24 May 2019

While the UK and the Netherlands voted on 23 May, most of the EU27 will be heading to the polling stations for European Parliament (EP) elections on 26 May.

Campaigns have been different across member states, with some countries holding debates between lead party candidates, while others have been focusing on domestic issues. Below Open Europe provides an overview of key questions to keep in mind during the vote, both on an EU-wide level and in some of the EU27 member states our experts have been following for the last few weeks.

 

What to watch out for overall across the EU

 

The fragmentation of European politics

As Open Europe argued in a recent briefing, the overall European picture from the elections is expected to be one of political fragmentation. Parties from the mainstream centre-left and centre-right are expected to lose votes and seats to challenger parties, particularly greens, liberals and nationalists. The extent of this fragmentation and its impact on the political groups in the EP is a key development to watch as the results come in.

A new and more diverse legislative coalition

In the 2014-19 Parliament, 74% of EU legislation was carried by a ‘Grand Coalition’ of the European People’s Party (EPP) and the Socialists and Democrats (S&D). However, this election is expected to see the two parties fall well short of a combined majority (for the first time in the Parliament’s history). The expectation is that they would then have to co-opt the liberal group, ALDE, into a new three-party ‘Grand Coalition’ for passing legislation. What majority will this new coalition have over the other parties in the EP?

Implications for the next European Commission President

After the elections, the European Council will appoint a candidate for the next Commission President, taking into account the results of EP elections. Will EU leaders eventually choose someone according to the Spitzenkandidat process, as they did in 2014? A number of them are opposed to the process in principle, while others have reservations about the EPP’s lead candidate, Manfred Weber. The two largest political groups, the EPP and S&D, are likely to play a role in the process, depending on which comes out as the biggest party. In particular, would the EPP’s lead over the S&D vanish if Hungary’s ruling party Fidesz leaves the group?

Consolidation and realignment on the Eurosceptic Right

Eurosceptic parties are expected to do well in many member states – but how will their overall performance compare to the 2014 election, when they also did very well? Will it really be accurate to speak of a ‘populist surge,’ or is the picture more one of consolidating earlier gains?

Another key question is whether there will be a shift within the internal dynamics of the Eurosceptic Right bloc in the European Parliament. Will the more moderate European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR), which finished third in 2014, be eclipsed by the more nationalist European Alliance of Peoples and Nations (EAPN)?

 

 

Key questions in selected EU27 member states

 

France

Read our previous analysis on France here

For a few weeks President Macron’s La République en Marche and Marine Le Pen’s National Rally have been neck and neck in polls, which has led to Macron himself jumping into the campaign to support his head of list Nathalie Loiseau. The vote is mostly seen as a referendum on Macron’s presidency. Coming second to Marine Le Pen could severely damage his legitimacy at home and his plans for EU reform.

Who will win the battle for the first place: LREM or National Rally? And how will both parties’ leaders use the results in their discourses? Could Macron’s party become a kingmaker in the new EP?

Germany

Read our previous analysis on Germany here

Germans seem divided about the future direction of the EU, but the European election results will probably reflect domestic politics and not be a “protest vote” election. The Greens are expected to overtake the SPD as second party, whilst Alternative for Germany (AfD) will consolidate its 2014 gains but not massively increase its number of seats. The expected CDU comfortable win would suggest that Germany will continue its policy of promoting inter-governmentalism and incremental change on an EU level.

Spain

Read our previous analysis on national elections in Spain here

Spanish European elections take place less than a month after national elections. Pedro Sanchez’s PSOE achieved a victory with 29%, with the right-wing vote split between three parties. The proximity of national elections helps predict the EP elections, which are mainly being fought  on domestic issues.

PSOE is likely to emerge as one of the strongest individual parties within the centre-left S&D alliance, which might increase the role of Spain in EU decision-making. Centre-right Ciudadanos and ultraconservative party Vox will send MEPs to the European Parliament for the first time, strengthening the pro-EU and Eurosceptic groups respectively.

 

Italy

Read our previous analysis on Italy here 

As pointed out in a recent Open Europe blog, tensions within the Italian government have become very visible in the last days of the campaign, leading to speculations about a reshuffle of ministries in favour of the Lega Party, or perhaps Deputy PM Matteo Salvini seeking new legislative elections. Lega is still expected to win with the Five Star Movement second, and the Democratic Party coming close in third place, hoping to make enough gains to gain more than 20%.

Watch out for the vote shares of both governing parties and how these affect the balance within the coalition, but also the right-wing Brothers of Italy, who could become Lega’s allies if Salvini decides to pull the plug on the coalition with the Five Star Movement. In the long term, will Salvini manage to consolidate his ambitions of leading a new populist nationalist group in the European Parliament?

 

Belgium

Read Open Europe’s analysis of Belgium’s complicated political situation here

Belgium will be holding elections for both the European Parliament and for its federal and regional parliaments. As a result of this, there is relatively little attention on the EP elections, where no major changes are expected as compared to 2014.

Seats projections based on opinion polls indicate that the only federal coalition with a comfortable majority that would not risk new political gridlock is one between socialists, liberals and greens from both sides of the Flemish-Francophone linguistic border. This would mean that the centre-right Flemish nationalists, which are the leading political party, would be excluded from federal power. It is still possible, however, that they would just about manage to hold a majority of seats together with several liberal and Christian democrat parties, which would enable to continue the coalition that was in power from 2014. The distribution of seats in the Federal Parliament is worth monitoring closely.

