Theodoros Benakis

Newcomers enter race for next European Parliament

Flickr/Marco Verch/CC BY 2.0

The May 2019 European Parliament elections will likely see several political parties sending delegates to Brussels for the first time ever.

The most important of these parties is La Republique En Marche (REM), which was created by French President Emmanuel Macron. Having announced his ambitious plans for the European Union just a few weeks ago, the role of Macron’s party will no doubt be important.

It is a matter of great interest which political family REM will join. Will it be the existing ALDE Group or perhaps a new one?

And while this may disappoint many, opinion polls suggest that REM could capture 20-30% of the vote to secure 20-22 seats in the European Parliament.

While Macron launched REM as an ambitious project of both national and European dimensions, the problems he faced at home reduced his expectations.

At the moment, he has a faithful ally in Spain, the Ciudadanos party, and a couple of new parties in Romania and Slovakia.

The champion among the countries with new parties in the next European Parliament will be Slovakia with four. Romania and Latvia follow with three each, the Czech Republic, Poland and Croatia with two each and Estonia, Spain, Italy, Cyprus, Belgium and Slovenia each have one.

In the case of Slovakia, there’s also another record being broken. Three of its four new parties belong to the far-right.

This means the new parties could send to the new Parliament at least 71 deputies.

Seven of them belong to the liberal family, including Macron’s REN (from France, Romania, Slovakia, Croatia and Latvia will elect between 29 and 33 MEPs), four belong to the Left (Czech Republic, Belgium, Poland and Slovenia: 10 MEPs) and two are Conservative (Romania and Denmark: five MEPs).

Far-right and anti-immigration parties will elect 17 MEPs from six parties (Czech Republic, Slovakia, Italy, Estonia and Spain) and the allies of the Five Star Movement will elect seven MEPs (Poland, Croatia, Latvia).

There’s more to the story. Neo-Nazis from Slovakia and Cyprus will elect three MEPs.

The liberal camp

The French president has found an ally in Romania. Dan Barna, president of the Save Romania Union (USR), said in an interview to the European Interest: “We have always affirmed that Save Romania Union and La Republique En Marche share a similar DNA, stand for the same values and protect the same objectives for the citizens. From this point of view, both USR and En Marche represent the alternative for Romania and France, an alternative that promotes and defends democracy and the European way in our countries.”

His party forms an Alliance with PLUS (Freedom, Unity and Solidarity Party) founded in 2018 by the  former prime minister of Romania, Dacian Cioloș. In January, MEP Cristian Preda joined PLUS.

USR is the third party in Romania with 27 MPs and 13 senators and according to recent polls will elect up to four MEPs. PLUS is expected to obtain two seats.

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

Progressive Slovakia (PS) represents the first attempt of a viable liberal party in the country. 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. PS, which is also compared with Macron’s REM, became a member of ALDE in 2018. On March 17, the candidate of the party Zuzana Čaputová won the first round against Commissioner Maroš Šefčovič for the presidential elections. According to recent polls, the party will elect one MEP.

The Bridge of Independent Lists (Most) in Croatia 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.

This party supports a strict monetary policy aiming for the reduction of public debt. It proposes reforms in the public sector. It currently has 10 seats in the Sabor (parliament).

Another party that sails between conservatism and liberalism is the New Conservative Party (JKP) in Latvia. Founded in 2014, it’s a pro-European party focussed on anti-corruption. Its leader is Jānis Bordāns, former justice minister (2012-2014) and since January 2019 a member of the centre-right coalition cabinet of Arturs Krišjānis Kariņš. In the 2018 parliamentary elections, the party secured 10 seats in the 100-seat Saeima (parliament). It is expected to elect one MEP.

Development/For! (AP) emerged as an Alliance of three parties in 2018 and has a successful score in the parliamentary elections, sending 13 MPs to the Saeima. 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.

Greens, progressive and Leftists

The Green-aligned Czech Pirate Party represents a real explosion in Czech politics. Its politicians keep alive the cases of EU-funds fraud related to Prime Minister Andrej Babiš. Making the fight against corruption and transparency in politics the core of its daily political fights, the party enjoys the support of a large part of the Czech society.

