The dust has settled, and final votes are in.
First off, the good news: Election participation was over 50 percent, the highest in over 20 years, and the much-feared landslide victory of far-right and Eurosceptic parties has been, at least in part, avoided. Only Great Britain, France and Italy saw them take the lead. Young people, especially, overwhelmingly voted for pro-European parties.
Overall, there was no clear winner, no comprehensive E.U. picture for the total of 751 seats in the European Parliament: Germany, Austria and Greece saw Christian democratic parties in the lead. Spain, Portugal, the Netherlands and Sweden saw the resurgence of social democratic parties. National-conservatives won elections in Belgium and Poland, and liberal parties won Estonia, the Czech Republic and Denmark. The Greens were able to gain significantly overall and increase their seats in the European Parliament to 69, as did the liberal parties.
At the same time, the Christian-democratic and socialist center lost a combined 80 seats. The consequent loss of the overall combined majority of their respective political groups, the European People’s party (EPP) and the Socialists and Democrats (S&D), in the European Parliament is historic and will make the obligatory approval by vote in the European Parliament of either one of their commission presidential candidates, Weber or Timmermans, that much more difficult. This makes the stronger Greens and Liberals the kingmakers in the upcoming path to staff not only the office of commission president, but also other top E.U. institutional posts, such as foreign affairs high commissioner, parliament president and individual commissioner posts.
The new big coalition of far-right national parties, such as France’s Rassemblement National or Germany’s AfD, which had already been proclaimed during the election campaign, could make them the third-strongest group inside the European parliament, with up to 112 seats. If the existing conservative and Eurosceptic party ECR were to join, the new power group could reach up to 171 seats, thereby overtaking the EPP and S&D, which would be a serious game-changer. Fortunately, this is highly unlikely to happen.
When it comes to Jewish topics, both Timmermans and Weber would be good candidates and proven partners for the commission’s top job. Weber has been strongly dedicated to the fight against anti-Semitism as EPP group leader, even launching his current election campaign in Auschwitz to emphasize his commitment and historical responsibility to Holocaust remembrance and combatting anti-Semitism. Timmermans himself was responsible, as first vice president of the European Commission, for creating the crucial position of the E.U.’s Anti-Semitism Coordinator Katharina von Schnurbein, who was appointed by and reports directly to him.
But both might not make it, despite representing the two biggest political groups in the parliament, due to the lack of a combined majority. The current European commissioner for competition, the Danish Margrethe Vestager, who was also the lead candidate for the Liberals, has already started to strongly lobby and negotiate herself.
The impact on foreign policy, especially in regards to Israel and the Middle East peace process, but also Iran and the nuclear deal, is tough to predict at this point as well. There was overall strong support for Israel from right-wing conservative parties during the last mandate, and an often very critical, sometimes highly problematic position from Liberals and left-wing parties, including Greens.
The growth on both sides of the political spectrum could mean a further polarization on this subject matter. The Green Party, for example, has been pushing some troubling pro-BDS rhetoric and events during the last years. The only voices of reason within the group were often the group’s German members, who prevented these topics from tilting even further into one-sided bashing. The doubling in size of German members in the Green group gives way to hope that increased German representation will further affect the group’s Middle East agenda in a positive way down the road.
But ultimately, this is just the beginning of months-long backroom castings and negotiations between heads of states for the top E.U. jobs. Their predecessors will be officially replaced only at the end of October at the earliest.
Until then, we will see significant change in the political group landscape, with the Liberal Group ALDE being joined by Macron’s En Marche, and the far-right groups forming their new coalition. The question is whether the Hungarian Fidesz party will stay in the EPP group, or if the U.K.’s Eurosceptic UKIP party will be joining the new right-wing coalition. Both parties were the election winners in their respective countries, and their decisions about which groups to join could further significantly alter the outcome and fragile power balance.
All of this will further impact the distribution of not only the top commission jobs, but also the parliament president and relevant committee chairs, who can heavily steer the agenda-setting and legislation themselves.
Benjamin Nägele was named director of E.U. affairs for B’nai B’rith International in 2015. In this capacity he focuses on promoting EU-Israel relations and advocates for Jewish causes at the European institutions in Brussels. He previously worked as an EU affairs officer for B’nai B’rith International and as a policy advisor at the European Parliament. Click here to read more of his work.
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