May 23, 2019
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European Union

5 countries to watch out for in the run-up to European Parliament elections

By Lara Malvesi

Brussels, May 15 (efe-epa).- All the countries in the bloc will make their decisive contributions in the European Parliament elections to be held from May 23 to 26. However, five of them, owing to their power balance and political situation, are especially crucial in deciding who will govern the European Union for the next five years.

1. FRANCE

The political landscape in France – a founding member of the bloc – in the buildup to the elections is a metaphor in itself for the existential crisis that the unionist project is undergoing due to citizens' disaffection with Brussels and European institutions in general.

President Emmanuel Macron's liberal movement, La Republique en Marche, is vying for the highest share of the vote against Marine Le Pen's National Rally amid the "Yellow Vests" protests that are still sweeping the country.

Both of them – each of whom enjoys some 20 percent of the popular support in surveys – represent the two possible Europes: one that wants to continue moving forward, and the other that prefers a certain dissolution of the bloc in favor of devolution of power to the capital cities.

Hence, Macron's group getting a good result on May 26 would be crucial for tilting the future balance of power towards the pro-Europeans, Christian Democrats, Social Democrats and environmentalists.

2. ITALY

Italy, another of the seven founding members of the EU, is important because for the first time a Europhobic party, the Northern League led by anti-immigration Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, is the front runner in the elections, according to surveys.

Moreover, according to one of the latest Eurobarometer polls, only 49 percent of Italians would vote in favor of remaining in the EU in case of a referendum.

With the center-left Democratic Party (PD) expected to fail to earn any seats in the European Parliament at all and the center-right Forza Italia facing difficulties when it comes to gaining enough momentum for a comeback – despite the high profile of its main candidate, the extravagant former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi – the electoral outlook for pro-European Italian parties seems fairly bleak.

3. POLAND

According to surveys, the Eurosceptic and anti-immigration Law and Justice (PiS) party looks set to win in Poland with 41.1 percent of the support. Poland joined that EU in 2004 and is the most populous of the eastern European nations in the bloc.

Moreover, the European Commission has opened several investigations against Poland over judicial reforms that Brussels feels does not comply with the community's principles and values.

Twenty-three of the 51 European parliament seats from Poland could go to PiS, which, along with the ENF of Rassemblement National party (Marine Le Pen) could woo future MEPs of Vox to join their respective groups.

Besides the PiS, also the far-right Kukiz could secure between three and five seats from Poland, according to surveys.

4. HUNGARY

If there is a prime minster in the EU who fits the description of "enfant terrible" against Brussels, it is Viktor Orban, who leads the surveys in his country with 52 percent of the support.

He is followed by none other than extremist and ultranationalists from Jobbik party who are also opposed to the policies of the EU.

Nationalist Orban has been very critical of the current European authorities, especially regarding immigration policies, and in recent weeks, he has held several meetings with another extremist Matteo Salvini of Italy.

5. THE UNITED KINGDOM

The UK would never have been a part of these elections if the Brexit talks had not gone off-track and the date for Britain leaving the EU would have remained Mar.29.

However, the European elections could paradoxically provide some respite to pro-European parties in the bloc’s parliament in Strasbourg, mainly the Social Democrats, as it expects the Labour party – one of its most important allies – to do well.

If the UK leaves in the middle of the parliamentary term, it would radically alter the balance of power in the European Parliament, although by then the original members would have elected a president of the European Commission and the 73 seats from Britain would be redistributed, partially, among rest of its allies.

In the European Parliament, Brexit would weaken at least two Eurosceptic groups – the European Conservatives and Reformists, and Europe of Freedom and Direct Democracy – of which UKIP is a part.

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