By Alexandros Koronakis-Editor, New Europe
On the 18 April, the European Parliament published the last round of seat projections before the upcoming elections – the first and only set of projections that take account of the participation of the United Kingdom in the electoral contest. So far, the projections had not included the country, which is, for better or for worse, outside the European Union’s door, but holding on to the frame and refusing to let go.
The farcicality of the Parliament publishing seat projections on its own composition is certainly something to be discussed after the elections, but since the powers that be gave the green light, all that is left is to analyse the numbers.
Methodology – National Polls
It should be noted that the projections of Kantar Public, the company that was hired to put together the report, may attempt to get as close as possible to providing a complete picture, but this is not always the case.
One issue is the allocation of seats in countries that vote in a regional constituency system, yet do not report results at that level. Kantar treated those countries as one national constituency, which assumes homogeneity amongst voters in different constituencies. This was done in Ireland, Italy, and Poland.
Furthermore, for reasons of expediency, where European election polling has not been done. National polls were used instead. This was done in total for seven countries. For example, in Ireland, two independents are predicted to get a seat because that is what national polling shows. But given that we are talking about particular candidates, in a different electoral context, this logic is flawed. Why would the vote for two specific individuals in a national election translate into a vote for any two independent voters in the European Parliament? A vote for independent candidates tends to be personality-based and should not automatically be extrapolated to apply at a different electoral scrutiny altogether.
Moreover, where national elections have happened recently, the projections were based on those election results rather than polling data for the European Parliament elections.
The return of the UK
The need for a projection that included the UK is now undeniable – the newfound support of British voters for the Labour Party presents a dynamic shift in the balance of powers post-election, and a clear and present danger to the leadership of the European People’s Party, who have been hoping that things would get easier in their attempt to secure the position of President of the European Commission, rather than harder.
Yet, as things are still in flux, it would have been prudent to also include, in the same report, projections and graphs for the landscape without the UK taking part. Indeed, the report does concede that if the Withdrawal Agreement is ratified before 23 May then the projections -the last set to be published ahead of the European Parliament elections- will be invalid, as they will not reflect the composition of the new 705-seat Parliament to result post-Brexit.
At this point Brexit fatigue is driving the discussion forward much more mechanically than with the passion that we have been witness to last year, and anything is (still) possible.
The ‘Others’ and the ‘Non-Attached’
New Europe analysed the ‘Others’ and ‘NI’ (the ‘Non-Inscrits’, or ‘Non-Attached,’ meaning those members that do not sit in any of the constituted political groups) categories that are projected to take up 70 seats in the European Parliament (assuming that the United Kingdom participates in the elections). We divided the entire spectrum into four categories: the Far Left (anything politically to the left of Socialists & Democrats), the Left (anything to the left of the European People’s Party, the EPP), the Centre (parties between the EPP and the Greens/European Free Alliance), the Right (anything between Alliance of Liberals and Democrats in Europe and the European Conservatives and Reformists), and Far Right (anything to the right of the EPP).
We divided the political spectrum along these five groups. which by and large will constitute the voting blocs in the next term. We assumed that, along each dividing line, there is space on either side or within existing parties, and attributed the ‘Others’ and ‘Non-Attached’ to a portion of the political spectrum.
These blocks, and the coalitions built between them, will determine the push for a new division of powers in the European Parliament, and, of course, the important question of the European Commission President and the votes during the hearings for the appointment of European Commissioners. However, and despite the fact that we consider this categorisation the most accurate method to illustrate the changing equilibrium, a margin of tolerance should be taken, as both the ‘Left’ and the ‘Far Right’ might not be necessarily willing or able to come together in singular blocks. Moreover, we have put together these broad groupings in order to take into account new group formations that may result from deliberations, included expected consolidation along the Left, Centre, and Far right.
