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How domestic change might shift power relations in the European Council?

Introduction

The European Council plays a central role in defining the common political orientations of the EU. The Council time and again shows this in managing crises at EU-level, for example during the COVID-19 pandemic. With the EU-27’s political leaders represented in the European Council, national inclinations and politics are reflected within the Council, as Member States defend domestic agendas through coalition-building with like-minded countries. Dr2 Consultants’ international team shares some insights on how several upcoming national elections will possibly impact the power dynamics in the European Council.

Changes in the national political arena

With domestic change looming, the power dynamics and coalition-building in the European Council are like to change in the upcoming years. Where the relationship between Merkel and Macron ever more shows the strength of the Franco-German axis in the EU during the recovery phase of the COVID-19 pandemic, German elections this year and next year’s French Presidential elections could mean a blow to this ‘motor of European integration’.

Also, other Member States that took center stage during the COVID-19 recovery fund negotiations are confronted with looming change in national politics. The Netherlands, as the voice of the fiscally conservative “Frugal Four” Member States, will hold parliamentary elections in March, while Italy, as the propagator of more European solidarity, just installed a technical government that should invest Italy’s way out of the crisis.

What to expect?

The months ahead will thus witness major changes in domestic politics of the EU Member States that have been at the forefront of the discussions around the Recovery Fund allocations: namely France, Germany, Italy and the Netherlands. The European Council dynamics will likely change according to the new political setting that will rise in the upcoming months.

Potential power shift on Franco-German axis

The main uncertainties lay on French-German elections, which, depending on the outcome, might lead to a shift in power relations among the European Member States. Macron’s French influence projection is slowly filling the gaps provided by German political uncertainty, while at the same time keeping a close eye of collaboration with its partner. If France were to take a more influential role within the EU, it could steer the European Council in a new direction. For the remainder of Macron’s presidency, France would turn the focus on strengthening the EU’s strategic autonomy, as well building up the EU’s power of decision, especially in urgent matters. However, this rise in level of influence could be completely nipped in the bud if Macron were not to be reelected in 2022, and even more so if he were to lose to euro-sceptic Marine Le Pen.

Potential friction on economic solidarity

The new Italian PM Draghi is also likely to trigger new dynamics in the European Council, due to its experience in EU affairs and fiscal rules observation, which inevitably denote recognition of its political stature. Mario Draghi’s expertise in financial matters could boost Italy’s capacity to make the best use of the EU Recovery Fund allocations, avoiding misuse or bureaucratic loops ending up in unspent resources. Finally, the Netherlands, which has so far been seen as guarantor of fiscal respect, risks being further isolated within the European Council, which could hamper its ability to optimally represent its interests. These political changes could lead to new relations being shaped within the European Council, with the Northern countries losing leverage and the Southern countries gaining ground for a solidarity approach combined with due financial observance.

Dr2 Consultants

Dr2 Consultants’ international team constantly monitors political changes throughout Europe, and the subsequent change of political dynamics at the EU level in order to identify threats and opportunities for its clients. After all, the political consensus in the European Council will in the long run impact the policymaking direction that will be taken by the European Commission.

For the interested reader, a short analysis per country follows below.

Country-specific analyses

Germany – a great legacy for a new Chancellor

On 26 September 2021, federal elections will take place in Germany to determine who will succeed Angela Merkel. A turning point in the history of unified Germany, as the current Chancellor has been in office for more than 15 years. After an internal debate in Merkel’s CDU party, Armin Laschet was chosen as peak candidate, and is likely to run for the chancellorship against the candidate of the current junior coalition party, the SPD Finance Minister Olaf Scholz, and the leader of Bavaria and of Merkel’s CSU sister party, Markus Söder.

The focus on the role of Germany in leading European economic and political integration is of utmost importance, as Merkel’s successor will have to face the rising influence of Macron’s France. The axis with France builds on the historic reconciliation initiated by the Élysée Treaty of 1963 and strengthened by the Treaty on Franco-German Cooperation and Integration of January 2019. This revitalized cooperation inspired the Franco-German initiative for the European recovery from COVID-19 of May 2020, which marked not only a new step in the joint fight against the pandemic, but also a step forward in the Franco-German cooperation. This axis is likely to guide Europe towards a post-COVID-19 era of digitalization and sustainability, combining France’s focus on external relations and defence and Germany’s lead in trade and economic growth of the internal market. The question is whether the German federal elections and the French presidential elections of spring 2022 will bolster this complementarity or result in one country taking the ultimate lead.

