The next move for the EU
29 May 2014
The votes in the European election have been counted and the post mortem on the results continues in the press, but what will these really mean once the dust settles down?
Without a doubt the rise of the eurosceptic parties in the UK and France will influence the agenda as far as those Member States are concerned. It is likely that both Francois Hollande and David Cameron will be looking for signs of significant EU reforms that they can take to their electorates. In the UK this may be at a referendum (dependent on the general election results in 2015) and in France at the French Presidential election both in 2017.
While the average voter turnout in this latest Europe wide poll was above that for the 2009 election (and actually reversed the downward trend present since the 1979 elections) there were some noticeable exceptions.
Only 13% of Slovakians turned out to vote and only one in five voted in the Czech Republic. This compares with 90% voter turn out in Belgium and Luxembourg. Of the major Member States, Germany had a healthy 47% voter turnout with six out of ten Italians also voting.
While a lot has been made in the press of the increased number of UKIP MEPs, the number of UK voters (34%) was actually down from the 2009 elections and seems to indicate that a significant element of voter apathy was present.
So what does this all mean for how the European Parliament will operate over the next five years? No one political group has a majority of MEPs, the result of which is that the two largest groups - the centre right European People's Party (EPP) and the centre-left Socialist and Democratic Group (S&D) - will have to find a way to work together.
One of the first opportunities to see how well this will work will be the appointment of the President of the European Commission with the two main Parliamentary candidates - Jean Claude Juncker and Martin Schulz - coming from those political groups.
Neither Juncker nor Schulz appears to have unanimous support from Member State leaders - even from those in the same political group. While Member States have a very big say on the successor to Jose Manuel Barroso as the next President, a failure of the EPP and S&D groups to find a compromise candidate will most probably lead to an extended period of friction between political groups in the European Parliament as well as with Member States.
The decision on the next President of the European Commission is also likely to affect the timing and allocation of other key roles, such as the appointment of European Commissioners.
In addition, it is unclear if the two largest Eurosceptic parties will want to work together with Nigel Farage indicating unwillingness to work with France's Marine Le Pen's Front National party. As political groups require MEPs from at least eight different Member States both Farage and Le Pen may struggle to form political groups that will in turn weaken their ability to influence the debate in the European Parliament.
A bigger unknown, however, is whether the main political groups in the European Parliament will be willing to consider the desire of some Member States to push EU reform. With both France and the UK taking stock of the Eurosceptic advances, the view of Germany will be critical in this debate. With the largest block of MEPs in both the EPP and S&D parties, as well as the only major European leader from an EPP political party (the largest group in the European Parliament) it would appear that this EU election has further strengthened Angela Merkel's hand in the formation of EU policy.
Taking these factors into account, it is looking increasingly likely that we are entering an extended period of uncertainty which will not be good for decision making in either the EU or for the business community.
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