Will the centre hold the balance of power in a fragmented European Parliament?

The future centre political group are expected to play the role of adjudicators at the European Parliament after the next elections. [EPA-EFE/PATRICK SEEGER]

The increasing contingent of centrist MEPs could put an end to the ‘grand coalition’ of the right and the left in the European Parliament. EURACTIV France reports.

Has the two major European political parties’ monopoly within the Parliament run its course? This is the finding of a report titled “Parlement européen 2019 : quel hemicycle ? Quelle Europe ?” (“European Parliament 2019: Which hemicycle? Which Europe?”) by the Jacques Delors Institute/Notre Europe.

The report’s decoding of the future political balance at the European Parliament was based on two parallel trends: the weakening of the two main political groups at the Parliament, and the rise of the centre in the wake of La République En Marche’s success in France.

Currently, the centre-right European People’s Party (EPP) and the centre-left Socialists and Democrats (S&D) have 219 and 188 members in the European Parliament respectively, giving them a majority of 407 out of 751 MEPs.

Towards an end of the “grand coalition”?

During this term in office and over previous ones, this 55% bloc has allowed majorities to be formed between the two major families. However, the May 2019 European elections will reshuffle the political balance.

With Brexit and the number of MEPs from some countries being readjusted according to their population, the European Parliament will reduce from 751 MEPs to 705. Therefore, 353 voters will be required for a simple majority.

En Marche aiming to take out the EPP

Guy Verhofstadt, the leader of the liberal ALDE group and Belgium’s former prime minister, took part in the launch of the Grand March for Europe in Brussels, whose aim is to listen to citizens but also to challenge traditional European political groups. EURACTIV.fr reports.

For its part, S&D will be adversely affected by the departure of the British, given that the Labour MEPs represent one of its largest delegations. Another concern is the future of the Italian Democratic Party MEPs, the largest socialist delegation. “It cannot be excluded that a split in the Democratic Party may take place in the coming months,” the report highlighted. Accordingly, the socialist group could see its numbers reduced to 137 members, according to the report’s estimates.

On the side of the EPP, the decline in MEPs is expected to lead to the centre-right having 178 members after next May’s polls. “The two groups would remain the largest and second largest groups at the European Parliament respectively, but without reaching a majority between them,” the report underlined.

This situation should give new weight to other political groups, without whom it would no longer be possible to form a majority. Foremost among these are the centrists of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE).

The ball is in the centre

Emmanuel Macron’s La République en Marche (LREM) could obtain 21 seats, according to current forecasts. Moreover, if the Italian Democratic Party splits, “Matteo Renzi’s new party would possibly join the ALDE group,” the report also emphasised.

However, Macron’s party joining ALDE remains hypothetical because LREM has not taken a clear position on its future within the Parliament. For the moment, two options remain available. The first would be forming a group from scratch within the Parliament, which would require at least 25 MEPs from a minimum of seven EU countries.

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The second solution of joining ALDE appears most likely but remains dependent on LREM’s ability to coexist with the charismatic Guy Verhofstadt. “The downside here is the demand to make a compromise with a political family that is already established, whose parliamentary group is chaired by a strong personality,” the report highlighted.

The surveys show that there will be about 93 MEPs in a future centrist group, with additional MEPs elected from Ciudadanos (Spain) and the FDP (Germany), among others.

A limited rise of populists

The rise of populists in the future Parliament should be limited, notably as a result of the “Brexit effect”. The European Conservatives and Reformists Group (the third largest group at the European Parliament where the British Conservatives sit) should accordingly reduce from 71 to 48 MEPs.

However, the Europe of Nations and Freedom Group, where the parties of Marine Le Pen and Matteo Salvini notably sit, could increase its number of members from 35 to 50. Finally, despite the departure of the British UKIP members, the Europe of Freedom and Direct Democracy group could see its number of members increase from 45 to 53 MEPs.

In total, all of the three Eurosceptic groups together would accumulate 160 members, rather than their current 151 members.

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