A leading member of French President Emmanuel Macron’s list of candidates in next month’s European Parliamentary elections has sparked an interesting debate.

“We’ll champion a coalition deal and clearly we’ll offer the European Greens the opportunity to join,” Pascal Canfin told France Inter radio on March 27. He ranks second on Macron’s list and, as such, his comment did not go unnoticed.

Even though such a perspective seems rather impossible (given the negative way the European Greens treat Macron’s initiatives), the fact that Macron has the intention to form a new parliamentary group in the European Parliament is very real.

The fundamental question, however, concerns the potential allies of Macron’s La Republique En Marche (La REM) party.

Reflecting on how and what this new group will be, one can assume that Macron would probably like to create a strong, respectable and influential group. Also, his group will be inspired (if not directly influenced) by the French party.

Also, the new parliamentary group’s ambition will not be limited to becoming the third or fourth largest party in the European Parliament, but to play the role Macron wants in France. This means the role of a European power that tries to have an equal influence inside the Union as Germany has.

If the above reflections are valid, La REM would need to attract political parties from more than seven EU member states. But if La REM wants to establish a powerful group then it needs many more parties from even more countries.

the new parliamentary group’s ambition will not be limited to becoming the third or fourth largest party in the European Parliament, but to play the role Macron wants in France. This means the role of a European power that tries to have an equal influence inside the Union as Germany has

La REM would also need to find allies among parties that have members who are serving as prime ministers and presidents. Without solid alliances with chiefs of states, La REM will not have the power to negotiate on equal level with the EPP and S&D Groups.

Is ALDE’s capitulation possible?

The ALDE Group is at the core of all speculation surrounding Macron’s group. It is a large political family even though its single members give everyone their own interpretation of liberalism.

According to recent polls, ALDE will emerge as the third largest party in the European Parliament with 22 national delegations and 72 MEPs.

If ALDE were to ally with Macron, it would count at least 20 French candidates – it is expected that La REM could elect up to 24, as well as another four or five MEPs from parties who will enter the European Parliament for the first time.

This will increase ALDE’s number to at least 95 MEPs – a number that will give it more power for negotiations and political lobbying.

It is estimated that the EPP Group will have 188 MEPs and the Social Democrat Group 142.

But ALDE is quite different from the other groups in the European parliament. It is a kind of ‘big tent’ group where tolerance in member’s specificities plays a key role.

Its membership includes classical liberals, neo-liberals, left liberals, populists and democratic nationalists.

Some ALDE members do not fit with the “dream” Macron has for Europe.

The Czech ANOs, for instance, belong to the liberal family and are widely contested even inside ALDE. In addition, Czech leader and prime minister, Andrej Babiš, is accused of EU funds fraud and is under investigation by the European Anti-Fraud Office (Olaf).

Meanwhile, the German Free Democratic Party (FDP) moved swiftly towards neo-liberal positions, abandoning its older social liberalism. Also, the FDP’s position on immigration is difficult to distinguish from those expressed by the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD).

if Macron’s intentions are correctly understood, he considers La REM’s leadership in the new group is instrumental

ALDE’s leader Guy Verhofstadt is a Belgian politician, not German or French. The personality of Verhofstadt succeeded in uniting ALDE’s mosaic of views held by the group’s members.

But is Macron envisaging this the kind of group? Does this loose federation of parties fulfil his ambitions?

Is he ready to share leadership, guidance and power in equal way with other members? If yes, he does not need to form a new group. He can simply push La REM to joint ALDE.

However, if Macron’s intentions are correctly understood, he considers La REM’s leadership in the new group is instrumental. This is why any alliance with the ALDE seems rather difficult.

Because this should lead to ALDE’s capitulation in order to pursue Macron’s ambitions.

Macron’s first friends

The French president has already made some true friends. Until now, the potential candidates for his parliamentary group have been Spain’s Citizens party (Ciudadanos), Save Romania Union (USR) and Progressive Slovakia (PS).

Spain’s Citizens were among the first political forces in EU to express admiration for what Macron represents. The tough way the party faced the Catalan attempt for independence and its total alignment with Popular Party’s intransigent policy brought considerable political gains. Now, while the PP risks an electoral fall, the party of Albert Rivera is fighting for the position of the third largest party in the Spanish parliament against Podemos.

