Populist Parties Expected to Rise in Upcoming EU Parliamentary Elections

The European Parliament building in Strasbourg, France [Pixabay].

The European Parliament building in Strasbourg, France [Pixabay].

In the upcoming May elections to the European Parliament, populist and eurosceptic parties are expected to gain seats at the expense of centrist parties. Experts predict the current European Commission, in office since the last elections in 2014, composed of the center-right European People’s Party (EPP), the Party of European Socialists (PES), and the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE) to experience losses. However, the risk of a populist and eurosceptic commission is highly unlikely, according to the Guardian.

New findings predict the Grand Coalition of EPP and PES, the two largest European parliamentary groups, losing their majority for the first time, the Guardian reports. These two groups have together governed the EU for forty years and currently hold 53 percent of seats. Current projections estimate them to receive only 45 percent of seats following the May 2019 elections. Pro-EU groups will continue to maintain a majority when the liberal and green groups are included. The three eurosceptic groups, which range from moderate conservatives to far-right, are expected to take around 21.5 percent of seats, far from a governable majority.

The tension between pro-EU centrists and eurosceptic populists has dominated international political discourse in the lead up to the election. Notably, the French president and leader of centrist The Republic on the Move! (LREM) party, Emmanuel Macron, has faced large-scale Gilet Jaunes protests since late 2018. In the upcoming elections, he will confront an effective referendum on his administration. On March 4, he released an editorial titled “For a European Renaissance” in newspapers across Europe, reports Le Monde. The open letter urged European citizens to respond to the urgent threats to the EU, namely populism, through fundamental reform of the Union.

According to Reuters, Macron appealed to voters across Europe, writing, “In a few weeks, the European elections will be decisive for the future of our continent. Europe has never been as necessary since World War Two as it is now and yet never has Europe been in such danger. Nationalism offers nothing. It is a project of rejection.”

Among its policy recommendations for EU reform, reports Reuters, the letter proposes a common border police for the Schengen Area to protect Europe’s frontiers; a continental agreement on free movement threatened by the European migrant crisis; a European agency to prevent electoral manipulation; a European climate bank to facilitate Europe’s ecological transitions; a ban on foreign financing of European parties; a European minimum wage; and a conference for Europe to review European institutions and treaties.

“In this Europe, the people will have truly taken back control of their destiny; in this Europe, Britain, I am sure, will find its place,” Macron wrote, as reported by Reuters.

The UK currently holds 73 seats out of the total 751 seats in the European Parliament. If the EU grants the UK a Brexit extension, the British government is legally obligated to hold elections and the body will maintain the current 751-seat arrangement, reports the Guardian. If the EU does not grant the UK an extension, the parliament will lose 46 seats and the remaining seats will be redistributed to under-represented countries.