Europe’s political centre holds its ground, but tough decisions ahead for Parliament and Commission

By David Martin, President of the European Movement in Scotland

Could this be Europe’s Trump moment?” asked Sky’s Adam Boulton on the eve of the European Parliament elections – It wasn’t.

CNN reported “Far right surges in European Parliament elections” – It didn’t.

President Macron’s dramatic decision to dissolve the French National Assembly in the light of his own Party’s collapse and Le Pen’s National Rally surge has ensured the post European election attention has been on the far Right. Yet the truth about these elections is the rather prosaic second half of CNN’ s headline “but Centre still holds”.

The prevailing view before a single vote was cast was that the big three groups in the European Parliament would lose their combined majority and the far Right would wield significant influence. In fact, it looks like the Centre-Right EPP has gained seats, the Centre-Left has stood still or marginally gained seats, and the Liberal/Renew Group -tipped to fall from being the third force in the Parliament – has retained that position, possibly losing only a couple of seats.

It takes a few weeks for final group numbers to be decided with some national parties and a few individuals yet to decide which group to join. It is though all but certain that the big three Centre Right and Left groups will have over 50% of the Parliament between them.

Two far Right groups parliament likely

The far-Right will probably have around 150 seats, a significant number, but not near what was feared or anticipated. The threat of a far Right ‘super-group’ appears to have dissipated, making it likely there will be two groups. The ECR which had hoped, on the back of a surge in support for Prime Minister Meloni’s Brothers of Italy party, to become the third force in Parliament, looks like being the fourth largest. While the ID Group, despite Le Pen’s performance, will be in only fifth place.

To the Left of the main groups, it was a bad night for the Greens seeing their seat numbers reduced, unless Italy’s Five Star decide to join them. The Left group also look like being diminished, depending on what alliances they can put together.

So, what are the take aways?

Firstly, this will be a Parliament with a strong pro-European position. It will want to offer as much assistance to Ukraine as possible and will be encouraged that the number of pro-Putin fifth columnists in its ranks appear to have been cut – most notably by the reduction in MEPs from Victor Orban’s Fidesz Party and some hard Left losses.

Secondly, the feared institutional crisis might well not materialise. The appointment of the President of the Commission requires an absolute majority of MEPs and there were fears that the election could create a series of blocking minorities, making the appointment fraught with difficulty. In fact, given the EPP performance, Ursula Von der Leyen now looks like a shoo-in. The S&D Group supported the spitzenkandidat process. This acknowledges the right of the elections winners to have the Presidency, so it is difficult to see how she could vote her down. Macron is not in a strong position to oppose her, so the likelihood is the Renew/Liberal Group will back her. Thus, giving her a comfortable majority. That of course does not rule out intense wrangling for the other positions and some individual Commissioner appointments might prove highly controversial and contested. For example, who will Orban propose? What position will Meloni’s nominee be offered?

Thirdly, it is clear there is a pro-business majority in the Parliament. Quite how that will play out is difficult to predict at this stage, but expect more emphasis on competitiveness, trade policy and investment in high tech. This should be a Parliament where the majority want to support and strengthen the internal market.

The Green Deal in its present form looks to be in trouble. However, all the big Groups know that climate change cannot be ignored, so we might expect efforts to produce smarter, better presented and more even burden-sharing policies to tackle this issue.

Far Right rise cannot be ignored

Most importantly, modest as it was, the rise of the far-Right cannot be dismissed or ignored. The new Parliament must show that it takes voter concerns about immigration seriously and ensure that the recent agreement on burden sharing is fully implemented.

Some predicted that these parliamentary elections could bring chaos to Europe and be a threat to democracy. The immediate possibility of such chaos has probably receded. If the MEPs elected over the weekend act responsibly and collegiately, they could bring stability and renewed cooperation to tackle Europe’s challenges.

Picture credit Kirsty Hughes.