Survey results: What will happen in 2019 – pivotal year for the EU?

The findings of our latest survey among EU professionals reveal interesting expectations regarding the changes to take place in 2019. The EU affairs community largely expects the EPP to win the elections next year, but also to be the first political family to propose a leading candidate for the elections (spitzenkandidat). Eurosceptic forces are expected to stand strong, despite the departure of the British UKIP. EU experts also forecast that Juncker will not pursue a second mandate, while there are mixed expectations with regard to Macron’s European political affiliation. The surveyed group supports ambitious reforms such as the introduction of transnational lists and a majority believe that Brexit will pave the way for faster EU integration, but also for more tighter regulation. Only 3% still believe (or hope?) that Brexit will not happen at all.  

The 2019 EU elections and the finalisation of Brexit are just one year away. The combination of these two events are set to disrupt the current patterns of policy-making in Brussels, kicking off a new era for the European Union. What are the expectations of the EU Affairs community for the year ahead?

VoteWatch Europe surveyed the views of over 130 EU experts on the upcoming political developments. The group of respondents is made up of public affairs professionals (26%), researchers/academia (26%), EU civil servants (15%),  journalists (10%) and national civil servants (6%).

Q1 - Respondents’ area of activity (3)

Most respondents deal daily with EU policy-making (56%), while over 80% of them deal with EU policies at least once a month.

Q2 - Frequency dealing with EU policy-making

A majority of respondents expect Brexit to change EU policy-making, leading to a faster integration of the continental bloc (54%). The decision by the UK to leave the EU is set to disrupt the current balance of powers at the EU level, by reducing opposition to political integration, although 23% think that little will change as new countries, such as Poland, will replace the UK in its role of ‘trouble-maker’.

An overwhelming 80% forecast the EPP to win most seats and retain the Presidency of the European Commission. 49% expect the share of seats held by Eurosceptic parties to remain about the same as now, while over 80% do not believe that Eurosceptic parties will present leading candidates for the EP elections.

A key potential source of disruption to the status quo lies in Macron’s upcoming decision on the European affiliation of his political movement. The EU affairs community is divided: 44% expect Macron to join ALDE, while 42% believe that he will form a new European group.

Finally, most EU professionals deem the current system to allocate seats  in the EP to be fair (80%). Still, 72% back a further change to the EU electoral system, namely the introduction of transnational lists for the EP elections.

Below you will find the detailed results of our latest survey.

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Eurosceptic groups unlikely to appoint Spitzenkandidaten, say EU experts

Most EU affairs professionals think that pro-EU political groups will present leading candidates (‘Spitzenkandidaten’) for the upcoming EP elections. The Spitzenkandidaten system commits the European Council and the European Parliament to appoint the leading candidate of the group winning the elections as the new President of the European Commission.  Despite scepticism by some Member States, most EU Parliamentarians are supporting the system and they recently reiterated their threat to veto any other potential nominee by the Council.

According to the surveyed EU affairs experts, the EPP is the most likely  to present a leading candidate (89%), followed by S&D (84%), ALDE (81%) and the Greens (59%). With regard to the latter group, the leader of the Greens/EFA group, Ska Keller, told VoteWatch Europe that the Greens are going to elect a leading candidate for the next elections, as the group is strongly supportive of the Spitzenkandidaten system.

Q7 - Which political groups will propose Spitzenkandidaten for the Presidency of the European Commission in 2019

Interestingly, only a minority of respondents (40%) is expecting the far-left group GUE-NGL to elect a leading candidate, whereas this political family did put forward a leading candidate in 2014, in the person of the current Greek PM Alexis Tsipras.

Few respondents believe that Eurosceptic groups such as ECR and ENF will present a leading candidate for the next elections. Only 14% think that ECR will elect a Spitzenkandidat, whereas only 7% expect the far-right ENF to follow suit. These two political forces are opposed to the Spitzenkandidaten system, which they consider to be a farce. Still, there is the possibility that these groups will decide to present a leading candidate as a PR move during the electoral campaign.

Other respondents also expect new movements, such as Macron’s Europe En Marche and Varoufakis’ DiEM25, to present their own leading candidates for the EC Presidency.

A plurality of EU professionals expect the EPP to be the first group to nominate a leading candidate for the 2019 elections (47%). In an exclusive interview to VoteWatch Europe, EPP party’s spokesperson Siegfried Muresan did reveal that the name of the EPP leading candidate for the elections will be announced during the EPP Congress in Helsinki on the 7th and 8th November 2018.

However, EU experts are far from unanimous on this subject: 19% believe that S&D will be the first to announce a leading candidate, whereas fewer people think that ALDE or the Greens will manage to precede the other groups (14% and 10%, respectively).