France – a quest for influence about to be struck down?

Elected in May 2017, Emmanuel Macron’s mandate as President of France has been marked by several social crises, from the ‘gilets jaunes’ movement that started in October 2018, to the wave of protests against police violence, Islamic terror, and the COVID-19 crisis. Despite being considered as a promoter of economic liberalism within his own country, a position that is increasingly being criticized, at the European level, President Macron has been promoting a stronger fiscal integration of the EU. In this regard, he gained important political ground by getting Germany on board with the EU’s €750 billion NextGenerationEU Recovery Fund, considered as the first step towards European debt mutualization. France, supported by French European Commissioner for Internal Market, Thierry Breton, is also pushing for tech reforms and especially for the EU to become digitally sovereign, ideas that are picking up at EU level. However, some of Macron’s ideas for the EU, such as the development of the European Defence Fund or the Conference of the Future of Europe, have sometimes not amounted to much.

Nevertheless, the consensus between EU officials is that Macron has been the most active of recent French presidents, bringing France to a level of influence (almost) comparable to Germany’s. With German Chancellor Angela Merkel leaving office in September, there could be an opportunity for France to increase its influence.

Macron will be up for re-election in April 2022. Candidates are only slowly starting to declare themselves, but many already foresee a duel between RN’s Marine Le Pen and Macron. If Le Pen, an adamant euro-sceptic, were to be elected, this would drastically impact the relations and power dynamics at the EU level. The Regional and Departmental elections, taking place in June 2021, will provide a first indication of voting trends, a year prior to the Presidential election.

Dutch elections – another four years of Mark Rutte?

With Dutch parliamentary elections about to take place on 17 March, the question rises if Prime Minister Mark Rutte is soon to form what will already be the fourth coalition government under his command. While currently leading a caretaker crisis-management government after a scandal about false accusations of child benefit fraud, his liberal party VVD is most likely moving towards a comfortable election victory. After first assuming the office of PM in 2010, the question is if Rutte will be able to exploit his seniority in the European Council despite diplomatic damage suffered during negotiations about the COVID-19 recovery fund.

The Netherlands was heavily criticized over its lack of empathy as showcased by its “blatant demands” for structural reforms in Mediterranean countries in exchange for economic support from the NextGenerationEU Recovery Fund. This blow to Dutch diplomacy threatens to further isolate the Netherlands in the European Council, especially after the UK’s departure from the EU. Striking a balance between comforting the domestic – somewhat Eurosceptic – public opinion and taking a constructive leadership role at the EU level has been a challenge for Mark Rutte and will most likely remain to be so. It will be interesting to observe if the VVD and its new coalition partners will be able to overcome the traditionally hesitant Dutch stance towards European integration.

Italy – a technical government to lead the way out of the pandemic

Following an internal crisis for allocation of power, a new government under the command of former ECB President, Mario Draghi, took office on 13 February. For the new government, no agreement was found within the coalition, so the Italian Head of State handed the country to a technical government instead of launching anticipated elections – after less than 2.5 years since the last political elections. Supported by an even stronger coalition, PM Draghi has pledged his mandate to four priorities: health, work, EU Recovery Fund and sustainability, to be delivered by a governing team composed of ministries revived from previous governments.

Most importantly, the Draghi government has taken matters into its own hands by placing the Ministry for European Affairs directly under the supervision of the Prime Ministry. In a time of needed European concertation for both COVID-19 vaccination efforts and effective use of the country-allocated EU Recovery Funds, Draghi is likely to manage the Rome-Brussels affairs by himself. With the hope that this is a sign of a reaffirmed participation of the Italian PM into the European Council, and of a stricter observance of the rules for an efficient spending of EU resources.

Bold sustainability ambitions in the European Union

Already in July, Ursula von der Leyen made clear that the new European Commission has bold ambitions to tackle climate change: The European Union must become an example of how to live sustainably. In this regard, energy efficiency and circular economy are central to the European way of life.

Frans Timmermans and the European Green Deal

The European Green Deal will be the guide for this ambitious transition, targeting among other things, an emission reduction of 50% to 55% by 2030. This target is about 10-15% higher than the current 2030 climate and energy framework. The Commissioner in charge of the Green Deal will be the Dutchman, Frans Timmermans, who also holds the position of first Executive Vice-President of the next European Commission. In his hearing in the European Parliament on 8 October, he urged the European Parliament to be ambitious and lead by example in the world. To make a real difference with regards to global warming, the EU needs to focus on talks with its global partners, according to Timmermans. He feels like he has got a strong mandate, since according to statistics, 9 out of 10 European citizens want the EU to act decisively on climate change.

