On the 15th of June, the far-right eurosceptic Europe of Nations and Freedom celebrated its first birthday. Many have wondered what the constitution of this group, made up of Marine Le Pen’s Front National and their foreign legion, would mean for the political dynamics in the European Parliament and EU policies as a whole. We have looked into their behaviour and results over this past year. This is what we found.
This report looks at the success of the Parliamentary group as a whole in directly shaping the policies of the European Parliament. As there is not a clear division between majority parties and opposition in the Parliament, political groups coalesce with each other on a case-by-case basis. Has the youngest group in the EP managed to find some allies among the older political groups?
On the basis of data collected by VoteWatch Europe, we also measured the participation and cohesion of the group compared to the other Parliamentary groups. Did Marine Le Pen’s cohort participate more or less than the other political groups in the EP? In which sectors is the group united and which are the issues sparking divisions within its ranks?
Although the ENF’s Members have shown much more appetite for EP activities than in the past term, they struggled to build alliances and to have their proposals approved by majorities. Although the group manages to find some occasional allies in Strasbourg, these are usually the other fringe groups. The isolation of the group is also shown by the small number of reports assigned to the group by the respective Parliamentary Committees and the lack of success of the amendments tabled by the group.
High participation, particularly in justice and home affairs
Over the last year ENF’s members attended, on average, 89.5% of roll-call votes in the plenary. It means that the group was more participative than left-wing groups such as the Greens and GUE-NGL, but also than the euro-critical ECR and the eurosceptic EFDD. On the other hand, the attendance of the group was lower than that of the centrist groups, although only a few decimal points separate ENF from S&D, which the most participative group over the last year.
Such a high participation is also driven by the high interest of the group for issues related to migration and the handling of the refugee crisis. In fact, when voting on these issues, ENF was the most participative group, as well as on gender equality and civil liberties in general, while its members were the least participative in votes that concerned employment and social affairs.
ENF is united on social policy, divided on economic policy
In terms of internal cohesion, the picture is less positive for ENF, when compared to the other political groups. In fact, the group is less cohesive (69%) than all the other political groups, except the EFDD (48%). This shows that there are important differences within the group, in particular in some areas.
The group is more united when it comes to social policy-related subjects such as employment, gender equality and home and justice affairs. For instance, the group was compact in voting against a strong-worded resolution on the constitutional crisis in Poland, as well as opposing a resolution on the new strategy for gender equality and women rights post-2015.
The behaviour of ENF is very different from the centre-right groups ECR and EPP, which are more divided when it comes to social issues. Cohesion-wise, ENF resembles more left-wing groups, which are highly cohesive on social policy, but struggle to keep their unity in economic policy.
On the other hand, the group is most divided over fields related to public spending, such as agriculture, development and fisheries. Also, other regulatory issues, related to economic and monetary affairs and internal market and consumer protection, were likely to spark divisions across the group.
Significant divergences within the group on digital policy, international trade and nuclear energy
On very salient issues, such as the refugee crisis, ideological affinities played an important role. In this case, the group never concealed its strong opposition to the redistribution of refugees across Europe, regardless of national differences. Also with regards to Russia, apart from the Dutch Party for Freedom, the group was united in calling for an end to the sanctions against Moscow, which are in place since the escalation of the crisis in Ukraine.
When it comes to regulatory issues, the group is less cohesive. For instance, parties such as Flemish Interest, Austrian Freedom’s Party and the Polish Congress of the New Right were more supportive of the Digital Single Market and the phasing out of nuclear energy than the National Front and the Northern League. The Austrian party also disagreed with the majority of the group about the need to pursue more public spending rather than austerity measures.
The Dutch far-right members voted differently from the rest of the group on certain issues as well. The Party for Freedom supported the sanctions against Russia and was relatively open to the possibility of granting Market Economy Status to China, whereas the large majority of the group was strongly opposed to granting MES to China (for more information on the vote on MES, check out our report). The fact that the Dutch members were either absent or did not vote on TTIP might indicate that there is a broader friction on trade policy between the party led by Geert Wilders and the rest of the group.
On the other hand, the French and Italian far right MEPs voted in the same way in all the key votes considered, although they hold different views on the access to contraception and abortion.
