Archives: Election Hub


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By Jessica BROBALD – Managing Director | Brussels, European Union

As the European Elections loom just a few months away, the result of the recent elections in the Netherlands sent shockwaves across the European Union.
Despite optimistic developments in Poland, it is evident that no EU Member State is immune to the rising tide of nationalism and extremist ideologies – not even those historically seen as progressive bastions of democracy.

A shock victory for the far-right

In a striking turn of events, Geert Wilders’ Party for Freedom (PVV) clinched 37 seats out of 150 in the Dutch Lower House, garnering 23% of the vote. This surge propels the party to the forefront of Dutch politics for the first time, surpassing both the liberal VVD and the nascent Labour-Green Alliance led by former European Commission Vice-President Frans Timmermans. This shift toward populism raises pressing questions: what are the implications of this political landscape change for the EU, especially in the context of the forthcoming elections? And more importantly, what does this mean for the future of European unity and policy-making?

Tapping into voters’ fears

Geert Wilders’ recent electoral success in the Netherlands is largely attributed to his party’s focus on four critical issues: migration, social inequalities, housing, and healthcare. These topics have gained immense significance against the backdrop of the ongoing conflicts in Ukraine and the Middle East, which have triggered substantial migration flows into Europe. This influx has exerted considerable pressure on EU democracies, challenging them to accommodate these new arrivals with housing and support amidst soaring energy prices and growing hardships faced by their own citizens in maintaining their living standards. In this complex scenario, the ruling VVD party appears to have lost traction with voters. Similarly, Frans Timmermans’ emphasis on environmental concerns, while significant, has seemingly failed to strike a chord with the Dutch electorate. Unless traditional parties are able to respond to their citizens’ immediate concerns, this trend could be reproduced in the upcoming EU elections.

Election victory sparks coalition chaos

The unfolding political landscape in the Netherlands, with the PVV’s recent triumph, has set the stage for complex coalition negotiations. While the PVV, under Geert Wilders, eagerly anticipates leading the government, the path to forming a viable coalition remains challenging. Prospective partners include the centre-right New Social Contract (NSC) and the conservative farmers’ party, BBB. However, even with these alliances, Wilders would need additional support, potentially from the liberal VVD, to secure a majority. Should these efforts falter, Frans Timmermans’ Labour-Green Alliance might seize the opportunity to form a government. Yet, this would require the collaboration of four or five partners, a scenario which would be prone to internal divisions and subject to constant scrutiny from the PVV. This political fragility could trigger yet another round of snap elections, further destabilising the Dutch political arena.

A new member of the European populist leaders’ club

On a broader European scale, the rise of Wilders could alter the power dynamics in the European Council. Joining forces with other populist leaders like Slovakia’s Fico, Italy’s Meloni, and Hungary’s Orban, Wilders’ potential influence in the Council could reshape the EU’s stance on critical issues. Key policies under threat include reduced aid to Ukraine, opposition to increasing the EU budget, and a harder line in handling the migration crisis. Moreover, the PVV’s climate-sceptical agenda could undermine the Netherlands’ commitment to the Green Deal and weaken the EU’s position in global climate negotiations.

Shaking up the traditional balance of power in the European Parliament

As the European Elections draw near, the recent Dutch elections reveal a challenging landscape for traditional and progressive narratives alike and confirm the loss of traction of traditional political groups. Post-European elections, attention may need to shift to the right of the EPP (the centre-right political group that currently holds a majority in the European Parliament) to monitor how populist groups reorganise, potentially forming new political groups and impacting the potential coalitions in the Parliament.

Practically speaking, if this trend continues, we could see a significant increase in leadership roles, speaking opportunities, and rapporteur positions on key issues being allocated to Eurosceptic and populist members in the Parliament, which could undermine EU ambitions and stall progress on key legislative files. However, the full extent of these changes will only become clear next year, making it a critical period to observe for future EU policymaking dynamics.

The European Elections will be more than a litmus test for political trends; they will be a decisive factor in shaping the trajectory of the European Union in an increasingly complex and dynamic world.

