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Euro report Euro report
by Euro Reporter
2014-05-21 12:14:54
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A fragile rebound for EU image on eve of European parliament elections

Support for the European Union may be rebounding just in time for the European Parliament elections, according to a new survey of seven EU nations by the Pew Research Center. After a dramatic decline in the wake of the euro crisis, EU favorability is now on the rise in France, the United Kingdom, and Germany. And faith in one of the EU’s founding principles – that European economic integration is good for their own country – is up in the UK, Poland and Germany.

But, as the electorate heads to the polls beginning May 22, publics across Europe overwhelmingly think that their voice is not heard in Brussels, home to the EU. Majorities in most countries complain that the EU does not understand their needs and is intrusive and inefficient. And they express little enthusiasm for giving the EU greater power on economic issues. Moreover, in most of the countries surveyed, ratings for the EU have yet to return to pre-crisis levels. Italians are increasingly critical of the institution and are divided over whether to keep using the euro as their currency. And Greeks, who have suffered most from the economic downturn, remain deeply sceptical of many aspects of the European project.

Meanwhile, conflicting politics complicate the upcoming European Parliament elections. In the United Kingdom, Italy, Poland and Germany, people on the right of the political spectrum are generally more judgmental of the EU. In Greece and Spain, the institution’s strongest critics are on the left. And concern about immigration adds to the public’s disgruntlement. Majorities in Italy, Greece, France and the UK, express a desire to curb immigration, in part because many believe that immigrants fail to assimilate, and that they take citizens’ jobs and government social benefits. These are some of the findings from a new Pew Research Center survey of 7,022 people in seven European Union member countries – France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Poland, Spain and the United Kingdom – conducted from March 17 to April 9, 2014.

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New parties - likely kingmakers in next European parliament

Several new political forces will make their appearance in the European Parliament for the first time following the European elections. All will be “non-attached” in the beginning, but many of their MEPs will gravitate towards established political groups. On the night of 25 May, the obvious question will be who has won the European elections. One possible answer would come from counting the MEPs from recognized parties. But many new players will arrive in several of the 28 EU member states. Their “default” status will be “non-attached”, but soon they may join existing groups, or political groups to be formed in the future. Political scientists call those new forces ‘parties for grabs’. The latest opinion polls have shown that the political battle between the centre-right European Peoples’ Party and the centre-left Party of European Socialists is too close to call. Consequently it should not be ruled out that the new political forces and their MEPs will in a way become the kingmaker.

France

France has managed to gather around 3600 candidates and 193 different lists stand for the European elections. That of course is a bit too much for the 74 MEPs that will make it to Strasbourg. The chances of the smallest parties are scarce, as the 5% vote threshold will play in favour of the biggest parties, such as the UMP of former President Nicolas Sarkozy, or the PS of his successor François Hollande. But some new organisations may create a surprise. For the first time, a feminist party called ‘Féministes pour une Europe solidaire’ is attempting to raise the attention at the French representation of the European Parliament. It is led by Caroline de Haas, a previous member of Socialist Party. Pierre Larrouturou, previously a Socialist, has also built a new political force called ‘Nouvelle Donne’, which intends to fight against lobbies.

Former MEP Corinne Lepage also has a new political group called ‘Europe citoyenne’, with candidates being mostly simple citizens rather than politicians. The offers on the right are also numerous. A royalist party called ‘Alliance Royale’ wants to bring back the King in France, and another called ‘No (to) the big replacement’ advocates against the ‘replacement’ of indigenous French citizens by immigrants. On the far right, the list of Nicolas Dupont Aignan of the party Debout la République is trying to gather Eurosceptic electors from the UMP. "A lot of them join us," says M. Dupont-Aignon, who has an alliance with Britain's populist UKIP. If French newspapers like to quote these weird list ideas, French politicians are slightly afraid of what may come out of them. "There is only one turn, one vote, so the vote has to tend to efficacy," comments PS candidate Pervenche Beres.

