Across Europe, this week’s newspapers have made much of the continent’s “lurch to the right”, but as the dust begins to settle, what will be the lasting impact of the 2014 European elections on politics within the European Parliament? ComRes provides its analysis.
1. The ‘big two’ still hold sway
Despite the headlines, the two traditionally dominant party groups, the EPP and S&D, still control the majority of the seats in the Parliament – they hold 405 of 751 seats, with an absolute majority being 376 MEPs.
As before, the EPP and S&D will hold enormous power within the Parliament and we can expect to see a continuation of the consensus politics that has become the norm in Brussels and Strasbourg.
2. Votes will be tighter
With party discipline in the European Parliament notoriously poor, the likely majority of any grand coalition between the EPP and S&D will be shaky – 54% of the seats is unlikely to be sufficient when specific national sensitivities and poor attendance rates are accounted for.
As a result, issue-specific alliances are likely to be increasingly important – with specific constellations of party groups and national parties uniting to drive key initiatives through plenary. Understanding where these alliances are likely to form, and whether they are strong enough to hold together, will be critical for outside interests.
3. Controversial issues will be kept off the agenda
As highlighted above, only a few MEPs need to waver or not turn up to vote, and an absolute majority will be out of reach for a grand coalition. Divisive policy initiatives are therefore unlikely to be tabled, at least during the early stages of the new term.
An early casualty appears to be the proposed Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership between the EU and the USA (TTIP), with analysts in both Brussels and Washington suggesting that some of the more forward-looking aspects of the trade agreement are now likely to be shelved.
4. Progress will be slower
In the last Parliament, Eurosceptic parties took delight in obstructing progress. With the large gain in seats by UKIP and the Front National (now the joint 4th largest individual parties in the Parliament), we can expect this obstructionism to increase. However, the next few weeks will be critical in determining the extent of the damage that can be done by the resurgent populist parties.
If either UKIP or the Front National can assemble a valid party group (the threshold that it must contain a minimum of 25 MEPs from at least 7 different countries may represent a challenge given that the two parties have ruled out working with each other), this will give them valuable levers for slowing progress, such as allocated speaking time in plenary and positions on important committees.
While the EPP and S&D still hold sway, the increased presence of populist, disruptive parties is likely to make for a turbulent, unpredictable European Parliament – in particular, the first year will be crucial in assessing the ability of the Parliament to realise significant policy achievements.