What would the European Parliament look like after Brexit?

parliament

If the UK left the EU, in all likelihood we would still have to apply many of the EU market’s rules and regulations. If the UK remained a member of the European Economic Area, like Norway, all EU single market rules would still apply in the UK. On the other hand, if we left the single market and negotiated a free trade agreement with the EU – which perhaps seems the most likely scenario – firms exporting to the EU market would have to apply all EU goods and services standards to be able to gain access.

An issue that is relevant to the UK debate, then, is how would the rules of the EU’s single market change if we left? One way of looking at this is to consider the political make-up of the European Parliament, as this institution now has equal power with the governments in the Council to set the rules for the single market.

The European Parliament after Brexit

British MEPs currently sit in several political groups: 22 UKIP MEPs sit in the eurosceptic Europe of Freedom and Direct Democracy (EFDD) group; 1 Ulster Unionist Party MEP and 20 Conservative MEPs sit in the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) group; 20 Labour MEPs sit with the Socialists and Democrats (S&D) group; 6 British MEPs (from the Greens, Scottish Nationalists, and Plaid Cymru) are in the Greens/European Free Alliance (G/EFA); 1 Lib Dem MEP is in the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE); 1 Sinn Fein MEP is in the European United Left/Nordic Green Left (EUL/NGL); 1 independent MEP sits in the radical right Europe of Nations and Freedom (ENF) group; and 1 Democratic Unionist Party MEP is not attached to any group.

Figure 1 shows the current size of the political groups and what the chamber would look like without these 73 British MEPs. As the figure shows, the balance between the groups on the left and right would not change much as the locations of the lines between the Greens (G/EFA) and the Liberals (ALDE) or between the Liberals and the centre-right European People’s Party (EPP) would hardly move.

Figure 1. Make-up of the European Parliament with and without British MEPs

graph 1

Key:                 EUL/NGL          European Untied Left/Nordic Green Left

S&D                 Socialists and Democrats

G/EFA              Greens/European Free Alliance

ALDE                Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe

EPP                  European People’s Party

ECR                  European Conservatives and Reformists

EFDD               Europe of Freedom and Direct Democracy

ENF                  Europe of Nations and Freedom

NA                   non-attached MEPs

However, looking at the coalitions that usually form in votes in the European Parliament, in Figure 2, suggests that there would be some significant changes to the balance of power in the chamber.

Figure 2. Coalitions with and without British MEPs

graph 2

Neither a centre-left coalition (between the S&D, ALDE, G/EFA, and EUL/NGL) nor a centre-right coalition (between the EPP, ALDE, and the remaining ECR) would be able to command a majority, as is currently the case. However, the centre-right bloc would be closer to the 50% threshold than they are at the moment.

Perhaps more significantly, the ‘integrationist coalition’ between the three pro-EU centrist groups – the centre-right EPP, the centre-left S&D, and the centrist ALDE – would be even more dominant than it is currently. And against this bloc, the ‘Eurosceptic coalition’ would be considerably weaker without the Brits.

What would these changes mean for EU policies?

The stronger integrationist coalition at the expense of Eurosceptic MEPs would mean that the bloc of MEPs in the European Parliament in favour of deeper economic, political, and social integration would be more powerful. For example, there would be a bigger majority in support of deeper economic and monetary union (such as eurozone bonds and harmonised macro-economic policies). In addition, given that the EPP and S&D both favour a ‘social market’ model for the single market, there would be a larger majority in support of common social policies (such as the Working Time Directive), more tax harmonisation, and perhaps even a European minimum wage.

These inferences might seem a little far-fetched, but they are also supported by a recent report by VoteWatch, a group which tracks voting in the European Parliament. VoteWatch looked at the outcome of recent votes on key issues and how they would have been different had the British MEPs not been present. This analysis led VoteWatch to highlight 5 areas where policy outcomes would most likely change after Brexit: (1) a higher regulatory burden for businesses, with more social regulations in particular; (2) weaker copyright protection; (3) a larger EU budget (as a proportion of EU GDP); (4) harmonisation of corporation taxes as well as a more regulation of financial services (such as a financial transactions tax); and (5) less support for nuclear energy and shale gas exploitation.

In short, the policies applied in the EU single market could be very different without the UK. Without the British MEPs, there would be a larger majority in support of deeper economic and political integration, as well as larger majorities in favour of higher social and environmental regulation and common EU taxes.

Some people, particularly on the left, might like to see this, as the EU would most likely be less ‘neo-liberal’ and more ‘social democratic’ without Britain. However, from the perspective of the UK outside the EU, the European single market – which would continue to be the UK’s largest export market – would be more highly regulated, and this would inevitably mean significantly higher costs for UK firms who would still want to continue to sell their goods and services to the EU.

Simon Hix is Harold Laski Professor of Political Science at the London School of Economics and Political Science, and Senior Fellow on the ESRC’s UK in a Changing Europe programme.

Disclaimer:
The views expressed in this analysis post are those of the authors and not necessarily those of the UK in a Changing Europe initiative.

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  • jonlivesey

    It’s a bit overkill, but what you are saying boils down to what most people would expect anyway. If the UK leaves the EU, the remaining states will integrate and perhaps federalize a bit quicker. And the European market will become more regulated and more expensive to export to.

    OK, but so what? At some point the EU will integrate and regulate anyway. The real question is whether we want to be in or out when that happens.

    We cannot control what happens in the EU. History has shown that over and over. And to export to the EU we have to follow their regulations – just as we have to follow the regulations of *any* country we export to.

    But the other countries in the World outside the EU only regulate what we export to them. They don’t insist on applying their regulations to our domestic market. They don’t insist on regulating our home appliances. They don’t tell us whether we can dredge our rivers, or if we can do GMO research or e-vape.

    The worst case for Brexit is that 45% of our exports become like the other 55%, that exporting to the EU becomes like exporting to the rest of the World. That does not sound too terrible.

    • TrumpInHilwins

      you are nuts. your mind is spinning into a black hole!

  • PG

    Seems that the statement from Sweden , that it will leave Europe if the UK leaves , is going unheeded , and how many other countries will follow ?

  • PG

    The EU will become a backwater without the financial centre of London

  • Derek

    The Trump win has shown the importance of the human psychology behind politics because politics is the triumph of human emotion over reason. See ‘Emory Study Lights Up The Political Brain’ https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2006/01/060131092225.htm

    Haidt has shown that there are 5 moral values; liberals have the first two but conservatives have the full 5.See ‘The moral roots of liberals and conservatives’ https://www.ted.com/talks/jonathan_haidt_on_the_moral_mind.

    Liberals love change and the EU Project is all about change so liberals occupy many top positions. An analysis ‘Trump, Brexit, and the rise of Populism:Economic have-nots and cultural backlash’ comes to the conclusion that the main cause is cultural backlash https://research.hks.harvard.edu/publications/getFile.aspx?Id=1401 i.e. the EU could be taking liberalism too far for a large section of the public.

    Political analyses tend to take an overall outlook where the actual public are down in the noise, but Brexit and Trump show that it is these same people that give rise to shocks and surprises. They could do the same to the EU.

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