THE starting gun was fired last week on the upcoming European Parliament elections – the results will have implications not only for the EU’s own evolution but for our own prospects in the independence movement.

In the blue corner, we have current Commission president Dr Ursula von der Leyen as the spitzenkandidat for the centre-right European People’s Party (EPP). Arguably the most influential Commission president in years, her choice as their lead candidate was described by some commentators as a coronation, with no other serious viable alternative emerging. Not a bad effort from someone who was only narrowly approved as Commission president back in 2019.

In the red corner, we have the centre-left Party of European Socialists (PES) grouping led by Nicolas Schmit, who is also the current commissioner for jobs and social rights. The Luxembourgish politician also had a previous stint as member of the Luxembourg government from 2004 to 2009 and has also called for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza. They’ve also put together their manifesto already with the headline, “The Europe We Want – Social, Democratic, Sustainable”.

Caught in the middle are the liberal Renew Europe group of MEPs, whose own spitzenkandidat will be the German MP and chair of the Bundestag’s defence committee, Marie-Agnes Strack-Zimmermann. She has been notably vocal in calling for stronger support for Ukraine even while her own party sits in coalition in the German government.

Those are the three main groupings, although I would be remiss not to mention my friends in the Greens/European Free Alliance (EFA) group. They are putting forward their own spitzenkandidaten: Dutch MEP Bas Eickhout and German MEP Terry Reintke for the Greens, and Maylis Rossberg and Raül Romeva for EFA. My best of luck to you, chers collègues!

The spectre of the far-right parties within the two political groupings of the Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) and the Identity and Democracy (ID) remains omnipresent though (as last weekend’s elections in Portugal have demonstrated). While it is likely that the EPP will win the most seats, followed by the PES, how the rest of the parliament will be composed remains up for grabs.

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If the liberals, greens and EFA lose ground to other parties which make up the ECR and the ID groupings, it is likely that we could see the EU take a decidedly more right-wing direction. On the other hand, depending on events and the actual progress of the respective campaigns over the coming months, should the far-right fall short, it is likely we will see a more progressive, socially democratic and environmental parliament and Commission.

This also matters in terms of who will hold not only the office of Commission president but also President of the European Council, the High Representative for External Affairs, President of the Parliament as well as who holds the various Commission offices which each member state is entitled to. Since the EU is, first and foremost, a democratic body made up of democracies, it will require all the individual persons and their teams to find areas where they can work together and improve the lives of Europeans across our shared continent.

Perhaps the only thing that can be said with certainty is that regardless of the make-up of the parliament, we will see the EU strive to be a more credible defence and hard-power actor in the world.

Last week’s announcement of a European Defence Industrial Strategy provides some indication of what role the EU will play in supporting member states’ defence capabilities, particularly regarding joint procurement and research development, as elaborated on in previous columns.

Regardless, I cannot help but feel a tinge of sadness that Scotland will not be standing any MEPs in this election for the first time since the Parliament first held direct elections in 1979. Scotland’s best future lies in Europe, being part of a collaboration of equal member states working together for the common weal instead of simply taking whatever Westminster government deigns to give us depending on the mood of the day.

I of course spent many years in the European Parliament sitting with the Greens/EFA but among the other Scottish MEPs, almost all of us, by and large, got on together. We were, after all, Team Scotland when it came to Europe, whether we were SNP, Labour, LibDem or even Tory domestically.

We perhaps had different visions of what was the best future for Scotland, but we were united in our view that Scotland’s best interests were served by having representation in the EU.

It is why – while I wish events had turned out differently and we would be competing in these elections – I do very much look forward to the day when we return and send new MEPs to Brussels and Strasbourg. As an independent country, we will also have a say in the wider spitzenkandidaten process as well as have our own commissioner who ensures that there is a Scottish voice in European affairs, something the UK was always very funny about.

As we await the outcome of these elections in June, it is a potent reminder of what we have to gain when our movement succeeds – independence in Europe.