Briefing Influence

  • Open Europe predicted that anti-establishment parties (anti-EU, anti-austerity, anti-immigration) could win up to 30.9% of the seats in the European Parliament. They ended up winning 30.5% of seats.
  • Shed light on the fact that the rise in seats of anti-establishment parties would lead the main centre-left and centre-right parties in the European Parliament to club together.

Anti-establishment block in the European Parliament

Open Europe correctly estimated that the share of seats held by the anti-establishment block in the European Parliament would rise up from 25% in 2009 to 31% in 2014, following the European Parliament elections.Source: Open Europe

28 April 2014

Surge in anti-establishment parties in the next European Parliament

The potential surge of populist anti-EU, anti-austerity, anti-immigrant and anti-establishment parties will be a big theme in this May’s elections to the European Parliament (EP). Based on the latest aggregate polling and seat projections compiled by Vote Watch Europe, Open Europe estimates that these parties could win as much as 30.9% of the vote in May, up from 24.9% in 2009, and 218 out of 751 seats (29%), up from 164 out of 766 (21.4%) in the current parliament.

The effect of this potential surge is complicated. These parties span the political spectrum and differ substantially from each other, ranging from mainstream governing parties to outright neo-fascists, and will not therefore form a coherent block. It is essential to further distinguish between different categories within this broad grouping, loosely termed by Open Europe as the ‘Malcontents Block’.

Despite the strong performance of these EU critical parties, the European Parliament will continue to be dominated by parties which favour the status quo or further integration, although their vote share is set to fall slightly. The vote share of parties identified by Open Europe as being ‘critical reformers’ – parties which believe the EU needs fundamental reform if it is to survive – is set to go from 53 to 39 seats.

Voter turnout EP elections (Year: %)
1979 62
1984 59
1989 58.4
1994 56.7
1999 50
2004 45.5
2009 43
2014 42.5

Declining voter turnout in the European Parliament elections (1979-2014)

Despite the European Parliament's increase in powers, voter turnout in the European Parliamentary elections has fallen in every election since direct voting began in 1979. National parliaments rather should be the ultimate source of democratic authority in the EU rather than the European Parliament.Source: European Parliament.

Effect of the anti-establishment block in the EP

Ironically, the net effect of the anti-EU vote could be to make the EP more integrationist: by crowding out critical reformers, by reinforcing the corporatist tendency of the two main groups who will want to freeze out the anti-EU MEPs, and by binding the EP and Commission closer together in pushing an integrationist, Brussels-focused agenda.

If turnout is roughly the same this time around (43%), we estimate that 74.4% of all voters will have voted against the EU, for radical change, or not bothered to vote at all, with only 25.6% of all eligible voters actively voting in favour of status quo/more integration parties. For the EP to pursue an explicitly integrationist agenda on such a thin public mandate would not be democratically honest – and would most likely serve to fuel the anti-EU vote even further.

With the share of MEPs explicitly dedicated to free market policies also expected to fall from 242 (31.6%) to 206 (27.4%), the EP elections may be bad news for David Cameron. The EP has an effective veto over some of Cameron’s potential flagship reforms, including EU-US free trade talks, services liberalisation and  rules on migrants’ access to welfare. However, this could be remedied by getting national capitals on-board and appointing a pro-competitiveness Commission in the autumn.

European Parliament Groupings

In terms of political groups in the next EP, we calculate that the Conservatives’ ECR group is likely to survive – albeit in a diminished state – UKIP’s EFD group will most likely not survive, and there could well be a new ‘far right’ group containing a large number of outright anti-EU parties.

UKIP’s bigger impact will be in the domestic debate, rather than in the European Parliament itself.

Pawel Swidlicki, Policy Analyst, Open Europe

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