The strengthening of extremism is an important signal but the European Union-committed “mainstream” remains strong. The votes of the 12 Fidesz Members of the European Parliament can be decisive in certain cases not only in the election of the European Commission president. Fidesz can use the narrow majority of the European People’s Party for political blackmailing in the future too. At home Fidesz still faces no challenger. The researcher Political Capital analyses the outcome of the EP elections both home and abroad.
1) It is not the end of the world – the EU will survive
Although mistrust towards the integration has grown, and based on this anti-EU forces are gaining strength, according to the Eurobarometer research the majority of EU citizens are still committed to the basic values of the Union (peace, liberty, democracy, human rights). Only the citizens of the United Kingdom and Cyprus are giving a definite yes to seceding.
The strengthening of extremism is an important signal but, at the same time, its extent should not be overvalued: the EU-committed “mainstream” remains strong. If the notion of the crisis and the apocalyptic mood becomes stronger within the EU, and thus strengthens the extremes that build on these notions, this way the prediction of “Europe will fall” can fulfil itself.
Due to the heterogeneous anti-EU/Eurosceptic supply, it is now uncertain how many groups they can form. Despite the differences in values and interests, unlike the earlier extreme-right factions, the present processes seem to be more organised and self-conscious, so the factions can live longer, as well.
The extreme right, while it is fighting with globalisation and the EU, is becoming spectacularly more and more “pan-European”. Although the parties of Eastern Europe are not part of the forces involved in the cooperation, the willingness to cooperate on the European level, at least in the West, is stronger than before. However, since the conditions are hard (in order to create a Group, 25 MEPs of seven member states have to come to an agreement), it is not so certain that both Nigel Farage (UK Independence Party) and Marine Le Pen (France’s Front National) will be able to form a faction.
The European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR), spearheaded by British Prime Minister David Cameron, will practically be re-established, but the fate of European Freedom and Democracy (EFD) is somewhat more unsure. The success of the European Alliance for Freedom (EAF), which is to be organised by Le Pen, depends primarily on whether the potential partners will choose EFD instead of EAF.
Most formations have the tendency to move towards the more moderate groups, so whoever will be welcome by Cameron’s ECR will happily find a home. The next option for most formations is the EFD, and then comes helping out Le Pen as an option. Besides EAF, the UKIP-led EFD will struggle to retain the group, as right now they can rely on the members of five different countries: from the far-right, the Danish People’s Party, the Finnish Party and the Lithuanian Order and Justice Party; and also the Christian fundamentalist, Protestant Dutch Reformed Political Party, and of course the pro-independence British UKIP.
This basic rule can be overshadowed by the seeming commitment towards Le Pen by such players as the Italian North League and the Belgian Flemish Interest, who have been sitting in Farage’s group so far. The future of the EAF Group led by Le Pen has become doubtful because the Slovakian National Party has dropped out and thus it has only six of the seven countries it needs for certain. On the other side the resetting of the leftist Eurosceptic formation (GUE/NGL) is sure.
Besides the mentioned parties, there are nine old-new Eurosceptic formations that do not belong to a faction. Some of them are rather conservative or leftist, slightly far-right, and also there are some that even Le Pen finds racist. Of the latter “pariah” group, one can mention the Greek Golden Dawn, the Hungarian Jobbik and the German NPD.
Consequently the majority of the Eurosceptic parties with a “free valent”, including the anti-Europe Alternative Germany, which has the most influence in Parliament, and the Italian leftist Five Star Movement, will first want to join the ECR or EFD, which are closer to the political centre. Besides the “pariahs”, EAF and EFD can most probably count on the nationalist Polish Congress of the New Right (KNP) or the Independent Greeks (Anexartitoi Ellines) who oppose migration and multiculturalism.
The about 27% anti-EU/Eurosceptic bloc can seem to be frightening but if we turn the figure around we can see that 73% of the EP mandates are dominantly pro-EU: the People’s Party, the Social Democrats, the Liberals and the Greens and a few independents.
2) Russia is closer
Although it is not clear how many groups that are more or less critical with the EU can be formed, but since these parties often admit their Russian commitment (like Le Pen who has recently visited Moscow), it is an open secret that their larger proportion of mandates can definitely strengthen Russian influence in Europe. Besides the Russian world power and regional issues, these parties are staunch proponents of key Russian energy industry interests too.
The strengthening of the extreme parties will also make it hard for the European endeavours to resolve the Ukrainian crisis. Parties that are attracted by EAF, GUE-NGL and EFD have already voted in the European Parliament against the proposition to condemn Russia because of the aggression in the Crimea.
For the first time since 1979 the voter turnout was not lower than five years earlier; even if it is a small margin (from 43% to 43.11%) but proportionally more people went to the polls than in 2009. This minimal increase is mainly because despite the commonplace, which states that the EP election is never about Europe, this election was in fact about Europe.
