The future of Europe at stake

Henry

After the conclusion of the biggest election in the world this year, the Indian election, the second biggest election, the European Parliament election, took place this weekend. During the election, more than 373 million eligible voters in all 27 European Union member states have the opportunity to elect the 720 members of the European Parliament.

The result of this weekend’s EU elections could be decisive for the future of Europe because a wide range of issues have been decided by legislation and policy in the EU in the last few years and this has a huge impact on EU member states.

The election ran from 6 to 9 June and voters in the Netherlands and Estonia already went to vote on Thursday, while voters in Ireland and the Czech Republic went to the polls on Friday. A few countries voted on Saturday (June 8) and most countries on Sunday (June 9).

Distribution of seats in the European Parliament

The number of seats a country gets in the European Parliament is determined by population size, with a minimum of six seats and a maximum of 96. Germany is by far the largest country in the EU with 96 seats, followed by France with 81 seats, Italy with 76, Spain with 61 and Poland with 53. The Netherlands, which voted on Thursday, has 31 seats and Estonia just 7. Three countries, Cyprus, Luxembourg and Malta, each have just six seats.

The election of EU parliamentarians takes place like general elections in each EU member state, with voters voting for their familiar local political parties. The country’s seats are then allocated to the parties proportionally according to the result.

Political groupings in the EU

After the election, groups are formed in the European Parliament. Parties with ideological and policy similarities together form groups or power blocs. In order to form an official group in the European Parliament, at least 23 members of parliament from at least a quarter of the EU member states (i.e. from seven different countries) must come together as an official group that enjoys recognition and therefore benefits such as extra staff, an own budget and specific positions, speaking times, caucus benefits, etc. can receive

Until this weekend’s election, there were seven recognized political groups in the European Parliament. The composition of these groups does change every five years. Over the past few decades, however, there has always been a consistent center-left or social-democratic and a center-right or Christian-democratic block. These two blocs, which are also usually the two largest political groups, often dominate the control of the European Union, which includes the appointment of the president of the European Commission, chairmen of committees and other important positions.

The largest bloc since 1999 is the centre-right European People’s Party, which includes centre-right, Christian Democratic, centrist and mostly broad-based pro-European parties. The largest party in this group has always been the Christian Democrats of Germany, followed by similar parties from Spain, Italy, Poland, the Netherlands, Romania and Portugal. This group has continuously shrunk in the last three elections, and polls show that they may lose even more seats this year, but that they will finish first again with between 20% and 22% of the vote.

The second largest grouping currently is the centre-left Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats which also includes a large variety of centre-left, leftist, socialist, social democratic and moderate left-progressive parties. This grouping currently comes from the Spanish socialists, then the German Social Democrats, followed by parties from Italy, Romania, Portugal and the Netherlands. This block will finish second again this year with between 18% and 21% of the vote.

A third block that has performed strongly in the last decade or so and has been the third largest until now is the liberal block. In the past five years, it was especially the party of the French president, Emmanuel Macron, the Dutch VVD, the German Free Democrats and liberal parties in central European countries such as the Czech Republic and Romania that stood strong in this grouping. The Liberals are expected to be one of the biggest losers of this weekend’s election, winning only between 10% and 12% of the vote and falling back to the fourth or fifth largest bloc in the EU.

The other very big loser in this weekend’s election is going to be the Greens. This grouping did very well five years ago and is currently the fourth largest group in the European Parliament with 72 seats. However, it is expected that they could fall back to as few as between 40 and 50 seats, and especially that their largest party, the Green Party of Germany, could lose a lot of support.

The strongest growth in the European Parliament is expected for right-wing parties. On Thursday it was already clear in the Netherlands that a shift to right-wing, anti-immigration parties and parties that are strongly in favor of restoring the sovereignty of EU member states is going to take place and that these parties are going to do well. The Partij voor de Vrijheid (PVV) of Geert Wilders increased its number of seats from 1 to 7 with this party achieving its best ever vote percentage in a European election.

