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European Democracy at Work!

On 7 June, I joined citizens across Europe by going to the ballot box to elect the European Parliament for the eighth time; although sadly more than half of the electorate stayed at home. Before the vote, the political chatter had focused on what the reaction of the electorate would be to the economic crisis and how the centre-right EPP grouping (the largest in the Parliament) would fare. The UK Conservatives had announced they would be splintering off from the group with like-minded parties from the Czech Republic and Poland in the new Parliament.While the exact make-up isn’t yet clear, from the provisional results the biggest themes seem to be a dramatic loss for the centre left and a growth in fringe parties. The EPP held its own despite the loss of their UK and Czech chapters. In many countries, the ruling parties were punished in the polls in what is seen as a reaction struggling economies across Europe. That being said, centre-left governments seem to have suffered more. The UK and Portuguese governments were heavily defeated while the opposition Popular Party beat the ruling Socialists in Spain. In contrast, the EPP-affiliated governments in France, Germany, Italy and Poland more than held their own. The far right and anti-immigration parties made significant ground, returning MEPs in the Netherlands, Austria, Denmark, Slovakia, Hungary and the UK.So what does this all mean for Europe? Well, one of the first things that the Parliament will have to do is to endorse the new President of the Commission. The incumbent Barroso is likely to be put forward for a second term, and there are already some commentators questioning how accommodating the Parliament will be. Their reasoning is that the EPP are likely to require more fringe parties to vote for him to secure a majority and the Green party, which is already mounting a ‘Stop Barroso’ campaign, had a great election. While the number of independents has apparently more than doubled to about 10% of the legislature, however, if you look into the figures this includes the UK and Czech centre-right parties who are more likely than not to continue to back Barroso. Moreover, the next largest groups of the Socialists and Liberals are divided, with many national delegations professing support for Barroso. Nothing is for certain but I think he remains in pole position.In terms of the balance of power, I would also think that the changes will not be overly dramatic. The UK and their partners putting together a group less inclined to further European integration on the centre right will be of some interest, while the Socialists are undoubtedly weakened. That being said, as no one party or coalition dominates the chamber, it is likely that familiar ad-hoc coalitions will be formed to pass particular pieces of legislation: whether the core be EPP and the Socialists; EPP and the Liberals; or Socialists, Greens and Liberals.From a tech policy point of view, the Socialists were perhaps the most explicit in putting broadband investment at the front of their manifesto but all of the main parties had some positive elements, from improving the single market to R&D investment. In truth, much depends on the individual – tech friendly MEPs can be from any party. The cross-party nature of the European Internet Foundation is an example of that in practice. What will probably be of most interesting will be welcoming a host of new MEPs with a fresh take on the political process and seeing how they integrate with their more established colleagues. One thing I’m looking forward to is a busy autumn introducing them to Cisco and engaging them in the world of technology and innovation.

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