 

The Netherlands

Read our previous analysis on the Dutch vote here 

Just like in the UK, the Dutch EP elections took place on 23 May. The election campaign has been dominated by a race for the first place between Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s centre-right VVD and Forum for Democracy (FvD), a right-wing Eurosceptic sovereigntist party which already finished first in provincial elections in March. Rutte even challenged FvD leader Thierry Baudet to a TV debate, which took place on Wednesday evening.

Exit polls indicated on Thursday evening that the centre-left Labour Party of EU Commission Vice President Frans Timmermans is the winner, with VVD coming in second at 15% and FvD gaining 3 seats. In 2014, the exit polls were wrong about four out of the 26 seats.

For the FvD, this would be a rather disappointing result, because the EP election touches on its core issue – national sovereignty. Voters are traditionally more open to experiment in European elections – if the FvD cannot do better even in favourable political conditions, questions may be raised about their long-term viability. Social democratic Spitzenkandidat Frans Timmermans can be satisfied with the result. A partial explanation may be that he was able to win over many voters of the EU federalist D66 party, a member of the governing coalition, which suffered heavy losses.

Greece

Read Zoe Alipranti’s overview of European elections in Greece on the LSE EUROPP Blog

There is less polarisation in Greece over Europe compared to 2014. Syriza, the left-wing anti-austerity party that won the European elections in 2014 and has been governing Greece since 2015, is set to come second behind centre-right New Democracy. In terms of the broader fragmentation of European politics, Greece is an outlier, with bipartisanship remaining a strong trend. Look out for Greek national elections later in October!

 

Hungary

Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s Fidesz Party and its Christian Democratic coalition partner KDNP are predicted a comfortable victory. Much of Fidesz’ campaign has been about immigration, and with the party’s domination of the media arena and the divided opposition, it is not surprising they are polling even higher than at last year’s parliamentary elections. However,  key questions remain about the future of the party in European politics following its suspension from the EPP. Will Fidesz eventually leave the EPP, and if it does, will it join forces with Salvini and/or other right-wing parties?

 

Sweden

Read our previous analysis on Sweden here

The populist Sweden Democrats enter the election amid considerable political controversy. Their top candidate has this week been accused of sexual harassment by a former Sweden Democrat MEP, who was sacked for “conspiring against the party” amidst the allegations. Will the scandal have an impact on the party’s electoral performance?

Elsewhere, the most Europhile party, the Liberals, are estimated to lose all of their seats in the European Parliament.

 

Ireland

Ireland is holding elections on 24 May, the same day as local elections and a national referendum on reform of the divorce laws.

As it is one of the member states with very little Eurosceptic presence, much attention will be given to the performance of the two largest parties, Fine Gael, led by Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, and Fianna Fail, the main Opposition party. Most recent polls have shown a drop in Fine Gael’s support, reducing expectations that Varadkar would call a General Election soon, even if the party still tops the polls in the EP elections.

Meanwhile, polls have shown that Sinn Fein’s vote declining on 2014 but the party may retain its three seats (the party also has one in Northern Ireland). The Greens have performed well in recent polls, and may cause a surprise. The performance of several independent candidates will also be worth watching.

 

Austria

Despite the corruption scandal involving its leader Heinz-Christian Strache, the right-wing populist Freedom Party (FPÖ) is expected to keep its four seats in the European Parliament, though lower turnout and voter disaffection might affect their final result. Polls after the scandal show that the ÖVP, the main centre-right party in Austria, will be strengthened. Chancellor Sebastian Kurz is likely to preserve his approach on the EU, which advocates a status quo approach with incremental reforms, including reforming EU treaties.

Kurz faces a parliamentary no-confidence vote on Monday, the day after the elections.

 

Denmark

Read our analysis of the Danish General Election here

In Denmark the lead opposition Social Democrat party is projected to gain most support this Sunday, followed by the currently governing Liberal Party.

How wide will the gap between the Social Democrats and the Liberal Party be and how will this influence the General Election on 5 June?

 

Poland 

Read our previous analysis on Poland here 

LGBT rights and religion have been prominent in the election campaign in Poland after a documentary on clerical abuse has raised questions about the governing Law and Justice (PiS) party’s connection to the Catholic church.

Watch out for how the Law and Justice party will handle their ties to the Catholic church. Will PiS receive less support as a consequence? The results will also matter for the Polish parliamentary elections in the autumn.

 

Elsewhere

Several other countries may also throw up interesting results.

  • In Finland, the result is expected to be very close, with the latest polls suggesting five different parties would win between 13 and 20% of the vote.
  • In Slovakia, which had the lowest turnout in the whole EU in 2014 (13%), several Eurosceptic parties – including the neo-fascist People’s Party – are expected to do well.
  • Another country to watch is Romania, which sends 32 MEPs to the European Parliament – the 7th largest in the EU. The performance here of several pro-EU and liberal parties, riding a wave of domestic resentment at government corruption, may be an important factor in the overall European Parliamentary arithmetic.
  • Finally, Portugal is one of the four member states (along with Ireland, Luxembourg, Malta) without far-right parties represented in parliament. The EP elections could be a test for Prime Minister António Costa from the Socialist Party, who faces legislative elections in October.