By Mark Watts
Last week I posed the three key questions that should be asked in order to work out who won the European elections, and avoid falling into the ‘populist surge’ narrative.
First, did the grand-coalition between Christian and social democrats survive?
No. The magic number for an absolute majority is 376, and it fell short by 51 seats. So change is on the way. But in what direction? The anti-EU narrative said it would be in the anti-EU direction. But is it? To answer that we turn to the next question.
Second, what will happen to the current fourth largest group, the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe Group (ALDE), and will they form a coalition with the EPP &S&D?
The new ALDE Group, which is likely to be renamed, will include Macron’s party. It did very well, gaining 42 seats. Given it is unashamedly pro-EU it’s inconceivable it won’t form a coalition, however informal, with the EPP and S&D to ensure the Parliament continues to remain under the control of pro-EU forces. In addition, the pro-EU Greens also put in a good performance, gaining 15 seats.
Third, what is the overall swing in terms of seats to the anti-EU parties?
If you add the S&D, EPP, ALDE you produce, for the reasons explained last week, a very conservative estimate of the number of pro-EU MEPs. It is forecast to be 436 MEPs, a comfortable majority on any measure, and on many votes they will also be joined by the Greens and mainly pro-EU GUE Group. Deduct the new figure from 471 (the figure they held in the previous Parliament) and you have the swing in terms of seats to the anti-EU MEPs. That was forecast to be 66 seats, and it turns out to be just 35. Hardly a populist surge. More like a ripple.
Indeed, the effect of a swing, albeit a perception or even a small one, to the anti-Europeans may for the first time create a ‘government and opposition effect’ in the Parliament. This, together with the kingmaker role of the European liberals could embolden the new pro-EU coalition, and impose greater discipline in the face of the populist challenge, particularly on the big policy questions that require pan-European action, including greater Eurozone cohesion, climate, migration, security, industrial and equality policies.
On Brexit, whilst in the UK the Brexit Party was the largest party in terms of number of MEPs elected, in terms of the number of votes cast, the total support for pro-Remain parties was significantly greater than the votes cast for pro-Brexit parties.
Finally, on turnout there was an increase, in fact the highest turn out for 20 years with over half of EU voters participating in the elections, boosting the legitimacy of the world’s second largest democratic exercise.
Based on all those facts we can conclude the European Parliament will continue to construct the European project for the next five years at least.
The clear winner of the elections is the European Union.
Mark Watts is an EU expert, entrepreneur, former MEP, and EU blogger. He’s Director of LP Brussels and co-ordinator of UK Transport in Europe (UKTiE). His views are his own.