THE BLOG

Noisy Rise in Extreme Factions Opens Door to Centre-Left

26/05/2014 21:16 BST | Updated 26/07/2014 10:59 BST

In the UK Nigel Farage's UKIP party has won a historic victory the European elections. This could have dramatic consequences for Westminster politics, the UK general election next year and the possible EU referendum in 2017. In other words British politics is entering a period of uncertainty, after the relative and somewhat unexpected calm of coalition politics. But in Brussels the impact will be very different.

The results across the EU will significantly alter the shape of the European parliament, and the outcome will influence the formation of the new commission later this year. It will also influence the nature of legislation that is both proposed and adopted. But perhaps not in the way people expect.

The focus in the media and national capitals has been on two things: firstly the rise of parties like Ukip in the UK, FN in France and PVV in the Netherlands, and other nationalist, anti-European and anti-establishment parties; secondly how the results influence the appointment of a new commission president. However, the consequences extend far beyond that and will be, to some extent, counter-intuitive.

Although diminished, over two-thirds of MEPs can be broadly categorised as pro-EU pro-European and will still dominate the European parliament, and are likely to dominate the appointment of the new College of the European Commission. The extremes will undoubtedly try to exert influence, and the usual horse-trading between all parties and the EU institutions will lead to a period of instability and uncertainty. But this will be brief. Based on their performance in the last European parliament MEPs from the extremes lack coherence, and in my experience as an MEP for ten years they end up either being assimilated or becoming frustrated. How many even remember newly elected Robert Kilroy Silk's speech to the European parliament 10 years ago pledging to 'wreck' the EU. The pro-Europeans will have a common enemy to rally against, and the economic recovery is simply too fragile to permit an extended period of political introspection. That's not to say reform, particularly institutional reform and the balance of competences will not be on the agenda, but it will be very much reform rooted in the existing European tradition. So not all bad news by any means for British prime minster David Cameron.

Within the pro-European block the centre-left S&D group, backed by allies in the Greens, left wing GUE group and liberal ALDE group, will have greater influence than at any time in the last 15 years. As is made very clear in their manifesto this is likely to lead to a greater focus on promoting social Europe, tackling climate change, strengthening consumer protection and imposing tougher regulation on financial and other markets. Given the pro-Euro, pro-European and pro-social market focus of the Christian Democrat EPP group it's not hard to work out the direction of travel.

Indeed the almost equal numerical, balance in terms of MEPs, between S&D and EPP is also likely to generate a climate of compromise in order to block out their noisy neighbours. The centre-left and centre-right will negotiate to accommodate each other's agenda and seek to build a consensus with other parties that are prepared to compromise.

MEPs that believe Europe is the answer will remain in the ascendency. Whilst those that believe it is the problem will be marginalised.

The German Grand Coalition is the template for governance. It's simply not in the interests of the majority pro-Europeans to do anything else.

As to the future, the extremes have probably reached their high water mark if Europe's fragile economic fragile is sustained. Sentiment towards the EU closely follows economic cycle, as a recent survey by Pew Research Centre demonstrates. The improved economic outlook is already beginning to bolster support for the European project. If the elections were held a year ago the results would have been even worse for the pro-European parties.

Whilst the extremes have gained seats, the centre-left will have more power. This will be a Parliament less friendly to business, but more open to reaching compromise. It's perhaps ironic that partly thanks to those new noisy neighbours moving onto the benches next door to the pro-European benches, the Europe of consensus has won the election.

It will never be quite the same again, but to misquote Mark Twain "reports of the death of the EU are greatly exaggerated."