Tuesday

21st Feb 2017

Focus

Far-left set for big gains in European Parliament elections

  • Syriza leader Alexis Tsipras said to have his eyes on the premiership (Photo: Asteris Masouras)

Europe's far-left is set to almost double its deputies in the upcoming European Parliament elections in May.

Poll predictions indicate that the European United Left/Nordic Green Left (GUE/NGL) group is set to become the parliament's third or fourth largest group, with the number of deputies rising from the current 35 to around 60.

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At third place, it would replace the liberals (ALDE), behind the centre-left S&D and centre-right EPP.

Among the far-left hopefuls are candidates from Italy, Greece and France.

Italy currently has no far-left deputies at the assembly but is set to make large inroads. In Greece, the far-left is leading in the polls while in France, leftist politicians are set to capitalise on the governing socialists unpopularity.

The parties are against what they describe as neo-liberal policy-making at the EU level, want more funding for social programmes, and want to create what they describe as "another Europe".

The Italians want a referendum to cancel the fiscal compact that sets out debt and deficit ceilings. Greece's Syriza has also targeted the country's €240 billion of bailout loans while French leftists focus on issues such as raising the minimum wage.

But while the French far left are mired in internal disputes and have yet to come up with a list of euro candidates, the Italians have already published their own so-called Tsipras List.

The list is named after Greek opposition leader of the Coalition of the Radical Left (Syriza), Alexis Tsipras.

Fabio Amato, a co-founder of the European Left in Italy and one of more than 70 candidates on the Tsipras List, said people have had enough of "neo-liberal" polices and austerity.

"What we have seen in all southern Europe is a huge attack against social, civil and democratic rights of the people," he told this website.

The parliament's group currently has no Italian members.

But pan-EU opinion pollsters PollWatch suggest Italy may send at least four to the Brussels' assembly.

Italy has around four far-left parties and each is too small, on their own, to breach the 4 percent threshold. They also do not get along.

Despite their differences, they have agreed to back the Tsipras List, increasing the overall chances of sending a handful of deputies to Brussels.

The plan is to create an alliance between countries of the south to counter what Fabio Amato describes as a political hegemony created by Germany and the EU.

No one on the Tsipras List has had any experience in the Italian parliament in the past ten years. This is deliberate, noted Amato.

“We decided to have new people but people who are involved in the European question and in the social movement,” he said.

But Amato's far-left alliance plan may be stymied by Alexis Tsipras himself.

Greece's Tsipras plays different tune at home than abroad

In the 2012 Greek national elections Syriza's message to cancel the bailout imposed by the troika of international lenders resonated with some 27 percent of the electorate.

At home the message remains the same but abroad Tsipras is talking a different tune.

"In Greece, it [Syriza] is condemning the bailout for obvious political reasons but in Europe it is 'more friendly' towards the European economic policy," said George Tzogopoulos, a research follow at the Hellenic Foundation for European and Foreign Policy (ELIAMEP).

He noted that the party, in relation to European policy, would now be prepared to negotiate and possibly even apply the same bailout terms that it openly condemns at home.

In the meantime, Tsipras is trying to distance himself from the far-left parties throughout the EU because he may become the next prime minister, says Tzogopoulos.

"He is trying as much as he can to internationalise the policies of his party and not to engage with the popular European parties as he used to do in the past," said Tzogopoulos.

At 19 percent, Syriza has a two-percent lead in the polls on the centre-right New Democracy.

Syriza has yet to publish its list of euro-deputy candidates but PollWatch predicts the GUE/NGL group is set to gain eight Greek MEPs, up from the current three.

Greece's more fringe far-left parties like the communists are unlikely to muster more than 4 or 5 percent of the votes.

Some Syriza voters may also see a better alternative with To Potami (The River), a new party created about a month ago by former TV presenter Stavros Theodorakis.

The River's populist message targets the political elite and its establishment. It wants to replace the Greek political class with new faces.

Theodorakis has not put forward any other agenda but the party is still polling at 10 percent, on par with the neo-nazi Golden Dawn, and ahead of the centre-left Pasok.

Internal disputes among French far-left

In France, internal disputes among the far-left are creating divisions.

The Left Front, France's election coalition for the European elections, is composed of five members.

The two largest parties are at loggerheads on party platform differences and on an on-going dispute over municipal elections in Paris.

This means the group has yet to put forward a list of candidates to the European parliament elections.

The French Communist Party (PCF) is the largest and oldest.

Second from the top is the Left Party, headed by French MEP Jean-Luc Melenchon, who received some 4 million votes in the last presidential elections.

Euro-deputy candidate names should start appearing after the first round of the Paris elections on Sunday (23 March).

A complete list is set for publication after the second round a week later.

France has five MEPs in the GUE/NGL group but is set to gain an extra three, according to the last polls.

European 'United Left' searches for unity

Among the newly-elected leftist MEPs, one person in particular is attracting attention, Italy’s Barbara Spinelli, the daughter of Altiero Spinelli.

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