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May 16, 2019

Will the social democrats try to block Weber with an anti-EPP alliance?

The most and arguably the only interesting moment in last night's spitzenkandidat debate, the last before the European elections, came when Frans Timmermans argued in favour of a left-wing coalition in the next European Parliament, sidelining the EPP. Seizing on the fight against climate change as the issue to underpin the new strategy, the social-democratic spitzenkandidat said that an alliance could be formed on the issue stretching from Alexis Tsipras all the way to Emmanuel Macron. The remark came amidst a polite but relentless barrage of attacks against past EPP positions and Manfred Weber personally, with Timmermans playing off his forceful rhetoric against the more soft-spoken Bavarian.

Does such an alliance against the EPP have any chance of becoming a serious option in the next EP? We doubt it. The only argument for it is that a social-democratic led coalition of MEPs might weigh more in terms of votes than the EPP and its right of centre allies outside it. But the new centrist-liberal group in the next EP will number many MEPs from parties like Ciudadanos and the FDP who see themselves as natural allies of the centre-right rather than the centre-left. Moreover, Weber has been going out of his way to signal his readiness to work with left-of-centre political forces, in particular with the greens.

What we were seeing last night is an attempt by Timmermans to weaken Weber’s spitzenkandidat claim should the EPP, as all polls predict, emerge again as the largest group. The interesting question after the elections will be whether the social democrats and other groups in the EP will conform to Weber’s warning that, were EU national leaders to ignore the spitzenkandidat process in their appointment of a Commission president, the result would be a constitutional crisis between the Council and Parliament. What Timmermans said last night would suggest otherwise – but then again Timmermans, a former foreign minister and current Commission vice-president, has never been an MEP.

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May 16, 2019

EU elections in Germany stunningly undramatic

Of all the EU’s major member states, Germany is the one where the European elections campaign seems so far most uneventful. If you are looking for excitement, best look for it beyond the border in Austria, ran a recent headline in a Bavarian media outlet. An interesting poll shows that after years of grand coalition, pluralities of voters across the political spectrum find the policies of CDU and SPD have become virtually indistinguishable, a perception which has hit the social democrats far more than their Christian democratic partners. In the next EP, and despite a well-managed electoral campaign, the SPD looks set to have around half the representation of the CDU, the latter polling at around 30%.

The EP electoral result is likely to work further towards establishing the Greens as the main left-of-centre party in Germany, which would in itself be a stunning transformation. The AfD looks set to take a step further in displacing Die Linke as the main party of radical opposition. Some of its anti-EU campaign rhetoric has been so strident and fiercely xenophobic, with xenophobia extended to the EU’s southern citizens in particular, that one wonders how this will work in the new national-populist grand alliance to be. But it is not just the AfD that might have to readjust. Looking at the fierce hostility in the FDP to virtually all of Emmanuel Macron’s EU reform ambitions, the new centrist-liberal group will need a lot of leadership glue not to fall politically apart.

Barring some big shock, we do not expect the result of the vote to precipitate the immediate end of the grand coalition in Berlin, even if the regional elections in Bremen are something to watch, given their importance for the SPD. The SPD will reconsider its position in the grand coalition at the end of the year. The trouble is that a new coalition will almost invariably lead to new elections, not an attractive proposal for the SPD without a concomitant change in the leader, which we think is unlikely. The Merkel coalition might last a little while longer, but quite possibly not to the very end.

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May 16, 2019

Macron moves to the electoral frontline

Emmanuel Macron boosts his presence in the European election campaign. The new campaign posters show Macron alone with the slogan "En marche pour l"Europe", on the move for Europe. And he is giving interviews to regional newspapers. All this to show that this is his battle after all. Taking this risk he aims to mobilise those voters who otherwise might stay at home.

The French have a particularly low interest in the European elections this time. With his full engagement, Macron turns them into a mid-term election after two years in power, and this after the the gilets jaunes crisis and the grand débat. He is betting on mobilising voters who are uncomfortable with the nationalist discourse of the Rassemblement National (RN). Indeed, the fact that the RN is now 1-3 percentage points ahead in the polls might help to mobilise them. After all, a protest vote goes both ways, for and against Macron. The question is which of the protest votes will have the greater pull.

Macron is not the only big hitter with a presence in these peculiar elections. Marine Le Pen, Laurent Wauquiez and Jean Luc Mélenchon show themselves with the young leaders of their respective lists as if to say that yes, there is a new generation; but no, they cannot run off the leash. 

There are some peculiarities too. A plurality of pensioners, traditionally a conservative group mostly voting for Les Républicains (LR), seem to back Macron this time. An Elabe poll shows that 28% among them would vote for LREM on May 26, and only 17% for LR. This might be because he is the president, or because they approve of Macron's management of the gilets jaunes crisis or of his purchasing-power measures. What all of this suggests that there are voters out there that could help Macron win his mid-term European elections. The question is whether he can get them to go and vote.

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