The new European Commission which will form after the 2019 European elections will most likely reflect a widespread conservative shift. But will it be in the direction that Eurosceptics want?
What is certain is that its formation will be the result of tough negotiations between the political leaders of the European Union member states. The talks will be difficult because some member states have or will have a strong far-right representation in their government.
This is why the role of the new European Parliament which will hold the hearings of the proposed Commissioners will be decisive – now more than ever.
The actual European government is formed by a coalition between the European People’s Party (EPP), the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats (S&D) and the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE).
UK Conservatives participate as an ‘outsider’ since UK is a member of the Union. But, today’s political map could be substantially changed in 2019.
Eighteen of the 27 governments will continue to be formed by EPP, SDs and ALDE. The remaining five governments have the same political forces – although they are in conflict with the main decisions of the EC. In Sweden and Denmark, for instance, the far-right parties are in ascendance and the coming elections in September and June 2019 respectively are worrying. Another serious problem may be posed by Italy, which has a far-right/populist government.
One problem that will certainly emerge in the formation of the new European Commission is that Italy and Austria will try to appoint far-right League and FPO politicians as Commissioners. If this is accepted by the rest of the EC members, a big question will be raised. A compromise must not be excluded and non-politically affiliated personalities will be accepted as Commissioners.
Visegrad countries, Italy, Austria and probably Slovenia, will attempt to take positions related to migration, neighbourhood and foreign policies.
The issues that will dominate the negotiations will be migration, the return of more powers to national governments – this means a deceleration of integration, and the withdrawal of the sanctions against Russia, as well as the post-Brexit situation.
In all this, the shadow of the emergence of the far-right in some of the EU member states will always be present.
However, despite the fact that the focus will be on migration policies, the main issue is that some of the governments are against the integration process. They are against a strong Europe. In many of them, European fundamental values are not respected and the interest for the EU funds prevails.
Nevertheless, the strong support of the pro-EU governments that represent the majority and the EU funds will ensure the new European Commission will continue in general terms the work of the Juncker Commission.
A strong pro-EU front
Despite the gloomy atmosphere that media, eurosceptics and the ‘fake news’ industry are creating, there will be still a strong pro-European front formed by 18 of the governments after the European elections of 2019. While the profiles of the Commissioners will change, they will continue to belong to EPP, SDs and ALDE.
In the coming period, the governments of Germany, France, Ireland, the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, Portugal, Cyprus, Malta, Bulgaria, Romania, Finland, Croatia and the Baltic states (Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania) will not present significant changes.
In Spain, snap elections are not excluded and although the People’s Party has a conservative turn in domestic politics the Spanish Commissioner will belong to a pro-European party.
In Greece, general elections will probably coincide with the European elections. According to the latest opinion polls, the New Democracy party (an EPP member) will win the next election in Greece. But ruling Syriza (a member of GUE) could manage to turn around the negative climate on the ground, since elections will be extremely polarised. It is considered a pro-EU party. In this case, a minor problem will emerge since Athens will press for a Commissioner coming from GUE.
Italy and Austria
Italy took a radical political turn that could have tragic consequences for both the EU and the country. For the first time after the World War II, a far-right party, the League, together with a populist movement, the M5S, are in government. Judging from its first actions in power, it’s the far-right side that makes all the decisions.
Giuseppe Conte’s government will be engaged in an open conflict with the EC over the acceptance of a far-right Commissioner. In this case, it cannot be excluded that a compromise will be reached and a technical personality will occupy the post of the Italian Commissioner.
Austria represents another problem. The conservative turn of the Austrian People’s Party (OVP) resulted in a coalition government with the far-right Freedom Party of Austria (FPO). The first signs show a radical change in foreign and domestic policies focused on a strong national state, anti-immigration policies and discrimination against Muslims and Turks.
But OVP is the leading partner in the government and probably will see one of its members become a Commissioner.
It must take in consideration that both the far-right parties in Italy and Austria have previous government experience and know the art of negotiation.
The two governments oppose EU sanctions against Russia.
The Visegrad four
The Visegrad countries, Hungary, Slovakia, Czech Republic and Poland are in a direct conflict with EC’s policies on migration and refugees, media and education freedoms, as well as judiciary reforms. It could be expected that Slovenia after the electoral victory of an anti-migration party may join their efforts.
But not all of them are in the same situation.
The government parties of Hungary, Czech Republic and Slovakia for instance belong, to EPP (Fidesz), to the Social democrats (SMER) and to the Liberals (ANO) respectively. All of them have an acute problem of corruption and some of their members are being investigated by the bloc’s anti-fraud office Olaf. They also face problems with media freedom and minority discrimination (of which the Roma situation is the most serious).
But they also have a deep interest in EU funding and a need to protect the corrupted elites.
It should be expected that the EU funds will prevail on the picturesque declarations of a crusade for a Christian Europe their leaders want to undertake. Nevertheless, they will continue to represent a strong anti-EU opposition after the 2019 elections.
All of the three have good relations with Russia.
Poland is another case in point. The Law and Justice (PiS) party does not belong to EPP, although it was invited years ago. It is a member of the European Conservatives and Reformists Group (ECR) and holds its co-presidency. The Polish government is under fire from EC especially for its judicial reform, which Brussels considers will lead to a direct control of the judiciary by the executive. Polish parliamentary elections must be held not later than November 2019. If so, even if PiS loses, they will probably have time to propose their own candidate for the EC.
Poland represents a strong economy compared with the other Visegrad members. Warsaw is a strong partner in matters of European defence and supports European sanctions against Russia.
According to rumours, PiS is having a serious discussion concerning its future in the European Parliament. This is because the withdraw of the UK Conservatives will make it difficult for the Polish party to lead the ECR group. It is said that there are thoughts of its alignment with EPP after 2019 European elections. EPP has similar anti-migration and illiberal politicians – in Hungary, Austria and Slovenia – and a PiS participation will not be in contrast with the conservative turn of the European party.
Slovenia is not a Visegrad member. However, Viktor Orban’s involvement in the latest June 2018 elections in favour of the anti-immigration Slovenian Democratic Party (a member of EPP) and its leader Janez Janša could make the country a strong ally of the anti-EU group of governments if he succeeds to form a government. Janša has not yet secured the necessary majority in the parliament. If negotiations fail, new elections will be held in the autumn. Even so, the actual Commissioner that belongs to ALDE will be probably replaced by one from EPP.
Two of the three Scandinavian EU countries, Sweden and Denmark, represent a particular interest.
In Sweden, the coalition government formed between the Social Democrats and the Greens could be changed after the general elections slated to be held on September 9. According to recent polls, the socialists still have a leading position but the far-right Swedish Democrats party reaches second place with 22.5% of voter preferences. The Sweden Democrats party is a strong, anti-migration party with neo-Nazi roots that found political refuge in the ECR Group. Until now, the other political parties in the Riksdag applied a ‘cordon sanitaire’ policy of refusing cooperation with them. The formation of a government if the polls are correct will be a difficult affair and a larger coalition government will be a solution.
In Denmark, the situation is more worrying since the far-right Danish People’s Party (DF) parliamentary support is accepted by the centre-right minority coalition government of Lars Løkke Rasmussen. Next elections are slated for next summer (June 2019). According to recent polls, the Social Democrats and the Liberals have a 26.6% and 19.5% of the vote respectively. However, the far-right party has 18.4%. If the democratic parties fail to form a coalition government, the DF could emerge as a coalition partner with major misfunctioning in Denmark’s foreign and domestic policy.