EU parliament chief fears rise of eurosceptics in 2019

Brussels (AFP) –


The European Parliament will likely see an influx of eurosceptics after elections in May 2019, its president Antonio Tajani said on Wednesday as he rallied pro-EU parties to counter the threat.

The Italian former EU commissioner made his prediction as a coalition of anti-establishment and far-right parties was set to take power in Rome, in another blow against Brussels after Brexit.

"In a year's time from 23 to 26 May, Europe's future will be in the hands of some 450 million Europeans from 27 countries," Tajani said at a press conference, a year ahead of elections that will take place just weeks after Britain's expected withdrawal from the EU.

Asked if euroscepticism was likely to rise among MEPs, Tajani answered: "Probably, yes."

"But we need to work hard during this year for paving the way for a pro-European parliament" in the first-ever election without Britain, he added.

Currently, about 80 of the 751 MEPs belong to political groups staunchly opposed to the EU.

Brexit firebrand Nigel Farage, backed by Italy's anti-establishment Five Star Movement, leads the Europe of Freedom and Direct Democracy group. Meanwhile, France's far-right Front National dominates the Europe of Nations and Freedoms group.

"We need good answers because the problem is not the parties, it is why a lot of citizens want to vote for these parties," said Tajani.

"It is necessary to show citizens that Europe contributes to their wellbeing and their protection."

Tajani noted that two-thirds of Europeans were convinced of the benefits of EU membership, according to the 2018 Eurobarometer, a regular survey of member states.

This is the highest average rate since 1983, according to the European Parliament.

The result came "despite the vote in the UK to withdraw from the EU, or perhaps precisely because of that vote," he said.

This year, Italy is the only EU country where less than half of the population (44 percent) believes that its country has benefited from EU membership.

For Tajani, his fellow citizens' mistrust is partly linked to other member states failing to do enough to ease a crisis from migrants arriving on Italian shores.

"European engagement came too late and citizens are unsatisfied with what Europe has done in this area," he said.