It’s important not to exaggerate the importance for Europe of the European Parliament elections starting tomorrow. The Parliament may have grown in power and influence in recent years, but it still plays third fiddle. 

It can veto new laws, treaties and appointments, but only the Commission can initiate legislation. The real power rightly lies with the council of ministers, which comprise the elected national leaders of the member states. 

Political fragmentation, surging populism and Brexit chaos are set to leave the European Union deadlocked after elections starting tomorrow. An increase in the number of far-right and populist MEPs is expected to complicate key decisions in Brussels this summer and autumn.

Neo-fascists are proudly back on the streets of Italy as Matteo Salvini is accused of unleashing the demons of the country’s dark past, giving the far-right its best results ever. 

Salvini is trying to recruit European nationalist and populist parties for a new Eurosceptic bloc in the EU Parliament featuring his party, which it is thought should win up to 24 seats, making it one of the largest.

Joining him will be Marine Le Pen, with about 20 seats for her National Rally, which has just edged ahead of President Macron’s La République En Marche party in an opinion poll. This vote is his first national test since he became president two years ago with a promise to revolutionise French and European politics. 

Defeat by Le Pen would represent a setback for Macron’s increasingly slender plan to lead what he calls the renaissance of the EU.  

The Alternative for Germany (AfD) party is expected to contribute about 10 seats and Austria’s Freedom Party about four. Salvini is also courting Spain’s Vox Party, on course to win six seats after its strong showing in Spain’s recent general election, where it won 24 seats to become the first hard-right party in the Parliament since Franco’s death in 1975.

Marine Le Pen, a rival to Salvini for leadership of a far-right bloc in the European Parliament, said a fortnight ago that it was the EU’s empire-building tendency, not nationalism, that was pushing Europe back into dictatorship, calling the EU “an economic and social Chernobyl”.

Add in smaller Danish, Finnish, Belgian, Estonian and Slovakian parties and the far-right could count on about 100 MEPs. It is probably not enough to take over the European Parliament, but could turn a fringe fondness for fascism in Europe into mainstream politics.

A development that could tip the scales will be if Hungary’s right-wing ruling party decided to form a pact of “patriotic forces” in Brussels with populists from Italy, Germany and France. While Victor Orban’s Fidesz party remains nominally in a broad conservative alliance with figures such as Angela Merkel’s CDU, his MEPs have been suspended from the European People’s Party (EPP) group in the parliament over his abuses of the rule of law. 

Fidesz could pull its MEPs out of EPP to build a right-wing coalition with the nationalist faction.

Matteo Salvini is accused of unleashing the demons of the country’s dark past, giving the far-right its best results ever

Recruiting Fidesz would be a considerable symbolic boost for Salvini’s bid to unite Europe’s unruly radical nationalist parties into a cogent political force. The loss of the 12 or 14 MEPs Fidesz is expected to win could damage the EPP’s hopes of clinging to power in what is likely to be a finely balanced parliament. 

The probable result will increase the influence of socialists in parliament, giving the left a disproportionately bigger voice in the carve-up of top jobs. Despite Britain’s intention to leave the EU, its MEPs will have a full say in choosing a new European Commission and successor to Jean-Claude Juncker, the president. 

The political deadlock could well delay the Commission decision until as late as March next year because of the increased number of populists, especially a new bloc led by Salvini (or Le Pen) and divisions within the mainstream European People’s Party (which is composed of other political parties, not individuals) over migration. 

Deadlock could lead to a European crisis caused by institutional paralysis. 

European leaders will be meeting on May 28, two days after the elections end, to discuss the way forward. Opinion polls across Europe show that the EPP and the S&D socialist parties, who have hitherto dominated the Parliament since direct elections in 1979, will take only a combined 43 per cent of the seats, the first time that both have lost a majority for a “grand coalition” in 40 years.

Finally, as a postscript to these major potential upheavals in the European political landscape, moving on to tiny Malta’s Roberta Metsola. She took exception a fortnight ago to my criticism of the shortcomings of her so-called “new law to manage migration… with a new force of 10,000 border guards and operational staff in place in the coming years,” which I pointed out will not be fully operational until 2027 – eight years hence – and the first 5,000 guards will not start being deployed on the ground until 2021.

For drawing public attention to the severe limitations of this “new” European law and the way she attempted to mislead the public about its benefits, she called me a misogynist (OED: “a man who hates women”). Either she doesn’t know the meaning of misogyny or she is too thin-skinned for politics and cannot take constructive criticism without lashing out.

When I describe Theresa May as the worst British Prime Minister since Lord North, it is most assuredly not because she is a woman but because she is a poor political leader.

In the same vein, my criticism of Metsola for dragging Malta’s name though the mud internationally by her misplaced involvement (together with David Casa) in the European Parliament’s rule of law report is motivated solely by my judgement that she is a rotten politician, not because of her gender.

As I pointed out last week, there are many other Nationalist Party candidates who are far worthier of representing this country in the next European Parliament than Metsola and Casa.

People like Michael Briguglio, Peter Agius and others, who know instinctively that their overriding role at the European level is to ensure that Malta’s national interests on major issues such as taxation, migration, the rule of law and financial services are protected, not traduced for narrow, Maltese party-political expedience.

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