Pro-European forces win a strong but complex majority
The European elections produced some unexpected and positive results. Participation increased significantly and the highly anticipated populist and extremist break-through did not materialise. They also indicate that excelling in the fine art of compromise will become more difficult not only in the European Parliament but also in the European Council.
From the Church point of view and for Justice and Peace Europe the promotion of the common good and the concept of the integral ecology, which combines social justice, peace, human rights and the environment, should remain essential features of our work. This could translate into the creation of a European Laudato Si’ Alliance at the level of the European institutions.
Rise of participation – a positive signal
The participation in this year’s EP elections stands at 51%, which is nearly 10 points higher than in 2014. For the first time since direct elections have been organised participation has gone up. Several reasons can be advanced for this unexpected though very positive development.
First of all there may be a general rise in awareness that the European Parliament deals with key issues like climate change, labour in the globalised economy, migration or digital rights and that it can actually make a difference. This may explain higher participation rates in the Czech republic (+10 points), Denmark (+10 points), Germany (+ 13 points), Hungary (+ 15 points), Slovakia (+10 points). However, there were also many national issues or circumstances that need to be taken into account. Some examples: Austria is in the midst of a governmental crisis and the European elections were also a test of the political mood in the country.
Therefore, nearly 60% put their vote in the ballot box instead of 45% in 2014. In France, the European elections were presented as a test to President Macron after the national yellow vest crisis, which may explain an increase in participation by 8 points. In Poland, where participation jumped from 24,5% in 2014 to 45,5% this year, European elections were also declared a test for general elections in October. Romania had a national anti-corruption on the same day and 51% turned up (32,5% in 2014). In Spain – 20 points up to 64% - local elections were held in parallel. By contrast the turn out remained stable in the UK and stood at 37%.
The center – weakened, but not crushed
Against many fears right and left wing extremists didn’t win the European elections 2019. On the left the European United Left (GUE/NGL) lost 11 seats and will have only 41 deputies. On the far right the Europe of Nations and Freedom group (ENF), composed mainly of the French RN, the Italian Lega and the Austrian FPÖ won 46 seats and now stands at 73. The EFDD group mainly composed of the Italian Five Star movement and UKIP/Brexit Party does no longer exist. Most of its deputies now belong to the 57 non-attached MEPs.
The MEPs from the Brexit Party will have to leave after Brexit. Finally the ECR group, made up of Eurosceptic parties like the Polish PiS and the Flemish N-VA, is credited with 62 seats. The combined number of right wing MEPs (extremists and conservatives)now stands at 175, which means that they have gained just 20 seats. This is less than the Greens who won 22 additional seats (now 74) and only half of the nearly 40 deputies that have increased the ranks of the Liberals.
In fact, Renew Europe – the new name of ALDE has become the third largest group in the EP, mainly because of the French En Marche MEPs. The Christian Democrats (EPP) and the Socialist S&D groups remain the two largest groups in the European Parliament despite considerable losses. EPP will have 182 instead of 216, S&D 154 instead of 185 and for first time both groups will not be able to muster an absolute majority. To reach the threshold of 376 MEPs they will need the support of either the Liberals or the Greens or of both. With 505 seats these four groups form a strong pro-European bloc.
Despite its diminished size the EPP continues to hold a key role within this bloc, because a coalition of the three others will not be sufficient to reach the absolute majority, which is for example necessary for the vote of the Commission president.
Challenges and chances for the Church
The increased participation in the elections and a more moderate anti-EU rhetoric of extremist parties (e.g. the French Rassemblement National) shows that Europeans want to remain in the EU. For the Catholic Church this should be a very positive development. The important role of climate change in the electoral campaign should encourage Justice and Peace Europe to pursue the initiative to create a “European Laudato Si’ Allliance” with other Catholic partners in Brussels. Regarding the four issues of the Justice and Peace Europe 2019 concerted action one can predict that the new parliament will be a strong force to reduce the amount of food waste.
We may hope for some progress towards a binding international treaty on Human Rights and Business. Probably, efforts to reduce arms exports from the EU will have to remain high on our agenda. The single market continues to redistribute opportunities along geographical criteria. The East and the South versus the North and the West, the rural versus the urban create new borders, which are also partially reflected in the election results. The EU will have to address this in its future budget and in reframing the single market.
General secretary of Justice and Peace Europe