• The European parliament launched its June election campaign last month (Photo: European Parliament - Audiovisual Unit)

Centre-left not set for major gains in EU poll

07.04.09 @ 16:17

  1. By Honor Mahony
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BRUSSELS - The economic crisis is not expected to result in a major swing to the left in the European elections, new statistics predict, while the nature of the European Parliament is expected to be changed by an increase in eastern European politicians in the biggest political group.

A new website, using national opinion polls and previous European election results, suggests that the group spread in the EU parliament will remain largely the same after June, with the centre-right EPP in the lead, followed by the socialists and the liberals.

Concretely, the EPP is expected to clock in with 249 seats (down from 288), the socialists 209 seats (down from 217) and the liberals 87 seats (down from 100 seats), with the overall parliament downsizing to 736 MEPs from the current 785-strong house.

Presenting the research on Tuesday (7 April), Professor Simon Hix, a political scientist at the London School of Economics, said that while the combined forces of the centre-right are currently larger than the combined forces of the centre-left, "in the new parliament the centre-left and the centre-right will be evenly balanced."

Some socialists have suggested that the ongoing economic crisis, largely seen as being the result of laissez-faire right wing policies, would see them cash in at the ballot boxes in June.

However, the research suggests this will not happen due to the predicted results in the EU's six largest member states – Germany, France, Britain, Italy, Spain and Poland, accounting for 56 percent of the seats in the parliament – where the centre-left is "not expected to do well."

Less of the protest vote

The prediction means the centre-right will continue to top the results despite the announced defection of the British Conservatives (27 MEPs) to form another party.

Eurosceptic and far-right parties are not expected to profit from the economic discontent among EU citizens, either, and are set to retain their current number of seats (about 45).

Meanwhile, Libertas, a pan-European Party campaigning against the Lisbon Treaty, is not expected to gain any seats with citizens voting on issues closer to home, such as the effects of recession.

"That protest [vote] is going to different parties. Five years ago, it seemed to go more to the anti-Europeans," said the political scientist.

"The economic crisis is making this even more of a national election than usual as voters look to their governments and ask ‘how are you going to address this economic crisis?'"

As a whole, the London professor predicted that the "progressive bloc" – in reference to issues such as immigration and the environment - in the parliament would be "slightly bigger" while the economically liberal bloc would be "slightly smaller."

Changing influence of eastern MEPs

Inside the parliament, the politics between groups and MEPs is to be shaken up however. This is due in part to the fact that the EPP is expected to be "a lot less German and a lot more Polish" something that "may change the colour or nature of politics in the EPP."

Currently, MEPs from the new member states are "marginalised" according to the academic, and do not hold many positions of power in the EU assembly, such as committee chairs.

Another factor shaking up the way the parliament works is the likely formation of a new group, the European Conservatives, by the British Conservatives. It is expected to host the Czech Civic Democrats and some of the parties of the nationalist UEN group, which is not expected to survive after June.

The European Conservatives are expected to be the fourth biggest group in the parliament with 58 seats, followed by the leftist GUE group with 48 seats (up from the current 41), the Greens with 39 seats (down from 43) while the current eurosceptic Independence/Democracy group is also expected to fizzle out after June, getting only 17 seats, less than the threshold needed to form a political group.

Professor Hix, whose research with Professor Michael Marsh from Trinity College Dublin was commissioned by PR firm Burson-Marsteller, admitted that predicting elections is a "pretty mad thing to do" and noted that if the average turnout is much lower than in previous years (it reached a low of 45.47% in 2004) "everything is up for grabs" and his predictions could "change enormously."

A significantly higher turnout, meanwhile, will likely mean governing parties will do better.

The research has already come in for criticism. The UK Independence Party said the figures are "skewed and based on false data" while the Party of Europea Socialists said it was "too early" to make predictions about the vote outcome and insisted its aim is to be the biggest group in the parliament.