What are the projections for the election results?

“Right-wing and radical-right parties are going to win votes. Those parties are currently split between two political groups. You have the Identity and Democracy (ID) group, which includes parties like National Rally, Alternative für Deutschland (AfD), Vlaams Belang and the PVV. Then there’s the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR), which includes parties like Brothers of Italy, Vox from Spain and the Polish Law and Justice. The Dutch parties in that group are SGP and JA21. Those two groups, ID and ECR, currently have a combined 18 per cent of the seats. In the polls, they’re sitting at 25 per cent.”

Markus Haverland is a professor of Political Science specialising in the European Union and its interactions with member states. He is currently working on a study for the Dutch Research Council on how member states are spending the 750 billion euro Covid recovery fund and how they are implementing the national fiscal and socioeconomic reforms involved.

That doesn’t sound like such a big shift. How will that affect the new parliamentary term?

“In the new parliament, the European People’s Party (EPP), which includes parties like the CDA, and which the BBB and NSC are likely to join, is expected to occupy a pivotal position. Currently Renew Europe, the liberal group, holds that position. So the crucial group needed to form a coalition is going to be more conservative than in the previous term.

“Renew Europe voted progressively on sustainability, migration and civil rights, creating centre-left coalitions on those issues. It is likely that the EPP will more often form coalitions with groups such as the European Conservatives and Reformists.

There is a trend, at both national and European level, of centre-right parties saying they are open to working with these types of parties. The German CDU has already let it be known that it is not ruling out Meloni’s Brothers of Italy. So parties like Brothers of Italy and National Rally are more likely to be involved. This will result in policies shifting somewhat to the right. It won’t mean radical right policies, because a compromise with the EPP will always be needed.”

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Image credit: Bas van der Schot

What does the European Parliament do and how do the elections work?

People vote for national parties. There are 720 seats to be allocated, of which 31 will be occupied by the Netherlands. The elected representatives form political groups in the European Parliament. Currently, for example, D66 and VVD sit together in a group called Renew Europe. GroenLinks and PvdA are not together; they sit with the Greens and the Social Democrats respectively.

The EU can pass laws in a number of key areas, such as the climate, agriculture, tech and migration. The European Parliament, together with the Council of Ministers, is the legislator in these areas. There are also many areas in which the EU has little say, such as foreign policy, defence and taxation. Parliament also has a control function with regard to the European Commission.

In Europe, the NSC, BBB and VVD are being criticised for forming a coalition with the PVV. At the same time, you’re saying that European political groups are more open to working with those sorts of parties. Isn’t that crazy?

“Indeed, European political groups are struggling with the fact that some of their members are forming governments with radical-right parties. The liberals, social democrats, greens and other left-wing parties have signed a statement declaring that they will not collaborate with the radical right. So this friction is now playing out, particularly with Renew Europe, of which the VVD is a member. For instance, Malik Azmani of the VVD withdrew as a candidate for chair of the group because the agreement with the PVV in the Netherlands had led to criticism within the European group. The new chair of the group, Valérie Hayer of the French Liberal Party, even suggested expelling the VVD. Whether it will go that far remains to be seen. But it is certain that forming parliamentary majorities is going to be more difficult because of this fragmentation.”

Do you think the political groups will remain internally stable after the elections?

“There’s a lot going on. The AfD was recently expelled from the Identity and Democracy group under pressure from Marine Le Pen of National Rally, because it was too far to the right. She is actually aiming for a larger radical right group, but one that doesn’t include the most far-right parties. It is unclear which group the PVV will join.

“It is true, though, that if a new group is added, another one is likely to fall away. The ECR could merge into this new group; the parties that are too far to the right for the group would then form a new, very right-wing group.”

Isn’t it contradictory that Eurosceptic parties are getting so big in the European Parliament?

“Far-right parties used to want to leave the European Union. That has changed. During Brexit, there were fears of a domino effect, but we’re seeing the opposite. We’ve seen how difficult it is to leave the EU and the economic disadvantages of doing so. Popular support for the EU increased after Brexit. And in general, the crises of the past five years have also contributed to the population becoming more pro-European. In the Netherlands, only about ten per cent of the population thinks it would be better to leave the European Union. In this respect, the EU is much less vulnerable than in previous terms.

“To win votes, far-right parties go along with this sentiment. And they’ve learned that they can pursue right-wing policies within the EU and use the EU to implement their national agenda, for example on migration or agriculture.”

Is this political shift good news for the existence of the EU?

“I see the opportunities for further integration diminishing. There is no more talk about a European constitution, and relatively little about true common defence. Expansion to new countries will also become more complicated. Countries are less willing to cooperate. At the same time, the need for cooperation might well increase. If Russian aggression continues, for example, or if the effects of climate change become more severe. But for the next five years, I see a balance of power in which national sovereignty takes priority. Member states will turn a little more inward.”

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Image credit: Bas van der Schot

In terms of substance, what do these changes mean for typical EU policy areas?

“Climate policies are likely to become less ambitious or perhaps be reversed. In 2019, there was a lot of enthusiasm for the Green Deal within the European Parliament. The costs of the energy transition and nature policy are now becoming clearer. This has led to less support for green parties and more support for right-wing parties. This could have implications for the Nature Restoration Act, for example. The Council of Ministers has yet to approve that law and could still abandon it.

“Also, migration policies are likely to become stricter. You can already see the warning signs. With the upcoming elections, the EPP in particular is trying to win over right-wing voters. This can be seen, for example, in the group’s positive attitude towards the migration deals the EU has made with Tunisia. The EU is trying to keep asylum procedures outside of its borders, and the deals are intended to act as a deterrent.

“In terms of regulation of artificial intelligence and big tech companies, a right-wing coalition will vote in an economically liberal way. That means less regulation of what can and cannot be done with artificial intelligence. These kinds of parties are more supportive of business interests. It will be framed as less bureaucracy.”

What impact will a more right-wing parliament have on the EU’s position in the world?

“The EU has shown leadership in a number of areas in recent years. We are truly at the forefront of the climate and sustainability. You can expect us to lose that position. Furthermore, Europe is a military dwarf but a regulatory giant. It can set standards that have a positive impact beyond the EU. The GDPR, for example, is an important European standard that provides better protection to citizens. We are less likely to set such a standard for artificial intelligence in the coming years.

“The EU is going to turn more inward. This will not improve the effectiveness of actions abroad. But such actions are important, given what’s going on. China is taking a more assertive stance, and the United States is actually withdrawing more and more. There are many conflicts in the world. That’s an area where the EU is already struggling to speak with one voice, and it will become even more difficult.”

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