Rising voter frustration over the European project and perceived dwindling national sovereignty is likely to push voters to vote for Eurosceptic parties in the coming EU-wide elections, according to latest opinion polls.
But the results may also modify the balance of forces within the European Parliament.
Old and new political alliances will have to face the consequences of European citizens’ votes, adapt to survive as groups, or see their power falter. The Eurosceptic landscape may be modified for years to come.
Current Eurosceptic groups will “suffer”
“At the moment we have two groups catering toward the Eurosceptic,” explains Cas Mudde, whose research focuses on European, populist, radical-right parties.
To form an official group, at least 25 members of parliament must join and they must represent at least seven of the 28 member states of the European Union.
Mudde, who is Dutch but working at the University of Georgia in the US, told euronews: “The European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) are the kind of ‘soft’ Eurosceptic, who by and large support the EU, but think it should be predominantly economic.”
The ECR currently has 56 MEPs, 7.3% of the total 766, provided in majority by the British Conservative Party and the Czech Republic’s Civic Democratic Party (ODS).
The future of the ECR does not look bright, according to Mudde. “The ECR will have problems after 2014 as various member parties will not make it back into the EP (such as the Belgian Flemish LDD and the Modern Hungary Movement) and two of the largest parties, the ODS and Conservative Party, will lose a lot of seats.”
For example, the Tories, the best-performing British party in the 2009 European elections with 27.7% of the national vote, now lag in the polls in third place behind UKIP and the Labour Party, with 21% of voter intentions.
Also, some minor parties of the ECR group, Mudde suggests, “might be more attracted to a ‘harder’ Eurosceptic group”.
As a result, the most recent projections for the 2014 European elections, made in collaboration with the European Parliament and TNS Opinion, give the ECR 41 MEPs, 5.46% of the total of 751.
The second alliance catering to Eurosceptics is the Europe of Freedom and Democracy (EFD) group, Mudde explains, with its “harder” Euro-scepticism doctrine. Thirty three MEPs are currently members of the EFD, equating to 4.3% of all seats in the European Parliament. Britain’s UKIP and Italy’s Lega Nord (Northern league) are its driving forces.
However, despite Nigel Farage and UKIP’s strong momentum in Britain, the EFD “are also going to suffer” in the coming elections, Mudde says
Latest projections give the EFD 3.86%, or 29 seats, after the 2014 European elections.
Outshone by other right-wing parties in their respective countries, other EFD members,such as Greece’s LAOS and France’s Mouvement pour la France, “will not return to the European Parliament,” Mudde says.
In addition, EFD is poised to lose members to more radical alliances. “The Lega Nord has committed to the European Alliance for Freedom (EAF) and rumour has it that the Slovak National Party will also join EAF,” added Mudde.
Further right, another new group?
The European Alliance for Freedom (EAF) is a pan-European political party, composed of far-right nationalist parties that also include hard Euroscepticism in their manifesto, such as France’s Front National, the Netherlands’ PVV and Austria’s FPÖ.
They hope, Reuters reports, to gain enough momentum to create a political group of nationalist parties in European Parliament. This group would then entitle members to more office space and support staff as well as EU funds for meetings and publicity.
Their objective, as stated in a joint press conference of Geert Wilders and Marine Le Pen last November, is to liberate Europe from “the European elite, the monster in Brussels.”
A political group would be a crucial asset. “A non-attached MEP is not a real MEP, without means of action,” Ludovic de Danne, EU affairs adviser to Marine Le Pen, told euronews by phone. “A political group will allow us the same weight in debates as everybody else.”
De Danne says the name of the prospective group is not ‘European Alliance for Freedom’ but still a work in progress. “It may contain the word ‘Freedom,” he says. “We are certain to have enough MEPs; and geographically [in terms of countries] we are very confident”
“The goal is to reach 10,” FPÖ Heinz-Christian Strache told Reuters last December while in Turin, where he said he and Geert Wilders, Dutch nationalist Freedom Party leader, were guests of the Italian anti-immigration Lega Nord.
Currently, according to Reuters, the European Alliance for Freedom has six parties: the Freedom parties of Austria and the Netherlands, the Italian Lega Nord, France’s National Front, Belgium’s Vlaams Belang and Sweden’s Democrats.
However, as Cas Mudde noted on a blog hosted by the Washington Post, the Swedish Democrats chairman Jimmie Åkesson “has said that the SD will only consider joining [the new group] after the Swedish parliamentary elections, to be held on 14 September 2014.”
The search for a seventh country to enter Le Pen and Wilders’ group may prove arduous. As mentioned by Mudde, the Slovak National Party could be the seventh member but both the Danish People’s Party and UKIP have rejected the idea of joining. In the meantime; the group itself rejects more extreme right-wing parties such as Hungary’s Jobbik or Greece’s Golden Dawn, according to Reuters.
A reshuffle of the Eurosceptic landscape?
The True Finns party, currently an EFD member with ties to both DFP and SD, refused to comment on whether it had been approached to join the EAF group.
However, True Finns Election Coordinator Pekka Sinisalo told euronews “there might be another entirely new Eurosceptic political group” after the European elections which the True Finns were “perhaps” planning to sit with, thus abandoning the EFD.
While that was news to him, the development of this hypothetical new group did not surprise Cas Mudde. His intuition is that “the remnants of the EFD are going to try and create a new group, which is to hold the middle between the ECR and EAF, and will be based largely on The Finns and UKIP (who will have a larger group) and the 1-2 MEPs from the Netherlands and the Danish DFP.”
“They will have a hard time finding MEPs from 7 countries, however, but might pick up single members of idiosyncratic groups or dissidents who split from ‘soft’ Eurosceptic groups,” the scholar explained.
He is also critical of the EAF group’s future. He believes that – due to inner political disagreements, past failures of far-right groups in the EP and potential personal tensions – “the chances this group will be an important political actor in the next EP are slim to none.”
The arrival of the EAF could, nonetheless, have the effect of profoundly changing the Eurosceptic landscape in the European parliament.