Poll: Socialists to top EU elections, boost for far-right
By Benjamin Fox
Europe's socialists are set to top the polls in May's European elections, according to the first pan-EU election forecast.
The projections, released by Pollwatch Europe on Tuesday (19 February), give the parliament's centre-left group 221 out of 751 seats on 29 percent of the vote, up from the 194 seats it currently holds.
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For their part, the centre-right EPP would drop to 202 seats from the 274 it currently holds on 27 percent of the vote across the bloc. If correct, it would be the first victory for the Socialists since 1994.
The poll is the first in a series of fortnightly forecasts by Pollwatch in the last three months before Europe's 400 million voters go to the ballot booths from 22-25 May.
The PollWatch statistical model takes opinion poll data from the EU's 28 member states and gives extra weighting to support for small and eurosceptic parties which, it argues, are usually underestimated in European election surveys.
Although the volatile political climate in many of the EU's countries and uncertainty about how many voters will turn out in May means that centre-right parties, which are currently in government in most of Europe, could still recover ground, the scale of their projected losses is set to come as a surprise.
Most analysts expect the EPP to still be the largest political force in parliament following May's elections, albeit with a diminished number of seats.
The forecast will also offer hope to Martin Schulz, the current president of the parliament, who is to be confirmed in March as the Socialist candidate to lead the next European Commission. May's elections will be the first to have a direct effect on who the next president of the EU executive will be, under provisions introduced by the Lisbon treaty.
Elsewhere, the poll projects a series of national victories for populist parties of the right and left in a number of countries. Marine Le Pen's National Front is forecast to top the poll in France with 20 seats, while Beppe Grillo's Five Star Movement would win in Italy with 24 seats.
It also anticipates strong showings for parties in Belgium, Austria, Italy and Sweden and the Netherlands who have pledged to set up a new far-right political group with Le Pen, and are set to take a combined 38 seats.
In total, it projects that the number of so-called 'Non aligned' MEPs would swell to 92 after May's poll.
Crucially for the legislative programme of the new parliament, this would make it almost impossible for either of the major groups to form ideologically based left-right majorities between 2014-2019.
Meanwhile, in Greece, the leftist Syriza party is projected to take nine of the country's 21 seats.
Professor Simon Hix, who chairs VoteWatch Europe, commented that "the polarisation of the EP could force the centrist groups to work together in a 'grand coalition'."