The EU elections began on Thursday, May 23, and run to Sunday, May 26. These are likely to see a significant change in the make-up of the European Parliament, with the main center-left and center-right parties losing overall control. It will also kick off formally the process for appointing a new European Commission – which, this year, comes alongside the appointment of a number of other senior European figures.
Indeed, the five most important institutional leaders of the EU – the presidents of the European Commission, the European Parliament, the European Council and the European Central Bank, as well as the High Representative for Foreign Policy – will be replaced in the months to come. None of the current incumbents will remain in post.
This change of guard will shape the future of the continent for years to come. The main player in the appointment process, which will start at the end of May 2019, is the European Council made up of Heads of State and Governments. The 28 EU leaders will have appoint four of the five most senior EU positions almost simultaneously. As usual, they will need to respect a subtle balance between political groups, larger and smaller countries, Eastern and Western, Northern and Southern candidates, and a gender balance.
A dinner of the European Council has been planned for May 28, just after the Parliamentary elections. The Council’s president, Donald Tusk, hopes to arrive at a “package deal” in the regular European Council on June 20-21. Considering the difficulty of the task, as outlined below, this objective is ambitious. But the EU leaders have a clear interest in not postponing the decision until after the summer, when other challenges will await them – notably, the decision on the new seven-year financial framework, and Brexit.
After a brief overview of the likely results of the European Parliament election, we will examine what is at stake for each of the five positions to fill.
The Election of the European Parliament
Elections take place simultaneously in the 28 Member States between May 23 and 26. The turnout is expected, as previously, to be lower than for national elections – for the 2014 elections, it was an average of 42,54%.
In the European elections, fringe and populist parties tend to get more votes than at the national level, this election being seen by many as an opportunity to cast a protest vote with fewer consequences. In the current political context, this phenomenon will probably be amplified.
It is thus expected that, this year, the two main political groups combined (the center-right Christian Democrats of the EPP and the center-left Socialists of the S&D), will no longer have the absolute majority. They will therefore lose control of Parliamentary proceedings and major committee appointments. This time, they will have to take into account the centrist Liberals, who will likely be boosted by the arrival of Emmanuel Macron’s party, “La République en Marche” (campaigning for the European elections as “Renaissance”), which will want to reproduce in the Parliament the influence their leader exerts on the European Council.
Contrary to what some believe, the “Eurosceptic” wing is unlikely to dominate the Parliament and will almost certainly not be able to influence the appointment of the leaders of the institutions. But if some of the larger populist parties manage to assemble in one political group, they might have a sizeable “nuisance” value. Indeed, it is expected that Salvini’s Lega, Le Pen’s “Rassemblement National” and the “Alternative für Deutschland” (perhaps joined by UKIP or Farage’s Brexit party) will assemble in a new right-wing block, dubbed the “European Alliance of Peoples and Nations” political group, which could secure more than 80 seats (out of 751). Continue Reading