It is not obvious though who could profit from the higher turnout. It is an unfavourable sign that where the turnout was higher (France, UK), anti-Europe parties did considerably well. If we look at the whole pattern of the EU states, then similarly to 2009 it is true for this election as well that there is no strong correlation between turnout and trust towards the EU.
Not counting the countries where voting is compulsory and the especially high turnout in Malta, there is a 0.3 negative correlation between the turnout and those trusting the EU. So the lower the turnout, the higher the trust is towards the EU, although this correlation is not strong. Based on this, is seems that it is a pity to expect the strengthening of the legitimacy of the EU only due to the turnout.
4) It can lead to a democratic deficit if the top candidate of the EPP is not elected the President of the European Commission
Although many people have made it clear that the next president will not necessarily be selected from the top candidates of the party families, it would discredit the first personalised debate and the whole EP if a sixth candidate were chosen – as wished by Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and Cameron among others.
This would provide a stronger ground to the charge against the EU claiming its “democratic deficit”, and in the future it can bring about scepticism in connection with forward-pointing actions. It can also fire up anti-Europe voices who can rightly say that the EU was only “fooling” with the voters when it made them believe that the leader of the Commission can come from the top candidates.
5) In Europe, in the future big coalitions can operate
Although the party groups sharply criticised each other throughout the campaign, it is expected in the European Parliament, even more than before, that decisions will be made along big coalition lines (mainly People’s Party-Social Democrat-Liberal). The socialist, the liberal and the green Groups even together are far from the majority, and the EPP will not be able to make a lasting majority that could govern. With the growing of the EU-sceptic formations, pro-Europe groups will have to depend on each other more than ever.
1) Despite the result of Együtt-PM and DK, which was better than expected, there is no significant realignment in the right-left dichotomy.
Fidesz has lost 5% while Jobbik, having gained a lot of strength in the past five years, has almost dropped back to its performance in 2009. Leftist formations have gained 5% more than five years ago. Regarding the left versus right power struggle, the results show no real difference compared to the national elections in April. The parties of the then-called “Összefogás” have gained 28% instead of 26% in April and the (domestic) proportion of votes of Fidesz and Jobbik together was 64% in April and 66% now. It refers to the fact that although there was some realignment within the left and the right, there has been little movement between the two big groups.
Fidesz still faces no challenger. As it has received 51.5%, it can claim to have the support of the majority of voters. Because of the low turnout, obviously this interpretation is also rather questionable, but while the party could not get over 50% at the parliamentary elections, this time they managed to do it.
Looking at the whole of Europe Fidesz received the second-biggest proportion of votes (after the Maltese Labour Party’s 53%), which is a big feat of arms both in Budapest and Brussels. Fidesz will use this power in the European scene as well, the first sign being that Orbán has openly declared the party would not support the nomination of Jean-Claude Juncker (the party and political ally of Viviane Reding) by the EPP to head the European Commission.
The votes of the 12 Fidesz MEPs can be decisive in certain cases, not only in the election of the EC president. Fidesz can use the narrow majority of the EPP for political blackmailing in the future too.
3)’s winning streak has been broken but the party has not snapped
Fidesz managed to take 56% of its voters to the polls, the leftist parties took 50% of theirs, LMP 43%. Jobbik performed much worse: it managed to mobilise only one third of its voter base. The second place of Jobbik is only a big success at first glance: it did manage to overtake MSZP but the reason is that although the supporters of the left are a bigger group, their votes were distributed among three parties. The only chance for Jobbik to become the challenger of the governing party is if the left breaks up into smaller pieces due to its inner struggles.
The Béla Kovács “spy” case could also play a role in the bad performance of the party, and besides the lower turnout Jobbik has a hard time mobilising its “attenuated” voter base. Plus the more moderate line and the debates taken up by the leftist opponents make it hard to mobilise the core voters.
4) The realignment of the left is irreversible
The race for the leading position on the left has inevitably started. It will make the preparation for the municipal elections much harder, because on several levels (mayors, lord mayor) the only chance for them is to cooperate in order to win.
Especially in the capital can we expect a significant realignment, where MSZP came in fourth after DK and Együtt-PM came in neck and neck. It is interesting that in the capital the three groups seem to be farther from Fidesz than in April, which is mainly the result of their different mobilising potential.
However, it is seen that the limit to this realignment on the left is the common nomination of the lord mayor. If they manage to nominate a consensual candidate, still there is no guarantee for success because they cannot expect to have the support of LMP.
Ferenc Gyurcsány is ineludible again on the left and he is very likely to become the engine of the realignment. He will soon find himself in a conflict of interests with Együtt-PM, which declares a new era in politics and which came in second in 11 Budapest constituencies (DK had nine, MSZP two and Jobbik one second places).