European Parliament Elections 2019 – the impact of Brexit

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The latest European Parliament elections will be taking place from 23rd to 26th May 2019 in the 27 remaining EU Member States. This election is already causing more comment than in other years, in part because of the impact of Brexit. In this article we will summarise the main impacts of Brexit on the upcoming elections on the European Parliament and in particular the 2 major groups currently active. 

Political Consequences

Unless Article 50 is formally revoked (which as the Court of Justice has confirmed, can be done unilaterally by the United Kingdom)  or extended or suspended (which would require the agreement of the EU27 Member States), the UK will leave the European Union and its institutions on 28 January 2019.

It will no longer have seats in the European institutions, including during the transition period, which is planned to last until 31st December 2020 regarding the negotiations of the future relationship with the European Union. Hence, the UK will no longer have any MEPs, a Commissioner or Judges at the Court of Justice.

The most politically visible impact will be that there will no longer be British MEPs in the European Parliament in Strasbourg. This will mostly affect three of the present political groups: the S&D group (Socialists and Democrats 187 members) who will lose 20 MEPs from the Labour Party who sit amongst its ranks; the ECR (European Conservatives and Reformists, 73 members), which will no longer include the 19 MPs from the Conservative Party and finally the EFDD (Europe of Freedom and Direct Democracy, 43 members) which will lose 19 MPs from UKIP (UK Independence Party). The Greens will also lose 6 MEPs.

The departure of the British MEPs will automatically lead to the following immediate consequences:

1. The EFDD group, without UKIP (which in the shape of Nigel Farage chairs the group) will fall short of the eligibility criteria for an official parliamentary grouping (25 MPs from 7 Member States) with the number of MEPs falling to 24, leading to a loss of funds and influence.

2. The ECR group will lose its main delegation and its British co-chair, Syed Kamall. This group was created by the British Conservatives in 2009 and is co-chaired by a Pole from the party of Law and Justice (PiS), the second biggest delegation with 18 members. The loss of British members will reduce its membership to around 50 MEPs, although unlike the EFDD it is not in immediate danger of dissolution.

3. The S&D group will suffer due to the departure of 20 Labour MPs and will also suffer due to a weaker representation of party members (German SPD, French PS, Dutch PvdA) whose results in the national elections have declined. This numerical decline of the S&D will also affect the likelihood of the formation of a majority in the European Parliament.

Numerical Changes

After the exit from the United Kingdom from the EU, the European Parliament  will comprise fewer MEPs (705) than at present (751) due to the departure of 73 British members and subsequent redistribution of some (but not all) Parliamentary seats. .

To take on board the demographic changes and as a result, the weaker representation of some Member States, it was decided (Parliament on 13th June, European Council on 28th June) to redistribute a share of the 73 British seats to 14 States: France[1] and Spain (+5), Italy and the Netherlands (+3), Ireland (+2), Austria, Croatia, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Poland Romania, Slovakia and Sweden (+1), i.e. 27 seats. The aim is to better fulfil the principle of ”degressive proportionality”. The number of MEPs that the Europeans will be elected in May 2019 will therefore total 705

Overall Impact on European Parliament

Since 1979 two parties have been enough to achieve a majority in the European Parliament and therefore to organise the joint election of its president and the distribution of other posts within the EP. This majority has also been a reference point for the distribution of major responsibilities within the common institutions (European Council, Commission, High Representative, etc.) This period now seems to be over. It is possible that the two main groups in the European Parliament (EPP and S&D) will no longer be able to form a majority alone.

The S&D group, which has 187 seats at present will suffer major decline, since it will be losing its British contingent (-20),  unlike the EPP who were abandoned by the British Conservatives in 2009. Other S&D Parties have also experienced recent political setbacks in their respective countries (e.g. the Swedish Social Democrats, who in September 2018 polled 28.4%, the worst result in their history). Most of the parties comprising the S&D are forecast to achieve a score lower in 2019 than in 2014. The first forecasts suggest a loss of around 50 seats, i.e. a final number of around 137 MEPs.

Within the EPP, the main political group in the European Parliament with 219 MEPs, the losses are not forecast to be as high but it is due to drop below the 200 MEP mark. Moreover, the main parties that make it up are also declining in their home nations, starting with the German CDU/CSU, which stumbled to 33% of the vote in the German general elections in September 2017.

If these trends are confirmed across the board the numerical strength of the EPP will reduce by around 40 seats (to around 180 MEPs). Some commentators assert that this will spur the EPP to court right wing parties in Parliament who are not currently part of the EPP

Likelihood of a Majority

The most recent forecasts suggest 180 seats for the EPP and 137 for the S&D, meaning the two main parties with 317 seats will no longer hold an absolute majority (353) in the European Parliament. Which party will emerge as  kingmaker remains to be seen, with an array of new parties, including Emmanuel Macron’s La République En Marche, due to enter Parliament for the first time.

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