Germany

For the first time in the history of the European elections, Germany won’t have the usual 3% election threshold, as the Constitutional Court annulled the rule last February. Hence, small parties will now have a higher chance to get a seat in the next European Parliament, as only about one percent of the votes will be enough to make it to Strasbourg. With about 7% of the votes, the ‘Alternative für Deutschland’ (AfD) will enter the European Parliament, as recent opinion polls predict. The AfD runs a populist and Eurosceptic election campaign. To leave the euro and return to the old national currency, the Deutsche Mark, is the main demand of the party. The party's manifesto also calls for a tougher stance on asylum and migration, and the carrying out of referenda on European issues. The AfD's organizational base wants the elected candidates to join the Europe of Freedom and Democracy (EFD) group in the European Parliament. However, the party's elite – including top candidates Bernhard Lucke, a national conservative, and Hans-Olaf Henkel, a free-market radical – maintain a different position. They will most likely decide to join the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR), with the British Tories representing the majority.

The ‘Free Voter party’ (Freie Wähler) runs a program similar to the AfD. Freie Wähler consists of many communal voter associations. These bodies call for regional and communal independence, besides harshly criticizing Brussels as an over-burdening bureaucracy, overrun by corporate lobbyists. Freie Wähler can hope for one or two seats in the next European Parliament, but it will not join any coalition. Another new party in the European Parliament will be Germany's Pirate Party (‘Piratenpartei’) possibly winning three seats. The ‘Piratenpartei’ calls for strong data protection laws, more legal ways for asylum-seekers to enter the EU, stronger rights for the European Parliament and an unconditional basic income for every European citizen on EU level. Which parliamentary group the Piratenpartei will join is not clear yet. "For all European Pirate Parties it is a priority to decide on this via consensus. It not only depends on political familiarities with the relevant groups but also on the number and origin of the Pirate candidates winning a seat", Julia Reda, top candidate of the ‘Piratenpartei’, told EurActiv Germany. In the current European Parliament, the only two Pirate MEPs from Sweden have joined the Green/EFA group.

A high chance of winning one or even two seats can be attributed to the right-extremist National Democratic Party (NPD). In the center of the Neo-Nazis' aggressive campaign is a migration policy backed by a racist, anti-Semitic and homophobic ideology. The NPD longs for a sovereign nation-state, with a homogenous society. In the next European Parliament, top candidate Udo Voigt would most likely become an independent MEP.  A surprise might be the satirical party ‘Die Partei’ (in English: The Party). Top Candidate Martin Sonneborn, former chief editor of the German satirical magazine Titanic, has a realistic chance of winning a seat. Sonneborn leads a campaign with no serious political goals. Founded in 2004, Die Partei started out with a campaign to rebuild the Berlin Wall. The party's European election manifesto calls for a "Yes to Europe" as well as a "No to Europe", an introduction of a quota for lazy people in leading business positions, and a special wildlife protection for Green party members. 

Italy

L'Altra Europa con Tsipras', Scelta europea, and Fratelli d'Italia are new Italian political parties that could send MEPs to Strasbourg. L'Altra Europa con Tsipras list, which has been promoted by leftist intellectuals and supported by the Left Ecology Freedom party, will join the leftist European United Left/European Green Left GUE/NGL group and supports the leader of Syriza Alexis Tsipras as candidate for president of the European Commission.

The liberals and democrats list Scelta Europa, which will join the liberal ALDE group, and supports Guy Verhofstadt’s candidacy for the European Commission, is composed by three political parties: ‘Scelta civica per l'Italia’, ‘Centro democratico’ and ‘Fare per fermare il declino’. Finally, the Fratelli d'Italia party, led by Giorgia Meloni, will ally with Eurosceptics, as well as with Lega Nord, a populist, separatist party now led by MEP Matteo Salvini. But, according to PollWatch, these three new political forces are unlikely to pass the required minimum threshold to enter the European Parliament. But, of course, there is one political party which, though running for the first time, will make it in: the 5-Star Movement (M5S), led by Beppe Grillo. PollWatch predictions say that M5S will be the second largest political party in Italy, after the Democratic Party, led by Prime Minister Matteo Renzi.  