Ahead of 2024 European election: Poland in election frenzy 

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By Aleksandra WRÓBEL – Public Affairs Consultant | Poland

The 2024 European election will take place between the 6th and the 9th of June 2024 – Council of the EU announced late May. For Poland, it signals an addition to the already tight electoral schedule comprising local and presidential elections, to be held in April 2024 and mid-2025 respectively. With the latest October parliamentary election, the country has entered a permanent campaign mode, exposing key political players to heightened scrutiny of their daily work.  

Reversing Anti-European Course 

The October 15th general election in Poland is commonly regarded as a game-changer.  

For the last years, the country has been ruled by Law and Justice (PiS) – a conservative party that to this day enjoys around 30% of support owing to its popular social policies that are thought to have restored dignity to marginalized groups. This agenda was combined with Euroscepticism and revanchism directed at e.g. legal elites, producing and successively deepening the rule-of-law spat with Brussels. The latter eventually resulted in the European Commission triggering “atomic” Article 7 procedure and opening the path for the suspension of Poland’s voting rights within the bloc. Additionally, the conflict led to the freezing of post-COVID recovery funds for Warsaw.  

The current state of affairs in Poland’s relations with the EU is very likely to change significantly in the recently began term of the parliament. Following the October general election, the majority has been secured by a coalition of four parties – liberal Civic Coalition (KO), agrarian Polish People’s Party (PSL), anti-polarization Poland 2050 and progressive The Left – who together pledge to reform the judiciary, combat the politicization of public institutions and restore Poland’s participation in the European-wide dialogue. The latter promise will bear a particular meaning in the light of the 2025 Polish EU Council presidency. 

How Will This Shift Affect European Election? 

Historically, Poles have hardly presented themselves as the nation that is most eager to cast a ballot in the European election. Quite contrarily, the turnout in three elections between 2004 and 2014 failed to surpass 25% each time.  

The big breakthrough came in 2019, when most opposition parties united against the then-ruling Law and Justice, substantially intensifying the public debate and consequently driving polarization. This entailed the highest-ever turnout of 45,68%.  

Since then, the rivalry between conservative and liberal blocs has only become fiercer. Given the upcoming sequence of elections, the timing of which does not allow for pauses in campaigning, it can be expected that the mobilization will remain at least as high as five years earlier. 

Which Factors Will Drive The Result? 

According to a poll conducted after the general election, Poles mainly rely on the incoming government to address economic hurdles that had emerged following the pandemic and the outbreak of war in Ukraine. In a study by SW Research, the top three government priorities identified by respondents include: the fight against inflation, the unblocking of EU recovery funds and the need to lower taxes. Therefore, economic policies will be thoroughly monitored and commented on as part of each of the upcoming campaigns.  

Concurrently, it must be highlighted that the liberal opposition’s victory in the parliamentary election, which saw the highest-ever turnout in Central and Eastern Europe (74,38%), constitutes massive mandate in favor of Poland’s stronger place within united Europe. Accordingly, it will matter how the new cabinet will approach the task of improving relations between Warsaw and Brussels. An important aspect of this mission will be to implement judicial reform, causing a stir among defeated Law and Justice and thus fueling polarization ahead of local and European elections.  

Finally, as far as the EU is concerned, its future will be yet another important topic of discussion between conservative and liberal camps. This is evidenced by the first reactions to the proposed reform of EU treaties, which the members of the outgoing government already branded as an attempt to deprive Poland of independence and consolidate the bloc under German leadership. Although Donald Tusk – new PM and former president of European Council, who will undertake the mission of improving Poland’s standing within the EU – publicly rejected the idea of changing the bloc’s political system in response to enlargement, his opponents will likely continue suggesting otherwise, weaponizing his previous associations to make political gains. In this context, the topic of migration might also come up. Once again, although there’s a general consensus over the need to better control people inflows and protect the border, politicians will likely embrace this subject as a tool to fight their opponents.  

What Will The Polish Delegation In EP Look Like? 

Post-Brexit, Poland’s representation in the European Parliament consists of 52 MEPs. In the 2019-2024 term, 26 of them allied with right-wing PiS/ECR, 17 with center-right EPP (which combines two national parties: liberal Civic Coalition and agrarian Polish People’s Party) and 8 with center-left S&D. Since the election, some of them switched parties, with one joining Greens/European Free Alliance and one becoming the only Polish Renew MEP. 

