Saturday

21st Sep 2019

Italian populists could be second biggest force in EU parliament

  • (Photo: European Parliament)

Italy's anti-migrant and eurosceptic League party, led by interior minister Matteo Salvini, is projected to be the second biggest party in the European Parliament (EP) after this May's election, while the centre-right is to remain the biggest political family, according to polls released by the EU assembly on Monday (18 February).

The League would receive 27 seats in the next parliament, behind Germany's ruling centre-right CDU/CSU party, which is foreseen to send 29 MEPs.

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The EP released the figures 100 days ahead of elections, taking place between 23 and 26 May, based on its aggregate of figures by "reliable" national polls.

Overall, the next EP could see a surge of nationalist, populist parties across Europe, while traditional left-right political families are set to become weaker, the polls indicated.

That would reflect recent developments in several member states, such as Austria and Italy, where far-right parties have entered office.

For the first time, the traditional centre-right European People's Party (EPP) and centre-left Social Democrats will lose their absolute majority in the parliament, which will shrink to 705 MEPs from the current 751 due to British lawmakers leaving as a result of Brexit.

The traditional centrist coalition in the parliament, which drives the EU appointments procedure and its legislature will be could be destabilised, as more parties will be needed to form a majority.

It could also spell an end to EPP and S&D politicians dividing the EP presidency among themselves for 2.5 year-long terms, with each term being half as long as the mandate of each parliament.

The EPP is projected to win 183 seats, down from 217 members in the current parliament, but to remain the largest party in the assembly.

The second biggest, the S&D will have 135 seats, down from 186.

Part of the S&D's losses will come from departing members form the British Labour Party.

But the ruling UK Conservative party sits with the anti-federalist European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) group in the parliament, not with the EPP.

Liberals are set to increase their numbers from to 75 MEPs from 68.

Meanwhile, French president Emmanuel Macron's En Marche party is set to win 18 seats, behind Marine Le Pen's far-right National Rally (formerly known as the National Front) on 21 seats.

En Marche is not yet being counted among the liberal group in the EP, as Macron has yet to join the European liberal alliance, also known as Alde.

Populist and nationalist parties are going to make gains across the continent, the EP's meta-poll said.

The populist Europe of Freedom and Direct Democracy (EFDD) group, which currently includes the Five Star Movement and Alternative For Deutschland among its members, along with Nigel Farage, are set to grow from 41 to 43.

Farage used to lead the anti-EU Ukip party, prior to launching his own Brexit Party.

The Europe of Nations and Freedom (ENF) group is also set to increase its numbers from 37 to 59 MEPs.

Currently, the ENF lists Le Pen's party, the Dutch Geert Wilders' Freedom Party, and Salvini's Lega, as well Austria's governing coalition partner, the Freedom Party of Austria, among its members.

The EFDD and ENF together could make up 14.47 percent of the new parliament, but some populists and nationalists, such as MEPs from Hungary's far-right Jobbik party, also come from the ranks of non-attached members.

The ECR group, who call themselves "eurorealists", are projected to get 51 seats, down from 75 MEPs, according to the projection compiled by the EP.

The group also counts Poland's ruling nationalist PiS party, the Belgian Flemish NVA party, the Finnish conservative Finns Party, and the Danish People's Party, among others.

Group leaders decide on the parliament's agenda, make decisions on which parties lead which legislative files, and rule on the composition of parliamentary committees.

Following the elections, populists and nationalists forming strong parliamentary factions can have a tangible influence on the EU's legislative work.

However, the exact composition of groups will only be decided after the election results are in.

Elected MEPs are expected to negotiate the formation of political groups in the next parliament in June.

Turnout

Officially, the mandate for the current parliament will end on 1 July, and the inauguration of the 9th legislature could be on 2 July.

The parliament kept silent on the possible EU-wide turnout of voters at the polls, saying the figures were only available at national level.

Voter turnout at European elections has been decreasing, with just 43 percent of voters showing up at the ballots in 2014.

But parliament officials are confident an increased interest in the EU could translate to more votes being cast.

Meanwhile, the EP is pushing ahead with its "spitzenkandidaten", or "top candidate" procedure, with five European political families having already chosen their lead candidate to spearhead the European campaign for the top job at the European Commission.

The EP insists that the new president of the European Commission, just as in 2014, will have to be the lead candidate of the political group that manages to build the strongest coalition in parliament, arguing that it creates a direct link between European voters and the commission.

European leaders, who have traditionally decided the top EU positions among themselves, insist there is no automatic link between the election results and the commission presidency, however.

The EP aims to hold its official debate for the "top candidates" on 15 May in its Brussels building.

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