European Parliament groupings: who has enough friends?

Yesterday’s confab between Geert Wilders and Marinne Le Pen on working together marks an important opening move in what is likely to be one of the most consequential aspects of next year’s European elections.

By pulling together the Dutch and French groups, in addition to Swedish, Flemish and Austrian parties, Le Pen and Wilders have largely secured a key aim of the radical right, namely of creating an EP group next year. This has eluded them for a long time now and would reflect both the resurgence of the radical right across Europe and their much improved cooperation.

However, there are other consequences and impacts that are of much note.

Of particular interest is the impact on the future fates of UKIP and the Conservatives. The likely formation of a radical right grouping will cause both much difficulty.

UKIP is likely to secure more seats than any other British party next year and will want to leverage that into a further improved profile, both nationally and in the EP. However,  the EFD group is functional no more than a shell, with nothing holding it together beyond a dislike of the EU and the need to secure funding and speaking time. Several member parties in the group could reasonably move in with the radical right, leaving UKIP in an awkward position of being a bigger party, but still struggling to build a group. The enmity between Farage and Le Pen, and the very strong line that Farage has taken on not being associated with the radical right (witness the ejection of Godfrey Bloom earlier in the year) mean that a eurosceptic-radical right hook-up is not a viable option, especially given the designs that Farage has on the 2015 general election.

However, UKIP still looks to be in a stronger position than the Tories, whose ECR group is also vulnerable to defections to the radical right. Assuming the Tories take the hit that governing parties normally encounter in European elections, and that the eastern European parties are as volatile as they have been, then there is a lot of scope for the threshold to be missed, leaving the Tories out in the cold. The hardening of the party in the current parliament and the retirement of many of the remaining pro-integration MEPs, means that rejoining the EPP looks improbable, just as throwing in hats with the radical right is a complete non-starter.

At the present,  the Tories risk becoming an even more marginal part of the EP. This is more a problem of representation on the national stage (imagine Ed Milliband talking about how the Tories are losing the argument in Europe) than it is in the EP itself, where even the ECR has struggling to make an impression.  As such, we might imagine the Tories will start being much more friendly to their partners in the coming months, to try and forestall this happening.

Whatever the outcome, the mutual exclusion of the Front National, UKIP and the Conservatives will mean that even if all three form groups, they will represent a fractured opposition to the PSE-EPP-ELDR cluster, which in turn will constrain their ability to shape the European polity and policy.

Interesting times, to say the least.