The Louise Weiss building, the principle seat of the European Parliament, stands illuminated at night in Strasbourg, France. (Photographer: Alex Kraus/Bloomberg)

Populists Seen Falling Short of Political Reorder in EU Ballot

(Bloomberg) -- A populist revolt in Europe will fail to dislodge the two biggest political groups in the European Parliament in this May’s elections, even as it propels euroskeptic forces such as Italy’s ruling parties, according to the assembly’s first projection of the results.

The forecasts of the May 23-26 ballot portray the political cross currents in the European Union, signaling both the challenges to and the durability of the EU establishment in the face of widespread economic and social unease.

The outlook of the 705 seats to be held by national parties in the next EU Parliament is based on voting-intention surveys and excludes the U.K., which is scheduled to leave the bloc at the end of March.

Populists Seen Falling Short of Political Reorder in EU Ballot

The predictions, released on Monday in Brussels, suggest a broader coalition of pro-EU political families will be needed to advance European legislation and other common projects during the forthcoming five-year term. That’s because the two largest factions, both traditional mainstream actors, will see their combined share of seats fall below 50 percent.

Europe’s Christian Democrats will remain the EU Parliament’s biggest group by winning 26 percent of the seats, down from 29 percent at present, according the forecasts. The No. 2 Socialists will retain that spot while their share of members will tumble to 19 percent from 25 percent, the outlook shows.

The assembly’s smallest faction, the anti-establishment Europe of Nations and Freedom (ENF), is projected to rise to 8 percent from 5 percent as a result largely of big gains by its Italian contingent: the League party of Italian Co-Deputy Premier Matteo Salvini.

The League’s members will more than quadruple to 27, making it the second-biggest national party in the EU Parliament after 29 German Christian Democrats allied to Chancellor Angela Merkel, the forecasts show. The ENF group also includes French members of Marine Le Pen’s National Rally party, which is seen boosting its seat total to 21 from 15.

A rival populist group in the EU assembly is called Europe of Freedom and Direct Democracy (EFDD) and includes the League’s ruling coalition partner at home, the Five Star Movement of Italy’s other deputy premier, Luigi Di Maio. Five Star’s number of EU lawmakers is forecast to grow to 22 from 14, boosting the EFDD’s share of overall seats to 6 percent from 5 percent.

The Middle

In the middle -- and in the potential role of kingmaker during the formation of any mainstream majority coalition -- are the pro-business Liberals, who are projected to increase their share of assembly members to 11 percent from 9 percent.

This total excludes French President Emmanuel Macron’s Republic on the Move party, which so far has no formal affiliation to any European political family but which has forged a campaign alliance with the EU Liberals. Republic on the Move is forecast to win 18 seats, making it a near-certain focus of intensive wooing by the Liberals after the ballot.

The general post-election maneuvering over faction building in the EU Parliament may be more unpredictable this time as a result of Brexit, raising the possibility that some existing groups will refashion themselves.

The U.K.’s departure will leave the current No. 3 group -- the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) -- without a big contingent of British Tories and with just 7 percent of the seats, down from 10 percent now. The ECR, projected to be dominated after the elections by members of Poland’s euroskeptic ruling Law & Justice party, may be tempted to join forces with another populist faction.

Brexit Party

Similarly, EFDD’s loss of British members who belong to the Brexit Party and to the U.K. Independence Party will leave the faction almost wholly in the hands of the left-of-center Five Star and of Germany’s far-right AfD party, whose members are seen jumping to 12 from 1. Di Maio has signaled he’ll look to form a new alliance in the EU Parliament after the ballot.

In any case, the EU Parliament’s first forecasts of its upcoming election results appear to support the view -- expressed by the likes of money manager Pacific Investment Management Co. -- that the ballot won’t fundamentally alter politics in the bloc. A contrasting view is held by such observers as the European Council on Foreign Relations and hedge-fund guru George Soros.

The EU assembly will update its projection every two weeks until the elections. The scheduled dates are Feb. 27, March 14, March 28, April 11, April 29, May 8, May 16 and May 21.

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