Sunday, June 16, 2024

EU Election Playbook — June 7

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HELLO. The EU election is finally upon us. In the Netherlands last night, exit polls suggest it’s a close-run thing between the GreenLeft-Labor alliance led by Frans Timmermans and Geert Wilders’ far-right Freedom Party. Up today: Ireland and the Czech Republic (Czechs can also vote Saturday morning). 

Update from POLITICO Towers: After six months of weekly fun this is the final EU Election Playbook. Next Friday it becomes a new-look EU Transition Playbook to guide you through the tumultuous changing of the guardians of the treaties here in Brussels. 

Personal news pinger: That’s all from me as I’ll be penning the Brussels Playbook and landing in your inboxes on Thursday and Friday from now on. 

In 20 newsletters from around Europe, we’ve explored all manner of election themes together, most memorably for your humble typist: the far-right’s rise and what keeps them apart; Ursula von der Leyen the “fake Spitzenkandidat”; the wilting Greens; the Socialists’ demands; Viktor Orbán hovering over ECR; the liberals’ disunity; Russian interference; and debates, manifestos, postcards, data and so much more.

**A message from HSI Europe: Lead the change for animals. Find out more.**


‘URSULA’ DIVIDES THE FRENCH AND GERMANS: The Franco-German relationship at the beating heart of the EU has cooled recently, in no small part due to the frosty relationship between French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz. 

You say non, I say ja: One divisive topic that is keeping French and German politicians apart during this election is whether to keep supporting Ursula von der Leyen, the German Christian Democrat who wants another five-year term doing the EU’s most powerful job: running the European Commission.

Von dividing: Everywhere you look in the center of the European Parliament, French and German MEPs who should be allies are polarized on whether to vote for von der Leyen, as national politics crowds into the strange world of EU politics. 

361 or quits: Von der Leyen, as we scooped Thursday, could face an existential vote on her next presidency — with many, many caveats — as soon as July 18 in Strasbourg, the Parliament’s top civil servant has told ambassadors. 

Pourquoi c’est wichtig: The weight of France, with its 81 MEPs, and Germany, with its 96, is also very much felt inside the European Parliament, where the two nationalities dominate most political groups. Von der Leyen will get no support from the far-left and far-right, nor from hard-right nationalist parties like PiS in Poland that backed her last time when she had no track record to rail against. And when every vote counts, having a Franco-German split won’t be helpful either. The more votes she leaks from the center, the tougher it gets for her to hit 361.

Not such a bel ami: Look at von der Leyen’s own European People’s Party: Its French members Les Républicains are voting against her, and their lead candidate François-Xavier Bellamy has even claimed that he’s the only one who can stop von der Leyen, a bold claim. The EPP’s German CDU/CSU contingent is publicly backing von der Leyen. Disclaimer: There are certainly grumblings in the CDU, and it’s expected she won’t get a full package of support from them. 

Or have a look at the Greens. My colleagues Louise Guillot and Nicolas Camut wrote this week that the French are opposed to making any kind of deal with von der Leyen, but the German Greens would be open to haggling. “The French will be clearly the voices not going that way,” outgoing French Green Gwendoline Delbos-Corfield said this week. German Green lead candidate Terry Reintke told my Berlin colleague Julius Brinkmann that von der Leyen’s potential cooperation with the hard-right nationalists is a no-no. “We rule out a majority with such parties — if Mrs von der Leyen goes down this path, she will lose our support,” Reintke said.

In the Renew group it’s the reverse: The German liberal Free Democratic Party has been campaigning aggressively against von der Leyen; but Emmanuel Macron’s MEPs have worked with her in the grand coalition for the past five years, and despite publicly floating Mario Draghi as Commission president, insiders around town say that Macron and the French MEPs in Renew could well get behind von der Leyen 2.0. depending on the content they can hammer out in the coming weeks of negotiations. The FDP’s Moritz Körner wrote a column called “Why is the FDP picking on von der Leyen so much,” and told Playbook this morning that despite backing her in 2019, “she disappointed and frustrated me”, especially on the rule-of-law in Hungary.

But in the Socialists’ camp … it’s more of a difference of nuance. The Germans have been ramping up their warnings about von der Leyen’s stated openness to work with hard-right Giorgia Meloni, whose party has neo-fascist roots. There’s a sense that their support is conditional on there being no dealings with the ECR group. But for the French socialists, who are outperforming expectations under Raphaël Glucksmann, it’s already a categorical no because of the Meloni dalliance and the reverse maneuvers on the Green Deal. When asked last night if he would support her, Glucksmann replied “Auf Wiedersehen.” Glucksmann abstained in 2019 — which didn’t help von der Leyen. Both parties say their first choice to be Commission president is lead candidate Nicolas Schmit but once it becomes clear that is not a possibility, the two parties could diverge on whether they are likely to do a deal to install VDL. 

