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European elections 2024: New majorities, new priorities?
In what direction is European politics heading?

Author: Angela Ostlender

The European Union is experiencing rapid social and political change. This is also reflected in the results of recent election polls and could be reflected in a reorganisation of the political landscape and new priorities.

On Wednesday, 15 May, the Hanns Seidel Foundation, and the Representation of the Free State of Bavaria to the European Union jointly hosted an expert roundtable on the topic of “New majorities, new priorities? In what direction is European politics heading after the European election?”. The event took place at the Representation of the Free State of Bavaria to the European Union under Chatham House rules, binding attendees to discretion and non-disclosure of attending participants. The presentation and impulse statement was delivered by Doru P. Frantescu, CEO & founder of EUmatrix.eu.

What are the key issues shaping the future of European politics?  From the rise of populist movements to current critical and divisive debates on migration, climate change or economic integration and budgetary policy, a round of experts examined various factors that could influence the political dynamics within the EU in the coming years.

Doru Frantescu, CEO and Founder of EUMatrix, addressed the current mood in the Member States, identifying rising prices, immigration, inflation, security, and defence as main factors that could influence the electoral outcome. He highlighted the waning confidence in political leaders' capacity to respond swiftly to current challenges, potentially leading to an increase in protest votes. Particularly, younger voters may perceive their opportunities decreasing while, at the same time, the living standard of older generations remains unchanged. As a result, current political leaders often struggle to sustain their overall popularity as their tenure progresses. This trend could also be attributed to the rising fragmentation and communication challenges within the voting base. With the strengthening of the liberals following Macron's Renaissance victory and the Greens' success in the 2019 European elections, it became clear that the cooperation between the EPP and S&D could no longer achieve a majority. It is apparent that Europe's parliamentary elections could now lead to an even more fragmented European political landscape and new legislative majorities eager to set new policy priorities.

Prospect of the new composition of the European Parliament

The European Parliament will have an additional 15 seats in the new legislature, allocated to states with high population growth, increasing the total to 720 members.

An analysis of the collected forecast data revealed the following results: Losses for RENEW and GREENS, as well as for non-aligned members of the European Parliament seem inevitable, while EPP and S&D largely maintain their number of seats. Gains are expected at ECR, ID and LEFT.

While the EPP is expected to remain the largest group in the European Parliament, the national weighting within the group might shift. The German delegation, with the CDU and CSU, will remain the strongest, while Spain is expected to push Poland from second to third place.

The heavy losses of the RENEW Group (approx. 17 seats), which had tipped the scales in the previous legislative period - often to the detriment of the EPP - are mainly due to the growing unpopularity of its largest national delegation, the French “Renaissance”. Founder and current French President Emmanuel Macron, in particular, is suffering from falling poll ratings. In the same manner, the Greens' losses can be attributed to the poor performance of their largest national delegation from Germany, resulting from their unpopular participation in the present coalition government.

In this context, a clear increase in differing opinions between the various national delegations inside the political groups can also be observed, even irreconcilable differences in some cases, which is contributing to the further fragmentation of the European party landscape.

Another important point concerns the number of new MEPs, some of whom still have little political experience, constituting around half of the new members of Parliament. The formation of new parties has accelerated in recent years, resulting in the expectation of many new MEPs in the European Parliament in the coming legislative period. The frontrunner in this category are the Netherlands, with more than two thirds of new MEPs and new parties, closely followed by Poland and Italy, whereas Germany will re-elect about two thirds of its current representatives.

New majorities could set new priorities

The projected seats by coalitions after the European Parliament elections show that a centrist coalition of EPP, S&D, Renew, and relevant non-affiliated members could reach a majority of 56%. A right-wing majority of EPP, ECR, ID, and relevant non-affiliated members would be much thinner, just slipping over the 50% mark. However, neither a centre-left (Renew, S&D, Greens/EFA, The Left, and relevant non-affiliated members) nor a centre-right (EPP, Renew, ECR, and relevant non-affiliated members) coalition would reach a majority according to the polls.

As far as the impact of the election results on the future priorities of European policy is concerned, changes are likely. While climate policy and socio-economic issues were at the forefront of the 2019 elections, past crises have already led to a shift in priorities. The evolving political landscape is influencing the range of policy proposals put forth by parties and reflecting voters’ preferences revealed by poll results.

The strengthening of the right-wing in the European Parliament and the simultaneous weakening of the Greens is likely to result in less support for drastic climate policy measures, such as the goal to achieve climate neutrality by 2050 and achieving negative emissions as well as the agreement on "Nature restoration”.

Nevertheless, majority support for the Council decision to grant Ukraine EU candidate status would not change significantly, but would fall by a few percentage points (from 90 to 85.8%).

Policy areas in which a weak majority already prevailed, such as Transatlantic trade and investment partnership with the US, could be jeopardised by the new Parliamentary composition. Likewise, the enhancement of EU-shared competences in energy, foreign affairs, external security & defence, as well as cross-border infrastructure are equally prognosticated to gain less support from the new Parliament, but will still succeed to cross the majority line.

On the other hand, greater support is expected for the European Defence Fund and the European Defence Industrial Development Programme, as well as for physical barriers along the EU's external borders.

It is expected, that the new MEPs are also likely to be in favour of a general and direct legislative right of initiative for the Parliament, even if support could fall by around 10 percentage points. Support for recognising a qualified majority for decisions of sanctions, interim steps during enlargement and other foreign policy matters could become extremely narrow. 

Outlook on the European Commission and the European Council

Important changes are also expected in the European Commission, since only a few of the current Commissioners will be available for a further term of office. Potential returnees could include current Vice-Presidents Valdis Domobrovskis (EPP, Lithuania) and Maroš Šefčovič (S&D, Slovakia) as well as Commissioners Dubravka Šuica (EPP, Croatia) and Thierry Breton (France, Renew). 

While Ursula von der Leyen is likely to secure a second term as Commission President, she has not yet secured the necessary votes for a majority in the European Parliament. While the groups on the extreme left and right are expected to vote against her, there are also regional disparities within the centrist groups. Members from France and Italy, in particular, could withhold their support, potentially jeopardizing her re-election if there are no satisfactory political compensation offers.

Regarding the projection of political weight within the College of Commissioners, around half of all members could come from EPP member parties, with S&D and Renew member parties contributing about a handful each.

The structure of the new commission and the definition of portfolios are still uncertain. However, there are already calls for new commissioner posts focusing on food, social policy (a stronghold for the S&D), SMEs, defence and cybersecurity.

From a party-political perspective, the centre-right and right wing is also stronger on the Council side, but S&D-governed countries dominate when considering population weight.

What happens next?

The European political schedule will remain intense until Europeans head to the ballots from June 6th to 9th. The European Council summit at the end of the same month, from June 27th to 28th, will hopefully provide clarity on who will become the next Commission President.

Following this, the European Parliament will convene its constituent assembly and commence the new term in the plenary session between July 16th and 19th, deciding on new leadership and committee memberships the following week. The EP's vote on the Commission president candidate is likely to be scheduled in the week of September 16th to 19th.

The designation of new Commissioners and corresponding EP hearings is expected from October to November 2024, followed by the final European Parliament vote on the College of Commissioners, once everyone has been individually approved.

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Programm Managerin: Angela Ostlender
European dialogue
Angela Ostlender
Programm Managerin