A new European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR) report entitled ‘The 2019 European Election: How Anti-Europeans Plan to Wreck Europe and What Can Be Done to Stop It’ is clearly written in the belief that projected gains of Eurosceptic political parties in the European Parliament elections this coming May are credible. The report claims Eurosceptic parties could paralyse Brussels’ agenda when they win a third of seats in the European Parliament elections, at 33 percent of the 751 seats, and could form alliances to destroy the political and economic union from within. The report said long-term influence of such paralysis “would defuse pro-Europeans’ argument that the project is imperfect but capable of reform. At this point, the EU would be living on borrowed time.”
The European Council, which decides the policies and direction of the European Union and is invested in a globalized political agenda, instills fear by positing that anti-EU, or pro-nationalist, political parties might abolish sanctions on Russia to blocking the EU’s foreign trade agenda and prevent further migration. The report’s authors claim “this would put at risk Europe’s capacity to defend its citizens from external threats at exactly the time when, given global turmoil, it needs to show more resolve, cooperation, and global leadership” which is ironic considering the wave of illegal migration has resulted in increased crime and security threats across the continent.
The report marks the start of ECFR’s campaign to strengthen the EU and offers a strategy to prevent the advance of the Eurosceptics by driving a wedge between anti-European parties, “exposing the real-world costs of their key policy ideas, and identifying new issues that could inspire voters: from the rule of law and the environment to prosperity and Europe’s foreign policy goals.” The ECFR also fears the parties could prevent the appointment of the new European Commission president after Jean-Claude Juncker steps down after the elections or stop the EU Budget being approved.
The European Parliament has accrued increasing influence over EU law over the past decades. Most EU law now requires the assent of MEPs to pass and the parliament has, for example, an effective veto on all free trade agreements. MEPs organise themselves into pan-EU groups of similar political leaning to qualify for EU funding and speaking time. The two largest groups, the European People’s Party and the Socialists and Democrats are both resolutely pro-EU, which means that most Brussels legislation is passed.
However, if the Eurosceptic surge materialises and parties organise they could, for example, veto free trade deals, including a future post Brexit agreement with Britain, or call for the end of sanctions against Russia. Parties on the far left and right could also align themselves tactically to foment divisions in the bloc. A recent attempt by pro-EU MEPs to ensure that pan-EU groups had “political affinity” was defeated but the bid to prevent Eurosceptic alliances across right and left showed the Brussels establishment’s anxiety about the elections.
The report predicts conservative nationalist parties will earn 132 seats in total (19 percent), traditional "conservative eurosceptics" 65 seats (9 percent) and other anti-establishment parties, including the hard left 53 seats (8 percent). Italy's coalition government are expected to see The League with 29 MEPs elected, 23 more than in the 2014 elections, while Five Star are predicted to get 24 seats, 10 more than in 2014. France’s National Rally (formerly the National Front) and Germany’s Alternative for Germany are also expected to gain in the vote, which has been characterised by the likes of Hungary’s Viktor Orban and France’s Emmanuel Macron as a battle for the EU’s soul. On the Left, Spain’s Podemos, Greece’s Syriza and France Insoumise will also win more seats, with possible ramifications for the bloc’s free trade agreements, the report said.
A huge success in the European Parliament elections could be used as a springboard for nationalist parties to success in 2019 national elections in Denmark, Estonia and Slovakia, which the report treats as a warning. "This shows that the EU needs to wake up and realise that more Europe is not the answer," said Daniel Dalton, a Conservative MEP from Britain.
Playing the Long Game
Eurosceptic nationalist parties across Europe are targeting May’s European Parliament election as their chance to wrest control of the EU away from the unelected bureaucrats in Brussels. Many have postponed plans to hold their own Brexit-style referendums in favour of reforming or dismantling the EU from within.
This week, the Sweden Democrats abandoned their pledge to renegotiate Sweden's place in the EU and hold a 'Swexit' referendum, saying they will now instead “watch and wait” for the impact of Brexit. “To fight against the supranationality of today one needs to be pragmatic,” wrote party leader Jimmie Åkesson in a newspaper article. “While we watch and wait for the outcome of Brexit, the first step [to bring power back to Sweden] is to operate from inside the EU’s high citadel in Brussels.” Sweden Democrat MEP Peter Lundgren attempted to sell the u-turn as the result of propitious circumstances in Brussels. "For the first time, there's a real possibility of reforming the EU from the inside,” he said. "That is what we are going to work for over the coming mandate period and also campaign on in the next election."
Earlier this month, the Alternative for Germany party (AfD) backed away from plans to put a call for German 'Dexit' withdrawal at the centre of its manifesto for this May’s European Elections. “We don’t need to abolish the EU, but to bring it back to its sensible core,” the party’s leader, Alexander Gauland, said.
Sampo Terho, co-founder of Finland’s Blue Reform party called for a ‘Fixit’ referendum in 2017, when he was a member of The Finns. Now Minister of European Affairs, he argues that Finland should instead “fight for a better EU, not to get out of the EU.”
This week, efforts by pro-EU parties failed in their attempt to get the power to dissolve pan-EU political alliances, which bring cash and speaking time. The pro-EU parties wanted to stop groups without “political affinity”, such as Ukip and Italy’s left wing Five Star Alliance from joining forces which would secure them EU money after this year’s election. The Five Star Alliance had vowed to call a referendum on Italy’s membership of the euro, but stepped back from that when entering into coalition with Mr. Salvini’s La Lega. Mr. Salvini has regularly attacked the EU for its migration policy, while Five Star rails against its strict fiscal rules. Both parties hope to be successful in the European elections to hand Rome leverage in its battles with Brussels.
Marine Le Pen, the leader of France’s National Rally, ruled out plans for a ‘Frexit’ referendum in 2017 after losing in the second round of the presidential election and wants to radically reform the EU from within.