Everything’s fine: According to French MEP Christophe Clergeau, who told my colleague Louise Guillot: “There is no Franco-German divergence.”

Caveats: The theory doesn’t hold outside the center where everyone basically wants to dispatch von der Leyen from the Commission. The French and German parties leading the Left (die Linke and France Unbowed) would both vote her down, and so would the AfD and Marine Le Pen’s National Rally. 

VDL’s view: Von der Leyen’s campaign spokesperson Alexander Winterstein told Playbook: “Right now we are fully focused on the campaign to get the best possible result for the EPP. After the elections we will work to build a broad coalition for a strong Europe. We are confident that we can convince members of the European Council and of the European Parliament to build such a coalition, which will ensure an effective governance of the European Union.”


A CLOSER LOOK AT THE NETHERLANDS’ EXIT POLL: The EU election is often treated as just another series of national elections.

Well, the Netherlands kicked off the European Parliament election on Thursday, and its exit poll suggests otherwise.

The official results of the Dutch vote will only be communicated on Sunday, but according to an Ipsos exit poll, which asked voters at 35 polling stations for an anonymous do-over of their vote, the coalition of the Labor Party and the Green Left had won eight of the Netherlands’ 31 seats.

That’s one more than the anti-immigrant Freedom Party of Geert Wilders is projected to win — although the exit poll comes with a one-seat error margin. Mind you: Green Left and Labor Party MEPs ran on the same ticket, but will take up their seats in two different Parliament groups (the Greens and S&D).

The result is largely in line with EU election-focused polling, which had projected a neck-and-neck race between Wilders and the left-wing alliance, but not with national parliament voting intentions, in which Wilders’ Freedom Party was polling miles ahead of other parties.

Seats Dutch parties are projected to win in the next European Parliament according to the Ipsos exit poll, by parties’ political group in the Parliament.


In the run-up to voting day, Ipsos pointed out that turnout would be a key determinant for the outcome of the EU vote. The Netherlands’ turnout has been underwhelming in recent EU elections: Just 42 percent cast a vote in 2019. A higher turnout could play in Wilders’ favor, according to Ipsos.

Wilders actively campaigned for his — typically Euroskeptic — voters to go to the ballot booth, portraying the EU election as a battle between himself and former Green Deal Commissioner Frans Timmermans, who led the Green Left/Labor alliance in the national election but wasn’t a candidate in this one.

According to the exit poll, the turnout stood at 47 percent on Thursday, which may not seem like a lot, but would be the Netherlands’ highest since 1989. Still, according to Ipsos, 56 percent of Wilders’ voters stayed home.

For parties that took a pounding in the November election, the exit poll comes as a relief.

But to Wilders, the result is also a win: His party won just one seat in the current EU Parliament, and only thanks to the extra seats the Netherlands got post-Brexit. That MEP — Marcel de Graaff — quit the Freedom Party to join another far-right party. According to the exit poll, the Freedom Party could now get seven EU lawmakers.

Distribution of Dutch MEPs between Parliament groups in 2019, compared with the seat distribution projected by the exit poll. The Netherlands received three more seats after Brexit, and will get two more in the next European Parliament.



In French wine country, red is also the color of anger

LUGON-ET-L’ÎLE-DU-CARNAY — On a brisk, overcast day in January, winemaker Pierre de Roquefeuil was far away from his vines, instead standing on Bordeaux’s main ring road with a message for passers-by: Europe is biting the hand that feeds it.

The demonstration de Roquefeuil attended was one of the first of the farmers’ protests that would quickly spread across the European Union, decrying everything from cuts in diesel subsidies to negotiations with retailers. Despite their various grievances, the protests shared common themes: opposition to the aggressive pursuit of free-trade deals and ambitious proposals to combat climate change that farmers feel have left them in the lurch.

Months later, with the European election just two days away, de Roquefeuil feels nothing has changed.

“We’re getting squeezed,” he said.

A local vice president of the union Jeunes Agriculteurs, de Roquefeuil comes from a long line of winemakers. His great-grandfather moved the family business from the famed Médoc region in 1909 to a vineyard in the small town of Lugon-et-l’Île-du-Carnay northwest of Bordeaux, where it remains today.

The 34-year-old father of three speaks with the expertise of someone who has wanted to pursue the family business since a young age, but with a resignation that comes from watching peers and competitors collapse one by one.

Since taking over the vineyard from his father in 2013, he said he’s expanded the family operation from 23 to 50 hectares of vines because neighbors who had decided to quit approached him about taking over their businesses.

