Blog Post

Chart of the week: Political groups in the European Parliament since 1979

The results of the European Parliament election of May 22-25 have been described as “a shock, an earthquake”. The long-term trends, however, indicate a different perspective.

By: Date: November 24, 2014 Topic: European Macroeconomics & Governance

True, the shifts in Britain and France have been among the most dramatic. But the vote in other countries suggests a more nuanced view

Much of the pan-European comment, as always, comes from the London-based international press focusing on the outcomes in the UK and, to a lesser extent, in the familiar old neighbor across the Channel. True, the shifts in Britain and France have been among the most dramatic. The UK Independence Party (UKIP) came in first, as did the National Front in France, while the governing French Socialist Party did worse than ever. But the vote in other countries suggests a more nuanced view.

In Italy, the governing centre-left and pro-European Union (EU) Democratic Party won decisively. In Spain, the dominance of the two mainstream parties was eroded, but the gainers were mostly pro-EU even when they were anti-system. Conversely in other countries, key parties were pro-system from a domestic perspective, some of them even governing in their countries, but nevertheless anti-EU – for example, Hungary’s Fidesz and indeed the UK’s own Conservatives. About everywhere, and as usual in European elections, national political developments overwhelmingly influenced voters’ choices.

A longer-term perspective is reflected in in the chart above, showing all European Parliament elections (one every five years) since the first one by universal suffrage in 1979. Political groups in the Parliament have occasionally changed name and composition in terms of national member parties, but there is enough continuity to observe trends.

The two main groups have always been the centre-right European People’s Party (EPP) and the centre-left Socialists & Democrats (S&D). The centrist liberals, now known as Alliance of Liberals and Democrats in Europe (ALDE), have also been present since inception, as has a group of communist and other left-of-centre parties, now called European United Left / Nordic Green Left (EUL/NGL). The Greens appeared in the 1984 election in alliance with regionalists, and have had their own group continuously since 1989. The UK Tories joined the EPP in the 1994, 1999 and 2004 but have been the core of a Conservative group both before (European Democrats) and after (European Conservatives and Reformists).

Various other right-of-centre nationalist groups have come and gone, most recently the Europe of Freedom and Direct Democracy (EFDD) party, which includes UKIP and Italy’s Five-Star Movement. There was also a separate regionalist group following the 1989 election, and a split centrist group following the one in 1994. Finally, each parliament has a number of independents, currently at record level since France’s National Front failed to join or constitute a group.

The chart shows the shares of total Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) for different political groupings on the basis of this typology. Given the EU system’s significant deviation from the principle of electoral equality, this breakdown may be somewhat different from the EU-wide popular vote. Also, the absolute number of MEPs has almost doubled because of successive EU enlargements, from 410 in 1979 to 751 today.

One obvious fact springs from the graph: Europe has been there before

One obvious fact springs from the graph: Europe has been there before. Until the 1990s, the overall balance of political forces in the European Parliament was remarkably similar to the current one, even though its national components have changed somewhat. Compared with the heyday of the “European mainstream” in the 1999, 2004 and 2009 elections, the earlier period saw stronger parties both on the left and on the right of the centrist block of EPP, ALDE, S&D and Greens (who may be radical on certain policies but are here included in the “European mainstream” in terms of their stance on EU integration). Strikingly, the legislatures that followed the 1984 and 1989 elections were the ones when Jacques Delors was President of the Commission, an era often seen in Brussels as the halcyon days of European integration.

A key question for the future, of course, is whether the recent trend will continue, and whether the “anti” parties may increase their gains further in the next election, scheduled in 2019. While an extrapolation of the chart may suggest such a prospect, it is far from inevitable. An optimistic reading of the appointment of EPP lead candidate Jean-Claude Juncker, the former prime minister of Luxembourg, as Commission President (which remains to be confirmed by a vote of the European Parliament itself) suggests that the next election may differ markedly from previous ones, including this year’s.

Given the Juncker precedent, EU member states’ citizens may be motivated to elect a specific party with a positive outcome in mind (their preferred pick for the top job) as opposed to a protest vote. If confirmed, this could trigger another trend reversal.

 


Republishing and referencing

Bruegel considers itself a public good and takes no institutional standpoint. Anyone is free to republish and/or quote this post without prior consent. Please provide a full reference, clearly stating Bruegel and the relevant author as the source, and include a prominent hyperlink to the original post.

