2019 European elections: Is the ‘Italian situation’ a harbinger for next May?

Could the deadlock at last month's Italian elections be replicated in next May's pan-EU poll? [EPA/CLAUDIO PERI]

The 2019 European elections are already casting a shadow. In the political circles of Brussels and Strasbourg, there are fears that the ‘Italian situation’ could spread. EURACTIV Germany reports.

The ninth direct election for the European Parliament promises an uncertain ride as the European political party landscape has been in flux for quite some time now. The most recent example was delivered by Italy, where voters have created a situation that has the country braced for an uncertain governing future.

The previous coalition government was punished. At the same time, two populist and Eurosceptic parties – the Five Star Movement and the right-wing Lega Nord – received substantial support. It is not even certain if it will be possible to form the 65th government since the end of WWII in a country that has been a cornerstone of the EU, but also an economic problem child.

New players on the party landscape

There are still no pan-European demographic surveys on what the voting behaviour next May might look like.

For the time being, one has to rely on national results. And there is a clear trend – so-called traditional parties are seeing their supporters head in the direction of populist and EU-critical movements, such as the AfD in Germany. That puts the long-standing ‘grand coalition’ of pro-EU forces of the centre-left and right in peril.

 

Because of Brexit, the number of MEPs is about to decrease by 73 towards 678.

For a pro-European majority, 335 votes will be necessary. At present, the conservative EPP with 219 seats and the socialist S&D with 189 seats have a comfortable majority in the Parliament.

At the present rate, it is possible to conceive of a result where the EEP claims 180 seats and the S&D 140.

What will happen to Macron’s En Marche?

Changes are already taking places in the existing political groups. Currently, Parliament has eight political groups. Beside the EPP and S&D, the liberal ALDE, the Left and the Greens will for sure prevail. This might, however, not be the case for the remaining three political groups  on the eurosceptic right (ECR, EFDD and ENF).

French President Emmanuel Macron is generating some excitement. He has not yet put all cards on the table and revealed towards which political camp he feels drawn.

Europe En Marche says “not compatible” with Italian 5 Star Movement

The Italian press reported that France’s Europe En Marche was reaching out to the 5 Star Movement. This was then clearly refuted by En Marche.

Although his political career began with the French socialists, after the success of his En Marche, he sees himself as a liberal force of the centre which wants to set the tone and pace in Europe again.

Initially, it was expected that he would turn to the liberal ALDE, which would then expect receive a considerable boost in numbers. Instead, Brussels insiders expect that he will try to set up his own faction.

The political group most immediately affected by Brexit is the ECR, the European Conservatives and Reformists. With 71 MEPs from 16 countries, it is currently the third largest political group in Parliament, with the British Conservatives and the Polish Law and Justice (PiS) the largest single parties.

Reformatting will also be necessary for the EFDD, currently dominated by the UK Independence Party (UKIP) and the Italian Five Star Movement. After the departure of the British, the Italians will have to look for a new group.

It will be exciting, finally, to see what happens with the so-called right-wing populist group: the ENF (Europe of Nations and Freedom) which has only existed since the 2014 European elections.

With 36 members, it is currently the smallest parliamentary group but it carries some weight as it includes the French National Front, the Dutch Partij voor de Vrijheid, the Italian Lega Nord and the Austrian FPÖ.

FPÖ in search of new EU partners

For some time, however, there has been speculation in the FPÖ about a possible reorganisation, especially after they joined Austria’s new coalition government with a clearly pro-European course.

FPÖ secretary-general and MEP Harald Vilimsky is particularly active, and he is a thorn in the side of the Austrian ÖVP and EPP MEP Othmar Karas. Brussels insiders understand that Vilimsky has plans to form a new political group – without the Front National and is currently seeking supporters to secure the status of a political group (this requires 25 MEPs from at least seven member states).

The focus is mainly on the Polish PiS and – as rumours go – on the Hungarian Fidesz. Although the latter is a member of the EPP, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán is increasingly embattled in the centre-right community because of his government’s authoritarian policies and could, therefore, be willing to switch.

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