ENF is most likely to vote with EFDD overall, but coalesce with the far-left and the Greens on trade and environment
Not surprisingly, the best coalition partner for ENF is the other eurosceptic group EFDD: these two groups voted together over half of time (55%), whereas the Conservative group ECR is the second best coalition partner of ENF. The alliance with these groups is particularly strong in regards to social policy: ENF voted with EFDD 71% of times in Employment and Social Affairs, whereas it voted 68% of times with ECR on issues regarding Women Rights and Gender Equality.
It is worth mentioning here that by ‘coalitions’ and ‘alliances’ we understand situations in which the groups voted on the same side, regardless of whether there have been talks beforehand or these cases were mere coincidences.
Interestingly, in both International Trade and Economic and Monetary Affairs, the preferred partner of ENF is the far left group GUE-NGL (61% and 55%, respectively). In these sectors, ENF leaned towards the left, being more likely to vote together with the Greens and S&D rather than EPP and ECR. Even in Environment and Public Health, the ENF voted most often with the Greens than any other groups.
Instead, the centrist groups S&D, EPP and ALDE were the least likely coalition partners for ENF, with ALDE at the bottom of the ranking. Nevertheless, the rate of collaboration with the centrist groups is higher with regards to Agriculture (ENF voted with ALDE 76% of times) and Fisheries (ENF voted with S&D and EPP 79% of times).
Le Pen’s group won only a few votes, mostly on agriculture and fisheries
The winning rates of ENF have been rather low (31%) compared to the ones of the other EP groups. For instance, groups such as ECR and GUE-NGL managed to win more than 50% of votes. The only group trailing behind ENF is EFDD, with only 28% of votes won. Winning rates in the European Parliament are often linked to the capacity of a political group to coalesce with other groups, as there is not a stable majority, which is a different situation from the ones observed in many Member States. The low level of collaboration between the far-right group and the centrist groups, rather than the low internal cohesion, accounts for this weak performance.
In fact, despite the low cohesion level of the group in Agriculture and Fisheries, ENF won more in these sectors (respectively 74% and 84%) than in any other field. This is because, in these fields, the majority of ENF (read: the National Front) often voted together with the centrist groups, which constitute, taken together, the majority in the European Parliament.
Instead, because of both internal divisions and a higher political distance from the middle ground, the group struggles more with regards to International Trade and Foreign and Security Policy, as it won about 15% of the votes related to these sectors. Despite the high participation and cohesion, in sectors such as gender equality and justice and home affairs ENF lost most of the votes, also because of the high cohesiveness and strength of a dominant left-wing coalition spanning from GUE-NGL to ALDE. Instead, the members of EPP and ECR are often split along national lines on these issues and, as such, they are not strong coalition partners for ENF.
ENF legislative performance: few reports assigned, all the amendments rejected
The performance of the group regarding the direct influence of EU legislation could hardly have been worse. In fact, the group was assigned only a few reports by the lead parliamentary Committees and most of the files were either very technical or under a procedure in which the European Parliament has only a marginal role – only two files under the Ordinary Legislative Procedure so far.
The first OLP (Ordinary Legislative Procedure) file was assigned to the Austrian MEP Barbara Kappel and was related to European statistics on natural gas and electricity. Instead, the second file was on the reform of the European Maritime Safety Agency, in the context of the refugee crisis. An MEP of the French National Front, Marie-Christine Arnatau, was assigned the file, which is quite surprising given the hard-line approach of the far-right party on migration. However, considering different views of the majority of the EP on the refugee crisis, such a rapporteurship only marginally impacted the final outcome, if it had any impact at all. In fact, the draft reports presented by the rapporteurs can always be changed through amendments tabled by the other MEPs in the Committee. In this case, the rapporteur voted against the final report submitted by the Committee to the Parliament.
Even worse was the performance of the amendments tabled by the group in the plenary voting. The rate of approval of these amendments was an astonishing 0%. As a way of comparison, the approval rate of the amendments by the Eurosceptic EFDD was 9%. This is despite the group tabling a relatively high number of amendments (92). In fact, the group tabled more amendments than S&D and ALDE, and way less than the far-left GUE-NGL, which presented more than 400 amendments.
Final note on the data reported
The data reported in this report refers to the Parliamentary activities of the groups undertaken between the 1st August 2015 and the beginning of June 2016. As VoteWatch Europe database is continually updated with new votes, the overall figures published on the website might differ from the ones reported in this article.
For more facts and figures about the activity in the EP or the EU Council, contact us at [email protected].