Spain

According to a great number of polls, the Spanish minority party, Union, Progress and Democracy (UPyD) could double, or even triple  the number of votes which it obtained five years ago. UPyD was founded in 2007 as a social liberal party, which rejects separatism and nationalism, and wants a more federal Spain, and a more federal Europe. In 2009, UPyD obtained 2.9% of the Spanish votes, which corresponded to 1 MEP, whereas this year, polls predict up to 6 MEPS. The leader of UPyD, Francisco Sosa Wagner, the only MEP from his party for the last five years, has promised that in the next legislature, UPyD will not be a ‘Non-attached' member of a particular group. However, Sosa has not specified whether UPyD will be Conservative, Socialist or Liberal, among other groups, although he insists that it will belong to a pro-European group which “defends the Spanish unity”.

Not every poll gives UPyD a clear success. According to a survey by El País, this group will only obtain 2 seats, whereas a poll by El Mundo predicts a máximum of three.Regarding parties such as the left-wing Izquierda Plural, polls presume that it could reach between 5 and 7 seats. On the contrary, the new parties Podemos, Vox, Ciudadanos or Primavera Europea will find it hard to earn a single seat.

Belgium

In Belgium, all eyes will be on the national and regional outcome, as Belgians elect their federal and regional parliaments together with their representation in the EU Parliament. Mainstream parties are faced with a further uprising of the Flemish separatist party N-VA in the northern half of the country. N-VA is polling around 32% of votes and could get as much as 4 seats of the country’s 21 MEP spots. The N-VA has said it would leave The Greens/EFA group in the European Parliament. It is most likely to join the British Conservatives’ ECR group after the election.

But the biggest surprise could be on the left rather than the right. The far-left Workers’ Party (PTB-PVDA+) is polling at 8% in the French-speaking part of the country and 4% in Flanders, giving them the prospect of one European seat. The PTB-PVDA+ is the only Belgian party that is united across both sides of the language border. They will most likely join the European Left group on the European level. The mainstream parties in Belgium are expected to stay where they are. Both socialist members of PES poll at 5 seats; the liberal members of ALDE at 4 seats; and the centrist Christian-democrat and ‘humanist’ members of EPP at 4 seats, too. The Greens are likely to get 2 seats.

Poland

In Poland, there will be a plethora of small new parties trying to get into the European Parliament and transform themselves into mature political organisations. On the left side of the political scene there is Europa Plus -Your Move (Europa Plus – Twój Ruch) coalition. It is an entity created by political veterans Janusz Palikot, formerly from the ruling Civic Platform (Platforma Obywatelska, affiliated with the EPP) and Marek Siwiec MEP, formerly of Democratic Left Alliance (SLD – Sojusz Lewicy Demokratycznej, affiliated with the Socialists and Democrats). Your Move is trying to present a socially liberal alternative to the major conservative parties. It is currently a third power in the lower house of the Polish parliament (Sejm) with 36 MPs out of 460. It is a new party created under the auspices of the former President of Poland Aleksander Kwaśniewski. As its leader, Marek Siwiec, said in an interview with EurActiv.pl, they want to be “provocatively pro-European”. They plan to push for closer integration and they are strong supporters of federalised Europe. Siwiec did not want to speculate yet which of the European factions Europa Plus -Your Move will join in case they get into the EP, but S&D or ALDE seem to be the most likely choices.

There are also new contenders on the right side of the political spectrum. Congress of the New Right (Kongres Nowej Prawicy), led by Janusz Korwin-Mikke. Korwin-Mikke is known for being extremely libertarian in his economic views (stating, for example, that the state should only be responsible for security) together with extremely misogynistic social positions. There is also Poland Together (Polska Razem), a new conservative (socially and economically) party led by Jarosław Gowin. This former Minister of Justice used to head Civic Platform’s conservative wing until his disagreements with Prime Minister Donald Tusk forced him out of the party. The recent polls place Poland Together right on the electoral threshold.

Czech Republic

A new political player in the Czech Republic is The Dawn of Direct Democracy, lead by Tomio Okamura, a Czech entrepreneur of Moravian, Korean and Japanese descent. It is a right-wing, populist party, focused on immigration and unemployment. It wants to reform the EU, without going as far as leaving the EU. The party took part in the parliamentary elections 2013 and gained 6.88 % of the votes, which was converted into 14 seats in the Czech parliament. The leading candidate was Klára Samková, but she stepped down on 10 May over a suspicion that she cheated the Ceska Sporitelna savings bank.

