UK Politics

What impact will more Eurosceptics have on EU Parliament?

Greek Protestors Athens Anti-EU Image copyright LOUISA GOULIAMAKI
Image caption Union members in Athens during a strike protesting new labour reforms demanded by the country's EU creditors

Next week approximately 400 million European citizens will go to the polls.

Against a backdrop of a euro crisis and four years of austerity, a large number of populist Euro sceptic parties from across the political spectrum have sprung up.

These parties have established themselves with a solid support base in almost all European countries and are anticipated to win a high proportion of the European Parliament's 751 seats.

According to a report by the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR) there could be almost 200 Euro sceptic MEPs in the European Parliament after 22 May.

Which begs the question, what's going to happen when they get there?

Many believe a Euro sceptic influx will further undermine the legitimacy of the European Union.

Image caption Marine Le Pen and Geert Wilders promise to slay "the monster in Brussels"

If, as many polls predict, the Euro sceptics emerge as the third largest bloc in the Brussels Parliament after the elections, the ECFR report says "we may see the strange spectacle of a parliament with many members who ultimately want to secure its own abolition".

Marine Le Pen, the leader of France's Front National, and Geert Wilders, the anti-Islam campaigner and leader of the Dutch Party of Freedom, have agreed to build a pan-European parliamentary group to wreck the European parliament from within, and, as they put it, slay "the monster in Brussels".

This voting bloc could mean a large portion of the assembly becomes dedicated to paralysing the progress of its own legislation and polarising debates in the parliament.

William Dartmouth, the UKIP MEP for the South West of England and Gibraltar, does not see it that way.

"It seems to be a very odd mindset to say that a mockery is made if there is a proper argument made and proper scrutiny - which there certainly isn't at the moment," he says.

Back door

The Euro sceptic surge could, ironically, lead to a stronger pro-EU bloc, with a common enemy to unite against.

The traditional pro-European, mainstream parties have dominated the European Parliament through the two largest voting blocs - the centre right European People's Party (EPP) and centre-left Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats (S&D).

These two groups are expected to have about 200 seats each after May's elections - out of a total of 751 MEPs.

If the polls are correct, they will be confronted by a Euro sceptic bloc of a similar size, which could block and frustrate legislation.

If the three largest groups, S&D, the EPP and the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE) were to group together they'd have close to 500 votes, giving them a comfortable two-thirds majority to pass key legislation on the single market, trade, and euro zone governance issues.

Image copyright FREDERICK FLORIN
Image caption Will Eurosceptics will be able to stick together once in the European Parliament?

"The incentive is for these main groups to compromise so that by themselves they can win the majority of the European Parliament without depending on the smaller groups, which are more Eurosceptic," says Yves Bertoncini, Director of the pro-EU Think Tank the Jacques Delors Institute.

MEPs might also turn to passing legislation through the back door - using emergency powers and intergovernmental treaties rather than through the parliament.

Yet the European Council on Foreign Relations warns that huddling too close together could strengthen claims that there is a remote European cartel, alien to the concerns of voters, ganging up on the Eurosceptics.

Fascistic parties

The ability of the Eurosceptic parties to work together is also under question.

Left leaning Eurosceptic groups such as the Left Front in France and Syriza in Greece are unlikely to collaborate with their right wing counterparts.

Le Pen and Wilders have ruled out collaborating with what they see as overtly fascistic parties such as Golden Dawn in Greece and Jobbik in Hungary.

But UKIP leader Nigel Farage has ruled out an alliance with the far right Front National - unlike Italy's Northern League, who are expected to leave the UKIP led Europe of Freedom and Democracy (EFD) to join the planned new voting bloc.

If the Northern League do go the EFD risks collapse, as groups need at least 25 MEPs from seven countries to be given official status. The EFD currently have 31 MEPs.

The European Parliament will then, according to Mr Bertoncini, continue to work largely based on the compromises built by the dominant political groups.

"There will be a populist upswing in the next European election, but the thing is the populists are not a family. So of course they will be weaker because they are not united," says Mr Bertoncini.

Biggest impact

"The common point for these parties is they don't like Europe, but the roots of the criticism from the left and the right are different. They are different in terms of solutions as well."

He added: "There will be more vocal protestors in the European Parliament after May but they won't be decision makers, because they are in the minority. In terms of concrete decision making they are useless."

But Jose Ignacio Torreblanca, one of the authors of the European Council on Foreign Relations report, does not think the Eurosceptics need a majority in the European Parliament to impose their agenda.

The biggest impact of the surge will come from Eurosceptics' ability to "condition other mainstream parties, to moderate them or make them change their agenda", he argues.

And with an aversion to increasing European integration already shared by some the bigger and more established parties they might find themselves pushing at an open door.

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