The European Alliance of Socialists and the People’s Party is Wobbling in Brussels

Bernardo de Miguel

5 mins - 15 de Mayo de 2023, 07:05

The growing rift between European conservatives and socialists in Brussels threatens to collapse the grand coalition of these two groups that has maintained the EU’s political structure for 70 years. After the next European elections (June 2024), the club will face the biggest political earthquake in its history, caused by the erosion of Christian democracy and its rapprochement with ultra-conservative forces. Social democracy sees the maintenance of the traditional alliance as unviable if the European People’s Party (EPP) strengthens its ties with the extreme formations now integrated in the ECR group, which includes 20 parties, among which figure those of Meloni (Fratelli d’Italia) and Abascal (Vox). The break-up of the grand coalition could paralyse the EU institutions and greatly complicate the renewal of the current EU leadership, whose terms of office expire next year.

“Next year there will be European elections and the EPP has an obligation to work to build a solid majority that can govern the EU for the next five years (...) It is important that the dialogue between the ECR and the EPP continues. Although they are different forces, they often vote together in the European Parliament,” said Italian Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani in an interview with the online media Euractiv on Friday. Tajani, a former European Commissioner and former EPP MEP, recalled that he himself was elected President of the European Parliament thanks to the votes of the People’s Party, the Liberals and the ultra-conservatives.

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But a deal between the People’s Party and the ultra-conservatives would shatter the grand coalition that has de facto controlled Brussels for decades. “If the traditional pro-European alliance is in danger, it is because some people are moving in a very dangerous direction,” warned MEP Iratxe García, president of the Socialist group in the European Parliament, the second largest in the chamber (143 seats) behind the People’s Party (177 seats), last week.

Garcia accuses the EPP of going along with the far-right agenda even at the risk of moving away from the EU’s core values. “The European Union is above all a community of values, but those values are being challenged by the centre right as it leans towards the extremes to attack women, minorities, migrants and the environment,” the socialist MEP lamented

The grand coalition began to take a battering after the most recent elections (2019), when the two parties failed to win more than 50% of the seats for the first time since the parliament was first elected by direct suffrage (1979). The bipartite was forced to court the votes of the Liberals and Greens to push through the election of the new European Commission, chaired by the German conservative Ursula von der Leyen.

The parliamentary arithmetic looks set to twist further after the 2024 elections, with the two major parties suffering from relentless attrition in some of Europe’s main partners. The Populares find themselves in opposition in most of the most populous countries and are in danger of extinction in France, Italy, and Hungary for the purposes of the European Parliament. The Socialists were left without any seats in the last elections in Ireland and are in free fall in France, Belgium, and Greece.

The European People’s Party, chaired by German MEP Manfred Weber, makes no secret of its intention to compensate for the tremendous losses with a rapprochement with ECR, the group founded in 2009 by the British Tories and Kaczynski’s Poles (PiS) as a Eurosceptic and ultra-conservative alternative to the Christian Democratic family. Weber is the main driving force behind a plan that has made its debut in Italy and has caused a stir not only among social democrats but also among the Christian Democrats themselves, who are more attached to the humanist and democratic tradition of that family.

“The Italian model is particularly interesting for the EPP,” Weber said last week, referring to the government formed by Giorgia Meloni (whose party belongs to the ECR) with Matteo Salvini’s Lega and Silvio Berlusconi’s Popular Party. The conservatives’ collaboration with the extreme right, which once would have triggered a barrage of reproaches in Brussels, has been received with unusual benevolence not only by Weber but also by the European Commission chaired by Von der Leyen

The EPP considers it feasible to replicate the Italian experience in other countries (Spain in particular) and even at the European level. The latest electoral projections suggest that ECR could unseat the Liberals as the third force in the European Parliament after the 2024 elections and the sum of its seats would allow the EPP to remain the most powerful force in the EU, a position it has held since 2004. But Weber’s experiment, rejected by a large part of his own party, could end in a serious institutional crisis if the future European Parliament fails to assemble a majority in favour of strengthening and boosting European integration. A goal that is not at all shared by the EPP’s new travelling companions. 
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