Yet despite growth that has allowed his operation to expand and export abroad, de Roquefeuil feels like his vineyard is just a “cash cow” for the government. He said he manages to sell almost all the wine produced in a season at a fair market price, but still struggles to get by because of laws and “idiotic regulations that the government is constantly enacting.”

De Roquefeuil recognizes his product is a luxury. He’s less worried about the collapse of vineyards than he is about future of farms — and how that will affect the future of a country long dedicated to providing its citizens quality food staples at reasonable prices, like a €1 baguette or a €2 camembert cheese.

France has already outsourced energy and industrial needs to foreign suppliers, sacrificing sovereignty for cheaper prices and, in some cases, diminished quality, de Roquefeuil said. When it comes to food, every milk or chicken producer that disappears is likely to be replaced by an overseas import “that will be of poorer quality and that won’t be French.”

“What’s left is food sovereignty, and we’re in the process of losing that,” he said.

No political party, de Roquefeuil said — left, right or center — has offered an acceptable solution to help struggling farmers. His studies in law at university left him unconvinced that the European Parliament could do enough to help European agriculture. He said he’s so exasperated with the status quo in Brussels in Paris that he’s not voting.

by Joshua Berlinger


HOW MANFRED WEBER CAME BACK FROM THE DEAD: Manfred Weber is the man pulling the strings of the EPP, both in the group and the party. But he’s had to claw his way back to this powerful position. In 2019 he was humiliated when EU leaders and the European Parliament passed over him as a potential European Commission president. Nicholas Vinocur and I explored Weber’s Bavarian roots and religious convictions to explore what makes him tick, why he’s opened the door to Giorgia Meloni, and what he might do next. Read the piece here.

TARGETING RENEW AND ECR, INSIDE THE EPP’s EXPANSION PLANS: As the traditional center-ground of European politics continues to lose seats, the EPP group seems to have pursued an aggressive — and successful strategy — of bringing parties around Europe into its fold. 

Denmark, Netherlands: I’ve been talking to people around Brussels this week about the EPP’s very purposeful expansion plans, which will help beef up its numbers in the Parliament. In Denmark, I hear the Liberal Alliance is a dead cert to join the EPP; and in the Netherlands, it’s likely to bring in two fresh parties — the Farmer-Citizen Movement and New Social Contract (whose lead candidate is Manfred Weber’s ex-spokesperson Dirk Gotink). 

Spain, Belgium: Three former Renew MEPs from Spain’s collapsed Ciudadanos party are running as independents — and if elected they will very likely form part of the EPP group. The Belgian NVA is rumored to be interested in joining the EPP from the ECR group and if Viktor Orbán gets what he wants and joins the ECR it could also cause a tsunami of rightwing parties to search for a new home. The Czech Republic’s ECR Prime Minister Petr Fiala is very pro-European and anti-Russian — two big boxes that the EPP likes to see ticked. If the Renew group also crumbles there could be parties to scoop up there too. Mark your calendar for June 18, when the EPP group will meet and likely vote on its new members.

YOUR GUIDE TO THE NEXT THREE DAYS: Laurens Cerulus put together this cracking guide on how the next few days will pan out, including essential details like when we’ll get the first full results on Sunday evening and where the Socialists will be drinking on Place du Luxembourg.

YOUR GUIDE TO THE NEXT SIX MONTHS (OR MORE): Don’t forget that the election only kicks off a massive set of backdoor negotiations for powerful EU jobs. Barbara Moens and I put together this timeline. 

KEY MOMENTS TO WATCH NEXT WEEK: The Renew group’s first meeting at which they could decide on kicking out the Dutch VVD for deciding to work with Geert Wilders; Ursula von der Leyen’s visit to the EPP’s first post-election group meeting on Wednesday (what kind of reception will she get?); a peace conference in Switzerland where some top jobs talk is expected to take place between EU leaders; and of course the G7 meeting where even more top jobs talk will likely happen behind the scenes. 

On Monday, the SPD delegation in the European Parliament will vote on its head of delegation, currently Rene Repasi. And all group leaders will meet for the first time after the election on Tuesday. 

THE EPP’S FAVORITE SOCIALIST: The EPP, Playbook hears, would accept the Socialists nominating Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen to replace Charles Michel as president of the European Council. Why? Well, the Social Democrat speaks their language on immigration, green policies and on working with the far-right. She did not sign the Party of European Socialists’ Berlin declaration last month where all leaders but her said they would not work with the far-right. The Socialists, though, are likely to opt for Portugal’s António Costa first. And anyway, it’s not up to the EPP to pick the Socialists’ candidates! 

