The European Parliament: the Parties

Fig. 1 The distribution of seats in the European Parliament

This is the second of a series of posts on the European Parliament. The first discussed the two Proportional Representation methods used in the UK.

Fig. 1 shows the groupings with in the European Parliament (EP) in October 2018. The historical composition of the EP can be examined by using this tool. The EP was Left Wing dominated in the 1990s but has gradually drifted to the right over the past twenty years, most disturbingly with the emergence and growth of populist, nationalist and far-right parties.

In the context of European Politics, there is a very strong argument that you should vote as European Citizen, and have first and foremost on your mind, how the UK party of your choice fits into the larger scheme of things. This is forcefully argued by Chris Kendall of the Cakewatch Podcast.

There are currently 73 UK MEPs in the European Parliament. Seat allocation favours smaller countries with 6 being the minimum number of seats and 96 the greatest number.

This article explains the various groupings in the EP and how the UK parties fit into them.

One very important extra issue is that it is the EP, through the  Spitzenkandidaten process, chooses the president of  the European Commission (currently Jean Claude Juncker of the European Peoples Party). Each party  can nominate a lead candidate and the candidate  supported by the EP becomes president. The actual mechanism is complex – and indeed not guaranteed, but the two most likely candidates are Manfred Weber of the European Peoples Party (centre right) and Frans Timmermans of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats.

The Parties

The EP parties can be difficult to keep track of because the groupings and names tend to be  more fluid than in national parliaments. Some of the grouping such as the European Peoples Party have been around in some form since June 1953, from Common Assembly of the European Coal and Steel Community. Others such as the European Conservatives and Reformists have only been around since 2009.

The numbers in each party are fairly fluid with national parties choosing to join other groupings, or in rare cases being (voluntarily) suspended such as Hungary’s Fidesz party – the party of Viktor Orban.

The parties are now discussed in order of their size as of October 2018. Clicking on the logos will take you to the home page of the party and information such as manifestos etc.

The European Peoples Party – EPP (219)

This has been a major force in the EU from the outset and it is a centre right, Christian Democrat style party. It used to be the home of the Tory party until they left in 2009 under Cameron to join the new Eurosceptic European Conservatives and Reformists group. The CDU, Angela Merkel’s party is a leading body within the group: she never forgave Cameron for leaving. Two former Tory MEPs, Julie Girling and Richard Ashworth, have however rejoined the EPP and are now members of The Independent Group (TIG).

Many of the major Brexit players are members of the EPP, including Jean Claude Juncker, Michael Barnier, Donald Tusk, Sabine Weyand and of course Angela Merkel. The EPP is also the party of Fine Gael (FG), the Irish governing party and Simon Coveney Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade is a former EPP MEP.

Maired McGuinness of FG is vice-president of the European Parliament and is tipped for even higher office. She is a regular on Question Time despite the bizarre fact no pro-EU UK MEPs are ever invited on.

It is unclear at this time whether TIG is going to align with the EPP. It seems unlikely as the bulk of TIG is at present made up of former Labour Members. Julie Girling has decided not to re-stand as an MEP muddying the waters even further.

The EPP Spitzenkandidat and leader of the EPP group is Manfred Weber who is known for his fairly right-wing neoliberal views and his hardline attitude towards the Greek debt crisis.

Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats – S&D (188)

Until the 1999 European Parliament elections, the S&D group was the largest group in the EP, since then it has constantly been the second-largest group. During the Current EU Parliament Assembly, the S&D was the only Parliament group with representation from all 28 member countries until two former Tory MEPs rejoined the EPP.

The S&D group is the natural home for Britain’s Labour party (and the Irish Labour Party). Seb Dance, Jude Kirton-Darling and Richard Corbett  are three MEPs whom have made a particular impact over the last session.

Malta, Portugal, Slovakia, Portugal, Spain and Sweden are governed by parties who are members of the S&D group.

The Spitzenkandidat and leader of the S&D group is Frans Timmermans from the Netherlands. A shout out to Geoff – a frequent contributor to Progressive pulse for pointing to this clip of Timmermanns. He is impressive.

European Conservatives and Reformists -ECR (73)

The ECR is a Eurosceptic, anti-federalist political group in the European Parliament. The ECR is the parliamentary group of the Alliance of Conservatives and Reformists in Europe (ACRE) European political party (formerly known as the Alliance of European Conservatives and Reformists), and also includes MEPs from four other European parties and thirteen MEPs without European party affiliation. The group focuses on reforming the European Union (EU) on the basis of Eurorealism as opposed to total rejection of the EU (anti-EU-ism).

The Conservative party is a member of this group as are Poland’s Law and Justice Party. The Ulster Unionist MEP is also a member of this group whilst the DUP MEP stands as an independent. I am not a great fan of the Tory Party, but Dr Charles Tannock deserves a special mention and has been chosen as one of the four top MEPs by Chris Grey of BrexitBlog.

The Spitzenkandidat is the Czech MEP Jan Zahradil (Civic Democratic Party, Czech Republic).

Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe – ALDE (68)

ALDE is the home of the UK Liberal Democrats and is a classic moderate liberal party. ALDE is also the home of the main Irish opposition party Fianna Fáil.

It is headed by Guy Verhofstadt who was best known in Britain perhaps for his withering criticism of Farage, but more recently of course he is EP lead on Brexit. Verhofstadt is a staunch supporter of citizens rights both for UK citizens living on the Continent and visa versa. He is also a staunch supporter of the Ireland and the GFA.

The Liberal Democrats were decimated at the last EP election – a foretaste of what was to come in the 2015 GE and only has one (excellent) MEP Catherine Bearder.

ALDE are not putting forward a single Spitzenkandidat but have put forward a team of candidates: Guy Verhofstadt, Sylvie Goulard, Margrethe Vestager, Cecilia Malmström, Hans van Baalen, Emma Bonino and Violeta Bulc.

Greens/European Free Alliance – G/EFA(52)

The G/EFA is a party which champions Green issues and regional devolution within the EU. It is the home of the Green Party (and the Irish and Scottish Green Parties), the SNP and Plaid Cymru. It is also the home of the European Pirate Party, which is largely concerned with internet safety and security.

The Green agenda is of course of prime importance and their manifesto is here.

Two members who deserve special praise are Molly Scott Cato (Green) and Alyn Smith (SNP) who are also top picks by Chris Grey of BrexitBlog.

Like ALDE the G/EFA have put forward a a single Spitzenkandidat but a number of candidates.

The Gauche Unitaire Européenne/Nordic Green Left -GUL/NGL(51)

The European United Left/Nordic Green Left (French: Gauche unitaire européenne, GUE/NGL) is a more radical left wing group, whose members include Syriza (Greece) and Podemos (Spain). They have no affiliate party in Britain but Sinn Féin is a member.  Sinn Féin runs on an all island basis and has 4 MEPs, one from Northern Ireland.

Their 2019 – Another Europe is Possible document states in the Economy section:

Austerity, privatisation and deregulatory policies in favour of big businesses are devastating for workers. Our challenge to prevailing EU economic doctrine and growing inequality involves coordination across several policy areas from demanding better employment and social rights to highlighting the devastating impact of tax dodging. The economy must serve the people and we have to ensure fair distribution of wealth throughout societies, countries and regions.

This could have been written by one of the Progressive Pulse Editorial board.

This will be an interesting group to watch as will the performance of Yanis Varoufakis and his Diem25 party.
They have not put foreward a Spitzenkandidat.

Europe of Freedom and Direct Democracy – EFDD(42)

The EFDD is a populist, nationalist, Eurosceptic party headed by Nigel Farage and home of the majority of UKIP members. Their members are famed for spending all their time in the EP Bar and doing an absolute minimum of any useful work. Farage famously has only attended the fisheries committee once out of 42 sessions and Paul Nutall’s record is even worse.
This is the likely group of Farage’s Brexit Party.

Europe of Nations and Freedom -ENF (35)

The ENF runs on an Anti-immigration, Hard Euroscepticism, Far-right politics, Nationalism, Right-wing politics and Right-wing populism Ideology.

The leading National Grouping is Marine Le Pen’s National Front party. The EFDD was also too lily livered for two UKIP members: Gerald Batten – current head of UKIP and Stuart Agnew, who are current members.

It seems likely that UKIP members if elected will sit on this group.

One wonders if this is a coordinated move between the two extreme right parties so that the “more moderate” EFDD group can point to the ENF and say that they are the real right wing party. “We are the party of sensible people; those over there are the extremists”.

Conclusion

There are a range of parties to vote for. Under no circumstances should you vote for a party affiliated with the EFDD or EFN. Naturally given the author is a member of the Green Party and pro-European left, I would encourage you to vote for a pro EU party. At this stage maximising voting numbers is what is important.

Labour’s stance is still unknown – is it a pro-Brexit Party or Peoples Vote Party? The apparent volte-face by Lord Adonis is particularly concerning.

It is unlikely that we will get many Tory voters visiting this site. Whereas I disagree with much of Tory policy, I respect the pragmatic “One Nation” business wing of the party and am horrified by the rise of the ERG and the drift towards English Ethno-Nationalism. Most definitely vote Tory in preference to either the Brexit Party or UKIP.

There is simply not enough information to recommend tactical voting at present but a later post will address this.

At 36% turnout, extreme and protest parties can do well. My University experience in Student Satisfaction Surveys over the years is that people who are satisfied have less incentive to participate than those who have a grievance.

Taking European Politics seriously is essential in building trust with our neighbours. The obvious example is Ireland who have sent some of their best politicians to the EP. Their intimate involvement with the EPP and ALDE groups is credited with developing real trust and indeed personal friendships. This has been a factor, probably a major one, in the Europeans taking concerns over the GFA and the Border seriously and backing Ireland to the hilt against intense UK diplomatic pressure.

There is some debate as to whether UK MEPs can take part in the Spitzenkandidaten Process as the new president is due to take office on the 1st November; the day after the UK is currently scheduled to leave the EU. Some of the arguments and counterarguments have been discussed on Cakewatch. This is currently unclear.

