1994 European Parliament Elections

A Consolidated Left and Fragmented Center-Right

Richard Corbett

        Like local elections in Britain, European elections tend to be dominated by national issues, especially in countries where the national government is particularly unpopular. Nonetheless, European issues do creep in, parties must address European issues and adopt policies accordingly, and the European party federations adopt common manifestos and produce brochures and material.
        This time was no exception but the "European" dimension of the elections appeared to be slightly higher. The common manifestos and other publications of the party federations were used much more extensively by national parties. More importantly, the debates on the future of European integration, generated by the difficulties in four member states surrounding the ratification of the Maastricht Treaty, continued into the European election campaign in virtually all member states. As we shall see, opposition to European integration created turbulence in some countries, affecting in particular the right-wing of the political spectrum.
        Turnout fell by 2 percent, remaining low when compared to national elections, but high when compared to U.S. Congressional elections. In party political terms, the general picture emerging in the elections of June 1994 is one of consolidation of the Party of European Socialists (PES) as the largest group in the Parliament leading the left, and of fragmentation of the right and center-right.

The Consolidated Left

        Labour's triumph in the United Kingdom compensated for poorer socialist performances notably in France, Spain and Italy. Despite gaining seats, the German result was also disappointing for the socialists, falling some seven points behind Chancellor Kohl's Christian Democrats, but the same figures in national elections would have produced a Socialist-Green majority in the Bundestag. In Italy, the PDS, now the main Italian component of the Party of European Socialists, had a poor showing, and the party leader Occhetto resigned the day after the elections.
        In France, the Socialist list led by party secretary Rocard slipped badly, retaining only 15 seats, whereas the Left Radical Party list led by Tapie, with a number of former socialist ministers, gained 13 seats. These two lists together obtained the same total as the governing coalition in the list led by Baudis. In Spain, the PSOE lost 5 of its 27 seats in the midst of a ministerial corruption scandal. On the other hand, socialists made small gains in Portugal and Greece and retained the status quo in Ireland, the Netherlands, Luxembourg and Belgium.
        Altogether, the socialist result left the PES Group with the same number of members as before (198), but in a larger Parliament.
        The same left parties, notably communists, former communists or other left parties, held their own, and in the new European Parliament formed a single political group called the "Confederal United European Left" with 28 members of the former "Left Coalition" (largely orthodox communists) and of other reformist left parties.
        The Greens lost all their French seats by failing to pass the 5% threshold (France uses proportional representation for European Parliament elections, but single-member district elections for its own elections), but made small gains elsewhere leaving them slightly worse off than before with 23 members.
        Except in Denmark, no anti-Maastricht left list was able to make any impact, with the Chevenement list in France falling far below the 5% barrier. As to the former Rainbow Group (composed largely of MEPs from regionalist parties), its remaining members joined with the French Left Radicals led by Tapie to form a new Radical Group with nineteen members (including 2 Scottish Nationalists).

The Fragmented Center-Right

        The PES Group can at least claim to be cohesive, reasonably well organized and to lead the left. The picture on the center right is quite different.
        The right suffered far more than the left from the emergence within their ranks of opponents to the Maastricht Treaty and the process of European integration in general. The campaign of the UK Conservatives was certainly handicapped by their divisions on Europe, but it was in France that an anti-Maastricht (and, in this case, anti-GATT and anti-free trade) list actually gained 13 seats. This was the list led by de Villiers and financed by the billionaire, Jimmy Goldsmith. It has set up a new political group in the European Parliament (EP) together with the 4 Danish anti-marketers and 2 Dutch Calvinists. It is called the "Europe of Nations" Group and had nineteen members.

Political Groups in the European Parliament July 1994
  B Dk G Gr S F Irl I L N P UK Total
Party of European Socialists (PES) 6 3 40 10 22 15 1 18 2 8 10 63 198
European People's Party (EPP) 7 3 47 9 30 13 4 12 2 10 1 19 157
Liberal Democratic and Reformist (ELDR) 6 5 - - 2 1 1 7 1 10 8 2 43
Confederal European United Left (EUL) - - - 4 9 7 - 5 - - 3 - 28
Forza Europa (FE) - - - - - - - 27 - - - - 27
European Democratic Alliance (EDA) - - - 2 - 14 7 - - - 3 - 26
Green Group (Greens) 2 1 12 - - - 2 4 1 1 - - 23
European Radical Group (ERA) 1 - - - 1 13 - 2 - - - 2 19
Nations of Europe (NE) - 4 - - - 13 - - - 2 - - 19
Non-attached (Ind) 3 - - - - 11 - 12 - - - 1 27
Totals 25 16 99 25 64 87 15 87 6 31 25 87 567

        In Italy, the governing coalition of Berlusconi's Forza Italia, the neo-fascist Alleanza Nazionale (AN) and the regionalist Lega Nord obtained a majority of Italian seats, with all signs showing that this coalition would take a more hesitant attitude towards European integration than had traditionally been the case in Italy.
        None of these new lists had an obvious home to go to in the new Parliament. The AN does not wish to join Le Pen's European Rights Group, as AN seeks to shed its neo-fascist image, and its MEPs sit as independents. The Lega Nord was thrown out of the former Rainbow Group when it joined the Berlusconi coalition with the AN and has now joined the Liberals.
        As to Berlusconi, his professed ambition to join the Christian Democratic EPP Group did not meet with success, but might take place in the medium-term. In the meantime, his party has just enough members to form their own group Forza Europa with 27 members.
        An expansion of the EPP Group beyond traditional Christian Democracy had already begun in the last Parliament when they absorbed the British Conservatives. It seemed likely to continue when the joint majority list in France agreed in principle to join the same group in the EP (with the exception of the Radical Party component which would remain in the Liberal Group), but this in the end fell, though with the Gaullists re-establishing their long-standing alliance with Fianna Fail in the "European Democratic Alliance."
        The Liberals lost all their German members in the elections, as the Free Democrat Party failed to pass the 5% barrier and obtained fewer votes than the PDS (the former East German Communists). The modest reinforcement brought by the British Liberals and Dutch D66 not only failed to compensate numerically for this (43 members), but also increased the ideological spread of the Liberal Group.
         Finally the neo-fascist "European Right" Group lost all its German seats, picked up an extra seat in Flanders and Wallonia and stagnated in France. It no longer had sufficient members to form a political group in the enlarged Parliament.

The Overall Picture

        The overall picture in the EP is one where the center-right faces divisions and fragmentation such that its narrow majority in the Parliament is unlikely to be effective against the more cohesive PES Group. As in the past, there will often be a tendency in the EP to negotiate compromises on a broad basis, especially as the voting rules in the Treaty require an absolute majority for Parliament to amend or reject Council texts in the legislative and budgetary procedures. In these negotiations the Socialists will be in a strong position. The EPP Group cannot rely on the center-right groups, given their heterogeneity and the anti-European or anti-free trade elements in them.
        Finally, in terms of the large "federalist" majority in the European Parliament, there may have been a small shift towards more cautious parties. However, the seats won by outright opponents of European integration is the same as before and has therefore fallen as a proportion of the larger Parliament.

        Richard Corbett works for the Party of European Socialists in the European Parliament and is co-author of The European Parliament (1992). This article first appeared in Representation, published by the Arthur McDougall Fund.

Source: The Almanac of European Politics 1995
(Congressional Quarterly, 1995)


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