At the time of writing, UK media is frothing at the gains made by Nigel Farage's UKIP in the local elections. The emergence of a fourth party, a third alternative, the second real right-wing substitute has shaken things up in Westminster, slightly less than 12 months before the general election. We will have to wait until Sunday night for how well they have done in the European elections.
It was widely forecast in the run-up to these elections that it would be parties on both the right and left of the ideological extreme that would do well in Europe such is the level of economic malaise and dissatisfaction with the current parliament. Ask any political professional and they will say that it is always the sitting government or parties of coalition that take a shellacking at mid-term elections. Wait and see what happens in November of this year in the US for further proof.
That being said it is drastically unlikely that these elections will see a dramatic sea change in the overall make-up of the European Parliament. The three large centrist parties - the S&D, the EPP and ALDE - make up around 72% of the parliament at the moment and while the S&D is a left leaning body and the EPP favours right-wing thought all are very much pro-EU.
It is forecast that these big three parties will see their share of the overall pie slip to around 64%. It is the Eurosceptic parties and populist parties that will be gaining what the centrists have lost. In Britain that will be UKIP, in France Marine Le Pen's National Front stands to benefit alongside Geert Vilders' PVV party in the Netherlands and Hungary's Jobbik party. On the left, the disruptive Five Star Movement in Italy fronted by Beppe Grillo and Alexis Tsipras's Syriza party are likely to grab the headlines.
Initial fears that the European Parliament is crippled by this increase in breakaway, populism is misfounded. With more votes these parties will be allowed more floor time in parliament and increased funding but will still remain largely outvoted on centrist issues. That is not to say that the new body will have little responsibility; this is the first post-Lisbon Treaty parliament and will take on new responsibilities over the EU budget and Single Market rules. It will also run supervision of the EU's new banking union.
In our eyes the most important repercussion of these elections is the reverse importance back onto national legislative bodies; using gains at a supranational level to reflect back on to the electorate at home. In Greece, large gains for the Syriza party will shift the balance in an uneasily fragile political landscape. Likewise, in Italy, these elections are being seen as a barometer for the Renzi administration's first 100 days in office. Reforms are difficult without popular support after all.
Unfortunately, overall, we are dubious that these elections will help the reform effort that the Eurozone needs. The European Central Bank has had enough of taking the blame for a lack of a recovery within the Eurozone; political changes are needed too.