Elections to the European Parliament are usually not a very important political event. This time, however, will be different. The end of the decades-long consensus in the parliament – which has been ruled by the grand coalition since the first direct elections – will likely see a new coalition that will harden its stance on Article 7 violations, certainly affecting Poland and Hungary but perhaps Romania as well.
Do these choices matter? In the third week of May, Europeans will choose a new European Parliament. This is usually not the most important event on the electoral map in EU countries. Suffice it to say that in the last European elections only 23.8 per cent of the Poles eligible to vote participated, which was impressive compared to the Slovaks of whom only 13 per cent went to the ballot box.
The rest of the EU is not as dramatic as Poland and Slovakia, but the turnout in the EU elections has been steadily decreasing since the introduction of direct voting in 1979 (when it was 61.99 per cent) and in the last elections the EU average was only 42.6 per cent.
The decline in attendance is most often attributed to the European understanding that these elections are not of particular importance and their voices are not being heard. However, this is paradoxical in the context of the constantly growing competences of the European Parliament, which now has a decisive say on matters as fundamental as the EU budget or the composition of future EU institutions.
So, the parliament, which will be elected in May, will have considerable influence on the EU, meaning how much of the next multi-annual EU budget will be allocated to Poland. Parliament will also decide who will be the future President of the European Commission, and let us remind you that the socialist candidate is Hans Timmermans, who is a supporter of the acute course towards Warsaw in the matter of the rule of law.
The end of the grand coalition and the growing importance of eurosceptics
From the first direct elections in 1979, the European Parliament is constantly governed by a large coalition of the Christian Democratic European People’s Party (of which the Civic Platform and the Polish People’s Party are a member) and the centre-left Socialists and Democrats.
Polls, however, indicate a decline in the support of these factions in the upcoming elections and the loss of the majority allowing for the conclusion of the grand coalition. In the current parliament, the coalition has 54 per cent of seats, but according to polls, support for these parties will fall to 44 per cent. The largest loss – close to 6-7 per cent – will hit the centre-left, whose quotations may fall to around 19 per cent.
The Christian Democrats should control a quarter of the parliament and remain the largest grouping, but support for the centre-right will also drop around 2 per cent. If Hungarian Fidesz is finally thrown out of the EPP – it is currently suspended – the number of centre-right seats will fall even further.
Groupings that benefit the most from the drop in support for the centre parties are the eurosceptics, who – nevertheless – will remain in three separate groups, including the European Conservatives and Reformers to which PiS belongs.
The talks in Warsaw between Jarosław Kaczyński and leaders of the radical right wing in Italy such as Matteo Salvini and the extreme Spanish party Vox are to serve as a potential unification of all eurosceptic parties. If the unification of the three eurosceptic parties does materialise, such a new group would become the largest faction in the parliament. However, the differences between their individual shades of Euroscepticism are so great that such an outcome seems unlikely today.
The growing support for eurosceptics will mobilise pro-European parties for joint actions, which is why one should expect an enlargement of the grand coalition with the liberals from ALDE and the Greens.
Such a pro-European coalition would retain a comfortable, over 70 per cent majority in the parliament. This is an optimal solution for the preservation of the pro-European majority in the parliament and seems very likely.
However, it should be clearly stated that the option of a broad grand coalition shifts the centre of gravity in the EU towards the Euroregions and may mean a radicalising attitude towards Poland, Hungary and other Central European states that have issues related to violations to the rule of law and independence of the judiciary.
Before the implementation of such a scenario, the European People’s Party will have to accept a shift in the coalition’s centre of gravity; one which will most likely lean towards federalism.
This article is part of the #DemocraCE project organised by Visegrad/Insight. It was published in Polish by Dziennik Gazeta Prawna.