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Challenges Ahead: How the results of the European Parliamentary elections could shape Europe’s future

Article by David Harley

May 30, 2024

Challenges Ahead: How the results of the European Parliamentary elections could shape Europe’s future

This year’s European elections are like no other. The political map of Europe is being redrawn with populist and authoritarian parties expected to gain ground in most member states. As we enter the final stretch, a record turnout is predicted to go to the polls on 6-9 June across the 27 countries, and the European Parliament is attracting unprecedented levels of media attention.


In a projection heavy with symbolism, the polls indicate that the national parties of the President of France and the Chancellor of Germany may each suffer heavy defeats. The prevailing uncertainty about the European Union’s (EU) future direction reflects both internal instability and the gravity and complexity of external events. The centre is still just about holding.


The pace and scale of change in the EU’s integration in recent decades has been remarkable, and until now seemingly unstoppable. Twenty years ago, on May 1st 2004, the EU celebrated its enlargement in Phoenix Park in Dublin under the Irish Presidency.[1] The flags of the ten new member states were solemnly raised, a choir sang the Ode to Joy with gusto, and Nobel Prize-winner Seamus Heaney recited a poem he had written specially for the occasion, which included these lines:


“So on a day when newcomers appear,

Let it be a homecoming and let us speak

The unstrange word, as it behoves us here,

Move lips, move minds and make new meanings flare.”


How things have changed over those twenty years. The context and the mood today could hardly be more different, with a savage war raging on the European continent and on the frontiers of the EU. Four EU member states (Poland, Slovakia, Hungary and Romania) share a common border with Ukraine, and five others with Russia (Poland plus Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Sweden and Finland). The Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk has said that Europe has entered a ‘pre-war era’.


These external threats are coupled with internal factors of political disunity and discord. In a recent interview with The Economist, President Macron warned that Europe faces imminent danger and that “things can fall apart very rapidly”.[2] The list is long of the existential challenges facing Europe where firm and rapid action is required: security and defence, boosting the EU’s economy and competitiveness, immigration, climate change, trade policy, energy dependence, digital regulation and AI, and its future geostrategic relations with the US and China. The majority to emerge from the European elections will have profound consequences for all these policy areas.


Making predictions about elections is a mug’s game at the best of times, but more than ever when 27 countries are involved. Nevertheless, the majority of polls and commentators have estimated that as many as 25% of the newly elected MEPs may be members of far-right parties at national level. Let us look at the likely consequences of such a result, both inside and outside the European Parliament.


Internally, the EPP (European People’s Party, centre-right) is expected to form the largest group, and as such will either seek to maintain the existing pro-EU alliance with the Socialists, Liberals and Greens, or will attempt to construct new alliances, in particular with the eurosceptic and anti-federalist ECR (European Conservatives and Reformists) Group.


A broad coalition is essential for two reasons: to ensure the necessary majority for Parliament’s adoption of EU legislation, and more immediately to vote on the appointment of the next President of the Commission (or on a second term for incumbent Ursula von der Leyen if she is proposed by the European Council). Failure to secure a majority in Parliament on this issue would provoke a serious institutional crisis.


The S&D (Socialists and Democrats) Group – most probably the second largest – has stated that it will oppose any alliance between the EPP and ‘the far-right’. The Renew (Liberal) and Green Groups, both of which also oppose any deals with the far-right, are expected to lose Members, and Renew could be replaced as the third largest group by either the ECR or by the ID (Identity and Democracy) Group, where France’s Marine Le Pen’s party sits, among others.


The above projections, if confirmed, would suggest that the traditional majority alliance between centre-right and centre-left could be replaced in the new parliament by an EPP-led more right-wing coalition. Another possible scenario could be a more fluid system of shifting alliances, depending on the particular issues to be voted on in plenary session.


However, it is conceivable that the numerical increase in the size of the right-wing and far-right groups may not be matched by a corresponding increase in their political influence. Past experience has shown that Members from far-right parties often prefer to use the Parliament as a platform for their personal views, rather than focussing on the core parliamentary business of shaping EU legislation through the specialised committees. Furthermore, the two right-wing or far-right groups – and their respective leaders – have a long history of feuding among themselves, which if continued in the next Parliament could further limit their effectiveness.


Indeed, the particular work culture of the European Parliament, with its emphasis on compromise and consensus between nationalities and political affiliations, may also be a factor in reducing the influence of the eurosceptic and far-right groupings in the new Parliament.


To further complicate the situation, there has also been talk in Brussels of a realignment of right-wing forces and the formation of a new political group. Not to forget the 50 or more newly elected Members who will start their term of office as non-attached and some of whom may well end up in the ECR or ID Groups. Rarely has US President Lyndon Johnson’s celebrated aphorism seemed more relevant: “The iron law of politics is that successful politicians must learn how to count.”


All will eventually become clear, hopefully in the period between the announcement of the election results on 9th June and the constituent session in the week of 15th July. The newly constituted political groups will meet and deliberate during this time. In parallel, an informal meeting of EU leaders is due to take place on 17th June, and the full European Council will meet on 27-28th June, inter alia to decide on the leaders’ choice of the next Commission President.


Externally, this move to the right, if reflected in the results of the European elections and the changed balance of power within the European Parliament, will inevitably have consequences at two different but related levels – for the other EU institutions, particularly the Commission, and nationally.


It is unclear at this stage precisely where a majority might lie in the new Parliament to secure von der Leyen’s desired second term. Other candidates may emerge. The proposals to be made by the member states’ governments for the other Commissioner posts may also be affected, as could certain key EU policies such as combating climate change, the EU budget, and financial and military support for Ukraine.


The results could also have significant political implications at national level. In the case of France, for example, if Le Pen’s Rassemblement National achieves a much higher score than Macron’s list Besoin d’Europe, she will be well placed for the presidential election in 2027. Similarly, if the German CDU wins the most seats in Germany, as currently seems likely, this would give them a useful boost for the next federal election in autumn 2025.


We await with some trepidation the outcome of this historic and hard-fought election, and its effect on Europe’s political landscape. Whatever the results, the EU institutions and the governments of the member states must listen carefully to the message sent by the voters and act accordingly, in the general interest. Europe’s future hangs in the balance.


[1] New members: Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia, and Slovenia.

[2] Emmanuel Macron, Emmanuel Macron in his own words (English), The Economist, May 2024,

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