European elections aftermath: feverish negotiations in search for the next Commission President
The heads of state or government of the EU were summoned to discuss and evaluate the European elections outcome, over an informal dinner in Brussels on Tuesday, 27 May. Under pressure from the rampant entry of Eurosceptics in the new European Parliament, the discussion revolved around the appointment of the new President of the European Commission, in a process that is not expected to be easy.
The centre-right European People’s Party (EPP) won the most seats in the European Parliament (213 out of 751), although the parties that it comprises suffered heavy losses in many member-states, primarily to the benefit of anti-systemic, anti-European parties.
According to the results published by the European Parliament, Social Democrats came in second place with 190 seats, followed by the Liberals with 64 seats.
The Greens elected 52 MEPs, the Left 42 and Conservatives 46, whereas the Eurosceptic EFD secured 38 seats. Non-attached are 41, while 65 new MEPs do not belong to -and probably will not join- any existing political group.
Appointment of new President of the European Commission
After the Treaty of Lisbon, the President of the Commission is no longer appointed directly by the Council of EU leaders, but rather requires the declaration of confidence by an absolute majority of the European Parliament (i.e. positive vote by a minimum of 376 MEPs). Given that no party has such power, consensus among -at least- the two major parties is indispensable.
During dinner, EU leaders ignored the request made earlier in the day by the leaders of the European Parliament political groups, suggesting that Jean-Claude Juncker is entrusted with the first mandate to negotiate the presidency of the European Commission.
On the contrary, they mandated Mr. Herman van Rompuy, head of the Council, to seek out possible candidates for assuming the top EU position by garnering a majority in Parliament. The consultation period is bound to continue until late June at the earliest.
Mr. Juncker is the candidate of the EPP, the largest political group in the European Parliament that enjoys the support of many leaders of member-states and not necessarily of right-wing governments. Strikingly, the French President, Mr. Francois Hollande, stated after the meeting that the vote of European citizens ought to be respected and, in this sense, the head of the Commission should come from the EPP which came first in the elections. Nevertheless, Chancellor Merkel slightly retreated by stating that “there will be a fairly broad tableau of names on the table” including other top positions that need to be covered, despite her initial statement according to which Mr. Juncker is the chosen one of the EPP. She also stressed that the centre-right needs the Socialists in order to secure majority in the Parliament, thus implying that the latter will have to be offered at least one of the positions.
Mr. David Cameron, Prime Minister of Britain, is the only one so far who has openly expressed his opposition to the nomination of J. C. Juncker, while even attempting to bring together more supporters of his views, like the Hungarian Prime Minister Victor Orbán. On his part, Mr. Juncker answered that he “will not be on his knees” before any leader, when asked respectively by reporters, adding that “the EPP is the first party”.
In case that the nomination of Juncker does not yield the expected results, Socialist candidate and current President of the European Parliament, Mr. Martin Schulz, will probably be the next nominee. However, proposals for “external” candidates should not be ruled out of the process, since the only thing that the Lisbon Treaty provides for is that “the Council shall take into account the election results”. In a relevant question, the Chancellor refrained from offering a clear answer on the evening of the dinner, but rather underlined that “we must avoid any automation”. Among the names of “third-party” candidates that circulate around the corridors of Brussels are those of head of the IMF Christine Lagarde, former president of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) Pascal Lamy and Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt.
Change of direction – the message of European elections
“Prevalence of the extreme-right in France is not a problem solely of France, but rather of Europe as a whole”, said the French President Francois Hollande upon his arrival at the informal dinner, while conveying to his counterparts the need to move towards growth and employment. Having received a similar message from the British voters, Prime Minister David Cameron called for a reduction of EU competences, stating that “Brussels has got too big and too interfering”. The baton will have to be passed to the sovereign member-states, with “Europe (intervening) only where necessary”. According to the British Prime Minister, emphasis should be given to competitiveness and flexibility.
Far-right and Euroscepticism enter the European Parliament
Three EU countries witnessed a rise of racist, far-right or Eurosceptic parties in the European elections, whereas neo-Nazi, anti-Semitic formations also increased their strength significantly.
More specifically, in France, the United Kingdom and Denmark, one out of four voters answered with a thunderous “no” to the European Union and voted for those parties that wish to see it dissolved. The National Front of Marine Le Pen came out first with 26%, the UK Independence Party gathered 27.5% and the Danish People’s Party 27%.
Apart from the election of three MEPs from the Golden Dawn (“Chrysi Avgi”), however, the entry to the European Parliament of the German NPD neo-Nazi party definitely revokes unpleasant memories for Europe, as it managed to elect one MEP after the abolition of the 3% threshold in Germany.
The neo-Nazi NPD has launched a campaign in order to completely halt the entry of immigrants in Germany, while its flagship rests on catchy slogans like “money for grandma, instead of Sinti and Roma” and “the boat is full”. They do not hesitate to state in interviews that Europe is “a continent of white people”, proclaiming the Nazi ideology of “National Socialism”.
The far-right nationalist party of Hungary, namely Jobbik, has managed to attract 14.7% of voters thus electing three MEPs, just like in 2009. The overly anti-Semitic party had asked the Jewish residents of the country to sign a special register because “they pose a risk to the national security of Hungary”, according to the statement of the deputy parliamentary leader of the party, Márton Gyöngyösi.
Other Eurosceptic forces also received significant shares of the votes, in countries like Austria, Finland and the Netherlands, although a possible cooperation between them is not expected to be an easy one. In addition to the distancing of Marine Le Pen from the Golden Dawn, it seems that even more moderate far-right elected parties will not be able to reserve the necessary body of 25 MEPs from seven member-states, so as to establish their own political group. Nigel Farage of the UK Independence Party (UKIP) declared his unwillingness to cooperate with Marine Le Pen, whereas the Danish People’s Party also distanced itself from Ms. Le Pen and hinted its preference for an alliance with the European Conservative Reformists (ECR), who already have their own group in the European Parliament.