In the parliamentary elections, Pirates elected 22 MPs in the 200-member Chamber of Deputies. And after the 2018 Prague municipal election, their leading member Zdeněk Hřib became Mayor of Prague. Now, according to the polls they could win four or five seats in the European Parliament.

A new player is emerging in Poland as well. Wiosna is the leftist party of the successful former Mayor Robert Biedroń. It is a viable electoral alternative in a deeply divided political environment. The party, founded in February 2019, backs gender rights, green politics, rights of the disabled, as well as animal rights. It is openly pro-EU and is expected to win up to six seats in the next EU parliament.

An ally of GUE/NGL in Slovenia is likely to win one seat. In fact The Left (Levica in Slovenian) combines leftist ideas with greens politics. It was established in 2017 after a Green and a Leftist party merged. In the general elections of June 2018, the party obtained nine seats in the 90- member National Assembly. It is expected to win one seat.

Belgium, it appears, will send to the European Parliament one of the few parties in Europe that are still faithful to Marxism-Leninism. The Workers’ Party of Belgium (PTB) is a communist party and has two MPs in the 150-member Chamber of Representatives. According to the polls, PTB will win one seat.

New Conservative parties

Technically, the Pro Romania party is not new in the parliament since it already has two MEPs (one member of the ECR Group and the other in the S&Ds). But both were not elected on the tickets of the party in 2014 since Pro Romania was founded in 2018 by the former Prime Minister Victor Ponta.

Corina Crețu, European Commissioner for Regional Policy, announced on January 17 that she will run on behalf of the party in second position in the list, after Ponta.

It is interesting to note that MEP Laurențiu Rebega (ECR) is vice-president of the party and MEP Daciana Sârbu (S&Ds) is Ponta’s wife.

PRO Romania currently has 20 members in the Chamber of Deputies and one senator. According to recent polls, the party will win 4 seats.

Denmark’s Liberal Alliance is a conservative-libertarian party and a partner in the coalition government since 2016. Its leader Anders Samuelsen holds the positions of foreign affairs minister. The party has 13 seats in the 179 seat Folketing (parliament). It is expected to win one seat.

A Di Maio-style populism?

In early January, Italy’s Deputy Prime Minister Luigi Di Maio held a meeting in Brussels with other like-minded populist parties in order to review the real political affinity and possibility prepare a European Manifesto. The Polish Kukiz’15 was among them.

The far-right Kukiz’15 party is probably the most important potential ally of the Five Stars Movement. The party, led by the former punk rocker Paweł Kukiz, emerged as a comet in 2015 and won 42 seats in the Sejm (the Polish parliament) in that year’s elections. Presented as anti-establishment party, it cooperated with the extremist National Movement (RN). It is expected to win up to 4 seats.

In January’s meeting also present was Ivan Vilibor Sinčić, the 28-year old leader of the Croatian Human Shield (Živi zid) party. The party opposes the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, it calls for a total ban of GMO products and for the full legalisation of marijuana and supports full secularisation of the state. Also an anti-Nato campaigner, the party it is openly pro-Russian. According to recent polls, it could elect up to two MEPs.

Who owns the state? (KPV) in Latvia it is another one of Di Maio’s potential allies. It is proposed as an anti-establishment party in Latvia, but it is hardly Eurosceptic and national-populist. Founded in 2016, it was successful in last years’ elections winning 16 seats with 14.25% of the votes and becoming the second largest party in Saeima. The party joined the coalition government in January with three ministers. According to recent polls, the party’s public support is diminishing and it is expected to win one seat in the next EP.

The old and tough far-right

Parties whose rhetoric is marked by anti-immigration policies, hate and racist speech and position favourable to discrimination of social, ethnic, linguistic, religious and other minorities belong in the far-right spectrum. But since the term is toxic, many among them avoid “dangerous” friendships.

As a result, only few of the far-right parties in the European Parliament are members of the Europe of Nations and Freedom (ENF). Many prefer to hide in the safe environment of the ECR.

The Czech SPD (Freedom and Direct Democracy) of Tomio Okamura, a businessman of Czech-Japanese origin, has enjoyed close relationships with the parties of Marine Le Pen and Matteo Salvini since its founding in 2012.

