largest group in the next European Parliament;

According to the survey the gains of leftist GUE-NGL and Greens/EFA will not fully compensate for the likely losses of S&D, meaning that the left as a whole is expected to obtain about 35% of seats in the next EP. Cooperation with the centrists is likely to be necessary in many cases if the progressive forces want to remain influential in the next European Parliament;

Despite the decreasing numbers, the EPP is still way ahead of the other political groups, VoteWatch notes. The group would even manage to consolidate its lead due to the departure of the British delegation, as none of the main British parties belong to the group led by Manfred Weber.

According to statements by Weber, the centre-right force is open to a pact with different type of alliances, including the ECR group or even Matteo Salvini’s League. This means that the centre-left may be pushed into opposition.

Weber leaves door open to any pro-EU ally

Socialists and liberals are natural allies for the centre-right European People’s Party (EPP) in the next European Parliament, according to Manfred Weber, the EPP’s lead candidate for the European elections in May.

Coalitions between the centre-right and the far-right, such as in Austria or Bulgaria, have been explained at national level as the result of “the will of the electorate”.

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