Saturday

21st Sep 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.

Dismiss Italy's Salvini at your peril

Matteo Salvini's recent gambit may have failed, but, in his own words: "From today you will find me even more pissed off and determined. I will go from town to town and we will take this country back."

Brexit raises questions for EU defence integration

Brussels' current vision for cooperation on defence, where third countries can contribute but have no say in decision-making and in the guidance of operations, is unlikely to be attractive to the UK.

Europe's refugee policy is test of its true 'way of life'

As ex-national leaders, we know it's not easy to withstand public pressures and put collective interests ahead of domestic concerns. But without strong institutional leadership, EU values themselves risk ringing hollow, not least to those seeking protection on Europe's shores.

News in Brief

  1. Ireland: right Brexit deal is 'not yet close'
  2. UK secrecy on Brexit holds back wider EU talks
  3. Feminist mass protest in Spain after 19 murders this summer
  4. Global climate strike starts ahead of UN summit
  5. UK Brexit minister to meet Barnier on Friday
  6. Russia-Ukraine gas deal talks show 'progress'
  7. Nobel economist: Ireland 'not good EU citizen' on taxes
  8. Germany takes carbon border tax on board

Defending the defenders: ombudsmen need support

Ombudsmen are often coming under attack or facing different kinds of challenges. These can include threats, legal action, reprisals, budget cuts or a limitation of their mandate.

Column

The benefits of being unpopular

Paradoxically, the lack of popularity may be part of the strength of the European project. Citizens may not be super-enthusiastic about the EU, but when emotions run too high in politics, hotheads may take over.

Stakeholders' Highlights

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

Latest News

  1. Europe goes to New York This WEEK
  2. Nine EU 'commissioners' asked to clarify declarations
  3. Dismiss Italy's Salvini at your peril
  4. Malta PM accused of 'blackmail' over slain reporter
  5. Diplomats back Romania's Kovesi for EU top prosecutor
  6. Brexit raises questions for EU defence integration
  7. Low-carbon cities can unlock €21tn by 2050, report finds
  8. France, Italy want 'automatic' distribution of migrants

Stakeholders' Highlights

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

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us