Concretely, Timmermans will propose a draft Climate Law within the first 100 days of his mandate. This law will put into legislation the EU’s climate ambitions, but most importantly determine the in between steps to be taken to reach these goals. Timmermans is strongly considering using infringement procedures against Member States not complying with the EU’s upcoming climate laws and its ambitions. Furthermore, the Climate Pact will engage citizens with the EU’s climate policy which would make legislation seem less ‘top-down’.

Virginijus Sinkevičius and the European Circular Economy

Three years after its adoption, the Circular Economy Action Plan can be considered fully completed. Its 54 actions have now been delivered or are being implemented. Together with Timmermans, Lithuanian Virginijus Sinkevičius will however increase the ambitions in the field of the circular economy. Sinkevičius stated during his hearing in the European Parliament on 3 October that if the EU ensured the complete circular use of just four materials (steel, aluminum, cement and plastic) – which goes further than the existing Circular Economy Action Plan – EU’s industrial emissions would be cut in half.

Sinkevičius believes that a new action plan can involve three major areas:

  • First, by examining the ways in which the EU produces and consumes. He mentioned particular further action on eco-design and more focus on reuse and repair. This strand could also integrate circularity in other sectors such as textiles, construction, food and ICT.
  • Second, by helping consumers make informed choices.
  • Third, by moving beyond recycling. Waste should not only be minimized, but prevented completely in areas such as textiles and construction.

Environment Council

Not only the European Commission wants to increase the European ambitions regarding climate change and sustainability, but also the Council realizes their importance. On 4 October, Environment Ministers held a debate on the EU’s strategic long-term vision for a climate neutral economy and adopted conclusions on climate change, which set out the EU’s position for the UN climate change meetings (COP25) in Chile in December 2019. The Council called for action to promote circularity systemically across the value chain, including from the consumer perspective, in key sectors including textiles, transport, food as well as construction and demolition. The Council also stressed the need for more measures on batteries and plastics.

 

 

 

 

Habemus Presidentus

After long and difficult negotiations, the European leaders have come to an agreement on the four top jobs in the European Union. After all, none of the previously speculated candidates have been rewarded for their campaign.

The EU’s top jobs go to:

  • President of the European Council is Charles Michel (Renew Europe) from Belgium;
  • (nominated) President of the European Commission is Ursula von der Leyen (EPP) from Germany;
  • (nominated) President of the European Central Bank is Christine Lagarde (EPP) from France;
  • (nominated) High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy is Joseph Borell (S&D) from Spain.
  • President of the European Parliament will be David Sassoli (S&D) from Italy.

It is clear that there is now no geographical balance between the Western and Eastern European countries and the above nominations have been a result of days-long tough negotiations. Traditionally the function of the Presidency of the European Commission is reserved for the biggest group in the European Parliament, which has been the EPP. Since the introduction of the Spitzenkandidaten process (by the Lisbon Treaty), the European Parliament even tried to institutionalize the nomination of the President of the European Commission, but after all the European Council has the final word to decide over this role. The Spitzenkandidat of the EPP, Manfred Weber, lost substantial support in the last weeks and there were doubts regarding his nomination even within his own party. Most of the criticism was due to his lack of experience in the executive branch. Therefore, there have been a few alternative names floating, including Chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier, but also German Chancellor Angela Merkel as possible successor of Jean-Claude Juncker.

Frans Timmermans, however, seems to be the biggest loser. During the G20 Summit in Osaka, Angela Merkel proposed the social democrat Frans Timmermans as the new President of the European Commission. However, EPP was not in favour of this solution. alongside with the V4 countries that opposed Timmermans because, as Vice-President of the Commission, he often criticized these countries due to their issues with the rule of law.

In the afternoon of 2 July, the name of German Defense Minister, Ursula von der Leyen, emerged as a new option as President of the European Commission. She is German and knows Brussels very well, but she also speaks French, something that made her also a good option for French President Emmanuel Macron. In return, Macron proposed Christine Lagarde as the new president of the ECB. Gender balance has thus been achieved and in order to meet the geographical balance, the Member States proposed the Bulgarian Sergei Stanishev as new President of the European Parliament. However, the European Parliament has the right to choose its new president and the MEPs voted in favour of David Sassoli (S&D) from Italy.

