Monday

27th Mar 2017

Focus

New EP will struggle to find majorities

It will take days if not weeks for the political dust to settle after the EU vote but it is already clear that the new European Parliament will need to work harder to find majorities with discussions on issues such as migration and free trade deals set to become more polarised.

While the centre-right EPP gained the most seats in the EU vote, it lost around sixty seats compared to 2009, while the centre-left S&D came second, but did less well than expected.

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  • Coalition building is going to be more difficult in the next parliament (Photo: European Parliament / Pietro Naj-Oleari)

Together the two parties hold a majority (403) in the 751-strong EP, under current group projections, but it is a slim majority (54%).

"That means that in areas where only the S&D and the EPP agree, that will not be enough, they will have to get votes from some other places," said VoteWatch's Doru Frantescu at a post-election analysis on Monday (26 May).

A centre-right coalition of the EPP, the liberals and the anti-Federalist ECR does not result in a majority, nor does a centre-left coalition of the Social democrats, liberals and far-left.

So a super coalition of the EPP, S&D and Liberals will likely be needed for any measures that would strengthen EU integration or the power of the EU institutions.

But where the EPP and S&D disagree, it will take a lot of hard work to form a majority.

The new numbers are set to make it hard for the new parliament to achieve its first goal: electing a new European Commission president, which will need an absolute majority of 376 MEPs.

But the new make-up is also expected to affect policy areas.

The already controversial EU-US free trade negotiations could attract even more criticism in the EP where they will be opposed by the left but also by some on the far-right, such as France's National Front, calling for more protectionism.

There could also be more division on whether to further liberalise the internal market in services, while the EP is expected to be "less favourable to budget consolidation" and more "vocal" against migration, said Frantescu, with anti-immigration parties topping the polls in the UK, France and the Netherlands.

All political groups are to be formed by 24 June. After this they will divide up the committees between them. The new parliament will have its constitutive assembly in the first week of July.

Biggest effect outside Brussels

But while the parliament is expected to change in that its policy votes will become more unpredictable, the biggest effect of the 22-25 May is expected to be felt in member states.

Founding member state France, usually meant to push ahead on EU proposals alongside Germany, has just given the most votes to a highly eurosceptic and populist party.

Ukip's victory in Britain has brought the likelihood of an in-out referendum on EU membership closer, while Spain is reeling from shock of both of its main parties failing to gather 50 percent of the vote between them.

Simon Hix, political analyst at the LSE, spoke of a "deep structural change" in EU politics, while the European Policy Centre's Fabian Zuleeg said: "I think we're going to see a big impact on the domestic agenda."

The downbeat assessment comes on top of the turnout result, which although it bucked the downward trend of all previous elections, was the same as in 2009.

"Clearly the biggest winner was apathy," said Zuleeg.

Merkel reinforced

Two major winners of the EU election were the Italian and German leaders. Italian PM Matteo Renzi's party scooped 40.8 percent of the vote, making the Italian delegation the largest in the S&D.

Meanwhile, Chancellor Angela Merkel's CDU and CSU sister party got 33.5 percent. German MEPs remain the largest delegation in the EPP group. They have also increased their relative importance in the group, with French and Italian centre-right seats declining.

"This will reinforce the role of Angela Merkel," says Poul Skytte Christoffersen, Danish amsbassador to Belgium and long-time Brussels insider.

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