Finally VOTE! Make sure that you are registered and encourage your children and friends to do so. Non UK EU citizens can also vote and need to urgently register – a massive 3M+ people if the estimates are correct. The deadline is the 7th May. Click on this link for details on registering.

Comments

  1. Geoff -

    Very helpful Sean, thank you.
    We know people who are not voting in the elections because they are sick of Brexit, people who live in the North West where Tommy Robinson will stand.
    I find this both understandable and incredibly foolish. These are Progressives, people who care about society and the social contract between Parliament and the citizens it should seek to represent. When we have candidates like Tommy Robinson and Farage on the voting paper we need to see the clear threat they present. They will make certain their followers vote and they will use their positions, if elected, to destroy Europe to further their own xenophobic Nationalistic agenda.

    A REMINDER OF WHAT THIS IS REALLY ABOUT –
    There’s a photograph of Marine Le pen with Franz Schönhuber who was a member of the European Parliament for the ” Die Republikaner ” party (from 1989 to 1994) and an ex Nazi SS officer. He was a member of the party until the end of 1990, then left considering them to be extreme right and to close to the Nazis of the NPD (National Democratic Party of Germany) However, it didn’t prevent him from being a candidate for the NPD shortly before his death. Le Pen has re positioned her party away from her father and the extreme element he is still seen to represent in France. Window dressing at best.
    It’s what they do not what they say. I’m not religious but I might just have a little prayer on election day.

    https://www.google.com/search?q=Marine+le+pen+en+compagnie+de+Franz+Sch%C3%B6nhuber&rlz=1C1CHBD_enFR759FR759&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwiTnOmgnO3hAhWCDWMBHf7IDPEQ_AUIDigB&biw=1517&bih=730&dpr=0.9

    1. Sean Danaher -

      Geoff

      thanks. I have nightmares about rebranded-fascism destroying Europe. As mentioned previously my Dad was in Berlin doing a PhD from 1937-39 and he saw the Nazis first hand.

      He often used the term “eternal vigilance is the price of liberty” and was convinced that rebranded-fascism could return very easily – probably not in Germany but more likely in the UK, the US and France.

      I don’t expect gas chambers, naked greed rather than idealism seems to be the major motivator of the powers driving this, but there is a lot of racism, sexism and victimhood amoung many lower down the food chain.

  2. Adrian Kent -

    Excellent piece. Looking at if from a Lexit point of view I think it puts another nail in the coffin of the (allegedly progressive) ‘Remain and Reform’ arguments. The numbers simply aren’t there for the clear majorities required to instigate the process of reform, let alone to start to address the key commissioners, corporate capture etc.

    The direction of travel appears to make this even less likely with the likes of the AfD, the Northern League and the Front Nationale (or whatever they’re called now), now happy to stay in and fight for their far-right policies from within.

    I wish it were not so, but we’re better off out.

    1. Sean Danaher -

      Adrian

      my major worry re Brexit has been and is peace and stability in Northern Ireland.

      I do worry also that we will get a very right-wing Brexit and things will turn very unpleasant.

      I know that many Lexit people hope that this can be used as an opportunity to defeat neoliberalism and run a proper Left wing agenda, but for me it is a high risk strategy – far less safe than staying in the EU.

  3. Bill Hughes -

    Very sobering prospects. If the right and far-right make gains at the expense of left parties and Greens, it will be very serious indeed. However this is not a valid excuse for the UK to leave the UK, other commentators have pointed out why. We must keep to our political faiths and ride out the storms ahead.

    1. Adrian Kent -

      I hadn’t heard of CakeWatch before I read this post, but I think I’ll be subscribing to it from now on if this piece from one of it’s presenters is anything go by (linked to on their site):

      https://www.politics.co.uk/comment-analysis/2019/04/24/how-not-to-be-a-useful-idiot

      There’s nothing like a bit of batshit McCarthyism to raise a chuckle in these (supposedly) worrying times.

  4. Donald Manchester -

    It’s great that you’ve managed to write further articles without mentioning what the EU is primarily about.
    It’s like someone writing about singing without mentioning the song-writer, or hell without mentioning the devil. Or writing about elections to the UK Parliament without mentioning hand-outs incident on pensioners.
    But when it comes to the EU, there’s a blind spot to the biggest issue in money terms. Why is this?

    1. Sean Danaher -

      The EU budget is about 1% of the GDP og it’s member states and is funded from three main sources:

      Member State contributions, based on a percentage of their Gross National Income
      Import duties on goods entering from outside the EU
      A percentage of each Member State’s national VAT rate

    2. Geoff -

      Hi Donald, would you mind explaininf your point or points in a little more depth please, I’m not entirely sure I understand. Thanks

      1. Sean Danaher -

        I think Donald has made this point before in his previous life as Donald Liverpool. I have invited him to submit an article to PP before as indeed I think has Ivan Horrocks.

        The EU is not without faults as indeed your own article on how undemocratic is the Euro-governance pointed out.

        So Donald why not submit an article?

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