Last month, when elections were held for the European parliament, media coverage was dominated by the swing to the far right. The UK Independence Party and the National Front topped the polls in Britain and France respectively, and there were disturbingly high votes for a number of other extremist and Eurosceptic parties. Now that the dust has settled a bit, how does the picture look?
The new parliament holds its first sitting next week, so by this week it was necessary for both new and returning members to decide what political group they were going to sit in. So we can now be definite about the numbers each group has (see the official list here), as follows:
|Hard left||52||Up 17|
|ECR (moderate Eurosceptics)||70||Up 13|
|EFD (further-right Eurosceptics)||48||Up 17|
There’s no doubt about the shift from the middle to the extremes, but it’s not of earth-shaking proportions.
As the results came in, a big question was whether the far-right parties, who sat in the old parliament as non-inscrits, or non-aligned, would win enough seats to be able to form a group of their own, as planned by the National Front’s Marine Le Pen and her Dutch far-right colleague Geert Wilders. It turns out the answer was no.
A parliamentary group needs to have a minimum of 25 MPs representing a minimum of seven different countries. The proposed European Alliance for Freedom group had more than enough MPs, but only five countries. In addition to France and the Netherlands there were Italy’s Northern League, Austria’s Freedom Party and Belgium’s Flemish Interest. All were previously non-aligned except for the Northern League, which has jumped ship from EFD.
The proposed group seems to have fallen between two stools. The slightly more moderate parties that it would have liked to attract – including the Danish People’s Party, the Swedish Democrats and Lithuania’s Order and Justice – were put off by the far-right tag and have all gone with ECR or EFD. On the other hand, Le Pen and Wilders showed no desire to court the parties at the extreme neo-Nazi end of the spectrum, such as Hungary’s Jobbik or Greece’s Golden Dawn.
Wilders personally ruled out co-operation with Poland’s Congress of the New Right (KNP), although reasons differ: KNP is very much free-market, an unpopular position on the far right, but has also been accused of homophobia and anti-Semitism. Wilders has also been strongly critical of Polish immigrants in the past, which probably didn’t help.
ECR, or European Conservatives and Reformists, whose leading spirit is Britain’s Conservative Party, has grown to become the third-largest group in the parliament. But it has also shifted further to the right, with the addition of the Danish People’s Party and the separatist New Flemish Alliance from Belgium. It’s also gained the Eurosceptic Alliance for Germany, which, as the BBC remarks, will be “another irritant in [David Cameron’s] relations with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.”
The Conservatives’ rival on the right, the UK Independence Party, will be more than ever the dominant force in EFD, or Europe of Freedom and Democracy. Although its total of MPs is up, they represent only the bare minimum of seven countries; apart from UKIP, its only significant component is the populist 5-Star Movement from Italy. The fact that EFD reached the seven-country threshold by poaching a single MP from the National Front will not help UKIP’s denials of being a far-right party.
Wikipedia has a nice table showing the movements between different groups. Apart from those already mentioned, noteworthy changes include the shift of Romania’s National Liberal Party from liberals to centre-right, the departure of the Greek Communist Party from the hard left group to sit as non-aligned, and the admission of ANO, which topped the poll in the Czech Republic, to the liberal group.