EU election insights:
Irish candidates continue to seek support & fragmented European Parliament expected

Irish insights:

Candidates continue to seek support across the country, with the main parties confident they can achieve positive results.  However, following last week’s poll, which showed Fianna Fáil struggling to make an impact in the Midlands-North West constituency, there’s a chance that for the second EU election in a row, the party has made a strategic blunder by running two candidates in that area.  The response has been to allow both candidates to canvass right across the constituency, openly pitting them against each other, although with the party clearly throwing its weight behind Brendan Smith in the hope of securing a seat.  Newly published election materials in some counties now expressly ask voters to give their first preference to Smith.  Predictably, Anne Rabbitte has responded negatively to what she terms efforts of an ‘old guard’ within the party behind more overt support for her running mate.  Meanwhile, Fine Gael, sensing the potential, has allowed Maria Walsh to seek support in counties Longford and Westmeath.  With Mairead McGuinness increasingly likely to top the poll in the constituency, the party has a real chance to pick up an extra seat.

Elsewhere, the two main parties are performing well, with expectations of at least one seat each in both Dublin and Ireland South.  In Dublin, both Frances Fitzgerald and Barry Andrews look safe, with the remaining two seats likely to go to candidates more sceptical about the current direction of EU policy.  Nevertheless, given high support in Ireland for the EU at over 90%, candidates are careful to be seen as broadly supportive of the aims of the EU rather than against EU membership.  In Ireland South, it is worth watching the progress of both Andrew Doyle (FG) and Malcolm Byrne (FF), neither of whom were considered favourites for their parties although both are performing well.  In Doyle’s case, a good result would see him take a second seat for Fine Gael in the constituency, which, if coupled with a win for Maria Walsh in Midlands-North West, would deliver a significant result for the party nationwide. 

Finally, in terms of issues that have so far dominated the campaign, candidates have noted significant interest in climate change and the environment on the doorsteps, with voters keen to see engagement from the political class and demanding effective action.  This opens the possibility of progress for candidates with ‘green’ credentials, especially in Dublin, but similar interest in the issue is recorded right across the country.  Peter Casey in Midlands-North West is perhaps most closely linked with calls for stricter immigration and welfare policies, but so far the issue has not gained the same level of traction as it did during last year’s contest for the presidency.  Lastly, several candidates on the left are highlighting concerns about EU efforts to collaborate on defence issues, especially as regards involvement in the Permanent Structured Co-operation (Pesco).  Ireland’s traditional policy of military neutrality means that this issue has the potential to attract support and could cause some difficulties for candidates from the larger parties.  

By Aideen Ginnell, Ireland Director, Cicero Group

A view from Brussels:

With less than a week to go until the 23rd of May, when European elections will start taking place within the Member States, a central part of the discussions has revolved around the question of who the next Commission President will be. This week, the last (and supposedly main) Spitzenkandidaten debate took place, which saw contenders from all political groups with an allocated Spitzenkandidat debate the same issues they had also discussed in previous debates (incl. migration, international trade, big tech, climate change etc). With the Eurosceptic far right being absent from the discussions, the European Conservatives and Reformists presented the most radical anti-EU perspective, while still being in favour of EU integration on some of the big issues. 

At the same time, it is becoming increasingly uncertain whether the Parliament will be able to uphold the process, for which it will need to build a majority around one of the candidates. The Parliament is expected to become significantly more fragmented, as support from the traditional parties is drifting right, centre and left. This makes finding a majority more complicated than it was during the last term, when a Grand Coalition between the EPP and social-democratic S&D was sufficient to obtain 53% of seats and to put the EPP candidate – President Juncker – in power. A similar coalition is now projected to be insufficient to get a majority, meaning the EPP would need to find more than one coalition partner.

What is likely to further complicate the formation of a coalition and majority is that while Manfred Weber, Spitzenkandidat for the Parliament’s largest political group the Christian-Democratic EPP, would statistically be the most likely candidate to win, he enjoys little popularity. The most likely coalition partners, the S&D and liberal-democratic ALDE seem reluctant to lend their support to Weber, who has limited executive experience not having ruled a national government or ministry before. 

Similarly, several government leaders including French President Emmanuel Macron are openly opposed to Weber’s candidacy, which contributes to the Council’s already strong opposition towards the Spitzenkandidaten process. Given that the Council is legally in charge of proposing a candidate to the European Parliament, it would not put forward someone that does not enjoy sufficient support from the Heads of States. Instead, it is rumoured that a compromise may be proposed, consisting of co-EPP member EU Chief Brexit Negotiator Michel Barnier, who has conveniently recently stepped up his efforts in becoming a public advocate for European unity.

The Council may be in luck, as the Parliament’s failure to elect a Spitzenkandidat would automatically put the power back into its hands, without creating too much friction between the institutions. Staying ahead of the game, the Council has already organised a Summit on 28 May to assign top EU jobs.

By Megan Ridderhof, Account Executive, Cicero Group


Cicero’s Irish office will be turning its attention to the forthcoming European elections and will be sharing our insights weekly on a Friday in replacement to our Brexit Insights newsletter.

If you would like to know how Cicero could directly support your company with your communication requirements,
please get in touch with Aideen Ginnell at Aideen.Ginnell@cicero-group.com.

Get in Touch

Aideen Ginnell

Ireland Director

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