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April 11, 2019

Thoughts on how the European elections in the UK could affect UK and European politics

The UK participation in the European elections will be a major political event. Policy wonks and commentators tend to discount this since they already expected it to happen. But many people will be really shocked to hear that Brexit-Britain is going to take part in the European elections.

They are obviously not going to be about the future of the EU. They will be an opportunity by UK voters to seek revenge - against the Tories for not delivering Brexit, and against Labour for not standing up for a second referendum. This expectation of ours is not yet borne out in the opinion polls. On the contrary, the latest predict a landslide victory for Labour. 

The problem with these polls is that they do not capture the dynamics of a campaign that has yet to start for an election that nobody until recently expected would ever happen. Any Tory unhappy with Theresa May and her party’s failure to deliver Brexit on time has a great incentive to vote for Nigel Farage’s new Brexit party. The European elections are the ultimate opportunity for a Brexiteers’ protest vote.

The same goes for the other side. Labour will not shift its shifty position on Brexit before May 23. Why should those people who support a second referendum not vote for either the LibDems or for the Change UK party, born out of the independent group of 11 MPs who defected from Labour and the Tories? 

Neither the Brexit Party nor Change UK would stand a chance in the national election because of the UK’s first-past-the-post system. But the European elections are held under proportional representation. The names of these two parties are not yet familiar because they are new, and because the campaign has not yet started. But by May 23, that will have changed. We also note that national polls tend to be extremely volatile, shifting with the flow of the news much more so than in the past.

If there is any reason for Jeremy Corbyn and Theresa May to reach agreement on a Brexit deal soon, it is reduce the influence of these two single-issue parties. 

With those aforementioned caveats, we report on a poll by Hanbury Strategy, via the Independent, showing that Labour would win a landslide in the European election, 38%, followed by the Tories on 23%. If these were the results Labour would send 30MPs to the European Parliament, the single largest national contingent of any party. The article also pointed out that the addition of 30 MEPs to the centre-left Socialists and Democrats group could almost close the gap to the EPP, which will not gain a single MEP from the UK participation in the European elections. There would still be a small gap, according to a projection from February. It is possible that the 12 MEPs of Viktor Orban’s Fidesz may be critical for the EPP to retain its pre-eminence. Depending on the outcome of the vote, the UK’s participation in the European election could produce some serious disturbance. 

Under the Hanbury poll, the Brexit party has only 10% and Change UK 4%. If these results were confirmed, we could safely forget those parties as political forces in the UK politics going forward. But we distrust those numbers.

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April 11, 2019

Far right to enter Estonia's government

Estonia was once widely celebrated as a shining success story amongst the post-soviet EU member states. The small country attracted global attention by embracing the nascent digital revolution with pioneer enthusiasm. The political class that took over after independence was one of the youngest in Europe, proudly affirming their pro-market and pro-Western orientation. But Estonia’s international image is about to take a hit.

The far-right party EKRE is set to enter the government as part of a coalition led by prime minister Juri Ratas’ Centre Party, after Ratas reneged on his pre-election commitment not to ally himself with the hard right. EKRE is to be handed five ministerial portfolios, among them finance and external trade. The coalition pact reaffirms Estonia’s EU and Nato membership, and EKRE has dropped demands to abolish same-sex partnerships and public funding of abortion. But a policy to keep Estonia white is part of EKRE’s DNA, and its youth wing is part of the pan-European racist identitarian movement and overtly espouses ideology with a clear kinship to Nazism. The expanding club of EU governments with a national-populist presence will soon be able to count on a small but symbolically important new member.

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