The stakes are high for the upcoming European Parliament (EP) elections, with anti-EU parties on the rise and where it is practically certain, barring a last minute Brexit deal, that the UK will be taking part. What kind of parliament will emerge from the elections?

Karen Massin from the communications agency Burson Cohn & Wolfe was the opening speaker in a discussion with the Brussels-based think tank the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR) and VoteWatch on 23 April. The debate, at the Press Club, focussed on a new ECFT report that predicts the outcome of the elections in May.

“The timing of national elections is important,” said Simon Hix from the ECFR, explaining the  decision to include data from national election polls in the report. “Many voters see the EP as mid-terms for the national elections.” 

The ECFR predicts that May’s election will be the first time that ‘the grand coalition’ (the EPP and S&D) will not gain the majority of the seats in the EP. Instead, they predict that the next EP will see power shared between three groups: a Left wing bloc (S&D+G/EFA+GUE), a Right wing Bloc (EPP+ECR), and an anti-European bloc (ECR+EFDD+EAPN+NI+GUE), with each gaining 32-35 percent of the seats.

“Pro-EU groups will have to think beyond alliances and address issues that voters are worried about and where multilateral collaboration is needed, such as climate, prosperity and tax justice,” said Susi Dennison from the ECFR, commenting on the fragmentation of politics in Europe. She also pointed out that anti-EU parties have made important observations, such as that there are high levels of volatility among voters and that the discourse is no longer about leaving the EU but about changing it.

Doru Frantescu from VoteWatch questioned the fact that certain parties have been labelled as eurosceptic, or far-right, arguing that the agendas of some parties’  are being misunderstood. “The Five Star movement should actually be placed in the green group if you analyse how they actually vote,” he said, by way of example.

The EP is likely to emerge from the elections in a more fragmented state but it remains to be seen how the story will be told, Simon Hix concluded. Will journalists portray it as the EU responding to the interests of the people or just as being chaotic? And, will more fragmentation lead to lively debate or to paralysis?

Text: Sara Johansson