Guarded welcome to possible new pan-EU political party

The former Liberal Democrat MEP Andrew Duff has welcomed possible possible plans to form a new, EU-wide federal political party and again called for transnational lists for the European elections in 2019.

Duff was responding to recent  moves by French president Emmanuel Macron to set up a new political group for the European Parliament elections in less than two years.

Macron has so far declined to align himself with any of the established European political groups, such as the EPP, contrary to the received wisdom that they are essential for building alliances and cutting deals in the EU.

Instead, Macron’s 19-month-old party, La République en marche, is identifying potential allies across the continent to form a new political group.

Ultimately, the idea is thought to be for Macron’s party to be able to influence the appointment of the next European Commission president.

Macron is said to be cultivating former German MEP and parliament president Martin Schulz, Green MEP Daniel Cohn-Bendit, Xavier Bettel, Luxembourg’s PM, Charles Michel, the Belgian PM and Matteo Renzi, the former Italian prime minister.

Traditionally, EU politics has revolved around three big groups - the EPP, Socialists and Democrats and Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe – but Macron believes that mainstream EU parties have grown more divided on fundamental issues.

Responding to the possible moves to form a new, EU-wide political grouping, Duff told this website on Monday: “I still think it’s worth pushing hard for transnational lists for 2019 using, say, 30 of the 73 vacated British seats.”

Duff, a constitutional expert, said, “Macron’s great contribution to history will be to destroy Gaullism in France. If he does that the door opens across Europe to federal ideas.”

Duff, who lost his seat in the last European elections and now works with the European Policy Centre in Brussels,told this website, “Macron is planning for ten years, which is also prudent – and quite enough time for new federal EU parties to emerge that defy the classic constraints of nation-state politics.”

Some believe that the odds of achieving major change in 2019 are long and pan-EU lists are unlikely to materialise before the next EU elections because it would mean changing the electoral law in 27 countries.

But, even so, Denis MacShane, a former Europe Minister in the UK, greeted Macron’s move as a “breath of fresh air.” 

Denis Mac Shane

He said, “It is clear that with Brexit, the rise of anti-EU populist parties of left and right as well as a completely new political landscape in France, the composition of European political parties and the way the European Parliament is formatted is going to require new thinking.”

The former Labour MP added, “European Parliament elections have often seen protest votes against the national government in power and it is a stretch to say that people are campaigning for Europe,. In 2014, the German CDU did not put a picture of the EPP so-called Spitzenkandidat on their posters but a picture of Angela Merkel even though Mrs Merkel was not a candidate for Strasbourg.”

MacShane, who is based in London, said, “There is a big gap between the idea of the European Parliament as the highest expression of European democracy and the reality of who national parties send as MEPs and the way the carves-up in the corridors of the giant European Parliament buildings in Brussels and Strasbourg actually happen.

“Macron’s  idea of taking the 78 UK MEP seats and creating a genuine transnational list is a breath of fresh air new thinking  but the old party machines will block it.”

He told this website, “If I were Macron I would worry that May 2019 is his mid-term election moment and he can create a list of Em Marche candidates but if voters are unhappy with the state of France they may votes for traditional centre-right or centre-left or revert to voting for anti-European candidates from the hard anti-capitalist left of Jean-Luc Melenchon or the anti-immigrant Front National of Marine Le Pen and unlike May and June 2017 when En Marche candidates swept all before them the old non-Macron politics in France may resurface, “ he said.

Arnaud Leroy, co-head of La Republique en marche, or LREM, told a UK newspaper “We want to revolutionise European politics, we don’t want to be stuck in old party structures and dynamics.Europe has become the new political faultline in many countries. So we’re pushing for a political overhaul.”

But the odds of achieving major change in 2019 are long and pan-EU lists are unlikely to materialise before the next EU elections because it would mean changing the electoral law in 27 countries.

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Martin Banks

Martin Banks

Martin Banks is a highly qualified journalist with many years experience of working within the EU institutions. He is an occasional, and highly valued, contributor to EU today, writing on a wide variety of issues.

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