The newly-elected European Parliament (EP) sits for the first time on 2 July. Since the election, Political Groups in the EP have been seeking to finalise their composition for the next Parliamentary session. This Insight looks at the make-up of these Groups and their relative strength in the new EP.
Forming Political Groups in the European Parliament
Being part of a Political Group in the EP is important for MEPs as the leading Groups work together to set the agenda of the EP. Political Groups get precedence in terms of speaking time in EP plenary sessions, and are entitled to additional funding and resources to support their activities.
Under EP rules, a Political Group has to consist of MEPs from at least one-quarter of the Member States (i.e. seven Member States) and at least 25 MEPs. The chart below shows the relative strength of the Political Groups in the new Parliament, comparing to the outgoing EP.
The EPP and S&D
In most cases the Groups relate to the broader Europe-wide confederations of political parties, such as the centre-right European People’s Party (EPP). As with all EP elections since 1999, the results gave the EPP Group the highest number of seats in the new EP. The German Christian Democrats remain the largest national grouping within the EPP, despite losing seats. The Group includes other leading centre-right parties from across the EU. Among these are the ruling Fidesz party in Hungary. It was suspended from the EPP in March 2019, but is still part of the EPP Group in the EP.
The second biggest Group is the centre-left Socialists & Democrats (S&D). This was previously known as the Socialist Group and includes the UK Labour Party and other leading socialist, social democratic and labour parties in the EU.
Until now these two Political Groups have worked together to control the agenda of the EP. However, both Groups lost seats in the election. The new Parliament will be the first, since direct elections were introduced in 1979, in which these two Groups will not have a majority of MEPs between them. This means they will need to work with other Groups to shape the agenda of the new Parliament.
The ‘pro-EU’ majority
The third biggest Group will be the Renew Europe (RE) Group. This is a renamed version of the liberal ALDE Group and also now incorporates French President Emmanuel Macron’s La Republique En Marche! (LREM) party. The Group made gains in several Member States, notably in the UK where it now has 16 Liberal Democrat MEPs and one Northern Ireland Alliance Party MEP.
Green parties also made big gains. This was however primarily a Northern and Western European phenomenon, and they did not pick up seats in Eastern and Southern Europe. The Green parties sit in a joint Group with the European Free Alliance (EFA), which brings together some regionalist and nationalist parties including the Scottish National Party, Plaid Cymru and the Catalan Republican Left. Since the election, the Green-EFA Group has expanded further with MEPs from other parties joining, including the Czech and German Pirate parties. It is now the fourth largest Group in the EP.
There have already been talks between these larger four ‘pro-EU’ Political Groups about working together to shape the agenda of the new Parliament. Between them they can muster 518 MEPs (69% of the 751 total – see chart below).
Eurorealists, Eurosceptics and populists
The other parties to make big gains were those on the populist right. These include the League in Italy and National Rally (NR) in France, both of which topped the polls in their respective countries. In the outgoing EP the League, NR and similar parties sat together in the Europe of Nations and Freedom (ENF) Group. They have now formed an expanded version of this Group called ‘Identity and Democracy’ (ID). This includes switchers from other Groups, such as the Alternative for Germany (AfD), and new entrants to the EP.
There were reports that the Brexit Party was in talks to join this Group, but Nigel Farage said that this would not be the case. The Brexit Party was in the Europe of Freedom and Direct Democracy (EFDD) Group in the outgoing EP. However, the only other party left in this Group is the Italian Five Star Movement. Other former EFDD parties have either left for other Groups (the AfD) or lost their seats altogether. The EFDD will cease to be a Group unless it can attract parties from another five Member States – due to EP rules on the formation of Political Groups set out above.
The European Conservative and Reformist Party (ECR) describes itself as ‘Eurorealist’. It was established by the Conservative Party when it left the EPP in 2009. It has fallen from the third biggest Group in 2014 to the sixth today. Following Conservative Party losses at the election, the Polish Law and Justice Party is now the dominant member of the Group. The ECR lost members to the ID Group, but it also attracted new entrants – including Vox from Spain and the Netherlands Forum for Democracy.
The European United Left/Nordic Green Left (GUE/NGL) also suffered losses. It is likely to be the smallest Group in the new EP. This Group brings together more left-wing parties including the ruling Syriza in Greece and Podemos in Spain as well as Sinn Féin in Ireland/Northern Ireland.
Possible coalitions in the new Parliament
The chart below shows potential coalitions in the new EP and whether they would surpass the 376 vote threshold required for an absolute majority in the EP (necessary for some EP votes). The pro-EU Groups could achieve a majority working together. A centre-left (GUE/NGL+S&D+Greens/EFA+ RE) majority would just be possible (377 MEPs) for some issues, although the component parties are more likely to agree on non-economic issues. A centre-right coalition involving EPP+ECR+RE plus ID and/or EFDD would also have a majority. But this would require pro-EU liberals and centrists working with anti-EU populists and nationalists.
The numbers for each Group are provisional and there could be further switchers or new joiners.
European Parliament elections 2019: results and analysis, House of Commons Library Briefing Paper, 26 June 2019
Stefano Fella is a senior researcher in international affairs and defence at the House of Commons Library, specialising in Brexit.
Photo credit: © European Union 2014 – European Parliament