EU election insights: More unexpected turns

Irish insights

With two weeks to go before voting begins in the EU Parliament elections, public attention has begun to focus on the candidates and their proposals. RTE has begun hosting debates for candidates to air their views, and the election is beginning to gain traction with the voting public.  An opinion poll released on Friday, May 10th, revealed how the contest is taking shape.  The poll shows strong support for the two main parties, with Fine Gael candidates ahead in all three constituencies and their running mates also performing well, with the prospect of the party holding their current four seats and perhaps making gains.  Fianna Fáil polled well in Dublin and Ireland South, with good chances of gaining seats in each constituency.  However, the party is struggling to make an impact in the Midlands-North West constituency, where traditionally it might have expected greater support.  The result of the poll will be disappointing for Sinn Féin.  While there is a good chance the party will retain its current three seats, it is facing a strong challenge from candidates on the left and will likely see its share of the vote decline from the previous election, underscoring recent difficulties for the party under new leader, Mary Lou MacDonald.  

Below are some of the highlights from the recent poll, although it should be noted that there is still much to play for in the final two weeks of the campaign, during which further major debates and publicity events are planned:

Midlands-North West

As expected, current MEP, Mairead McGuinness (Fine Gael), is polling strongly in this constituency, over 10% ahead of her nearest challenger.  The Independent candidate, Luke “Ming” Flanagan is in second place on 16%, which is a strong result in light of his relative lack of media profile since his election to the EU Parliament in 2014.  Fianna Fáil candidates, Brendan Smith and Anne Rabbitte, appear to be struggling to make an impression with voters at this stage but that could change in the coming weeks.  Matt Carthy (Sinn Féin), Maria Walsh (Fine Gael) and Peter Casey (Independent) are also in contention for seats.

Ireland South

Fine Gael again top the poll with Sean Kelly in the lead and Liadh Ní Riada (Sinn Féin) and Billy Kelleher (Fianna Fáil) in second and third place.  Other contenders for a seat in this constituency include Deirdre Clune (Fine Gael), Andrew Doyle (Fine Gael) and Mick Wallace (Independents for Change).

Dublin

The top three spots in this constituency go to Frances Fitzgerald (Fine Gael), Barry Andrews (Fianna Fáil) and Lynn Boylan (Sinn Féin), in that order.  Fianna Fáil will be pleased with the level of support for its candidate given its struggles in recent years to connect with voters in the capital.  The Sinn Féin vote currently looks to be substantially down on its previous performance in the 2014 election, which, as noted above, will be a concern for the party.  The fourth seat in Dublin will likely be fiercely contested between Clare Daly (Independents for Change) and Ciarán Cuffe of the Green Party, with Cuffe potentially better placed to pick up transfers from across the political spectrum as environmental issues gain traction with the public.

ALDE

Finally, an issue that has received little attention so far, notwithstanding its importance for some of the leading candidates in the race, is the likely dissolution of the ALDE group following the election to form a new voting bloc alongside Emanuel Macron’s La Republique En Marche (LREM).  Fianna Fáil traditionally sits with the ALDE group and while not ideologically opposed to LREM’s positions in general, M. Macron’s proposals for greater focus on a united European defence capability could alienate many Irish voters, who broadly support Ireland’s traditional stance of military neutrality.  This could provide opportunity for other candidates, especially those representing parties on the left and Independents, to attract support from voters who might otherwise support Fianna Fáil candidates.

By Aideen Ginnell, Ireland Director, Cicero Group

A view from Brussels

EU election season getting more unexpected turns

The EU election campaigns are fully up and running both nationally across the EU and in Brussels. As expected, most of the national campaigns are focused on domestic issues and political power struggles – the exception being the UK, where every national political drama is now essentially an EU issue. However, the “EU level” campaigns are no less active and have certainly gained considerable traction in the last few days.

On 9th May the EU leaders gathered in Romania to discuss the future of the EU. While little of substance was said on this point one thing became clear: on 28th May there will be another “special” summit, where the EU 28 leaders will start discussing who will get the top EU jobs for the next term. This was certainly an unexpected move and a shift from the established procedure. Usually after EU elections the Parliament gathers to discuss the future ruling coalition, while in the background and behind closed doors, EU prime ministers and presidents are negotiating who will get which top EU position.

Announcing this special summit, Donald Tusk, the president of the European Council, explained his decision by saying simply “We need effective institutions and so we need swift decisions”. It is arguable whether swift decisions make for effective institutions, but certainly, for those directly affected by EU affairs, it is a breath of fresh air to hear that EU leaders will try shortening what is usually a two-month period of gossiping and speculation.

Other news that attracted significant attention is the recently announced decision of the ex-Greek Finance Minister, Mr Yannis Varoufakis, to run as an MEP candidate for… Germany. Recalling the 2015 Greek debt crisis and the drama that ensued between Germany and Greece, it definitely seems ironic the Mr Varoufakis took this decision. The person responsible for the coinage of the word “Grexit” (later to be used in its way more popular form, Brexit), has formed a new pan-European movement “Democracy in Europe Movement 2025”, or DiEM25 for short. The party attempts to disrupt EU politics by offering pan-EU policies based on more centralised policymaking and a stronger focus on climate change (DiEM 25’s flagship proposal is the so-called “new green deal for Europe” in the shape of €500bn annual investment in environmentally friendly infrastructure and renewable energy). It appears that the movement does not have much public support, and Varoufakis himself has managed to alienate his biggest supporters in Germany, Die Linke party, by saying that if elected he will leave his EP seat within two weeks in order to start campaigning for the Greek national elections.

Next week all eyes will be on the upcoming “Spitzenkanidaten” debate, dubbed Eurovision, which is taking place on 15th May in the European Parliament.

By Tomas Dimitrov, Account Manager, Cicero Group

EU elections – At a glance overview

In just a few weeks’ time, citizens will be heading to the polls across the EU between 23 and 26 May in an election that will affect over 500m people. The election results will not only determine the make-up of the European Parliament but also shape who will head up the European Commission for the next five years. Cicero has prepared an ‘at a glance’ overview to provide you with all the key information for the 2019 European Elections. We do hope you find this worthwhile.

Click here to read Cicero’s guide to the 2019 EU elections.

Get in Touch

Aideen Ginnell

Ireland Director

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