In the last five years, there have been two right-wing political groups in the European Parliament. The European Conservatives and Reformers were the fifth largest bloc after the Greens and included a wide range of centre-right, right-wing, nationalist and parties particularly in favor of national sovereignty. The largest party in this bloc is by far the Law and Justice Party of Poland, as well as the Italian Prime Minister, Georgia Meloni’s Italian Brotherhood Party. The New Flemish Alliance of Flanders is also part of this group. The conservative, reformed SGP of the Netherlands is also part of this group.

To the right of this group is the Identity and Democracy grouping which until recently had 66 seats and which in the last five years has been especially dominated by the Alternative for Germany, Marine Le Pen of France’s National Assembly party and the Italian League party. However, under pressure from Le Pen, this group recently kicked out the German AfD and thereby lost one of its two largest members. Many parties in this grouping, such as the Dutch PVV, the Flemish Vlaams Belang and the Austrian Freedom Party, will win many more seats after this weekend’s election.

The smallest political grouping at present is the Left group, which mainly consists of more extreme left-wing parties, former and current communist parties and left-populist parties. Then there are also more than 40 EU parliamentarians who are not part of a political grouping. The Hungarian Fidesz party is the largest non-aligned party, followed by the Five Star Movement of Italy. The AfD of Germany has also been unaffiliated in recent weeks.

The question, however, is to what extent the two right-wing groups will be rearranged after the election and whether it will be possible for Fidesz and the AfD to join a right-wing group again. There is great division among right-wing parties on issues such as the war in Ukraine, support for Israel, economic policy (more free market or more social democratic), the role of NATO and other issues on which sentiment in different European countries varies considerably.

The issues in this year’s election

The leaders of Europe’s two largest countries, Germany and France, are currently very unpopular. Olaf Scholz and Emmanuel Macron’s support levels fluctuate around 30% and in both countries centre-right and right-wing parties will do very well. Also in Spain, the socialist government is unpopular after recent agreements with separatists from Catalonia. It will also benefit right-wing, nationalist parties. In Italy, Meloni’s right-wing party is likely to score a big victory. Europeans yearn for better leaders, and this weekend’s election will also be, to a large extent, a referendum on current leadership.

The two most important issues affecting voters’ choices are immigration and the economy. Most economies in Europe have stagnated in the past few years and Europe is clearly lagging behind, for example, the USA where this country’s economy has been growing strongly for the past three years. Along with this, the cost of living has risen sharply, especially due to the war in Ukraine and consequent increases in energy costs. Europe is struggling to compete economically, and fears among young people are growing about what the future holds for them.

Immigration will sharply increase the support of many right-wing parties. Millions of illegal immigrants have arrived in Europe since the last European elections. This creates huge challenges with crime, the Islamization of neighborhoods, towns and cities by creating parallel societies, housing shortages and pressure on medical, education, social and other services. About two-thirds of Europeans want to see immigration drastically reduced.

A further important issue that is again discussed this year is the extent to which power should be devolved to the EU. There is a strongly growing sentiment in Europe that EU member states have given up too much of their sovereignty and that Brussels has been given too much power to make laws and rules that Europeans must then comply with.

For left-wing voters and parties, issues on the climate, agriculture, alternative energy and general regulations on pollution will be important. However, it seems that most environmental parties will lose support simply because the climate is no longer one of the most important issues for most voters.

The future of Europe

Europe is changing very fast. An extremely low population growth and huge immigration are changing the continent demographically dramatically. Churches close and mosques open. Nursing homes are overcrowded and kindergartens empty.

However, the economy of European countries is also changing. The industrial giant of Europe, Germany, is systematically deindustrializing with production being outsourced to Turkey, Eastern Europe and Asia. The consequences for Germans could be very bad. Across Europe, countries’ public debt is growing due to low or no economic growth and a growing bill for pensions and the generous welfare state that offers free benefits such as medical care, housing and education.

This past weekend’s European elections may force leaders in Europe to take a new direction. There is going to be a big increase in EU parliament members in Brussels who are against immigration after the election. However, mere opposition to immigration alone cannot renew Europe. Europeans must start believing again in the beauty and preservation of their national identity and the level of Western civilization. We will have to see whether after the weekend groups and leaders will emerge who can bring about this renewal, but all indications are that things are indeed moving in that direction.