The Dawn's new leader is Roman Škrabánek, who had previously been in the second place. According to SANEP survey, the party will get over 3 % of the votes in the elections to the European Parliament. So far, it is not sure which political group it will join if it succeeds. There is another new political movement, YES 2011, which is the second strongest party in the Czech Republic, and a coalition partner that gained almost 19 % in the parliamentary elections. It is supposed to gain over 20% in the EU elections. According to its leader, candidate Pavel Telička (ex-EU commissioner) YES 2011 will probably join ALDE. YES 2011 is led by the second-richest man in the Czech Republic, Andrej Babiš (according to Forbes magazine). His movement is gathering more and more popularity, but he himself remains largely controversial. Last year, he bought MAFRA, a major Czech publishing house, and joined the government, serving as minister of finance.

As minister, Babiš raises eyebrows in terms of possible conflict of interest. He is seen as the most influential person in the country’s media market, with a lot of potential influence on Czech public opinion. At the same time, he is the sole owner of the Agrofert Company which leases most of the Czech Republic's agricultural land. His company has strong interests in the EU’s agriculture policy, international trade agreements, and energy-climate policy.

Slovakia

Slovakia may well send new parties to the EP. One of them is a very heterogeneous grouping called Ordinary People and Independent Personalities. As the name indicates, they are not a standard party, but rather a mixture of people with very diverse political agendas and views, ranging from very conservative ideas, to green issues and anti-corruption dossiers. Their list for the EP election has been put together again by targeting specific people, NGOs and whistleblowers outside their circle. The list is headed by MP Jozef Viskupič, a member of the EU affairs committee. They are non-aligned for the time being, but their leader did not rule out joining some new grouping should they find their goals alike.

Chances are another party will strengthen the Slovak EPP delegation, namely Most-Híd. It is rather unique, as it is a joint Slovak-Hungarian party (Slovakia has a 10 % Hungarian minority) as opposed to ethnic Hungarian party SMK, that is already a member of EPP and was opposed to Most-Hid joining, as well. Some more Eurosceptic parties are heading to European Parliament, one of them with their leader on the list. Richard Sulik is the person whom some blame for the fall of the Iveta Radičova's centre-right government in 2011, as Sulik´s party and coalition partner refused to back the changes in the EFSF, which the Prime Minister linked to a vote of confidence for her government. Freedom and Solidarity, as the party is called, is a member of ALDE.

Romania

Several newcomers, such as the Popular Movement Party, the Civic Force Party and the New Republic Party, are expected on the right, but according to pundits, they are unlikely to alter Romanian representation in the next European Parliament. This is because most of the newcomers who have reasonable chances of winning MEP seats, are former members or affiliates of the Liberal Democratic Party (PDL), associated with current President Traian Băsescu, and affiliated to the EPP. Recent polls show that the majority of seats will be split between the ruling Social Democratic Party (PSD) on the left, which is expected to take half of the available seats, and the National Liberal Party (PNL) of Crin Antonescu (ALDE-affiliated), PDL, the Popular Movement Party, the Civic Force Party and the Christian Democratic National Peasants' Party on the right. As the right wing parties appear to be competing with each other over a limited number of seats and over the same right wing electorate, their main stake in the election will be establishing a leader on the Romanian right.

The Popular Movement Party, though only recently registered, has already attracted a current MEP, Cristian Preda. He will open this year's electoral list for the party, having won a seat in the European Parliament for the Liberal Democratic Party in the 2009 elections. The other main candidates are former ministers of the Liberal-Democratic government such as Teodor Baconschi – a former Minister of Foreign Affairs - and Daniel Funeriu, former Minister of Education. An interesting addition has been the introduction, for the second eligible position of the party's list, of Siegfried Muresan, a consultant for the European People's Party. The party's main political objectives, as stated in their program, are to consolidate Romania's European and NATO integration, to guarantee the rule of law, and to protect the independence of the justice system. The PMP's political orientation within the European Parliament is made clear by their program, as its principles are drawn from the European People's Party.

