The European parliament elections, what’s at stake?

Voting in the European Parliament elections begins today. It will continue into the weekend. As I understand it, different countries vote on different days.

The “populist” parties are expected to make their best-ever showing. I wrote about this development here.

In that post, I suggested that if the populists make the gains they are expected to, they will fall far short of making up a majority in Parliament, but will be positioned to gum up the works, so to speak. In today’s post, I want to expand on the point.

The European Parliament isn’t like the U.S. Congress. It doesn’t legislate. That would be way too democratic for the EU.

The European Parliament doesn’t elect the EU’s leader, either. It’s not like, say, the British Parliament.

What, then, does the European Parliament do? In essence, it rubber stamps that which European leaders and bureaucrats want to impose. As the Washington Post puts it:

The body’s powers are not sexy. It can’t directly propose legislation, only approve reforms. . . Still, the European Parliament needs to sign off on senior E.U. leaders and the E.U. budget.

(Emphasis added)

Because the Parliament is a “sign off” body, the big question in any election isn’t how the the center-right and the center-left parties will fare in competition between the two (as in Britain). Nor is it whether one of these parties will be able to form a governing coalition with smaller parties (as in Israel).

The question, instead, is whether the center-right and center-left parties will, together, win enough seats to keep signing off on the EU agenda, which both parties basically favor — “the Brussels consensus” as it is called.

The answer has always been “yes.” This time, however, it looks like the answer might be “no.”

According to the Washington Post, “the latest projections show [the center-right and center-left parties] falling from 53 percent of the vote to 42.” The consequence would be dramatic. As Almut Moller, co-head of the European Council on Foreign Relations, expresses it:

Brussels is used to operating according to the Brussels consensus. Now the picture will be different.

How will “Brussels” respond? I don’t know enough about EU politics to answer this question with confidence. However, logic suggests it will need to find additional backing for whatever new measures associated with its “consensus” come up for a vote.

European populists are divided on many issues. Perhaps some populist members of parliament can be persuaded to support certain measures. The so-called right-wing European parties aren’t “conservative.” They don’t reliably oppose heavy-handed government regulation, a core element of the Brussels consensus.

The Greens are expected to gain seats. That’s another possible source of support on at least some matters.

There are also what the Post describes as “pro-business” parties. Maybe they will gain influence if the “consensus” parties fall short of a majority.

This possibility is perhaps the most interesting one. I’m guessing that an influential pro-business party wouldn’t do much to alter EU pro-immigrant policy. However, it might be able check Brussels’ penchant for over-regulation.

That would be quite a positive development.

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