European Elections: A European Perspective – Deadlock or a New Beginning?
Matteo Scotto (German-Italian Centre for European Excellence Villa Vigoni)
After months of harsh political campaigning in Europe, the elections for the European Parliament are finally behind us. Henceforth, the European Union will have to deal with one relevant novelty in the next five years: a political fragmentation, which, quite paradoxically, fosters political polarization.
In comparison with 2014 and in line with the national trend, the EU has overall experienced the crumbling of traditional party groups, with S&D (Social and Democrats) and EPP (European People’s Party) both losing 38 and 42 seats respectively. On the other hand, small and medium groups like Greens/EFA (Greens/European Free Alliance), ALDE (Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe + Renaissance + USR PLUS), EFDD (Europe of Freedom and Direct Democracy Group) and the newly-formed ENF (Europe of Nations and Freedom Group) remarkably increased their presence, the latter in particular gaining 58 seats. This means that if in 2014 S&D and EPP were able to build a grand coalition large enough to reach the majority of the votes within the Parliament, this time they will need to find additional partners to build up a possible political alliance. As a consequence, we can observe a strong tendency – as never experienced before – towards polarization in the European political spectrum between pro- and anti-European parties.
It is likely that all the political groups more or less in favour of European integration will try to gather and find some sort of compromise. Nevertheless, within the pro-European fraction, there are very diverse opinions on where the EU should be heading, especially with regard to a crucial policy like migration or the governance of the Eurozone. In other words, if on a general (if not just symbolic) level a certain consensus favourable to European unity might be found, substantial disagreements on specific issues are just around the corner. Such watered-down compromise will most probably bring inefficiency into EU’s action, with a predictable consensus’ tapering of the coalition allies caused by the lack of decision-making ability.
The same phenomenon is valid for the anti-European fraction. The idea of Mr Salvini, Italian Minister of the Interior and leader of the League, to devise a common front capable of overthrowing EU’s course, is rather unrealistic for two reasons. Firstly, also within the Eurosceptic groups, there is no agreement for a shared political program, as the divergence around the Euro clearly shows. Secondly, if Mr Salvini would succeed in putting together an international movement of anti-European parties, the faction would represent a rather isolated minority, thus resulting in political inefficacy. Therefore, the attempt to polarize the European Parliament by fuelling the cleavage around pro- and anti-European parties seems illusory.
In this sense, the negotiation for the Presidency of the European Commission will represent the first testing ground. It is in fact not clear yet whether the President of the European Commission will be chosen among lead candidates announced by European parties beforehand, better known as “Spitzenkandidaten” (for more information regarding the process of the “Spitzenkandidaten” see “Election of the President of the European Commission: Understanding the Spitzenkandidaten process”). Although Article 17(7) does not explicitly oblige the European Council to comply with the “Spitzenkandidaten” system, which aims at creating a closer link between the EU executive and the European citizens, the European Parliament clearly stated in a decision adopted in February 2018 that it will not accept candidates outside the list of the lead candidates nominated by the European political parties.
And yet, due to the political fragmentation mentioned above, it will be hard to follow the same procedure as in 2014 and find a suitable candidate among the ones already proposed. This is just one of the possible impasses produced by the complicated political scenario emerging from the European elections, but there are further problematic issues at the horizon, like the approval of the next EU budget just to mention one (for more information about the future negotiation on the EU budget see here).
To conclude, the EU capacity to deliver policy is at stake, with particular uncertainty regarding further institutional developments. If someone thought that the European Parliament might have been the catalyst of the new reforms the EU urgently needs, he or she might have been pretty wrong.
Matteo Scotto is Research Fellow at the German-Italian Centre for European Excellence Villa Vigoni