IRISH COMMISSIONER RUMORS: In Ireland, it’s Renew’s Fianna Fáil who get to nominate the commissioner. Finance Minister Michael McGrath is still the favorite, followed by Tánaiste Micheál Martin. But with a possible national election on the horizon, the big shots might wish to stay home, leaving the European job to one of FF’s next crop of MEPs, which could be the likes of Barry Andrews or former Agriculture Minister Barry Cowen. 

AUSTRIAN COMMISSIONER RUMORS: Ursula von der Leyen is in Austria campaigning today, where she will meet Finance Minister Magnus Brunner, who is said to be angling for a Commissioner job. Von der Leyen won’t be meeting Europe Minister Karoline Edtstadler, whose name is in the frame too. 



POLITICO’s Leyla Aksu has made another playlist of songs to get you in the mood for the election. This week’s is the last one, so it’s packed full of tunes to get you in the mood for an election. Here it is. Enjoy.

EU top jobs reader contest: Can you predict who’ll get all the top jobs at the EU and NATO in the months ahead? Enter your best guesses here for the chance to win a prize, plus bragging rights among your fellow political bubble nerds. I have already filled in my answers, but I am not going to spill the beans on who I picked! 

MEP trivia: As this is the last EU election newsletter there is sadly no trivia this week. But you can always email me with random facts if you want! Or even better, news and secret documents!

Last week I asked you to name a former president of the European Parliament who managed to break the unwritten rule that you should not have two back-to-back 2.5-year terms. It’s something that current President Roberta Metsola is hoping to pull off again this time. Congratulations to all of you who named Martin Schulz, who was EP prez from 2012-2017. 

Your last winners: European Parliament’s Sade Viitanen and Isabella Cimaglia; journalist Francesco Bortoletto; CLG Europe’s Francesco Giannelli; ex-MEP Richard Corbett; Godelieve Quisthoudt; Must & Partners’ Matteo Albania; BCW’s Jillian Gaborieau; Doris Pack; Jérôme Béquignon; Olga Kosmidou; and Maastricht University’s Emeritus Professor Michael Shackleton. 

Academic levels of trivia: Prof. Shackleton points out that only one other president, Hans Furler, has been elected twice, in 1956 and 1960.

EXTRA BONUS TRIVIA SECTION — Want to be an MEP? Start as an APA: The European Parliament is complex and political parties are fiercely tribal — so maybe that helps to explain why so many MEPs started their EU careers as parliamentary assistants. There are a bunch of current and former parliamentary assistants running in the elections. Like former APA Elmar Smid for the Green-Left/Labor alliance in the Netherlands, or Ana Miguel Pedro on the EPP’s list in Portugal, Rhia Lopes for Volt in Portugal or Maria Molina Hurtado for the EPP in Spain, former APA Gloria Ghequiere in Belgium, Rikke Lauritsen in Denmark, Romanian MEP Cristian Terhes’ APA Herman Kelly (who used to work with Nigel Farage) is running in Ireland, and Arthur van Angeren who works for a French National Rally MEP is eighth on Geert Wilders’ list.

YOU CAN BE LIKE THESE MEPs WHO WERE EU PARLIAMENT ASSISTANTS: Norbert Lins worked for fellow CDU MEP Andreas Schwab, Sophie in ‘t Veld was an APA for Johanna Bogard, Michael Bloss, Anna Cavazzini and Terry Reintke worked for Ska Keller, Spain’s Adrián Vázquez was an APA, Ramona Strugariu worked for Monica Macovei, Spain’s Domenec Ruiz Devesa worked as an APA for the S&D group, and so did Spain’s Alicia Homs, France’s Anne Sander was Joseph Daul’s assistant, the Netherlands’ Jan Huitema worked for Dutch MEPs Jan Mulder and Holger Krahmer, Luxembourg’s Christophe Hansen worked for Astrid Lulling, Croatia’s Karlo Ressler worked for now Croatian PM Andrej Plenković, Germany’s Daniel Freund was the APA of Gerald Haffner, João Albuquerque worked for Pedro Silva Pereira, Czechia’s Ondřej Kovařík worked for Dita Charanzova, French President Emmanuel Macron’s lead candidate Valérie Hayer was a local assistant for Jean Artuis, and the Netherlands’ Tom Berendsen — now all but reelected — also worked in the CDA delegation before becoming an MEP.

Current election excitement level: IT’S HAPPENING!!!!!!!! (OK, not everyone is as enthused as we are.)

Last word: “The real campaign starts after the election,” Ben Crum, a political scientist at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, told my colleague Barbara in this must-read piece on von der Leyen’s campaign. It’s lucky we’ve got the EU Transition Playbook coming then!

THANKS TO: Paul Dallison, Hanne Cokelaere, Matthieu Pollet and Louise Guillot. 

**A message from HSI Europe: Humane Society International calls on EU policymakers to become advocates for animals, advance their welfare and improve their protection. Read more.**

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