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Europe to the polls – what will the EU look like after the elections?

May 7, 2024

Citizens of EU Member States will go to the polls between 6-9 June to vote for the next EU Parliament and its 720 Members of Parliament (MEPs). The turnout is expected to be the highest since 1994.

Election predictions and party shifts

In January, the European Council on Foreign Relations published a report on the next EU Parliament’s makeup. The predictions are gloomy: many countries will see “a major shift to the right, with populist radical right parties gaining votes and seats across the EU, and centre-left and green parties losing votes and seats”. Over the last few months, malcontent has been fuelled by anti-EU parties which have been weaponizing climate change policies, the war in Ukraine, and geopolitical issues to gain more support amongst voters.

However, the likelihood of a dangerous shift toward populism and far-right politics has been contested by another high-profile European think tank, the Jacques Delors Centre, which has played down the narrative of a widespread green backlash. Although hard to predict, the next elections’ outcome is generating some anxiety, and EU politicians and policymakers are still bracing for a swing towards the right.

Whilst the EU Parliament has been ruled by a de facto grand coalition, with the European People’s Party (EPP), the Socialists and Democrats (S&D) and Renew Europe (RE) having a majority, this equilibrium can change if the European Conservatives and Reformists Group (ECR), and Identity and Democracy (ID) gain seats. Consequently, the incumbent EU Commission President, Ursula von der Leyen, who is seeking re-election as head of the Commission, will have to negotiate a deal with the right and far-right MEPs and/or the far-left MEPs to secure a majority and a second mandate.

Implications of Parliament changes

What’s not hard to predict, however, is that a change in the EU Parliament will have far-reaching political and policy implications. A paradigmatic example is the controversial Nature Restoration Law, passed with a small majority (12 votes) at a plenary session in February. The vote exposed the fractures within the EU parties, particularly within the EPP, which was split and left Von der Leyen – a member of the EPP herself – without her party’s full backing.

The European Green Deal, Von der Leyen’s legacy, is under attack by the far-right parties’ anti-climate and anti-Europe rhetoric. It is also undermined by the centre-right parties: worried about losing votes, they have been increasingly lambasting EU efforts to cut carbon emissions and clean up the environment.

In her campaign to win a second mandate, Von der Leyen has laid down new priorities: the Green Deal’s ambitions have been tempered by considerations around the need for more spending in defence as well as a stronger stance on competitiveness, which is likely to mean less regulatory burden for businesses and more protectionism. The Letta Report, published in April, and former President of the European Central Bank Mario Draghi’s forthcoming report, will almost certainly impact the EU’s strategic agenda for 2024-2029 and the new Commission’s priorities.

Regarding what to expect, once the new Parliament is in place, negotiations for the elections of the EU Parliament’s President, the EU Commission’s President, and the appointment of the various heads of departments (Directors-General) will start. The new president of the Commission is likely to be in place by September and a fully working Commission from January 2025. Only then we will know for sure which policies the EU will decide to prioritise.

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POSTED BY: Carolina Gasparoli

Carolina Gasparoli