Q8 - Which group will be the first to nominate a Spitzenkandidat (1)


Eurosceptic forces are expected to stand strong in the next EP elections

Most respondents expect Eurosceptic parties (including soft Eurosceptics in ECR) to stay strong in the next EP elections, despite the departure of the British delegation in the EP. Almost half of the respondents (48%) expect Eurosceptic parties to gather between 20 and 30% of seats in 2019, whereas now this proportion is roughly 23% of seats. Despite a few minor setbacks, Eurosceptic parties have been growing in several Member States since the latest elections, notably in large Member States such as Germany (Alternative for Germany), Italy (Northern League) and Poland (Law and Justice).

Still, 31% think that Eurosceptic parties will perform poorly in 2019, therefore losing several seats. Among them, 4% go as far as forecasting an electoral collapse of Eurosceptic parties, which would then get less than 10% of seats.

Q11 - Eurosceptics gain at the next elections

However, not everybody is on the same page. 21% expect Eurosceptic forces to get stronger, with the combination of hard and soft Eurosceptics seizing more than 30% of seats in 2019. A small minority (2%) even forecast a triumph of Eurosceptic movements, which would get close to having a majority in the EP in the coming years.

Little doubt about the outcome of the next EP elections: the EPP is highly likely to win

With regards to the upcoming 2019 elections, a whopping majority (81%) of EU experts have already a very clear picture of who will come first: the EPP. Current polling backs their forecasts. According to opinion polls, the EPP is clearly in the lead. However, the EPP is unlikely to get a majority of its own, which means that ad-hoc coalitions to pass decisions will remain the rule in the next Parliament.

In these elections, EPP will benefit from Brexit, as no British MEP is affiliated to the EPP, whereas other political groups, such as S&D, ECR, and EFDD, will lose a substantial amount of seats. Still, the likely victory of the EPP seems to stem more from S&D’s worsening electoral records than its own success (the forecast share of seats for the EPP is likely to be about the same as for the previous elections).

This also means that, according to the Spitzenkandidaten system, the leading candidate of the EPP is likely to become the next President of the European Commission. Who is going to be the leading candidate of the EPP? Jean-Claude Juncker already declared his intention not to run for a second term and most EU Affairs professionals believe his words (more than 80% of respondents deem a second term by Juncker to be unlikely). This means that we will have to wait until November 2018 to discover the name of the EPP’s front-runner for the next elections.

Q10 - Which group will win the most seats (1)

Still, some respondents warn the EPP not to be too confident about winning the elections. After all, it is a long way before the elections and many things can still change, also considering the increasing political volatility in most European countries.  7% of respondents think that S&D has still a chance to beat the EPP, whereas 6% forecast a victory of ALDE, whose numbers could be boosted by an alliance with Macron’s movement. A daring 2% suggest that a potential new group led by Macron could even come on top of the EPP. Should the French President be bold and try to disrupt the political dynamics at the EU level by founding a new political movement?

What will Macron do? EU experts still struggle to read Macron’s cryptic plans

There is no consensus among the respondents about the future European affiliation of the movement founded by Emmanuel Macron. This also reflects the diverging reports on this matter. On the one hand, Macron enjoys very good relations with the ALDE group, which explicitly supported his electoral platform in 2017. On the other hand, the lack of a clear signal by Macron spurred speculation over his potential plans to found a new centrist group with like-minded parties, such as the Italian Democratic Party and Spanish Ciudadanos.

Among the community of EU experts, there is a slight plurality favoring the scenario of Macron joining ALDE (44%). Together with Macron, ALDE might even aim at getting more than 100 seats at the next EP elections, therefore becoming a much larger group than it is used to being. Still, the French delegation would become the largest in the group, potentially changing the current equilibrium of powers in the centrist group.

However, a substantial share of EU professionals is convinced that Macron will try to disrupt the current status quo at the EU level by forming a new group (42%). Such a move, if successful, would lead to realignment of the pro-EU political families, leading to new alliances, as well as political divorces.

Q5 - Macron

In any case, there is a lot of confusion on Macron’s next moves, with respondents clearly admitting that they have no idea, while also suggesting that the French President has no idea either. 8% of respondents are expecting some surprises, namely Macron joining one of the other existing groups (either EPP or S&D).

Brexit to lead to faster political integration in the European Union

How will EU policy-making change after Brexit? More than half of our respondents (54%) bet on a speedier EU integration process after the UK leaves. In fact, UK policymakers are known for their die-hard opposition to further political integration at the EU level (as shown by our dedicated report). The UK has also been the main opponent to EU policies in the Council, with  the British government being outvoted the most in the institution representing Member States.

