The Die is Cast: European elections, Greens and Eurosceptics

by Elliot Tricot O'Farrell

The European elections have come and gone and the time for assessment has come. Following our articles on Euroscepticism and the Greens, we assess their performance and the roles they could envisage going forward.

With voter turnout at 51 per cent, participation increased significantly from the 43 per cent turnout observed in 2014. It was a strong – and perhaps reassuring – outcome for pro-European forces as they succeeded in holding on to approximately two-thirds of seats within the European Parliament. Gains made by Eurosceptic parties across Europe may appear modest, but the results they secured in several large Member States demonstrate the strength of anti-EU sentiment in Europe. 

 

Kingmakers at last?

The European elections saw the Greens enjoy unprecedented success. Although the Green Wave hit the western coastline of Europe in full force, it did not have the strength to push further than Germany. With the exception of Latvia and Lithuania, the Greens did not obtain a single seat in Central and Eastern Europe. This geographic unevenness remains a problem for the movement which nonetheless carved out 69 seats for itself and thus becomes the fourth power in the European Parliament.

The Greens co-president, Philippe Lamberts, is confident that the Greens have become an unavoidable party. He believes their influence is set to increase and the dynamic of their relationship with other parties will change. This optimism originates in the loss of support the European People’s Party (EPP) and the Socialists & Democrats (S&D) experienced. They remain the largest parties in the European Parliament but the dominance they enjoyed during the 2014-2019 mandate is no more.

The EPP and S&D must now look to other parties to secure a majority. Logic dictates that they will look to pro-EU parties such as the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE) and the Greens/EFA party. Although a coalition with the Liberals is possible which excludes the Greens, the small majority this partnership would provide means that a four-way coalition involving the Greens could be more likely. 

 

Working together to drift apart

Eurosceptic victories in Italy, France and the United Kingdom emphasise the fact that Eurosceptic belief is neither a fringe movement in Europe nor a one-time political blip. Despite this, cries of victory by their leaders must be taken with a grain of salt.

In order to become a meaningful force in Europe, Eurosceptic parties still need to overcome a series of challenges.

Although they obtained success in several EU Member States, it was mitigated by sub-standard performances across a number of countries they were hoping to make an impact in. Performances were poor in Spain, Denmark and the Netherlands. If it does take place, Brexit will become an additional concern for Eurosceptics who will see a vast majority of the Brexit Party’s seats redistributed to non-Eurosceptic parties.

Collaboration is another critical issue for Eurosceptic parties. In our previous article, we highlighted how geographical and historical differences leads to anti-EU sentiment being expressed by groups across the political spectrum. Collaboration between left-wing Eurosceptics and right-wing Eurosceptics is more than unlikely. A conflicting perspective on a number of topics means that collaboration with several other major right-wing parties is also doubtful. The pro-Russia stance of La Lega and Salvini should preclude any coalition with the Polish Law and Justice party who do not view Russia in a positive light. The Brexit party’s position is unique as they will be looking inwardly to ensure a swift – and successful – withdrawal from the European Union. Will they look to collaborate with other Eurosceptics when their electoral base’s focus is fixed firmly on the exit door? Despite their efforts, Eurosceptic leaders will find the formation of a united Eurosceptic bloc complex.

 

The die is cast

To this day, early indications appear to confirm the scenarios envisaged in our previous articles on the Eurosceptics and the Greens. Both movements performed strongly without dismantling the superiority of the EPP and S&D groups who remain the largest in the European Parliament. The Greens performed strongly in western Europe and less so in other regions. For the first time, they have a realistic chance of becoming part of the majority coalition. This contrasts with the Eurosceptic parties who enjoyed extensive support in large EU Member States. Before becoming an existential concern for pro-EU forces, they need to overcome internal discrepancies and learn to collaborate at the EU level. Despite their victories, any meaningful impact by Eurosceptic parties will ironically depend on them being able to find common ground for cooperation at the European level.

The outcomes of the European elections, however, are by no means set in stone and the next steps still need to be defined. It should be the priority of every organisation wishing to interact with the European Union to identify how the shifting concerns of European citizens can impact them. For swift-acting organisations, the new composition of the European Parliament and the reprioritisation of topics within it may lead to a range of opportunities. RPP Group has specialised in providing added value to clients for over a decade, we can help you navigate this changing landscape and ensure you take part in shaping it.