The Civic Force Party is led by former prime minister, Senator Mihai Răzvan Ungureanu. He will open the party's electoral list, which consists names unknown to the general public – and strangers to Romanian politics. The PMP's political manifesto places its short, medium and long term objectives in stabilizing the country's political and economic situation, and promoting Romania's identity within European. The party has adopted a resolution of seeking membership in the European People's Party.

Bulgaria

Several new political players are expected to get MEP seats, according to the latest VoteWatch poll. Bulgaria Without Censorship, a new political project led by former TV journalist Nikolay Barekov, is likely to get two of the 17 Bulgarian MEP seats. Barekov is campaigning on a populist ticket, promising free tablets to school children, and mandatory military service, as a way to socialize the marginalized Roma population. Barekov is vocal against corruption, but has refused to explain the origin of the substantial funding which his force obviously has available. Regarding his positioning against censorship, many Bulgarian journalists reproach him his close relations with Delyan Peevski, a controversial businessman who has become the symbol of media concentration in Bulgaria. Peevski himself is running as number two of the list of the Movement of Rights and Freedoms (DPS), ALDE-affiliated. Bulgaria Without Censorship has tried to obtain EPP-affiliation, which has been denied to the new force, which is seen with some suspicion in Brussels.

According to the same poll, another new force which is also likely to get two MEP seats is the Alternative for Bulgarian Renaissance (ABV) of former President Georgi Parvanov. The ABV list is led by current MEP Ivailo Kalfin, who last January left his position of leader of the group of Bulgarian MEPs from the Socialist Party (BSP) over differences with the BSP leader Sergei Stanishev and invested himself in the new political project. There is no doubt that ABV will join the group of Socialists and Democrats. On a recent visit to Sofia, the centre-left leading candidate for Commission, President Martin Schulz, made public appearances with both Stanishev and with Kalfin.

One more new force is likely to send one MEP to Strasbourg: the Reformist Block, an EPP-affiliated party representing the ‘traditional’ centre-right in the country. The Bulgarian centre-right is divided between the rather populist GERB party of former prime minister Boyko Borissov, who is likely to come first at the elections with some 30% of the vote and send 5 MEPs to Strasbourg, and the Reformist Block, the lists of which are led by Meglena Kuneva, a former European Commissioner. BSP is also expected to send 5 MEPs. Formerly, Kuneva was member of the party NDSV of former king Simeon Saxe-Coburgh-Gotha, which was ALDE-affiliated. As NDSV lost influence, Kuneva created her own political force ‘Bulgaria for citizens’, but after she lost in the 2013 parliamentary elections, she joined the new political project.

Greece

According to latest polls in Greece, three new parties are expected to enter the European Parliament. Potami (The River) is a newly established pro-European party which has not decided yet to which European political family it will be affiliated, keeping contact though with both S&D and ALDE. Regarding the vision for Europe, candidate MEP Kostas Argyros recently told EurActiv Greece that his party will struggle for a federal Europe.

“We are aware of the fact that this will not happen easily and above all, if people do not comprehend what this really means and stop perceiving it in a phobic way”, he said. Most polls suggest that Potami will assure the third position in the EU elections, ranging from 7.0-8.5%. The anti-European neo-Nazi party Golden Dawn is also expected to be represented in the new EU Parliament. The party is currently under criminal investigation and six of its MPs, including its leader Nikos Michaloliakos, are in jail awaiting trial on charges related to criminal activities.

Last week the Greek Supreme Court gave the green light for the party to run for the EU elections and polls suggest that it will get 7.0-8.0% of the vote. It is expected to stay as “non-attached”. Another party due to join the next EU Parliament is the right-wing eurosceptic “Independent Greeks”. Its leader is a former MP of ruling center-right New Democracy and could be close to Europe of Freedom and Democracy as well as European Conservatives and Reformists.

 


         
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Emanuel Paparella2014-05-21 19:37:12
In the plethora of all those new parties, the question arises: what, if anything, unites them all or, at the very least, brings them together to work of the common good of the EU? I am afraid that "the answer, my friend, is blowing in the wind." But hope springs eternal!


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