While in 2019 most of the now governing liberal opposition ran together, in 2023 these parties will likely form three separate blocs. In the parliamentary election, this proved to be the most effective strategy for them to maximize support.  

Based on current polls, it can be predicted that EPP will gain at the expense of ECR following the latter’s member party PiS losing a parliamentary election after 8 years in power. Given the electoral success of Poland 2050 – a new center-right party founded by former TV host and current speaker of the Sejm Szymon Hołownia – Renew may also hope to increase its standing. Finally, taking into consideration the presence of far-right Confederation in the parliament and its links to Identity and Democracy (ID) Group, the fraction will probably also obtain some Polish members. 

Way Ahead 

If you are wondering about how the upcoming sequence of elections in Poland could impact your business, you came to the right place. Message us at to schedule a chat on how we can help you maneuver around complicated yet fascinating world of Polish politics.   

Election year in Slovakia

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By Matej KOVAC – Consultant | Slovakia

Slovakia in the second half of the year 2023 has entered an “election year” starting by general election in September, presidential election in March 2024 and European election in June 2024. All three elections will be similar what regards the blocs running in them. Since the second round of the presidential election will be held at the beginning of April, the agenda of European election will need to wait until April. We expect to have two principal blocs – pro-European (led by PS) and sceptic (led by Smer-SD) competing against each other.

The general elections took place on September 30, 2023. Smer-SD (social democrats, Chairman – Robert Fico) won the parliamentary elections, obtaining 22,94% of the votes. Also other six parties PS, Hlas-SD, OĽaNO a Priatelia, KDH, SaS, SNS entered the parliament. The former ruling party OĽaNO gained just 8,9% compared to 25% in 2020 elections.  


Coalition Government Smer-SD, Hlas-SD and SNS 

The outcome of the early parliamentary elections brought about a significant shift at the level of the government. Smer-SD emerged as the winner and reached a coalition agreement with Hlas-SD and SNS, becoming the next ruling party.

In accordance with the memorandum of understanding endorsed by all three upcoming coalition parties, the allocation of ministries is delineated as follows:  

  • Smer-SD – 6 ministries including the post of the Prime Minister  
  • Hlas-SD – 7 ministries (the party will also assume the position of the Chairman of the Parliament)  
  • SNS (Slovak National Party) – 3 ministries (the Ministry of Tourism and Sport to be established from 1. January 2024)  

War in Ukraine and high inflation as key electoral factors 

The general election campaign led by Smer-SD was focused on several issues – an anti-war stance and a stop for the military support of Ukraine, high inflation, victimization of the opposition. Smer-SD was very offensive toward the current President Zuzana Čaputová claiming her responsibility for the persecution of the opposition by the Police and the Office of Special Prosecutor.  

On the other hand, he strongly rejected the idea of referendum proposed by Republika about the leaving EU and NATO. He confirmed Slovakia’s pro-European stance and its place within the EU and NATO structures, but he is open to criticize EU when needed. As the prime minister he wants to have close cooperation between the Visegrad Four countries. 

It is needed to be reminded that for Robert Fico campaigning and governing are two different models of behavior. During the press conference held after the elections he repeated his former government’s successes – entering Schengen and Eurozone.  

Business environment and tax policies 

He is aware of the importance of stable business environment and foreign investments, especially in the difficult situation regarding the deficit and public finances. 

Among the numerous challenges the new government will confront in the coming years, one of the most significant pertains to the state budget deficit, which is expected to further deepen. This pressure drives modifications in taxation, involving either the increase of current taxes or the introduction of new taxes. At present, the sector most likely to be facing additional taxation is the banking industry. The new government in its Policy Statement claimed to impose additional taxes on negative externalities (e.g., alcohol and cigarettes), and reevaluating the property tax calculationAlso, there is a claim stating open doors for further windfall taxation of other sectors.

“In the field of taxation, the government will advocate for the implementation of specific financial instruments for taxing extraordinary profits of various sectors, corporations, legal entities, and individuals. The objective is to generate resources for financing targeted public policies.” 

