The official dogma in Brussels is: ´Citizens will feel closer to Europe, if European politics is about domestic politics´. This goal has been reached now, but it is not clear whether voters will show their love for Europe at the upcoming elections next year. Perhaps Europe is getting too close. Martin Sommer, a columnist with the Volkskrant, foresees a coup by the federalists in the European Parliament. Unfortunately that is the dream of many MEP's, with their answer to everything being: ´we need more Europe.´ Is Mr Sommer's nightmare justifiable?
It´s too early to predict how the European Parliament will look like next year with 751 members, but some trends in the Member States can give us an indication:
1. The European Christian-Democrats, who won the elections in 2009, will take a big hit as a result of the economic crisis. They became the ruling political family in 2009, but they didn’t see the crisis coming and so were overtaken by events. The Centre-Right in France, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Greece and other countries is being punished because of the crisis. The European Socialists can recover. The French Socialist will lose, but the British Labour Party - that lost the election in 2009 - will be resurrected. Christian-Democrats and Socialists will compete to be the biggest group at around 220 seats.
2. The rise of the protest parties continues, both at the far right as at the far left of the political spectrum. There will be a nationalistic front around Marine Le Pen, of which the Dutch PVV is a member. To form a European group in the European Parliament one needs 7 nationalities, and Le Pen is getting very close. The anti-European group of the Brit Nigel Farage has a problem. Farage is in a winning mood, but it will be difficult to find enough nationalities, since Le Pen offers an attractive alternative.
The far left group, of which the Dutch SP is a member, is on the winning side. The far left Syriza will probably prevail in Greece. There will thus be 3 groups at the flanks with approximately 45 seats in total.
3. Fragmentation. The European Liberals must take into account that they can lose big time, because their two pillars, the British and German liberals, are in bad standing. The European Conservatives will need to compensate the loss of the British Conservatives with some newcomers.
The two pillars under the Green group, the German and French greens, aren't in great shape at home. Taking all this into account, these three existing groups will reach around 60 seats.
The paradox is that due to the rise of protest parties, the centre of power will move to the left. There will be a ´big coalition´ of Christian democrats and socialists who together have enough members for an absolute majority of 376 seats. In the current parliament a centre right majority (Christian Democrats, Liberals and Conservatives) is possible and has been used a lot for economy-related legislation. Sommer's fears are thus correct: a vote against Europe leads to ´more Europe.´ He will not sleep well.
Sommer is however missing the impact in the Member States. If the European result reflects the people's fury, then that will be a problem back home, in particular for the big Member States. In Britain, the party of Nigel Farage has the upper hand, three months before the pro-European Scottish will decide in a referendum if they want to be in the United Kingdom, with the English who want to get out of the EU. In Italy the political landscape is balkanizing and this will have consequences for the ruling coalition. In France the political establishment will get a slap in the face; both the right and left. On the right, Marine Le Pen has an open field because UMP, the party of former President Sarkozy, is torn apart by internal disputes. On the left, Jean-Luc Melenchon, leader of the Parti de la Gauche, is on the rise due to the malaise in the ruling Socialist party and the low popularity (between 15% and 20%!) of President Hollande. The French political centre is evaporating because of the French revolt against Brussels and Paris.
MEP's are exposed to popular fury once every five years. Government leaders are under assault every day, because every day could be their last. Nationalistic provincialism isn't an option for them, and neither is a federal Europe. The French don’t want to be abolished as a Nation, the same holds for the British, Dutch, Finns or Polish. The European Parliament wants to go faster, whereas the leaders of government are hitting the breaks in the European Council and are coming up with concepts of a limited (but effective) Europe; in euro-jargon: subsidiarity. I hope I have reassured Mr. Sommer: it was all just a nightmare, for now. Good night!