Tuesday

20th Aug 2019

Opinion

European elections - can the centre hold?

  • The four largest political groups in the parliament already host national parties that have run into trouble for threats to baseline EU values (Photo: European Parliament)

Last month the European Parliament criticised Slovakia and Malta for attacks on judicial independence and media freedom.

This underlines that in the upcoming European parliament elections, the real threat to the EU isn't going to come from fringe parties.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

The Europe of Nations and Freedom (ENF) and the Europe of Freedom and Direct Democracy (EFDD) are going to grow, but they won't reach a majority by a long shot.

The trouble is going to come from within the mainstream - unless it is willing to rethink its alliances. Centrist political groups will still collectively hold a clear majority.

But that majority has some fishy elements.

The four largest political groups in the parliament all host national parties that have run into trouble for threats to baseline EU values.

And according to Politico's poll of polls data, almost all of those national parties are predicted to grow.

It's not just Hungary's Fidesz, sitting in the centre-right European People's Party (EPP), and Poland's PiS, sitting in the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR), that have been targeted by parliament for dismantling constitutional checks and balances.

Romania's SPD, Malta's Labour Party (PL) and Slovakia's Smer have all been chided for interfering with judicial independence, systematic corruption, and/or threats to press freedom.

They're part of the centre-left Socialists and Democrats (S&D) group.

Similarly, leadership of the Czech Republic's Ano has also been pulled up for corruption and conflicts of interest that risk endangering the country's democracy.

Ano sits in the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (Alde), and so does the problematic Romanian government's junior coalition partner.

Each of the largest four political groups in the European parliament has tried to shield their 'problem children' from criticism during parliamentary votes.

That's only going to get worse when their share of seats grows.

Difficult future parliament

It's going to become very difficult for the European Parliament to condemn serious violations of civil liberties in the future.

Especially if the likes of Fidesz, or Ano or the PL can count not only on the support of their group, but probably also the support of an enlarged Eurosceptic ENF and EFDD.

In a worst-case scenario, we could see the centre-right EPP team up with authoritarians, as has happened, for example, in Austria and Bulgaria.

The EPP has not ruled out collaborating with the EFDD and ENF.

The EPP could come together with the ECR and those anti-values parties from the S&D and ALDE groups, plus new parties like Spain's Vox and currently non-aligned parties like Hungary's Jobbik.

Such an unholy alliance could deliver a majority according to current polling data.

But there is hope.

Based on current polling data, anti-values MEPs can expect to claim no more than 30 percent of seats.

Which leaves 70 percent of the house belonging to MEPs whose parties nominally support - or at least have not openly contested - basic standards to protect the rule of law, democratic pluralism and fundamental rights.

But for this pro-values bloc to work together, mainstream political groups are going to have to kick out their illiberal members.

The EPP is taking steps on Fidesz, although it is important to keep up the pressure and ensure that the suspension and internal investigation are not merely an effort to stall a decision on expulsion until after the elections.

Follow EPP example?

The S&D, Alde and the ECR should follow suit.

Otherwise centrists will end up giving parties with illiberal tendencies access to the heart of the European parliament's power and influence.

Liberties has developed a #Vote4Values: Elections Tracker 2019 to visualise for voters where anti-values MEPs sit in the European Parliament.

The tracker is based on data from Politico's poll of polls.

This would allow citizens to check if their preferred party is in bed with problematic parties from other countries. It could encourage voters to start asking political candidates why they are collaborating with parties attacking civil liberties.

And then we might see political groups in Brussels rethinking their membership or ruling out cooperation with particular problematic parties in advance of the election.

The tracker also visualises for users what kinds of pro-values coalitions MEPs could form, if the main political groups were to eject their troublesome members.

There are multiple possible pro-values coalitions.

There is no need for mainstream parties to hold themselves hostage to their rotten apples. Instead they can hold on to their values and rule in coalition with others that share them.

Author bio

Israel Butler is head of advocacy at the Civil Liberties Union for Europe.

