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MALTATODAY 9 June 2019

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OPINION 24 maltatoday | SUNDAY • 9 JUNE 2019 A manageable EP? AS the dust has settled follow- ing the May 2019 European elections, in which more than 373 million EU citizens across 28 counties took part, all stakeholders, including the EU institutions, governments, po- litical parties, businesses, and civil society, are in the process of reassessing their positions in the reshaped European politi- cal landscape. The conservative centre-right European People's Party (EPP) with 179 seats and the centre- left Socialists & Democrats (S&D) with 153 seats, whose leaders have long held the top positions in Brussels, lost their joint majority in the EP for the first time in forty years. With 109 seats the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE) plus Macron's party became the third largest force. The Greens/EFA group now has 69 members after gaining 19 seats mainly from Germany and Ireland. With one or both of these new "king makers" on board with the EPP and the S&D, a pro-EU broadly centrist coalition will have a comfortable majority and should be able to deal with the populist and eurosceptic challenge. Nonetheless, as coalitions be- gin to form in the coming days and weeks, the European Al- liance of Peoples and Nations (EAPN), a new right-wing populist and anti-immigration alliance, which includes Sal- vini's League, Le Pen's French National Rally, Geert Wilders' Party for Freedom, the Alter- native for Germany, the Finns Party, the Danish People's Party, and four other parties, is set to become a formidable force. If two of Europe's strong- est nationalist parties, Po- land's ruling Law and Justice party (PiS), currently with the European Conservatives and Reformists group (ECR), and Victor Orban's Fidesz, current- ly suspended from the EPP, decide to switch to the EAPN, the new populist group could become the fourth or even the third largest group in the EP. The EP elections in the UK were heavily influenced by the current mess about Brexit. The big winner was the newly cre- ated Brexit party of Nigel Far- age which won 29 seats out of the 73 available to the UK. He is expected to put his weight behind the hard eurosceptic group during his short stay in the EP. For individual member states, the results were seen largely as judgements on the parties in power. In Germany, the Greens replaced the Social Democrats as the second largest party, and the poor showing of the latter has put Angela Merkel's grand coalition in danger. The Social Democrats' leader Andrea Nahles resigned with far reaching consequences not only for her party but for the future of the CDU-SDP coalition. The coalition is due to last until federal elections in 2021; however, under a new leader the SDP may pull out of the coalition triggering a snap election. In France, Le Pen's National Rally succeeded in surpassing Macron's party by one seat. They won 21 and 20 seats respectively with the Greens taking third place with 12 seats while the traditional right- wing and left-wing parties performed badly. The result confirms a new divide in the French political landscape. The traditional right-left divide is fading away and a new realign- ment is developing along a new fault line separating "progres- sives" from "populists". This shift can be seen also at the European level as voters are cutting loose from their traditional political affiliations, seeking new alliances that can respond better to the threats and benefits of globalisation. This trend explains the losses of the EPP and the S&D and the gains of environmentalist and liberal progressive parties. In Italy, the mainstream parties have once more failed to check Salvini's populist na- tionalism. His League was the outright winner. He can now pursue his party's ambition for a European alliance strong enough to change the EU from within. The results in Italy also show the volatility of voters. The centre-left Democratic Party unexpectedly overtook Di Maio's Five Star movement. Nonetheless, the populist- nationalist proportion of votes remained stable and the League and the Five Star still command the support of more than 50 per cent of voters. Another big victory for the far-right and anti-immigration movement was registered in Belgium, which held national and regional elections on the same day. There, the Vlaams Belang became the second largest party in Flanders and its victory will strengthen the Flemish nationalist and separa- tist movement. In Greece, after a bad defeat to conservatives, Prime Min- ister Alexis Tsipras called for early elections. There have also been clear victories for the right in Poland and Hungary. However, right- wing populists fell short of their expectations in Austria, the Netherlands and Denmark, while Germany's AfD made only slight gains, and with fewer than 11 per cent of the votes, many commentators believe that it has now peaked. Overall, across the EU, one can conclude that though the mainstream parties of the centre-right and centre-left lost substantially, much of their support went to envi- ronmentalists and to pro-EU liberals. Far-right populists, anti-EU and anti-immigration parties had some wins but the surge in their favour was not as dramatic as has been seen in some recent national elections. The fragmentation of the EP political spectrum and the pos- sible presence of a right-wing populist alliance with a quarter of MEPs have fuelled specula- tion that the newly-elected parliament will be messier and harder to control than before. One of the first tasks of the new EP will be to agree on the composition of its Standing Committees. Care should be taken to prevent as much as possible the appointment of anti-EU MEPs to key policy- making positions in parlia- ment, such as committee chairs, as this will augment their ability to influence the policy agenda. There are also fears that the co-decision legislative process and other inter-institutional procedures could be paralysed. Even though the number of fiercely anti-EU MEPs will go down by 29 when Far- age's Brexit Party and the UK withdraw from the EU, the far-right and eurosceptic par- ties will still be able to disrupt parliamentary procedures in particular where parliament's central powers, such as over the EU budget, are concerned. To prevent this risk of grid- lock in EU policymaking the Liberals and the Greens have proposed to the EPP and the S&D to work together on a coalition programme for the next legislature, thus ensuring that new policies can move smoothly through parliament. An encouraging nod has been given by the leaders of the EPP and the S&D both of whom categorically ruled out working with the far-right populist par- ties and stand ready to cooper- ate with other pro-European parties. However, even if pro-EU parties will manage to agree on a coalition programme, the danger to policymaking will persist as long as some far- right and eurosceptic parties are in government at home, and the likes of Salvini and Orban can use their weight in Council to influence decision- making in such areas as migra- tion, asylum, and the future of Schengen. A clear factor from these European elections is that in total the highest turnout for the past 20 years was regis- tered. European citizens want a forward looking, progressive, inclusive and innovative EU. All these issues are being ef- fectively addressed by Malta's Labour Party. This contributed to an outstanding victory to the Labour Party in the last EP and Local Councils elections thanks to a programme of inclusion for all sectors of society, innovation for job creation, and infra- structure improvement for the benefit of all. We are indeed on the forefront of policy-making in the Union! Voters are cutting loose from their traditional political aff iliations, seeking new alliances that can respond better to the threats and benef its of globalisation Matteo Salvini and Marine Le Pen: as coalitions begin to form in the coming days and weeks, the European Alliance of Peoples and Nations (EAPN), a new right-wing populist and anti-immigration alliance, which includes Salvini's League, Le Pen's French National Rally and other parties, is set to become a formidable force Edward Zammit Lewis Edward Zammit Lewis is a Labour MP

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