Brexit might also take a toll on the idea of multi-speed Europe, as the UK is one of the few EU countries benefiting from opt-outs (Schengen Area, the Area of Freedom, Security and Justice, the European Charter of Fundamental Rights and the Economic and Monetary Union).

However, not all respondents bet on a more cohesive EU after Brexit. 23% think that nothing will change, as other Member States will replace the UK in its role of opponent to further EU integration. Poland and Hungary were mentioned as the most likely to become the main ‘trouble-makersafter Brexit. There are already some indicators for this trend, as Warsaw is being increasingly sidelined in the Council after the nationalist Law and Justice took power.

Additionally, some respondents forecast that the rift between the West and the East will keep increasing, with the Eurozone getting more integrated to the detriment of the cohesion of the EU as whole.

9% expect EU integration to slow down for all Member States, as the continued growth of conservative and nationalist parties across Europe will reduce the appetite for ambitious integrating projects.

Q6 - How will EU policy-making change after Brexit

EU experts also weighed in on the direction of EU regulation after Brexit. 30% of respondents expect the EU to take a more interventionist approach. According to them, regulation is set to increase, in particular on social affairs, the economic and monetary union and defense policy. Several respondents expect the EU to become less open to free trade and to shift its focus on internal economic affairs. Indeed, VoteWatch found that, all other things being equal, the next European Parliament will hold more protectionist and interventionist views than the current one.

However, for a smaller number of respondents, the opposite will actually happen (8%), as the rise of conservative parties could further reduce the incentive to increase regulation, while left leaning parties are expected to perform poorly at the next European elections. They also expect the better-regulation agenda (which focuses on legislating less, focuses on proportionality) to continue, as way of addressing the backlash against ‘Brussels’ among part of the public opinion.

Finally, 3% think that nothing will change, as, at the end of the day, Brexit will not happen.

The EU Affairs community is happy with the distribution of seats in the EP

The allocation of EP seats to different Member States is overall equitable, according to a large majority of surveyed EU affairs experts (80%).

EP seats are currently allocated on the basis of the population size of Member States, although small countries get more seats in relation to their population than big countries. The EP has drafted a proposal to redistribute some of the remaining British seats after Brexit to currently underrepresented EU Member States, such as France, Spain, Italy and the Netherlands. The redistribution, coupled with the departure of British MEPs, will also have a substantial policy impact,  leading to more trade protectionism, stronger focus on the Eurozone and more progressive policies on energy and the environment (all other things being equal).

While most respondents are happy with the current system, 20% think that it is unfair towards certain countries. Most of these respondents complain about the lower share of seats for big countries and the over-representation of smaller Member States, therefore violating the principle “one person, one vote”. A respondent pointed out that the current system does not take into account the differences in the electoral turn-out in EU Member States. Still, other respondents seem to dismiss these arguments, by claiming that large Member States like France and Germany still have way too much power at the EU level.

Q4 - Repartition of seats in the EP

Additionally, a few respondents find the current system to be confusing, also regarding the upper limit of seats that can be allocated to a country (because of its larger population, Germany has currently reached the maximum limit of 96 seats).

The EU community thinks that transnational lists are a good idea, if properly implemented

In order to strengthen the European Union, Macron spearheaded a proposal to assign some of the remaining British seats after Brexit to a joint European constituency featuring transnational lists. The initiative was welcomed with enthusiasm by the leader of the ALDE group, Belgian Guy Verhofstadt, as well as the leader of Social-Democrats, Italian Gianni Pittella, and the Greens. However, the largest group in the European Parliament, the centre-right wing EPP, slammed the proposal and labelled it as a “centralist and elitist artificial construct”. Similar views were expressed by several national governments, in particular the ones from smaller Member States.

After running an intense media campaign against the proposal, the EPP succeed in gathering a majority to block the proposal during the latest plenary session of the EP, meaning that the proposal is dead in the water, at the least for the time being.

We found some skepticism among our respondents as well: 7% are totally against the introduction of transnational lists, while 18% claim that this proposal does not fit the current electoral system.

Still, a majority of the EU public seems to disagree with the EPP, as more than two thirds of our respondents support the idea (72%). There are some caveats though: whereas 19% of respondents could hardly conceal their enthusiasm for the initiative, 51% think introducing transnational lists will benefit the EU only if the initiative is well implemented.

Q3 - Transnational constituency (2)

Overall, the coalition headed by Macron seems to be way ahead of the EPP in the battle to shape the views of EU professionals on the necessity of transnational lists.

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