The New European Parliament

Socialists and pro-European parties did far better than expected and the far-right will stay a (divided) minority.

Aside from Labour’s disappointing results in last week’s European elections in the UK, Socialists and other pro-European parties across Europe did far better than had been predicted. Below is an overview of what the new European Parliament (EP) is going to look like, and what it means for the 2019-2024 legislative term that begins on 2 July.

First, let us note the increase in turnout, up on average by 8.3% across Europe to reach 50.3%. Compared to 2014, where turnout was at an all-time low (42%), the 2019 elections mark the highest turnout in the last 20 years. Clearly, citizens across the EU do care about EU cooperation and the added value of acting together at EU level to tackle climate change, improve workers rights, keep citizens safe and so on.

Second, let us look at the changes in political balance. The key features are a small reduction in the size of the Socialist (S&D) Group, and an increase in the size of the Liberal (ALDE) and Green Groups, while the centre-right EPP declined and the (fragmented) far-right failed to make the breakthrough they were expecting.

Results for the Socialists varied from country to country. The French Socialists, German Social Democrats and British Labour Party all lost approximately half of their MEPs, but Socialist parties came first in Spain, Portugal, the Netherlands, Sweden and Malta. Overall, this means that S&D Group has 153 MEPs and remains the second-biggest political group after the centre-right European People’s Party (EPP). However, the S&D will still be indispensable for building majorities on legislation. Its bargaining power at the pivotal position in the Parliament will still be crucial.

The Liberals gained especially in Britain and France. Although President Macron’s party narrowly lost to the far-right Rassemblement National party (formerly le Front National) of Marine Le Pen, it wins in Europe: the 21 En Marche MEPs now form the largest national delegation in Guy Verhofstadt’s liberal ALDE group, which becomes the third largest in the Parliament. (As a by-product, French influence within the two biggest political groups in the EP, namely EPP and S&D, will significantly drop due to French conservatives and socialists losing more than half of their seats in the election.)

A big change in the Parliament’s political composition is due to Green parties gaining eight seats in Germany, six in France, five in the UK, two in Ireland and one each in the Netherlands, Belgium, Denmark, Lithuania, Finland and Portugal. This increases the Green group from 52 to 69 seats, making it the fourth largest political group. We can expect several important roles in the EP to go to the Greens, just as environmental concerns are rising across the continent. However, the Green’s weakness is that they are almost entirely a west European phenomenon and are scarcely present in eastern Europe, other than Lithuania. And even in the west, they are not often in government. As a result, they are not represented at all in the other key European institution, the European Council (composed of Europe’s Prime Ministers/Presidents): out of the 28 Heads of State and Government present, ALDE and EPP both have nine each and S&D has five.  

Contrary to what Farage’s Brexit Party and far-right politicians are trying to spin, Parliament’s eurosceptic and far right groups failed to make major gains relative to their score in 2014. Nigel Farage’s EFDD group, Marine Le Pen’s ENF and Theresa May’s ECR collectively gained 22 seats.They rarely manage to act together, and their frequent absenteeism from the Parliament, mean that their influence will be marginal.

What to look out for in the coming weeks? The first thing the European Parliament does, after electing its own President (Speaker) and officers, is elect the President of the Commission. The procedure is that the European Council makes a proposal, based on the European election results and the composition of the Parliament, and Parliament votes to elect or reject the nominee. Parties put forward their candidates ahead of last month’s elections (and there were televised debates among them, though scarcely noticed in Britain). Manfred Weber is the candidate of the EPP, which won the most seats, but the Socialist candidate, Frans Timmermans, seems better placed to assemble a coalition of Socialists, Greens and Liberals.

As to other top jobs (including the Presidency of the European Council and the EU’s Foreign Affairs Representative), the European leaders and the European Parliament will be trying to find a compromise such that there is a reasonable overall political, geographical and gender balance. Not an easy task!

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  1. Thanks for your clear and helpful analysis of the EU election results and their consequences. Commiserations to the candidates who failed to retain their seats. Continue your constructive work for as long as you are able.

  2. I voted Green because they are a remain party. As a party member, it broke my heart not to vote Labour in the European elections, but I am a staunch remainer and nothing Labour has done convinces me that it is a party that will support a second referendum to give the British people the opportinity to change their minds in light of the lies blatantly told by the Brexiteers, and also in the light of all the (failed) negotiations since 2016. Leaving the EU is simply not possible on the terms the British public was sold. If Theresa May can put the same question to Parliament three times to see if MPs have changed their mind, I see no reason why the British people should not be given the same courtesy. The only reason Brexiteers shout down the idea of a second referendum is because they are afraid that now the truth is out, they will lose. No £350m for the NHS and jobs already being lost.

    • If you voted Green simple because they ‘are a remain’ party. You have no vision, no understanding and are too short sighted to understand that brexit is not the be all and end all of UK politics.

      Incidently, you should also be kicked out of the party just as Alistair Campbell was. Rather than jumping on the band wagon, you should have gone and actually spoken to someone who knows what they’re talking about because it sounds like you are no better than the brexiteers you dismiss as simply being lied too. The media has manipulated brexit and lied and over simplified Labour policy and the whole process to damage Labour and you have now helped them. Well done. You should really learn what ‘the truth’ is before you start complaining about others taking actions based on what they believe ‘the truth’ is.

  3. Hello Richard,
    I believe the Labour Party should be making a stronger case for the benefits of staying in the EU, rather than treating it as a negative default position. There is so much to gain from being a leader in Europe – in the fields of science, environment, trade, health, trade, security etc – but these are never mentioned in a positive way.
    Please highlight these benefits!

  4. Why haven’t you mentioned the Green Nordic Left group which I believe Podemos, France Insoumie, Syriza, Die Linke, and left socialists in some Nordic countries belong to? I assume that most of the time they vote the same way as the Socialist (S&D) Group which many of them belonged to in the past.

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