Ursula von der Leyen is yet to be confirmed by the European Parliament as the President of the Commission, however, it seems that the Socialists and the Greens are not satisfied with the choice of the Member States.

Informal European Council meeting kicks-off the process to agree on new leaders of the EU top jobs

Yesterday, 28 May, EU leaders gathered in Brussels for an informal summit following the European Parliamentary elections. Under the first agenda item, the state of play of the populist parties was discussed among the Heads of States. Despite the loss of votes for the European People’s Party (EPP) and the Social Democrats (S&D) the electoral gains of the anti-EU parties remained relatively limited. In the new European Parliament, pro-European parties will be able to keep their majority. Furthermore, centrist parties, such as the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats in Europe (ALDE) and the Greens won quite some seats. President of the European Council Donald Tusk argued that Brexit helped as a “vaccine” against the hard-liner slogans of the Eurosceptic parties. Tusk additionally said that even the most anti-EU parties had to change their rhetoric from abandoning the EU to reform the EU, which, according to him, is a positive development.

However, the most important topic of yesterday’s summit was not about Brexit, but about the future of the European Union and the future European top jobs. The European leaders decided not to discuss names of individual candidates but mandated Tusk to look for a new President of the European Commission through engaging in a dialogue with both the European Parliament and the Member States. Tusk hopes to present a candidate Commission President by the June European Council meeting (20-21 June), supported by both European leaders and the European Parliament. Factors that play a role for the top job are experience, geographical distribution, power distribution between the big and small countries, demography, political party affiliation and gender balance. As only the High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy is now a woman, it will be interesting to see whether the future top jobs will effectively be held by women. This could of course help the ambition of Margrethe Vestager as next President of the European Commission.

Other candidates in the race are the Spitzenkandidaten of the European political parties. The Party of European Socialists (PES) will push for the candidacy of Frans Timmermans, as he has the best profile and the most executive experience. On the other hand, the EPP is still the biggest party in the European Parliament, but EPP Spitzenkandidat Manfred Weber lacks executive experience, both at national and at EU level, which seems a prerequisite to hold the office of Commission President. Therefore, current Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier, also EPP, could be a compromise candidate if Germany accepts a French instead of a German candidate.

The stakes are high because in addition to the position of Commission President (currently Jean-Claude Juncker), also a new President of the European Council, a new High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy (currently Federica Mogherini), a new Parliament President (currently Antonio Tajani) and a new President of the European Central Bank (currently Mario Draghi) will have to be elected. According to EU diplomats, Tusk will eventually draw up a list of one candidate for each of the four posts. A separate procedure for the presidency of the European Central Bank will be followed.

Elections belges : à quoi peut-on s’attendre ?

Les dés sont désormais jetés. Deux jours après les élections, les résultats sont là. Bien qu’une augmentation des partis extrémistes des deux côtés du spectre politique fût attendue, une telle victoire, en particulier de l’extrême droite flamande, le Vlaams Belang, ne l’était pas. Aussi, la vague verte telle que pronostiquée ne s’est pas matérialisée, du moins au nord du pays. Les partis plus au centre de l’échiquier politique – les démocrates-chrétiens, les socialistes et les libéraux – ont de leur côté subi de lourdes pertes électorales, et ce particulièrement en Flandre. Pour la première fois depuis l’après-guerre, le tripartite classique n’atteint pas la majorité. La formation d’un gouvernement au niveau fédéral devrait donc prendre, pour cette législature encore, beaucoup de temps.

Après les élections, la formation d’une coalition gouvernementale se déroule comme suit. D’abord, c’est le Roi lui-même qui prend l’initiative d’inviter les partis un par un afin que ceux-ci viennent lui présenter le résultat des élections. Dans les faits, il est la plupart du temps déjà informé par le président de la Chambre des Représentants ainsi que le président du Sénat. Au lendemain des élections, Siegfried Bracke (N-VA), président de la Chambre, et Jacques Brotchi (MR), président du Senat, sont donc allés « informer » le Roi. Plus tôt dans la journée, le Premier ministre Charles Michel s’est également entretenu avec le Roi Philippe. Si la coutume veut que le Premier ministre présente sa démission au Roi, cela n’a pas été le cas pour ces élections, le gouvernement Michel étant, depuis janvier et le départ de la N-VA du gouvernement fédéral, en affaires courantes. Les présidents des partis majoritaires des deux Régions du pays, à savoir Bart De Wever (N-VA) et Elio Di Rupo (PS), ont également assisté à l’audience du Premier ministre.

