Tuesday, March 11, 2014

EU Party Time

I've been derelict, but the EU election season is advancing faster at least than the spring here in New England. I want to use this post to place a benchmark for where things stand, now that the major candidates and alignments are mostly in place. Then the fun begins! For reference, I'll be depending quite a lot on the thorough polling done here by Pollwatch 2014, the site of an independent global communications firm. So here's where they stand:

1) With a tiny lead in prospective seats, theS&D (Social democrats, center-left) may land in 1st place, though far short of a governing majority. Their standard-bearer, Martin Schulz, is well known as current EP President--but being part of the Old Guard will not necessarily be an advantage. He gathers large blocs of seats through the French and Spanish Socialists, German Social Democrats, the Italian Democrats, British and Dutch Labor parties, and left formations in Poland and Romania. Like others in this niche, Schulz makes enough noise about a 'Social Europe' to interest Tsipris and the real Left, but must keep open a channel for eventual partnering with the Liberals of ALDE if he hopes to run the Commission.
2) Running neck-and-neck is the EPP (center-right) and its candidate, Luxembourg's Jean-Claude Juncker, at 59 the most visibly Old Guardist of them all. What's more, Juncker may not want the Commission job, but be a stalking horse whose real objective is the Council presidency (a slower job that would accommodate his drinking habits, some say). Whatever. The EPP is used to running things, and many commentators refuse to admit the possibility they may pass the baton to the left--but their declining numbers are the clear effect of the climate of anti-EU malaise, which is unlikely to dissipate before May.
3) Hardly any mainstream sources have even noted it, but the Left coalition of Greek Syriza leader Alexis Tsipras is now running in 3rd place, with major delegations expected from the French and German Left Fronts, Left formations in Spain and Portugal, and the addition of a small bloc of Italian refugees from the increasingly right-leaning government of Matteo Renzi. Not to mention Greece, where Tsipras is the leading political figure. This prominence is so unprecedented for the UEG--long a voice in the wilderness--that it's hard to say how they will negotiate in May. Tsipras has refused to rule out a coalition Commission with Schulz, though one might expect strong conditions on behalf of labor, financial regulation, and the environment.
4) Reeling from big declines in Germany and the UK, the ALDE (free-market Liberals) may still control enough seats to be the swing delegation when it comes time to find a parliamentary majority. Olli Rehn, the most visible face of austerity politics in Europe, would have made a terrible front man, and the Liberals wisely put him aside in favor of Guy Verhofstadt, Belgium's prime minister for many years, a perennial candidate for the Commission, and author of the manifesto "The United States of Europe." Dominant nowhere but with venerable parties in most of Europe, the Liberals draw 8% of the overall vote, and use it to moderate their coalition partners, while representing the 'enlightened' business class.
5) Green parties have typically been drawn to the European political theater, for the good reason that environmental revolutions in one country are inherently futile, and the expedient one that Green parties get elbowed aside less rudely in that theater. Nonetheless, beyond their respectable showings in Germany and France, their representation is small, below 6%, and yet they too could be the key to a governing majority, certainly on the left, though they may leverage concessions  in exchange for making a PPE Commission possible.
6) Who's missing? Well, the true conservative blocs, including the eurosceptics, but more especially the flood of non-aligned but vehemently far right and eurosceptic members who are expected from France (the FN), Italy (Cinque Stelle), Germany (now that AfD has been given a lift by their Constitutional Court). And UKIP and the Dutch PVV, whose exact allegiance will involve a delicate negotiation after the election. In all, though, perhaps 20% of the new parliament will be on something of a kamikaze mission against the whole federal EU idea--which raises the bar considerably for the 5 recognizably distinct, largely Euro-federalist groups who will somehow have to find a majority voice within the remaining 80%. Perhaps there are some out of office Italian politicians who would be willing to consult.


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