An additional note to say that in Romania, when it comes to the newly-formed Pro Romania’s seats that have been divided along different groups in the European Parliament’s projections, we have taken two seats away from each of the ECR and the S&D, and have given those seats to the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE) where Pro Romania will most likely sit (they had already joined the European Democratic Party, which sits with ALDE, before the publication of the projections), which was not reflected in the projections offered by the European Parliament.
The numbers show the Far Left-aligned Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) will hold 49 seats, Left MEPs 210, ALDE, and politicians not feeling comfortable in the EPP or as far left as the Greens/EFA will hold 116 seats, the right -EPP and EPP-friendly MEPs- 187, and the Far Right a staggering 189 seats (Once again with the caveat that they might not be willing or able to form one unified block. That reservation does not mean that they could not form ad hoc issue-based alliances).
Looking at all potential coalitions, we consider that it will not possible for just any grouping of the political spectrum to cooperate with any other.
So, we take as a given the following: that the Far Left and the Right or the Far Right cannot cooperate; that the Left cannot cooperate with the Far Right; and that the Centre cannot cooperate with the Far Right.
That leaves us with the following possible coalitions:
The Far Left, the Left and the Centre
The dream of Frans Timmermans: A coalition of the centre, left, and far left, which falls just one seat under the required majority of 375. This of course, taking into account the margins of error in every single poll, and at the same time the horse-trading that may happen the morning after the elections, makes the coalition both possible yet of extreme fragility.
The question is, would Timmermans have the support he needs in this hypothetical coalition? Secondly – a grey area in the issue of the Spitzenkandidat system – should we take it for granted that Prime Minister Mark Rutte, would support Timmermans’ bid (keeping in mind he himself wants to be European Council President, and of course that the EPP could lean on him to try and force through a more politically acceptable to them candidate, even providing some support in the European Parliament)?
A third question is would Timmermans be more likeable to this coalition than, say, Margrethe Vestager? Likely not. The S&D Group will certainly be the one with the most seats in this coalition, but that is not enough in the current state of turmoil. He probably has more support within this block than Guy Verhofstadt, and the problematic approach of ALDE’s Lead Team, instead of a single candidate, would make such a scenario end up creating problems the party did not think they would have when they came up with their innovative approach that demeans the whole process of the Spitzenkandidat, or lead candidate.
The Left, the Centre and the Right – A Union to Save Europe
By and large considered as the parties that are the mainstream voices in the European arena, even the not yet fully accepted into the mainstream Greens (the support of which is not necessary for this coalition to hold). This coalition of European unity would require concessions by all, and a workable answer to the big question of whom amongst them could impose their choice for President of the European Commission must be found. The EPP will certainly hold the majority of seats, but Manfred Weber’s polarised politics could end up costing him the job, forcing the EPP to put forward someone more likeable by the rest of the political families, like Michel Barnier. The jury is still out on whether he has succeeded or failed in his job of delivering the best Brexit possible for the European Union, but being President is certainly a position he could take and still continue his work of translating “Brexit means Brexit” into whatever reality that will mean.
The Right and the Far Right
A series of coalitions, which would mean the EPP governs with pretty much everybody to its right. Considering the moderate voices in the party that keep the EPP looking towards the centre rather than the far-right, such as Greece’s New Democracy leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis, the one-vote majority this coalition would have putting it over the top might not to be enough to make it happen or hold.
Bottom line: the EPP will rule again
All of the above can mean only one thing for the future of Europe: it is nearly impossible for any majority to come together after the elections without the EPP. Even if a coalition of the broader left miraculously were to come together, this could still be sent into political frenzy if the EPP used all the weapons at its disposal.
Could Orbán affect the numbers if he throws a tantrum?
Given the overall landscape, and Fidesz’ projected 13 seats, nothing that Viktor Orban could do, such as leaving the EPP, would compromise the day after the elections.
In fact, Orban leaving the EPP could sway individual parties further from the Centre and Left to cross that dividing line and join the broader right, strengthening the EPP’s position even further.