In the legislative elections of October 2017, it obtained a 10.6% of the vote, elected 22 MPs and became the fourth stronger party in the parliament speculating on the dangers immigration represents and spreading hate speech against Muslims. According to the recent polls, SPD is expected to win one seat in the next European Parliament.

The We Are Family (Sme Rodina) in neighbouring Slovakia combines anti-immigration with anti-corruption fight and verbal attacks against the oligarchs. Its leader, Boris Kollár, however, is also a businessman. The party, founded only in 2015, won 11 seats (6.6%) to the National Council (parliament) during the Slovak parliamentary election of 2016. Now it is expected to win two seats  in the European Parliament and join ENF.

No doubt the Slovak National Party (SNS) is an old player in far-right political game. Founded in 1989, the party has had seats in every Slovak parliament since then and has been partner in coalition governments twice. A coalition with Robert Fico‘s Smer-SD resulted in a disaster for the latter since the Party of European Socialists (PES) considered SNS a party “inciting racial or ethnic prejudices and racial hatred” and suspended Smer’s membership. Following an electoral defeat, the party returned to the National Council in 2016 obtaining 8.6% and 15 seats and his leader. Lawyer Andrej Danko became the Speaker of the National Council of the Slovak Republic. SNS can expect to elect one seat  in the next European Parliament.

The rise of the Spanish far-right party Vox has come as a surprise. In December 2018, it won 12 seats (out of 109) in the regional elections in Andalusia and became coalition partner of the People’s Party in the regional government. Vox is opposed to the country’s highly decentralised system granting devolved powers to the regions and calls for an “insurmountable” wall along the borders of the Spanish exclave cities of Ceuta and Melilla. A part of the harsh anti-immigration rhetoric, the party is also against feminist groups and gender rights. Since its electoral success, it has been flirting with the Polish Law and Order (PiS) and the ECR Group. It is expected to obtain up to 12% of the votes and elect at least eight MEPs.

Another ECR favourite is the far-right Conservative People’s Party of Estonia (EKRE) which had also a spectacular rise in the last national elections on March 3. In fact, it finished third with 17.8% support that gave 12 seats in the 101-seats Riigikogu (parliament). The party’s success is partly due to an artificially created atmosphere of fears related to refugees in a country that has very few, if any, refugees. The latest corruption scandals related to the Danske Bank also helped the party’s electoral campaign. EKRE is calling for Estonia’s withdrawal from EU, it is homophobic and against the teaching of Russian in the special minority schools in Estonia. It is expected to elect one seat in the next European Parliament.

But ECR’s friendship attempts doesn’t finish here. The Conservative Group, now led by the Polish PiS, welcomed in December two new members: MEPs Stefano Maullu and Innocenzo Leontini. Both were elected with Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia and they were members of the EPP Group until December 2018. Then they joint the Italian far-right Brothers of Italy. The party is the main heir of the Italian neo-fascism, the Italian Social Movement (1946-1995) and the National Alliance (1995-2009). According to recent polls, Brothers of Italy could elect four seats.

The neo-Nazis

According to the polls, two of the three neo-Nazi parties present in the current European Parliament will make it again. One is Greece’s Golden Dawn, which according to the recent polls may be left with one seat less (from three to two). The other is Hungary’s Jobbik, which is trying to distance itself from its extremist past (will likely maintain its three seats).

But this time, the ‘group’ will be joined by another two parties, both newcomers to Brussels.

The first is the sister party of the Golden Dawn, the Cypriot ELAM (National People’s Front) which was founded in 2008 and funded by the Greek party. ELAM already has two MPs in the House of Representatives and it is expected to elect one of six Cypriot MEPs.

The second is the Kotleba – People’s Party Our Slovakia. Marian Kotleba, a former local governor is reclaiming the legacy of the Jozef Tiso and the First Slovak Republic, the client Nazi state during World War II. The party is known for its anti-Roma rhetoric and anti-immigration agenda, while its youth are reportedly involved in racist acts of violence. It has 14 MPs in the National Council (parliament). According to the polls, Kotleba will elect two MEPs.

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