The liberal Progressive Slovakia has made the fight against corruption a pillar of its policy. On Saturday 30 March, its candidate Zuzana Čaputová won the presidential election. She is Slovakia’s first female head of state.

Established in 2017 by the entrepreneur Ivan Štefunko, a supporter of the People Against Racism NGO, the party is openly pro-European and sensitive to topics concerning social and racial discrimination. According to recent polls, the party will elect one MEP. But after Čaputová win in the presidential elections, PS’s influence is expected to rise.

USR is already the third party in the Romanian parliament. The party of Dan Barna forms an Alliance with PLUS (Freedom, Unity and Solidarity Party) founded in 2018 by the former prime minister of Romania, Dacian Cioloș.

Since the fight against corruption has been put high on the agenda of both these parties, they and their alliance (2020 USR-PLUS Alliance) are under constant administrative attacks by the Romanian government.

Latvia’s Development/For! (AP) party emerged last year as an alliance of the country’s three parties. It has enjoyed a successful score in the parliamentary elections. It has two co-chairmen, Daniels Pavļuts, former economics minister, and Juris Pūce. It is a partner in the coalition government. As a pro-EU party, it is against all forms of social and ethnic exclusion. It is expected to win one seat in the European Parliament.

However, in addition to the self-declared pro-Macron parties, there are other parties that will enter the European parliament for the first time. Their similarities with the French president’s policies contribute to speculation about a future cooperation in the European parliament.

On 3 June 2018, Slovenia experienced a controversial electoral campaign that was marked by the direct involvement of the Hungarian prime minister, Viktor Orban. In fact, the Slovenian Democratic Party (SDS) adopted hate speech and anti-immigration rhetoric of the Hungarian Fidesz. As a result, a large coalition of democratic parties supported a coalition government under Marjan Šarec, whose List of Marjan Šarec (LMS) emerged as the second largest party in the elections.

Now LMS is expected to double its previous electoral standing and send up to three MEPs to Brussels. Despite the fact that LMS is affiliated with ALDE, the party could become a perfect target for Macron’s projects.

we should expect extensive negotiations in the coming weeks. The fact is that there are many parties, maybe too many, that could positively consider an alliance with France

There is also The Bridge of Independent Lists (Most) in Croatia which combines liberalism with conservatism and is expected to elect one MEP. The party was founded in 2012 and led by Božo Petrov, a former Deputy Prime Minister and former Speaker of the Croatian parliament.

A potential ally could be also Yes! Bulgaria, a liberal party founded by the former justice minister,  Hristo Ivanov. The party focuses on the fight against corruption and encourages civic engagement. Yes! Bulgaria is fighting to grow its influence since recent polls give it a mere 4% which is not enough to enter the European Parliament.

Defections

If ALDE avoids capitulation to Macron’s plans, then the French president could seek allies everywhere and encourage defections.

The Netherlands could become a precious ally. Although Prime Minister Mark Rutte, the leader of the liberal People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (Vvd), suffered losses in the last regional elections, he remains a first-order politician on European soil. According to recent polls, Vvd will become the country’s first party in the coming European elections.

Another option could be Denmark’s Prime Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen whose liberal Venstre party is also a member of ALDE. Rasmussen’s cabinet is a single-party minority government and it is supported by the far-right Danish People’s Party, the Liberal Alliance and the Conservative People’s Party. However, Denmark will hold parliamentary elections in the coming months and Rasmussen’s future as a prime minister should not be taken for granted.

The two cases mentioned above, if realised, could be cases of defection since both parties are ALDE members.

Are similar defections in other groups possible?

ALDE members Neos in Austria, the Reform Party in Estonia, the Union of Greens and Farmers in Latvia or the Liberal Movement in Lithuania, the EPP member Moderates in Sweden, the centre-right Lithuanian Farmers and Greens Union a members of the Greens or the Moderns in Poland could be the kind of target La REM is seeking.

Taking in consideration the above reflections, we should expect extensive negotiations in the coming weeks. The fact is that there are many parties, maybe too many, that could positively consider an alliance with France.

Such a perspective should also mark the end of ALDE Group. But this doesn’t represent a concern in Macron’s camp.