European elections highlight voter discontent ahead of EU talks
by Inline Policy on 27 May 2014
The 2014 European Parliament (EP) elections have seen a marked rise in eurosceptic representatives from right across Europe. In Britain, France, Denmark and Greece populist, anti-establishment political parties have all received a significant share of the vote, to the detriment of established political parties in government.
With only a handful of seats yet to be declared, the centre-right European People’s Party (EEP) has retained a majority (208 seats) in the EP, despite losing a large number of seats. The centre-left Party of European Socialists (PES) continues to be the second largest party with 186 seats.
The rise of eurosceptic MEPs
The big winners in these elections were extreme groups, such as the far-right National Front in France. These parties, most of which are not aligned to any of the major groupings in the European Parliament, now hold over 20% of seats in the European Parliament and will hold increasing influence on decisions at EU level.
In total, the mainstream groups in Europe have lost 10 per cent of their share of the vote. The backlash has been felt in national governments across Europe. Tánaiste (Deputy Prime Minister) Eamon Gilmore has resigned his position as leader of the Labour Party in Ireland after losing all three of its Member of European Parliament (MEP) positions. There have also been calls for the leader of the UK Liberal Democrat Party, Nick Clegg, to resign following a dismal performance which saw his party lose all but one of their twelve MEP seats. Similarly, the left-wing anti-austerity Syriza Party triumphed in Greece and has called for an early general elections to capitalise on their momentum.
Negotiations over the next European Commission President
Against this backdrop, EU leaders will meet this week to hammer out the details of the top positions at EU level. For the first time, they will formally nominate the European Commission President to the European Parliament, who will then ratify or block the nomination.
However, numerous diplomatic negotiations lie ahead. UK Prime Minister, David Cameron, and Hungarian Prime Minister, Viktor Oban, have already spoken out against the front-runner, EEP group nominee and ex-Prime Minister of Luxembourg, Jean-Claude Juncker. Germany’s Angel Merkel is likely to back Juncker, while all eyes will be on France and Holland to see if they are happy to toe the line or if voter discontent in their own countries will make them look further afield.
A number of leaders across Europe have left the door open for a new nomination for the position, including Finland’s Jyrki Katainen, Ireland’s Enda Kenny and Poland’s Donald Tusk. Martin Schulz, the PES backed nomination, is leaving his options open for an alliance which could see him nominated.
With the results of the European elections influencing each respective leader in the EU in different ways, the negotiations this week will be arduous. No doubt many EU member states will have one eye on the several other top jobs in the Commission as well, each aiming to have their country represented in key areas of policy. UK Prime Minister David Cameron has already positioned himself as the ‘champion of reform’, calling on EU states to block a “business as usual” approach to the appointment of top EU positions. It remains to be seen just how much influence Europe’s discontent will have on the negotiations but the magnitude of yesterday’s protest means that more European leaders are likely to adopt Cameron’s line.