Nonetheless, the future coalition parties hold different stances on these measures in relation to one another, leaving the implementation of deficit-handling measures uncertain. It remains unclear which, of these measures will be put into effect.  

The main pressure for the parties to address this matter stems from the budgetary rules enshrined in the Constitutional Act on Budgetary Rules, often referred to as the “debt brake.” The upcoming government will be exempt from the strict constraints imposed by the debt brake for the initial two years following their appointment. Nevertheless, after this two-year period, if no consolidation measures are put into action, a significant restriction on public spending will be imposed until the debt is effectively consolidated.  

Presidential Election 

The presidential election will once again be a battle of new faces, as current President Zuzana Čaputová has announced that she will not seek re-election. This marks an opportunity for former Foreign Minister Ivan Korčok, who was the nominee of the SaS (ECR) party. He is a strong supporter of Slovakia’s European and transatlantic ties and will most likely be supported by the PS and SaS parties. On the other hand, the candidacy of the chairman of the second strongest coalition party Hlas-SD, Peter Pellegrini, the current speaker of parliament and former prime minister, is very likely. It can be expected that the strongest party Smer-SD and probably the last coalition party SNS will support him. Other candidates are likely to intervene in the election, but the main battle should be between these candidates. 

European Election 

The European elections will be overshadowed by previous elections, and it is to be expected that people will be tired of successive campaigns. Therefore, we do not expect fundamental and strong topics on which voters’ decision-making would break. Rather, they will be a kind of reverberation of the two previous elections, and the results will mainly affect the ability of parties to mobilise their voters. It is also important to point out that PES has suspended the membership of the currently strongest (Smer-SD) and third strongest parties (Hlas-SD), which will of course have an impact on their election campaigns. It can be expected that the second strongest party in the parliamentary elections, the PS (Renew Europe), will campaign actively and strongly pro-European and will be able to mobilise its voters, as they did in the past European elections. It will be interesting to see the performance of the EPP parties – OľaNO and KDH, which traditionally also managed to attract their voters to the polls. 

European elections timeline

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Stay organized and plan for the months ahead with our European Elections Timeline

Government reshuffle: The opening act

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When it comes to Cabinet reshuffles, most politicians are well versed in the day’s proceedings. An anxious wait, a scurry to Number 10, a forced smile to the press – regardless of a promotion, demotion, or full-blown defenestration. As some ministers wait to know their fate, few would have woken up this morning and accurately guessed how the day would unfold. Before most had the chance to make a cup of coffee, Rishi Sunak had already rolled the dice on one of the greatest political gambles we’ve seen in recent years.

Westminster has been awash with reshuffle rumours since party conference season. With the Conservatives trailing heavily in the polls – and key events such as the Autumn Statement fast approaching – there was little doubt that Sunak would reshuffle his top team to prepare for the impending general election and once again attempt to reset his fortunes. Plus, with Suella Braverman’s controversial article in The Times critiquing the police without Number 10 approval, the Prime Minister seized his opportunity to stamp his authority on the government machine.

Braverman’s sacking would have no doubt stolen today’s broadsheet headlines if it weren’t for Sunak’s “dead cat strategy” – a Cabinet appointment leaving SW1 in total shock. Enter the stage – David Cameron. The former Prime Minister was this morning created a life peer in order to take up the position of Foreign Secretary, in an attempt to reclaim the centre ground from Labour.

The reshuffle of the great offices of state also raises serious policy dilemmas. The new Home Secretary, James Cleverly has publicly lobbied against Braverman’s decision to place 1,700 asylum seekers on the former RAF Wethersfield, a decision which will now fall under his remit – leaving the Government’s immigration policy here in a somewhat grey area. Meanwhile, only five weeks ago, Cameron was scathing in his criticism of Sunak’s decision to scrap HS2. Coupled with his own premiership denoting a period of closer ties between the UK and China – in stark contrast to this Government’s current position – most will watch with wonder as to how the Government will dutifully line up behind Sunak’s vision and reconcile its differences.

