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The future of the EPP

Guest blogpost by Wes Himes, Managing Partner at Instinctif Partners, sent in via our ‘Submit a guest post’ form.

In a few short days the composition of the new European Parliament will take shape. Leading up to the election most of the eyes of the press and pundits have been on the machinations of the anti-EU or Euro-sceptic wings of the vote. Undoubtedly current polls indicate a strong turnout for these parties resulting in a large mix of such parties, both on the left and right, in the new EP. Some estimations range in the 100 plus MEPs (Members of European Parliament) mark for such parties, evidenced by the strong showing of Syriza for instance in the first round of elections in Greece. While this is over 13% of the new Parliament it has yet to be proven whether any of these parties can co-exist and present anything more than a voting rabble and vocal minority to the business of the day.

The real dilemma rests with the largest party in the last Parliament, the European People’s Party (EPP). Exiting the last mandate the party represented delegations from 27 countries with 274 MEPs. Recent polls predict that number will shrink by some 20% + to around 212, although certain polls show a resurgence of EPP voting intentions to bring the number closer to 220 or more. It is interesting to note that despite the large number of country delegations, the core of the EPP’s strength lies in five key countries: France (mainly the UMP), Germany (CDU/CSU), Poland (Civic Platform, PO), Spain mainly PP) and Italy (a mix with Forza Italia the main slice). All together they represented 159 of the 274 MEPs in the last Parliament or 58% of the EPP Group MEPs. The main glue around these core parties has been support for the EU project, one that wanted more Europe as part of an “ever closer union”.

Surprisingly, enough these five countries delegations still look to retain their core majority in the new EP. Assuming 212 EPP members in the new EPP, the core group is around 117 or 55% of the new EPP projected delegation. The key, however, is how this block tackles two key trends.

The first is that many of these delegations face a decrease in members in the new EP for a variety of reasons. In France for instance, it is projected that they will lose 10 MEPs from the formerly 30 strong delegation. This cannot be attributed to a protest-vote against the government given this is held by Francois Holland’s Socialist Party. It is mainly from the attacks by the National Front who are projected to jump from 3 to 23 members. In Italy, it is the same case with the FiveStar movement eating away at the Forza numbers (a projected loss of 14 MEPs across all Italian EPP parties to 20). In other countries it can be construed as a verdict on the incoming government such as Poland (projected loss of 10 MEPs to 18) and Spain (a projected loss of 3 members to 22).

The second trend is what I would call a maturation of the Parliamentary process. Ever since direct elections in 1979, the European Parliament has been able to speak as one voice due to two factors – consensual decision-making, and the need to appear strong in the face of the European Commission and Council roles in the Parliamentary process. This dynamic has allowed the institution to keep a core focus on amalgamating further power and competence to the democratically elected Parliament. However, this election now shows the fault lines gathered around that proposition.

Outside of the election, the gauntlet has been thrown from the UK looking to revise the terms and conditions of membership. This has been jumped on from other countries looking to protect their underbelly from sceptic parties.

The numbers reveal the dilemma for the EPP. At a projected 212 MEPs they clearly fall short in simplified voting (simply majority of 751 MEPs or quorum). They can reach across to the ALDE and possibly to the ECR but the numbers there only look around 300 MEPs. Therefore, if the EPP core wishes to keep the EU project on track they are being pushed into more cooperation with the S&D Group. And here in lies the problem – does a French UMP MEP work indirectly with their Socialists counterparts in light of the negative perceptions of the Socialists, or do they tack to the right to reduce the impact of the sceptic parties? The same goes for the Italian centre-right parties although their agreement with the PDs nationally dilutes this dilemma. However, a recent Pew Research survey indicated that Italians are the most euro sceptic national groups in the EU bloc. Polish MEPs may also have the same issue with the opposition Law and Justice Party. For the German MEPs, this is not a problem given their coalition in Germany with the SPD.

Therefore there is a slow, but growing trend, towards a set of EU institutions not geared towards its own growth, but questioning to what extent powers need to be recalibrated. This poses a distinct challenge to the EPP where the new leadership will have to cleverly create a common front in light of these upcoming trends, surely to be exacerbated with the outcome of the elections. For the EPP the next five year term will not be business as usual – it will be decisive. They will need to determine in which direction they want to go and whether their five core passengers want to continue the ride.

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