John Morijn is Emile Noel Fellow at the Jean Monnet Centre of NYU Law School and teaches human rights law at the University of Groningen.

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

Europe before the elections - heading back to the past?

Ahead of the European Parliament election in May, the bloc is ideologically split between authoritarians seeking to reduce its sway, and those seeking a moderate track. In essence, voters have to decide if they want to move forwards or backwards.

My plan for defending rule of law in EU

EPP leader and prospective next EU Commission president Manfred Weber spells out his plan for dealing with recalcitrant EU member states - ahead of Wednesday's EPP meeting on the vexed issue of Hungary's Viktor Orban and Fidesz.

Lagarde's ECB must modernise

Christine Lagarde will succeed European Central Bank president Mario Draghi at a time of deepening polarisation among eurozone member states. It will take all of her skills as a leader and communicator to safeguard the institution's independence.

UK MPs' maths means election, not no-deal Brexit

Parliamentary arithmetic at Westminster, and societal pressures from the likes of Welsh sheep-farmers, Northern Irish cattle breeders, London business groups and Scottish Conservatives combine to push a motion of no-confidence in the prime minister by mid-October at the very latest.

Facebook has to answer some tough questions about Libra

German MEP and member of the Economic and Monetary Affairs Committee, Markus Ferber, warns of four separate threats from Facebook's Libra. A good moment to kick off the debate would be this week's G20 summit.

Six takeaways on digital disinformation at EU elections

For example, Germany's primetime TV news reported that 47 percent of political social media discussions were related to the extreme-right AfD party, when in fact this was the case only for Twitter - used by only four percent of Germans.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNESDAUNESDA reduces added sugars 11.9% between 2015-2017
  2. International Partnership for Human RightsEU-Uzbekistan Human Rights Dialogue: EU to raise key fundamental rights issues
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNo evidence that social media are harmful to young people
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersCanada to host the joint Nordic cultural initiative 2021
  5. Vote for the EU Sutainable Energy AwardsCast your vote for your favourite EUSEW Award finalist. You choose the winner of 2019 Citizen’s Award.
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersEducation gets refugees into work
  7. Counter BalanceSign the petition to help reform the EU’s Bank
  8. UNICEFChild rights organisations encourage candidates for EU elections to become Child Rights Champions
  9. UNESDAUNESDA Outlines 2019-2024 Aspirations: Sustainability, Responsibility, Competitiveness
  10. Counter BalanceRecord citizens’ input to EU bank’s consultation calls on EIB to abandon fossil fuels
  11. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual EU-Turkmenistan Human Rights Dialogue takes place in Ashgabat
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersNew campaign: spot, capture and share Traces of North

Latest News

  1. Irish border plan is 'anti-democratic', Johnson tells EU
  2. Polish deputy minister targeted judges in hate campaign
  3. EU ends silence on Hong Kong protests
  4. Is Salvini closing just harbours or also the rule of law?
  5. No-deal Brexit would seriously harm UK, leaked paper says
  6. Selmayr did not keep formal records of lobby meetings
  7. EU asked to solve migrant rescue deadlock
  8. Internal EU paper: Second Brexit vote was no longer 'distant dream'

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersLeading Nordic candidates go head-to-head in EU election debate
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody
  3. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  4. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic commitment to driving global gender equality
  6. International Partnership for Human RightsMeet your defender: Rasul Jafarov leading human rights defender from Azerbaijan
  7. UNICEFUNICEF Hosts MEPs in Jordan Ahead of Brussels Conference on the Future of Syria
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic talks on parental leave at the UN
  9. International Partnership for Human RightsTrial of Chechen prisoner of conscience and human rights activist Oyub Titiev continues.
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic food policy inspires India to be a sustainable superpower
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersMilestone for Nordic-Baltic e-ID
  12. Counter BalanceEU bank urged to free itself from fossil fuels and take climate leadership

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us