After the EP vote – working the camembert
And we're off. Voting has started. The European Parliament has a twitchy, nervous feel to it.
It is heaving with TV equipment, temporary stages, earnest-looking news analysis corners, and reams and reams of wifi-ensuring masking tape. On the popular Luxembourg square nearby, a stage has been erected. Large portrait posters line the space leading to it. There's Aliki the student, Magdalena the factory worker and Ricardo, who has retired.
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"Act. React. Impact" urges a slogan. "This time is different" is another more plaintive-sounding one.
There are four days of voting. Technically no results are meant to come out before 11pm on Sunday evening. In a heroic assumption about the state of European political space, the commission reasons that citizens in later-voting states will be swayed by votes that have gone before.
Nevertheless the Dutch plan to flout the EU's omerta rule and Italy's Nota Politica website will be taking an extreme interest horse-racing.
And there will be some turnout stats which usually provide a diverting horror show.
Into the void come statistics. Some 400 million people are entitled to vote. Around 40 million of them are first-time voters. Some 16,000 people are running for the 751 seats. Of these around 3,000 are in France. Forty-nine percent of Slovenia's candidates are women, in Cyprus just 23 percent.
There are several octogenarians trying to make it to Brussels. The very oldest MEP-wanna-be is a 92-year-old Greek left-winger. A sprinkling of 18-year-olds and several twenty-somethings are also trying their luck.
Pie charts – or the more pungently named camemberts – predicting possible group formations are being earnestly pored over.
Everyone wants to know where the non-inscrits or non-attached are going. Non-inscrits is the polite term for politically homeless MEPs. Around half of the outgoing batch come from hard right groups such as Lega Nord or Vlaams Belang.
There are expected to be many more after the EU vote. Whether they can collectively and harmoniously turn themselves into 'inscrits' is one of the burning questions of this election.
But the evening will be all about timing. And being able to add up. Because the commission presidency, in theory, is supposed to go to the party with the most votes. Or, failing that, to the candidate that can get the most support in the new EP.
The nitty gritty will start at 10pm when the first projections for the groups and seats come in. The first preliminary EU results come an hour later.
The major political groups and their commission-president hopefuls will also be lurking with intent in the parliament.
Centre-right candidate Jean-Claude Juncker and his centre-left rival Martin Schulz are slated to hold press conferences. They will be carefully choreographed affairs, particularly if, as predicted, Juncker's EPP is in the lead by a mere whisker.
That's where preferential voting – in 20 member states – and election thresholds – in 14 member states – could come into play. If majorities are slim, every seat will count. Only it will take some days before the results of preferential voting and of who has made the threshold – several parties will hang just above or just below – are finalised.
Righteous declarations, posturing, a measured amount of fence-sitting and a hefty dose of speculation is to be expected.
The EP will make its first overt tactical move on Tuesday morning when it sends a message to EU leaders on how it assesses the results.
EU leaders, meeting Tuesday evening, have pre-emptively already sent their own (cagey) message to MEPs informing them – in a thoroughly non-committal manner – that they will see what they can learn from the results.
The ensuing bunfight should be enough to conceal any weakness, equivocacy or disunity on Ukraine – the other 'topic' to be discussed at dinner.