Elsewhere, Liz Truss’ ally and former Deputy Prime Minister Thérèse Coffey has been dismissed as Environment Secretary, while Conservative rising star Laura Trott has been appointed Chief Secretary to the Treasury. Victoria Atkins will be tasked with attempting to cut NHS waiting lists in her new position as Health Secretary, with Steve Barclay taking on the top job at DEFRA. This reshuffle has so far been characterised by bringing Sunak’s friends and allies closer into the tent, while promoting fresh faces that will likely play well in the pre-election media rounds.

As the week continues, we will expect to see further changes at the junior ministerial level. That said, we’ve already had multiple resignations from those who aren’t contesting the next general election– veteran Schools Minister Nick Gibb has left the DfE while Colchester MP Will Quince has stepped down as Minister of State for Health, having announced in the summer his intention not to seek re-election. For others, it presents the chance to refocus their attention onto an electoral footing, doubling down efforts to shore up their slim constituency majorities.

But there will be little chance to dwell on the changes that are being made. Next week’s Autumn Statement will bring home to ministers the challenging fiscal framework they now must work in – and while Chancellor Jeremy Hunt is safe for now, he will be fully aware his day of judgement will come next Wednesday at the despatch box.

The show must go on. Nervous waits will continue, while a few glasses will be raised in quiet celebration amongst those who have climbed the greasy pole. Yet few things in politics are certain – David Cameron’s return emphasises that political destinies are never straight forward, and the stage is constantly set for a triumphant encore, or a crippling opening night.

Navigating the challenges: The EU’s to-do list ahead of the 2024 elections

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By Jessica BROBALD – Managing Director | Brussels, European Union

The curtains are soon to close on the term of the current European Commission, as we find ourselves less than a year away from its conclusion. Since taking office in 2019, the von der Leyen Commission has been nothing short of prolific, introducing over 600 initiatives, with more than 150 proposals still making their way through the legislative process. Now, as election season looms on the horizon, European institutions are rolling up their sleeves and preparing to tackle a slew of urgent issues, many of which have been further complicated by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The recently published 2024 Commission work programme outlines 18 new potential initiatives and a handful of legislative proposals, many of which aimed at bringing the Green Deal ambitions to life. However, much work remains to be done to make this vision a reality.

The political landscape in the EU is anything but simple at the moment. The rise of extremism in several member states has created a complicated backdrop against which the bloc must navigate international crises and an energy crunch. This tense political climate could pave the way for a greater number of Eurosceptic MEPs in the upcoming European elections. This, in turn, could make it more difficult to pass certain files that are currently under scrutiny in parliament.

The 2019 European elections saw a surge in popularity for the Greens, and the European Commission has since been pushing forward with its ambitious Green Deal initiative. However, the upcoming elections could tell a different story. While the Green movement has certainly gained traction, there is a possibility that we may see fewer Green MEPs in the new parliament, and that the incoming Commission may not be as committed to environmental issues as the current one. Only time will tell how these complex dynamics will play out in the political arena, but one thing is for certain: the upcoming European elections will be a pivotal moment that shapes the future of the EU.

An advanced but unachieved Green Deal

The European Green Deal, which was the core of this Commission programme, is a groundbreaking initiative to transform the EU’s economy and achieve climate neutrality by 2050. Legislative proposals have been approved, driving the growth of renewables, with wind and solar power outpacing gas in 2022. However, nuclear energy – championed by France – remains a central topic of debate in these discussions. With winter fast approaching, the EU is aiming for more energy independency and price stability to stave off European citizens’ fears of another energy crunch. Additionally, environmental and sustainability policies have been met with resistance, as seen in the contentious Nature Restoration Law and Packaging and Packaging Waste Regulation currently being debated.

While an important part of the Green Deal has been finalised, many of this Commission’s flagship initiatives have yet to come to fruition. The 2024 Work Programme outlines plans to tackle air, water, and nature restoration issues. However, the EU has failed to fulfil its commitments to revise REACH, the chemical regulatory framework, animal welfare legislation, and to propose new legislation on Sustainable Food Systems. These issues are critical to the success of the European Green Deal and will now depend on the political orientation of the future European Commission. Environmental policy will likely remain high on the political agenda and be under the spotlight throughout the election campaign, although a Green Deal 2.0 is not expected under the new European Commission. Monitoring the Commissioner-designates’ hearings on these key topics will be crucial for stakeholders to plan ahead.