À la suite de cette discussion avec tous les présidents de partis, le Roi est alors censé nommer un informateur. Celui-ci a pour lourde tâche de rassembler les “informations” sur la viabilité d’une coalition particulière. Dans le cas où le résultat des élections est très marqué et qu’une coalition se dessine très nettement, de façon presque « naturelle », il n’est pas nécessaire que le Roi nomme un informateur. Considérant le résultat particulier de ces élections, ce scénario reste hautement improbable. L’annonce d’un informateur est attendue dans les prochains jours. Après l’informateur, c’est au tour du formateur de convoquer les partis politiques afin de former un accord de coalition. C’est ensuite au tour du Roi de nommer les ministres et les secrétaires d’État.

Cependant, nous n’y sommes pas encore. Aujourd’hui, le Roi doit recevoir les présidents des partis écologistes, Groen et Ecolo. Suivront ensuite les présidents des plus petits partis que le Roi recevra un à un. Quant à savoir si le président du Vlaams Belang, Tom Van Grieken, sera invité, cela semble peu probable. Par conséquent, la participation du troisième parti du pays à une nouvelle majorité est peu plausible. Concernant le plus grand parti du pays, la N-VA, Bart De Wever a annoncé qu’il ne négocierait pas avec les « partis de gauche ». Du côté francophone, tous les partis à l’exception du MR ont d’ores et déjà déclaré qu’ils ne veulent pas de la N-VA dans un gouvernement. Président du plus grand parti au sud du pays, Elio Di Rupo envisage quant à lui un gouvernement avec une minorité flamande en guise de solution à la crise gouvernementale à venir. En conclusion, les négociations s’annoncent longues et difficiles et on ne peut que souhaiter bon courage au formateur.

Belgische verkiezingen: wat nu?

De kaarten zijn geschud. Twee dagen na de verkiezingen blijven de resultaten nog even nazinderen. Een stijging van de extreme partijen aan beide kanten van het politieke spectrum was verwacht, maar zo’n een overwinning, en dan vooral voor het extreemrechtse Vlaams Belang was toch onverwacht. Bovendien bleef ook de verwachte groene golf, vooral in Vlaanderen dan, uit en werd het centrum van christendemocraten, socialisten en liberalen opnieuw kleiner. Meer nog, voor het eerst in de naoorlogse geschiedenis zou de klassieke triparte geen meerderheid meer halen. Dat maakt duidelijk dat het echte werk nu pas begint. Waarschijnlijk zijn er heel wat partijen, maar ook heel wat tijd nodig om tot een nieuwe federale regering te komen.

Op het federale niveau verloopt zo’n een regeringsvorming na de verkiezingen altijd op dezelfde manier. In de eerste plaats is het de koning die het initiatief neemt om de partijen een voor een uit te nodigen. Maar meestal laat hij zich hiervoor al informeren door de voorzitter van de Kamer en van de Senaat. Daarom liet Koning Filip zich daags na de verkiezingen al ‘adviseren’ door voorzitter van de Senaat Jacques Brotchi (MR) en voorzitter van de Kamer Siegfried Bracke (N-VA). Voordien was trouwens ook Premier Charles Michel op audiëntie geweest bij de koning. Normaal komt de Premier het ontslag aanbieden van de regering, maar deze was in dit geval al ontslagnemend, dus werd gevraagd gewoon de status quo te behouden. Ook de voorzitters van de grootste partijen van beide landsdelen kwamen al op audiëntie, namelijk Bart De Wever (N-VA) en Elio Di Rupo (PS).

Na de gesprekken met al de partijvoorzitters kan de koning een informateur aanduiden. De informateur heeft dan als opdracht om ‘informatie’ in te winnen over welke coalitie zou kunnen worden gevormd. De koning duidt indien de verkiezingsuitslag zeer duidelijk is, en dus ook een toekomstige coalitie, niet per se een informateur aan. Na de resultaten van deze verkiezing is dit toch een hoogstwaarschijnlijk scenario en wordt dit in de komende dagen verwacht. Na de informateur is het de beurt aan de formateur die dan de partijen bijeen roept om een regeerakkoord te gaan vormen. Ten slotte is het dan de koning opnieuw die de ministers en staatssecretarissen benoemt.

