The upcoming European Parliament elections (23-26 May) will be a defining moment for the European Union.
Clearly there is no doubt that populist and far-right parties have strengthened their grip on national politics in Member States. Whether and to what extent this will be reflected in the composition of the new European Parliament remains to be seen.
At the same time, processes such as Brexit also play a role in shaping the direction the European Union takes over the next 5 years and beyond. And of critical importance, the Members of the European Parliament will vote on legislation which will impact European businesses and consumers - for better or worse.
Moreover, after the European Parliament elections, a new President of the European Commission will be nominated, followed by a new College of Commissioners, the appointment of new Presidents for the European Council and the European Central Bank. These decisions, again, will shape the priorities and the direction of the European Union. This takes place at a critical moment when the next Multiannual Financial Framework, the EU’s five-year budget plan for the years 2021-27, and Brexit are being negotiated.
In this briefing you will find detailed and accessible analysis of the possible results and how to look strategically at the upcoming period of institutional change.
Elections for Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) are every 5 years.
Considering that the United Kingdom will take part in the 2019 elections, the number of MEPs will remain unchanged from the 2014-2019 session: 751 MEPs. However, if and once the United Kingdom leaves the EU, some of the seats will be redistributed among other Member States, and the overall total number of seats will be reduced to 705.
According to seat projections predicted so far, despite the likelihood of losing seats, the European People’s Party (EPP, centre-right) has a realistic chance to emerge as the strongest party, followed, once again, by the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats (S&D, centre-left).
It is estimated that most of the seats lost by these two groups will be won by nationalist and/or populist parties, which are going to increase their presence substantially. In the latest polls, after the inclusion of the UK in the election projections again, the lead of the EPP over the S&D group has been reduced to 30 seats only.
There are concerns that this political realignment within the European Parliament would challenge the smooth decision-making favoured by the “grand-coalition” between EPP and S&D, causing bottlenecks and delays in the works of the European Parliament.
Besides Brexit, one element to watch is the party to which Hungarian Prime Minister, Viktor Orbán, belongs to - Fidesz. Due to tensions, there remains the possibility that Fidesz either withdraws or is expelled from the EPP and joins the alliance announced by other right-wing populist parties to form the European Alliance for People and Nations; together, they could potentially reach more than 100 seats in the European Parliament. Recent developments point in this direction as Orban has withdrawn his support for Weber becoming the next President of the European Commission.
Whilst the underlying orientation will undoubtedly shift towards the extremes, there is no complete clarity yet regarding the new emerging parties and new affiliations, which could tip the balance in the forming of coalitions. What has been confirmed already is that French President Emmanuel Macron’s party La République En Marche (LREM) will align with the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE, centre). This will ensure extra seats to ALDE and will put liberals in a position of strength in coalition talks with the EPP and the S&D. Based on current projections, an EPP-ALDE/LREM-S&D coalition would have well over the 353 seats necessary for a majority. The union of right-wing and populist groups, together with the non-aligned MEPs would not suffice to reach a majority of seats.
These developments would mirror trends seen across the continent, characterised by political fragmentation and volatility. Political outsiders and newcomers are likely to gain from the weakened establishment.
President of the European Parliament
Antonio Tajani (EPP, IT), President of the European Parliament since 2017, wants a second 2.5-year term. Political groups and MEPs reaching at least the low threshold, i.e. 38 MEPs, are responsible for submitting nominations, with the consent of the nominee. A candidate needs to obtain an absolute majority of votes cast. If he or she is unable to secure such votes after three ballots, the fourth ballot is reserved to the two candidates who have obtained the highest number of votes in the third ballot.
European Parliament Standing Committees
The Presidents of all political groups propose the establishment of standing committees, to be confirmed by the European Parliament during the first part-session following the elections (2-4 July 2019). Their mandate covers two and a half years, and can be renewed for another two and a half years after that.
The lists of Committee members will be made public as of 4 July. Thus, it will be possible to hold the first meetings throughout the month of July already, before the summer recess.
Intergroups can also be formed by Members from any political group and any committee, with a view to holding informal exchanges on particular subjects and promoting contact between MEPs and civil society. Creative industries, Digital agenda and Sports intergroups were formed in the last legislature; the emergence of new intergroups and the reshuffle of old and new MEPs within them will have to be monitored.
After the new European Parliament is formed, one of its first tasks is to elect a new European Commission President. A candidate is proposed by the European Council: after having held the appropriate consultations, including with MEPs, and taking into consideration the result of the elections, Heads of State or government vote on the candidate by qualified majority.
The European Parliament is pushing for the so-called Spitzenkandidat process to become the norm for the selection of a potential candidate. However, the European Council could ignore it altogether and propose a different candidate of its own choice. Several leaders have expressed their views in favor of this process as they do not want to be restrained by internal group/party politics of the European Parliament. As one can imagine, this would create confrontation between the two institutions, with the European Parliament claiming that the process is lacking democratic legitimacy.
Once the European Commission President is in place, the next step is for each Member States to propose their Commissioner-designate in cooperation with the President of the European Commission. The President is the one who will allocate the portfolio to each of them. Each Commissioner designated will then be scrutinised in hearings by the parliamentary Committees which fall under their proposed portfolio. If all of them get the green light, the European Parliament can validate the new College of Commissioners by an absolute majority.
As described, the process starting on 23-26 May 2019 with the direct election of a new European Parliament by citizens is going to be completely finalised in October only when both - the European Parliament and the European Commission - will be in place and ready to start working on new legislative proposals.
Many variables make the final outlook of the new institutional landscape far from predictable, while projections hint that we are going to have to work in a very different environment from the previous one.