Read about event More on this topic
 

Upcoming Event

Jan
20
15:00

Monetary and fiscal policy interaction in times of Next Generation EU

Could Next Generation EU enable a better coordination of monetary and fiscal policy

Speakers: Lorenzo Bini Smaghi, Grégory Claeys and Hans Vijlbrief Topic: European Macroeconomics & Governance Location: Bruegel, Rue de la Charité 33, 1210 Brussels
Read article More on this topic More by this author
 

Blog Post

The double irony of the new UK-EU trade relationship

The Trade and Cooperation Agreement signed between the European Union and the United Kingdom goes against six decades of UK efforts to avoid being economically disadvantaged in Europe. Tracking the evolution of the EU-UK relationship over the last 60 years can help in understanding this.

By: André Sapir Topic: European Macroeconomics & Governance Date: January 12, 2021
Read about event More on this topic
 

Upcoming Event

Jan
27
16:00

In search of a fitting monetary policy: the ECB's strategy review

The ECB is reviewing its monetary policy strategy. How to ensure monetary policy is fit for purpose in a fast changing world?

Speakers: Maria Demertzis, Philip Lane, Reza Moghadam and Erik F. Nielsen Topic: European Macroeconomics & Governance Location: Bruegel, Rue de la Charité 33, 1210 Brussels
Read article More on this topic
 

Blog Post

Corporate insolvencies during COVID-19: keeping calm before the storm

Measures in major economies have protected companies from COVID-19 related insolvency, but have also protected weak firms. Nevertheless, support should remain as long as necessary, while cumbersome insolvency processes should be reformed for the long term.

By: Grégory Claeys, Mia Hoffmann and Guntram B. Wolff Topic: European Macroeconomics & Governance Date: January 7, 2021
Read article Download PDF
 

Policy Contribution

The productivity paradox: policy lessons from MICROPROD

The objective of MICROPROD, an EU-wide research project that runs until the end of 2021, is to understand what is driving the current productivity slowdown and what the potential consequences are for Europe's economic model and its citizens’ welfare. This Policy Contribution summarises the main, policy-relevant conclusions of the 20 MICROPROD papers delivered so far.

By: Grégory Claeys and Maria Demertzis Topic: European Macroeconomics & Governance, Innovation & Competition Policy Date: January 6, 2021
Read article More on this topic More by this author
 

Blog Post

When the future changes the past: fiscal indicator revisions

The 2020 pandemic economic shock has led to reassessment of fiscal policy measures in 2018 and earlier, because of faulty measurement of unobserved output gaps and structural balances. The current period of suspension of EU fiscal rules should be used to design a better fiscal framework.

By: Zsolt Darvas Topic: European Macroeconomics & Governance Date: January 5, 2021
Read article More on this topic More by this author
 

Opinion

Regulation in the era of matchmaking economics

New approaches and new tools are needed to prevent excessive concentration of economic power in the hands of a few matchmaking digital platforms that form multi-sided markets. Regulation in this area is only just emerging.

By: Maria Demertzis Topic: European Macroeconomics & Governance Date: January 5, 2021
Read article More on this topic More by this author
 

Podcast

Podcast

The year that tested us all

An overview of economic policy and beyond in 2020

By: The Sound of Economics Topic: European Macroeconomics & Governance Date: December 21, 2020
Read article Download PDF
 

Parliamentary Testimony

European Parliament

Monetary Policy in the times of corona: many unknown unknowns

Testimony to the European Parliament on monetary policy.

By: Maria Demertzis and Marta Domínguez-Jiménez Topic: European Macroeconomics & Governance, European Parliament, Testimonies Date: December 21, 2020
Read about event
 

Past Event

Past Event

A green industrial policy for Europe

The EU needs to develop a strong green industrial policy. What should Europe's strategy look like and how can we achieve it?

Speakers: Ann Mettler, Simone Tagliapietra and Reinhilde Veugelers Topic: Energy & Climate, European Macroeconomics & Governance, Innovation & Competition Policy Location: Bruegel, Rue de la Charité 33, 1210 Brussels Date: December 17, 2020
Read article More on this topic More by this author
 

Opinion

Are we out of the woods yet?

The return to normal may just have to wait.

By: Maria Demertzis Topic: European Macroeconomics & Governance Date: December 14, 2020
Read about event More on this topic
 

Past Event

Past Event

What will the EU's new migration policy do differently?

What does the EU's new migration policy look like and is it likely to succeed?

Speakers: Hanne Beirens, Margaritis Schinas and Guntram B. Wolff Topic: European Macroeconomics & Governance Location: Bruegel, Rue de la Charité 33, 1210 Brussels Date: December 10, 2020
Load more posts