In spring 2019, polls on the renewal of the European Parliament predicted that we would have the “least European vote ever”, that a “large group of nationalist and Eurosceptic parties” would come out of the ballot box and that “the most fragmented European Parliament ever” would emerge with “elections with little participation” (from the ISPI newsletter: www.ispionline.it “European elections 2019: how the Parliament changes”).
So it was not, confirming the old saying that “the most difficult thing is to make predictions concerning the future” because there was a significant increase of voters from 43% in 2014 to over 50% in 2019, the two Eurosceptic groups ECR (with the Polish PiS, FdI and, again in 2019 before Brexit, the British Conservatives) and ID (with Le Pen, Salvini and the AFD) even fell from 24 to 18% due to the rise of the Left and the Greens, and the new legislature was born under the banner of the renewal of the ‘grand coalition’ better known as the ‘Ursula majority’ with Populars, Socialists and Liberals who maintained and indeed increased their weight in the assembly reaching 60% although far from the 78% of 2004.
The legislature was born under apparently better auspices with the promise of a European Green Deal, the digital transition and the commitment of Ursula von der Leyen – chosen by the governments in spite of the European Parliament’s preferred method of top candidates – to give the European Union a ‘geopolitical dimension’.
The best wishes have certainly quickly evaporated under the blows of the pandemic, the increase in migratory flows, the effects of the climate crisis, the explosion of the infosphere and finally the ‘third world war in fragments’, if we want to use Pope Francis’ expression.
But, despite the crises – such as to defy Jean Monnet’s predictions that European integration progresses through crises – in the European Parliament the Ursula majority worked for a good half of the legislature, belying the hope or illusion of the anti-European oppositions who were betting on the stalemate in the European Parliament to show how the ‘Europe of bureaucrats’ was increasingly incapable of acting for the good of its citizens.
In a little more than one hundred and thirty days, the European Parliament will be voted on for the tenth time, with the responses that the European Union has been able to give to emergencies behind it, but with the weight of what has not been achieved on its shoulders, the U-turns of the EPP or one of its majorities in environmental and institutional matters to try to reach an agreement with the anti-European oppositions, and the bleak international horizon from Ukraine to the Middle East, not forgetting the wait for who will enter the White House on 20 January 2025.
As in 2019, the exercise of the polls has resumed, which goes hand in hand with manoeuvres in the centre and on the right to get their hands on seats of power in European institutions regardless of the choices of the policies to be made and with a keen eye on national balances.
Part of these manoeuvres are Giorgia Meloni’s clumsy attempts to bring Marine Le Pen and Viktor Orban as well as Wilders’ PVV into her European party at the same time in order to avoid the shame of being outclassed by the ID group in the next European Parliament and ending up in fifth position after the EPP, S&D, ID and Liberals as well as Ursula von der Leyen’s manoeuvres to enlarge her 2019 Ursula majority to Giorgia Meloni avoiding the risk of being impaled on 17 July in the new European Parliament – if she is chosen by the European Council at the end of June to succeed herself.
Part of these manoeuvres are the declarations of many right-wingers, especially in Italy, according to which, after the European elections, an alliance similar to the one that governs in Italy, Sweden, the Czech Republic and Finland can be formed in Europe after losing the faithful Polish ally PiS, rejecting in opposition “the lefts”, namely S&D, and trying to embark the liberals or at least their most conservative part.
Let us try to bring some clarity into the preternatural fog that is emerging in the press and in some research centres under the slogan of the European Council of Foreign Relations (www.ecfr.eu ), in the pseudo-polling company Europe elects (www.europeelects.eu), in Euractiv (www.euractiv.it ) but also in the editorial staff of ANSA (www.ansa.it ) and in Formiche (www.formiche.net) :
“A sharp right turn”
Firstly, the monthly polls are the sum of the polls in national elections that are conducted under different laws from those governing European elections, knowing that the electorate is fickle and votes differently in local, regional, national and European elections.
Secondly, the President of the Commission is the result of a qualified majority decision in the European Council of heads of state and government in a political place where it is difficult if not impossible to imagine that sovereignist heads of government could impose a right-of-centre alliance such as the one that has formed in Italy around Giorgia Meloni, relegating to opposition the governments headed by socialists but also those headed by liberals, not forgetting the newly elected Polish Tusk.
Thirdly, the President of the Commission must obtain the investiture of an absolute majority of MEPs (361 out of 720) by secret ballot, and even the most comfortable polls for what we could call a ‘Meloni coalition’ mathematically rule out that the EPP-ECR and ID can overcome the 361 votes alone, and politically rule out that a substantial part of the EPP can enter into a coalition with AFD MPs, the Rassemblement National, the PVV, the Hungarian Fidesz or the Flemish Vlaams Belang.
Fourthly, the European Commission is an embryonic European government whose commissioners are, admittedly, chosen in agreement with the President of the Commission, but they are each nominated by the government of their own country and are appointed collectively by the Council by qualified majority, since it is clear that the President of the Commission cannot impose on the Council a composition of the ‘college’ that does not take into account all the political sensitivities present in the Council.
Fifthly, the entire Commission, including the President (or the President) and the High Representative for Foreign Affairs, is subject to a vote of approval (or, if you like, a vote of confidence) by the majority of the Members of the European Parliament, in the knowledge that the Assembly has given itself the power to examine the individual candidacies of the Commissioners and to reject them if their profile does not correspond to the criteria of competence, European commitment and independence, as was the case with the candidacy of Rocco Buttiglione.
Sixthly and finally, the European Council has the last word because it appoints the Commission once again by qualified majority.
The whole procedure makes very complicated the idea circulating in the ruling majority in Italy that the table in Europe can be ‘turned over’ by turning the future ‘European government’ to the right and relegating to the opposition, as Antonio Tajani put it, ‘the European left’, namely the S&D group.
So far, this is the process that will lead to the nomination of the President (or the) President of the European Commission, which must take place at the end of June at the same time as the election of the President of the European Council in order to prevent Viktor Orban – in his capacity as six-monthly rotating President of the Council – from also assuming the leadership of the European Council for a few months.
This double and simultaneous appointment could pave the way for a personal union between the two presidents on which Emmanuel Macron seems to be pondering in order to give greater stability to the European Union and avoid the grotesque situation of the diarchy between Charles Michel and Ursula von der Leyen that has poisoned inter-institutional relations in this legislature.
With the effective start of the legislature, the European Parliament’s action will be entrusted to variable-geometry majorities because the vast majority of decisions can be taken by a simple majority of the votes cast, and the ability of innovators to create pro-European alliances that counter the agreements between the EPP and the anti-European groups will count.
In a legislature that will inevitably be constituent in order to reopen the construction site of a democratic and united Europe in view of its enlargement, the determination of innovators will be politically essential to avoid the stalemate of the European Union and to continue on the path of reform.
Pier Virgilio Dastoli
24 January 2024