Zover zijn we nog niet. Vandaag ontvangt de koning in ieder geval de voorzitters van de ecologisten en CD&V, en dan volgen de kleinere partijen een voor een. De vraag is ook maar als de voorzitter van Vlaams Belang Tom Van Grieken zal worden uitgenodigd. De kans lijkt bijzonder klein. Bijgevolg is de kans ook vrij klein dat de derde grootste partij van het land zal deelnemen aan een nieuwe meerderheid. Bovendien heeft elke partij in Wallonië, buiten MR, ook al een veto uitgeroepen, tegen de grootste partij van het land, de N-VA. Een oplossing ziet Elio Di Rupo in een regering met een Vlaamse minderheid. Dit ziet Bart De Wever natuurlijk zitten en heeft bovendien zelf al aangekondigd niet met links in een regering te willen zitten. Met andere woorden het beloven nog spannende, en frustrerende, tijden te worden in de Wetstraat.

Analyse: Les gagnants et les perdants des élections fédérales belges

Les sondages sont clairs : ce sont les partis du gouvernement qui, indéniablement, perdront le plus de votes. Mais quels sont les partis qui en profitent le plus ? Que cela signifie-t-il pour le nouveau Parlement ? Dimanche, nous voterons tous, mais avant cela, Dr2 Consultants souhaite fournir une analyse de la dynamique électorale actuelle en Belgique.

Le plus grand parti de Belgique restera très probablement la N-VA, bien que celle-ci devrait encore céder un certain nombre de sièges (les sondages les plus récents indiquent une perte de 4 sièges). Contrairement à ce que l’on prétend souvent, cette perte de la N-VA ne serait pas uniquement dû au Vlaams Belang. En effet, le Vlaams Belang semble remporter 10 sièges, soit plus que la perte prévue de la N-VA. Une chose est certaine, la volonté de la N-VA reste la même : continuer à gouverner, et ce avec les personnalités ambitieuses Jan Jambon et Bart De Wever. Le parti vise en réalité à attirer les électeurs en se présentant comme l’unique alternative à une coalition rouge-verte.

Qu’en est-il de cette coalition rouge-verte ? Groen, qui se positionne principalement sur le thème du climat, semble récemment vouloir se présenter comme un parti plus large et faire entendre sa voix sur des thèmes sociaux et sur l’éducation. L’ambition est claire : gouverner. Du côté des socialistes flamands, l’enjeu est surtout de ne pas tomber en-dessous des 10% symboliques. Idéologiquement, le sp.a opère un retour à ses fondamentaux, mais propose en même temps un grand nombre de nouveaux et de jeunes candidats. Il reste cependant à savoir si cela génère un bénéfice électoral, car ils continueront à concurrencer avec Groen, qui attire des électeurs avec un programme social plus « à la mode ». A contrario, le sud du pays devrait s’attendre à une vague rouge-verte. En effet, selon les sondages, le PS perdrait 3 sièges, mais resterait le parti le plus important de Wallonie. De plus, les écologistes wallons ne remporteraient pas moins de 9 sièges et deviendraient, avec Groen, un force politique équivalente à la famille libérale (MR et Open Vld). À Bruxelles, Ecolo deviendrait même le plus grand parti et son co-président, Jean-Marc Nollet, serait le favori pour devenir Ministre-Président de la Région Wallone.

En plus d’une coopération rouge-verte, il est également question d’une coalition des verts etbleus. Toutefois, dans les deux grandes Régions du pays, les débats ont clairement montré que le fossé idéologique entre les écologistes et les libéraux demeurait très profond. De plus, les libéraux baissent dans les sondages. L’Open Vld et le MR perdraient tous les deux 4 sièges au Parlement fédéral. Le CD&V, partenaire de la coalition, perdrait également deux sièges. Ce qui est peut-être plus frappant est de voir que le cdH, qui fait maintenant partie de l’opposition, n’obtiendrait que 4 sièges dans le nouveau Parlement fédéral et ne parviendrait donc pas à se faire entendre.

