You heard it from Kassandra first, when we asked: “Wouldn’t the parties that currently belong to [the ECR,EFDD and ENF] groups, form a large, united group to the right of the EPP, united by their opposition to the establishment’s newly-found vigilance (or rather, desperate and suicidal attempt at self-protection), in spite of their differences?”
In the edition of 22 October, Kassandra was investigating a proposal before the European Parliament’s Committee on Constitutional Affairs seeking to revise the rules that govern the formation of parliamentary groups, with the aim of rendering it impossible for those groups to reconstitute themselves post-May 2019. The “United Right,” we dubbed it then.
The foundations for that very alliance were laid this week: it took Italy’s interior minister Matteo Salvini – the leader of Lega, and along with Marine Le Pen, the de facto leader of the ENF grouping – and Jarosław Kaczyński – the head of Poland’s Law and Justice who will be in control of the ECR group post-Brexit – last Wednesday’s afternoon to put together an “Italo-Polish axis” that will counter-balance the dominance and migration-friendly policies of the Franco-German one. According to the latest projections, Lega would end up being the largest party in the European Parliament across the board were elections held last Thursday. Germany’s CDU will end up second and Poland’s Law and Justice third.
Hungary’s Viktor Orban was quick to join in: “The Polish-Italian or Warsaw-Rome alliance is one of the greatest developments that this year could have started with,” he said, pledging to fight Macron to defend “our countries’ future.” If Orban was to switch sides and join the United Right (only a working title we understand), rejecting the EPP, his projected 12 MEPs would be enough to dethrone the EPP from pole position and propel the United Right to first position. According to polls, the current projected difference is less than that (United Right lingers around the low 160s; the EPP around the low 170s).
Additional facts reinforce the likelihood of a united Eurosceptic or ‘reformist’ front, as its leaders like to call it: Jordan Bardella, the National Rally of Le Pen’s pick to lead the European elections list is an ally of Salvini. Lega’s delegation to the Committee of the Regions are already officially part of the ECR grouping. It is happening. Be it that the ECR will drop the conservative element from its name to lead a new, united European Reformists’ group with wider appeal, or another structure will emerge, there is enough time until the European elections for those details to be hashed out.
The EPP is taking notice: in comments made in September, Weber left the door open to pretty much everybody who is anybody. “So we must work with everyone and listen to everyone to find a common vision. And frankly, I don’t think it’s that difficult,” the EPP’s Spitzenkandidat, Manfred Weber told La Stampa, praising at the same time the ECR for their collaboration in the European Parliament. It was after all with the help of the ECR that the position of Parliament’s president was secured for EPP’s Antonio Tajani two years ago.
Tomi Huhtanen, director of the EPP’s in-house think tank, the Wilfried Martens Centre for European Studies wrote an opinion piece on the subject of the potential of a unification of Eurosceptic forces last Friday. He notes: “As wiping out Brussels and the EU is no longer a good electoral idea for populists to promote, what is there to do? As a result, the populist parties have decided to skip the ‘burn-it-all’ agenda. Instead, they started framing the debate as them leading the historic reform of the EU, based on the nation states against those who want to create the European super state. In essence, the leading populist parties are pushing for a very strict intergovernmental model.”
Overall, it will be a hard one for Weber and EPP bosses to solve: the more they move the party to the right, the less likely it is that their centrist forces will not switch to a centrist Macron/ ALDE alliance. Should they decide to reoccupy the centre ground that brought them to eminence in the first place, their conservative and nationalist flank will jump ship to join a United Right formation. Their dominance is threatened under any scenario: they find themselves squeezed out by two insurgencies, one to their right and one to their left. Same applies to the S&D. Even if those two establishment parties decided to reclaim any concrete position – they seem disoriented for now that “catch-all” or “big tent” won’t work anymore – they would have an HR problem: United Right, the centre and the Left are dominated by young, charismatic leaders not associated with previous administrations (or rather, mal-administrations, corruption and everything that in some countries clouds the aura of the two parties that have dominated European politics since the 1970s).
This is what the result of the next European elections hangs upon.