The Brief – Fragmented, but fun

The Brief is EURACTIV's daily evening newsletter.

In their analysis of the slow death of the ‘grand coalition,’ commentators have focussed on the possible decline of socialist and social democrat parties in Europe.

Brexit and the struggles of their German and Italian parties will cost the Socialist and Democrat (S&D) group a hefty chunk of seats, dropping the group down to around 135 seats, their worst ever performance since direct elections were introduced in 1979.

But the centre-right European People’s Party – the Parliament’s largest group for 20 years – is in just as much trouble. According to a detailed survey published on Thursday (28 February), the EPP will win only 181 seats at May’s elections.

The combined forces of the EPP and the S&D group are projected at 316 seats in the next assembly, that will be cut from 751 to 705 seats because of the loss of the UK’s MEPs.

The trouble is that neither moderate left or right-wing factions will be able to come together. Including the European Conservatives and Reformists on the right and the Greens and leftist GUE groups, left and right-wing forces would still be left with between 220 and 230 seats each.

The joker in the pack is still Emmanuel Macron’s en Marche – long expected to either sit with the liberal ALDE group or to set up its own faction. The Parliament survey still places them in the ‘Other’ category. Earlier this week, the EPP’s Spitzenkandidat Manfred Weber made his first significant overture to the French President.

“We have for the moment no indication that En Marche is considering this [joining ALDE]. So, we really don’t know what they want. We are centre-right, Christian Democrats, and we are always ready and open to cooperate with all pro-European movements that share our values,” Weber said.

Bringing Macron – and the 20+ seats that LREM is expected to win – on board, would give Weber’s group room to dispense with Viktor Orbán’s Fidesz party.

Pressure is growing on the EPP leadership to expel the Hungarian Prime Minister’s party following its aggressive pre-election poster campaign which personally attacks Commission boss Jean-Claude Juncker, himself an EPP stalwart. The issue will be on the agenda of the EPP political assembly on 20 March, the day before the next EU Council summit.

Keeping Orbán in the family compromises the EPP’s claims of being a moderate, pro-European group. However, kicking him out would cost the EPP between 10 and 15 seats and further fragment the right.

For decades, the European Parliament has been dominated by grand coalitions, both between political groups and within them. The end of grand coalition politics is no bad thing. Few things are more of a turn off to voters than the perception – in this case accurate – that the political groups are largely the same.

After May, the European Parliament is going to be fragmented, messy, and much more fun to watch.

The Roundup

By Alexandra Brzozowski

A critical mass is building for a motion to expel Hungary’s Viktor Orbán and his Fidesz party from the centre-right EPP party.

Its Spitzenkandidat Manfed Weber on the other hand believes that French President Emmanuel Macron’s En Marche will be an ally of the EPP party, as he told EURACTIV.cz in an interview.

Considered the French favourite for the European elections in the autumn polls, far-right Rassemblement National is now predicted to finish in second place with 20% of voting intentions, behind Emmanuel Macron’s La République En Marche.

Eyeing increased US presence in the region and hoping for Washington to agree for a ‘Fort Trump’, Poland revamps its military spending.

Estonia is in the midst of a parliamentary election. This Sunday, almost 40% of voters have already cast their preference during the early voting period – most of them i-Voted, submitting their ballot online.

The EU has wrapped Facebook, Twitter and Google for failing to make sufficient progress in the fight against disinformation.

Several top European politicians backed Luxembourg PM Xavier Bettel after he told Arab leaders he was gay and could be condemned to death in some of their countries.

When refugees in Austria are refused asylum, they are being deported even when they are in training or education.

Fine particle matter in the EU capital’s air exceeded a warning threshold but did not worsen enough to trigger free public transport.

Missed the latest news from around Europe this morning? Our pre-weekend edition of The Capitals featured calls to expel Orbán, a shot in the knees and Russians abandoning Cypriot banks.

You can now also subscribe to our The Capitals newsletter here.

Look out for…

It is International Women’s Day next week. Gender balance in the workplace is ‘not a women’s issue anymore’, stakeholders said at a recent EURACTIV event.

Views are the author’s

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic and Samuel Stolton]

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