La question qui se pose maintenant est la suivante : quelle majorité peut être formée après les élections ? Un sondage du journal Le Soir montre que 70% des Belges souhaitent une majorité différente de la « Suédoise », principalement en Wallonie, mais aussi en Flandre. Le gouvernement actuel n’ayant pas de majorité et le cdH ayant déjà annoncé qu’il ne souhaitait plus collaborer avec la N-VA, les chances d’une majorité différente sont donc très élevées. Les socialistes, les libéraux et les verts pourraient ensemble atteindre une majorité par exemple. De plus, la formation d’un gouvernement au niveau régional est susceptible de redéfinir la dynamique fédérale. Avec un gouvernement de centre-droit avec Bart de Wever en tant que Ministre-Président en Flandre et un front de gauche (avec PTB) en Wallonie, la Belgique deviendra-t-elle ingouvernable ? Rendez-vous le 27 mai !

23 May: Kick off European Parliament Election

Today, the European Parliamentary elections kick off with citizens going to the polls in two Member States, namely the Netherlands and the United Kingdom (UK). As the UK has been granted a ‘flextension’, meaning that the Brexit deadline has been extended until 31 October, the UK is now obliged to participate in the elections. This also means that the number of MEPs will remain 751 instead of 705. However, the British government is trying to avoid that British MEPs will actually take their seats.

One of the first things to keep an eye on is the turnout. In recent years the turnout has drastically decreased which only seems to confirm that for many people the European elections remain second-order elections.

With regard to the seat allocation of the new European Parliament, there is only a small chance that the existing informal majority of the European People’s Party (EPP) and the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats (S&D) will continue. Both parties are predicted to lose many seats: the latest poll predicts the EPP to lose 48 seats, while the S&D is likely to lose 39 seats. Combined, they would lose 87 seats which would mean that the traditional parties have a shortage of 61 seats to form a majority. In addition, it is not clear what Fidesz, the party of Hungarian President Viktor Orbán which is currently suspended from the EPP, is going to do after the elections. The third biggest group, the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE) together with  La République En Marche! (LREM)  of French President Emmanuel Macron will form the new “Renaissance” group, which would have 105 seats in the new European Parliament. Some look to the Greens-EFA as a possible coalition partner for the traditional parties, but a working majority between the EPP, the S&D and the Greens-EFA will be difficult as the latter are predicted to win only 55 seats and furthermore, their positions are diverging in various topics.

At this moment in time, it is clear that there is no real ‘winner’ and the European Parliament is expected to be more divided than ever: the appearance of new parties will add to the division. The Italian 5 Stars Movement announced they will leave the Europe of Freedom and Direct Democracy (EFDD) group and Deputy Prime Minister of Italy and Minister of the Interior Matteo Salvini established another new party, the European Alliance of People and Nations (ex-ENF). Salvini’s group is now projected to have 74 seats according to Politico and will consequently be the fourth biggest in the next European Parliament. In addition, the Brexit Party of Nigel Farage (ex-UKIP) and other new and unaffiliated parties will most likely take away a few seats from the currently bigger groups. On top of this,  the eventual exit of the UK will be detrimental to the total number of seats of both the S&D and the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR).

A fragmented European Parliament with more radical parties will make it difficult for MEPs to find allies within the groups and will consequently make decision-making in the only directly elected EU institution challenging.

EU Elections: The Final Debate

After Florence (2 May) and Maastricht (29 April), the European parties’ Spitzenkandidaten  debated yesterday in the European Parliament in Brussels. Many anticipated a more animated debate than the previous ones, but at the end the debate once again left most viewers unsatisfied.

One of the few themes on which a clear difference between the candidates’ opinions was visible, was the issue of tackling climate change. Manfred Weber (EPP) stated that the EU should become climate neutral by 2050, but he also warned for the cost of certain measures. Frans Timmermans (S&D) stressed the efforts he and his party, but also the Greens already took. The Greens’ Ska Keller addressed Weber on this theme by confronting him that he voted against ambitious climate objectives in the European Parliament. On top of that, Margrethe Vestager (ALDE) added that current Commissioner for Climate, Arias Cañete “didn’t make amazing work because he is EPP, he did that because he is part of the Commission.” It was clear that Weber and the dominant position of the EPP were under direct attack from the other candidates.

The real surprise of the evening was when Timmermans suggested to form a progressive coalition with the leftist forces in the European Parliament, including the Greens and the European Left Party. With this left coalition, Timmermans wants to break the center right’s monopoly in the European institutions. Still, based on recent polls, Timmermans’ coalition would only have 250 (out of 751) seats in the new European Parliament, clearly not enough to form a majority. In addition, if the UK eventually leaves the EU, the European Parliament will be left with only 705 seats, but the S&D will lose also the seats of the Labour party (while Brexit would not affect the EPP). Timmermans also left some space to work together with the new centrist-liberal Renaissance group, but the question is whether they want to work together with the European Left. All in all, the proposed progressive coalition would find it hard to maintain a majority.

