Article by Bernd Gruner, EUEW Senior Adviser for EU Affairs
From 23 to 26 May 2019 more than 512 million citizens in the 28 Member States of the European Union were called upon to vote for 751 Members of the European Parliament (MEP) for the 9th term lasting from 2019 to 2024. The elections mobilized 50.97 % of the European electorate which is 8 % higher compared to 2014 (42.61 %) and the highest turnover since 1999. The turnover increased in 20 countries, in particular, in big countries like Spain (64.3%, + 20.5%), Germany (61.41%, + 13.3 %) and France (50.12 %; +7.6%).
Losers of the vote are the European People’s Party (EPP) going down by 37 seats to 179 seats, the Socialists & Democrats (S&D) going down by 32 seats to 153, the European Conservative and Reformist Group (ECR) going down by 14 seats to 63 and the Confederal Group of the European United Left - Nordic Green Left going down by 14 seats to 38. The winners of the elections are the Alliance for Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE) becoming third political group in the EP with 105 seats gaining 35 seats, the Greens/European Free Alliance (EFA) going up to 69 seats gaining 17 seats and the Eurosceptic parties with the Europe for Nation and Freedom Group (ENF) going up to 58 seats gaining 22 seats and the Europe of Freedom and Direct Democracy Group (EFDD) going up to 54 seats gaining 12 seats. Next to the deputies attached to political groups the number of deputies without any ties to any political group increased from 20 to 32. It has to be noted that changes will occur in the allocation of seats after the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the EU. The 73 seats for the British MEPs will be reattributed to candidates on the waiting lists in accordance with a pre-established allocation of seats by country. The EU gave the United Kingdom a delay for the withdrawal until 31 October 2019, British deputies will have to leave the EP by that day, if no agreement is concluded.
As a result of the vote, the EU friendly center right being the EPP and the center left being the S&D lost for the first time since the constitution of the European Parliament in 1979 their ability to form a majority of their own. Now the EU friendly center block needs to look for allies to obtain the majority, which may result in building different alliances depending on the issue at stake.
The ALDE Group may be an important ally, however the unity and discipline within this political group has still to be demonstrated. This is due to the fact that ALDE profited from the gain of 15 seats for the British Liberals and the fact that Renaissance, the party of French President Macron, with 21 seats and the Romanian USR plus with 8 seats joined the political group. The party of French President Macron constitutes now the biggest national party in ALDE and the British liberals will leave after the withdrawal of the UK from the EU.
The Greens will claim ownership of all climate related issues and will cooperate on social and consumer related issues, which would mean tougher regulation for business in these areas. The political group gained its’ seats in Northern wealthy countries, in particular in Germany, where they arrived second in the polls with over 20%, while they disappeared in Southern, Central and Eastern Europe.
The political group of European nationalists, the ECR, has been weakened and is fragmented as only one major national party remains with the PIS having 26 seats (party of Lech Kaczyński - Polish government) after the British Conservatives lost 15 of their 19 seats and the remaining seats are hold by 13 different parties of minor importance.
The Eurosceptic parties ENF profited from gains of the extreme right in Italy, France and Belgium and the EFDD profited from the gains of the Brexit party and the extreme right in Germany. The political weight of the gains for the Eurosceptic parties has still to be seen as it is not clear how far they contribute to policy making at European level and if they will cooperate across national parties.
A further element resulting from the election is the fact that 494 of 751 MEPs, i.e. more than two thirds, have been elected for the first time. These will need to establish themselves in the new environment and will have to get accustomed with procedures and legislative work at European level. Due to this there will be a considerable brain drain and the start-up phase of the incoming EP will be slow with delays and confusion, before the legislative work is taken up by the end of this year. The start-up phase will be further burdened by the pending withdrawal of the UK and the disruption caused by the pulling out of British MEPs.
As a result of the above constellation political analysts foresee the following trends for the next term of the European Parliament:
It will be less predictable as discipline within and between political groups will be more difficult to maintain as the political groups are becoming smaller and will be more ready to compromise to build new alliances to have the majority, which may change in function of the dossier;
the incoming EP will be less business friendly in view of the weakening of the EPP and the fact that climate related issues are becoming a political priority next to consumer and social issues;
more cohesion with national parties in view of Eurosceptic tendencies in Europe.
With the election results in, the newly elected MEPs will now build the political groups and start negotiations on the allocation of the European Parliamentary Committee positions. The President of the European Council Mr. Donald Tusk will consult in the month of June with the European Parliament on a possible candidate for the President of the Commission. Following the consultations, President Tusk will propose a candidate to the European Council, which decides on its proposal by qualified majority. In view of the losses of the EPP a debate is already engaged on accepting the candidate of the largest party in the European Parliament, Mr Manfred Weber, as new President of the EU Commission, the so-called Spitzenkandidaten process. President Emmanuel Macron has expressed at several occasions his reservations on the Spitzenkandidaten process, which is supported by Angela Merkel and the Presidents of the Political Groups in the EP with the exemption of ALDE; one of the alternatives to Mr Manfred Weber being Ms Margrethe Vestager the Party leader of ALDE and outgoing Commissioner for Competition policy.
The first full plenary session of the new European Parliament will be on 2 July 2019 and the vote on the approval or rejection of the new European Commission President will be at the second plenary session on 15 July 2019.
During the months of September and October the Member States will propose the Commissioners-designate in close cooperation with the new President of the EU Commission. During these months the hearings of the Commissioners-designate in the Parliamentary Committees and the vote of the new Commission by the EP will take place by a majority of the votes cast.
The new European Commission will take officially office on the 1st of November 2019, and the Commissioners will receive their mission letter from the President, describing their functions and duties.
More detailed information on the results of the European elections can be found on election-results.eu.