Mainstream parties lose ground, though ‘populist earthquake’ a no-show
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The first results confirm expectations of a more fragmented European Parliament (EP), with losses for the traditional pro-EU groups and gains for the Eurosceptics and populist parties, although more limited than foreseen. The turnout increased from 42% to 50.9%.
The two largest political groups, centre-right EPP (180 MEPs – 24%) and centre-left S&D (145 MEPs – 19.3%), fell short of reaching the governing majority (50% + 1 MEPs) which they have historically held for the last 30 years. Broader coalitions will be needed for the incoming EP’s key votes, including the election of the EP President and the European Commission (EC) President.
The liberal group ALDE, who increased their share of MEPs from 68 to 109, can act as a kingmaker in this process, boosted by French President Emmanuel Macron’s La République en Marche, who will send 21 MEPs. The Greens, which outperformed in some countries like Germany and increased their overall turnout from 52 to 69 MEPs, are also expected to leverage their participation in any future broader coalition.
Day to day legislative business is also expected to be impacted by the majority shift. The EPP and S&D’s informal agreement to compromise in order to pass legislation will no longer be the norm. The expectation is for ad-hoc majorities to emerge on specific issues. Right-wing forces are likely to promote tougher positions on migration. On the other hand, a “greening” of the policy agenda of the next EP, strongly backed by the EC, will emerge as a priority.
Differences among groups are however expected to increase on more divisive dossiers (taxation, consumer rights, data/privacy). As a result, policy outcomes could become more unpredictable, with divisions to potentially lead to a paralysis of legislative action.
The forecasted surge of Eurosceptics and populist parties was in the end below expectations, despite very visible gains in France, Italy, Belgium, and the UK. These parties will be surely more vocal in the next EP and will be looking to challenge the status quo. However, besides the expected political noise, the degree of involvement of populist MEPs in the day-to-day business of the next EP is still expected to be low, and unlikely to be effective in the long run.
Overall, identity issues – both national and European – stood out as a shared concern across the electorate. These issues are expected to substantially shape decision-making at EU level. It will be increasingly important for businesses who wish to engage with EU policy makers to successfully navigate those identity lines and emphasize their commitment to a clear European – as well as national – footprint.
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