For Margrethe Vestager, it was her first time participating in a debate since Guy Verhofstadt was the face of ALDE in the Florence and Maastricht debates. She missed this opportunity to clarify the new direction of ALDE and to explain what the cooperation with the party of the French President Emmanuel Macron concretely entails. Still, she did make a good impression regarding her own experience as Competition Commissioner.  She said on taxes: “A tax haven is a place where everyone pays their taxes.” A not so subtle hint to the tech companies she attacked the last years.  Also Timmermans reacted that “we should keep asking Alexa, Amazon’s virtual assistant: Amazon when are you going to start paying taxes?”.

The Brussels debate was the last European-wide Spitzenkandidaten debate in the run-up to the European Parliamentary elections. The lead candidates will now continue their campaigns in the EU Member States until 23 May when the elections will officially start.

European elections 2019: The French perspective

As the European elections are approachingFrench political parties have a lot to debate about in the upcoming days. This time however, the issues that are debated, as well as the political parties involved, look somehow slightly – not too say radically – different from what France has been used to, particularly since the election of Emmanuel Macron as President of the French Republic. 

The end of the left-right political spectrum? 

Since the French presidential election in 2017, French voters have witnessed a change in their country’s political spectrum as every political debate in France over European politics seems now to revolve around France’s two main political parties: President Emmanuel Macron’s La République en Marche (LREM) and Marine Le Pen’s Rassemblement National (RN). However, these two parties cannot be identified as traditional left-wing or right-wing parties since neither LREM nor RN want to position themselves on a left-right political spectrum. Indeed, Macron’s party proudly supports unapologetic pro-European liberal policies while RN openly wants to put forward an anti-EU and protectionist agenda. French politics do not seem to be about left or right anymore, but rather on who is a pro-European liberal and who is not. 

Towards a clash between liberals and anti-liberals 

Over the past fifty years, French politics have barely known a situation in which at least one of the two traditional parties (France’s Parti Socialiste or the French right-wing party Les Républicains) was neither in first nor in second position in the polls for the European elections. Even though the latest polls slightly differ on who will be the other one’s challenger, LREM and RN will probably reach at least 20% of French voters respectively, giving them the certainty to have a minimum of 20 seats each in the next European Parliament (and a few more in the case of Brexit). A recent poll even predicted Marine Le Pen’s victory over Macron’s pro-European party with 24% for RN against 21.5% for LREM, setting the scene for a clash between a liberal vision of Europe and an anti-liberal one. Other French parties are lagging behind with 14% for France’s right-wing party Les Républicains (LR) and with around 8% for La France Insoumise, Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s radical left party. Right behind are the Greens of Europe-Écologie Les Verts (EELV) with 7%, closely followed by France’s traditional left-wing party, the Parti Socialiste, which has rarely been so low in the pollswith only 5%. 

Immigration, climate change, taxation 

The acknowledgement of the recent renewal of France’s political spectrum should however not make one forget that the topics discussed in France have also moved from rather traditional issues (employment, housing, economy) to more trending ones such as the fight against climate change, immigration, and taxation. While debating over Europe at the beginning of Aprillead French candidates put forward their respective ideas on how the EU should be reformed. Regarding immigration, RN’s young lead candidate Jordan Bardella (23 years) exposed his will to stop migrants at national borders while LREM’s Nathalie Loiseau, ex-Minister for European Affairs under President Macron, declared she only wanted the EU’s external borders to be reinforced”. As far as the environment was concerned, all the candidates agreed on the need to tackle this issue even though they differed on the concrete actions to be implemented. Lead candidate for La France Insoumise Manon Aubry stated that as rich multinational companies were “for the most part responsible of CO2 emissions”, they should be the ones to pay the biggest amount of taxes to finance the fight against climate change. 

The challenge of participation 

As no one can precisely predict which party will be the winner of the European elections in France, it is very likely that the abstention rate reaches at least 50%. Some polls even foretell a rate of 60% of abstentionism for the upcoming elections (77% among young French voters) compared to only 42.4% in 2014. More than ever, French political parties’ main challenge remains to reach out to these undecided voters in hope for a victory.