The Irish Times view on the EU after the European Parliament elections: holding the centre ground

It looks as if the centrist coalition will hold on to the main executive positions and be able to shape the incoming commission.

President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen at the plenary session during the summit on peace in Ukraine, in Obburgen, Switzerland at the weekend. (Photo: Urs Flueeler/AP)

Bargaining over coalitions, positions and policies in the European Union will proceed apace now that the European Parliament election results are in. While there has been an overall shift to the right, the picture is uneven. It is most pronounced in Germany, France and Italy, three large states which deeply affect EU policy-making. Yet a centrist coalition still remains available between a stronger conservative group, working with weakened liberals, social democrats and Greens. That would be lost if the conservative group instead reaches out to stronger hard right parties.

This strategic decision depends mainly on Ursula von der Leyen, leader of the conservative European People’s Party and outgoing president of the European Commission. Her group has increased its seats and she has offered a new pact with the social democrats and liberals. Their seat losses mean the Greens would be needed as a fourth partner to make up the parliamentary numbers required. That is difficult for von der Leyen because she backtracked on the EU’s compromise Green Deal in the campaign. The Greens say they would draw a red line against including hard right support in any coalition.

Von der Leyen has already indicated she is willing to co-operate politically with Italian prime minister Georgia Meloni, who she says favours the rule of law and is pro-Ukraine, differentiating her from other hard and far right parties. Precedents can be set here, for domestic politics in France particularly, where president Macron’s calling of parliamentary elections may bring Marine Le Pen’s far right Rassemblement National to power after they got more than double the votes of Macron’s party in the European election.

These uncertainties will affect bargaining for positions and policies in the EU’s next five-year cycle. It looks as if the centrist coalition will hold on to the main executive positions and be able to shape the incoming commission. Policy-making looks more uncertain. Much depends on the outcome of France’s elections. Macron’s gamble is that voters will think twice about supporting Le Pen at national level and that he can retrieve lost ground. If he is wrong, France’s voice will be weakened alongside Germany’s in coming months, as Europe awaits the outcome of the US elections.

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An EU that needs to enhance its competitiveness, create more economic capacity to tackle gaps in its investment, financial and budgetary profiles, and confront urgent climate, foreign policy and security-defence challenges would then find itself unable to agree on them while this uncertainty plays out. A more pronounced shift towards new right-wing policies would undermine this agenda, moving towards more inter-governmentalism and away from shared sovereignty. The emerging centrist coalition must resist such a retrograde shift.