On the path to making Europe fit for the Digital Age

The emergence and popularisation of generative AI tools have led to delays in negotiations on the AI Act. While under pressure to reach an agreement before the elections, policymakers still have to overcome a few hurdles. One of the key issues being debated is the use of real-time biometric identification in public spaces. While the European Parliament is pushing for a complete ban on the practice, some member states are seeking exceptions for law enforcement purposes. As debates heat up in this area, it is likely that this topic will be up for discussion again on a regular basis, especially as technology continues to evolve at a rapid pace.

Although many files are expected to be finalized by the end of this parliamentary term, implementing these legislations, including the DSA and DMA, will require stakeholders’ full attention before and after the European elections. It’s important for us to stay informed and engaged with these developments to ensure that technology is being used responsibly and ethically.

Other policy issues on the Parliament and Commission’s to-do list before the elections

The EU is also currently reviewing EU legislation on pharmaceuticals. This revision is often seen as a once-in-a-generation opportunity to create a regulatory framework that is future-proof and crisis-resistant. This framework should ensure access to affordable medicines, foster innovation, improve the security of supply, and adapt to new scientific and technological developments while reducing red tape. However, it has sparked heated debates on pharmaceuticals’ environmental impact, as well as fair returns on investment for the industry’s R&D efforts. Although the dossier has been referred to the relevant EP Committees, it may take a while before negotiations on this issue are finalised. At the moment, it is uncertain whether the institutions will be able to produce a high-quality text in the limited time available for negotiations. The clock is ticking, and time is running out.

Budget Constraints: a source of tension before and after the European elections

The new European Commission will have to work with the Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF) defined for the 2021-2027 period. However, since the MFF was adopted, the world has been shaken by several crises. These include the war in the Ukraine, conflicts in the Middle East, and the ongoing energy crisis. As a result, the EU’s needs from 2024-onward may not line up with what has been budgeted. To address these challenges, the European Commission recently proposed an additional €66 billion to the bloc’s seven-year budget. However, with the rise of Euroscepticism, financing projects and policies that benefit the entire EU has become a complex task.


As the Commission and Parliament approach the end of this term, the Union is facing a multitude of complex challenges and a lengthy to-do list. The period leading up to the 2024 European Elections promises to be a critical and busy time. During this period, the EU will tackle a range of issues, from Ukraine’s potential accession to the regulation of AI, as well as enhancing EU energy sovereignty. The outcome of these endeavours will have significant implications for the EU’s future and its global standing.

The next Commission and Parliament will inherit a number of unresolved issues and will be responsible for managing and finalizing them while also setting their own priorities for the next five years.

Unpacking Hungary’s double election year

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By Samu MARCZ – Account Director | Hungary

Double trouble for the opposition?

The government will want to avoid a repeat of opposition coordination that brought success in 2019 when candidates ran jointly in major cities, challenging the over 10 years of governing party dominance and notably recapturing Budapest.

Failing to capitalise on government unpopularity

As far as the municipal elections go, opposition parties are running out of time to conduct primary elections and are generally much less coordinated than in 2019. Despite a decline in support for the government amidst economic downturn, the fragmentation of the opposition spells little in the way of change. Governing parties are likely to reclaim several municipalities, with the notable exception of Budapest, which is expected to remain an opposition stronghold.

Government party to dominate European seats

For the European Parliament elections, governing parties are expected to secure half of the 21 available seats, as they have done consistently since 2004. The unofficial choice for leader of the Fidesz-KDNP party list is former Minister of Justice Judit Varga, who recently stepped down from her position to focus on European politics.

Varga, in contrast to EU Minister Tibor Navracsics, has played the role of the bad cop in negotiations with the EU regarding issues of corruption and the rule of law in Hungary.

Opposition candidates include The Democratic Coalition, led by former Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsány, and the liberal Momentum party, who are expected to win most of the 8–10 opposition seats. One or two other opposition parties also likely to secure seats, including the far-right party Our Homeland Movement and the satirical Two-Tailed Dog Party.

Resurgence of the populist right?

Despite Prime Minister Orbán’s vision of a right-wing populist breakthrough in European elections, such a scenario does not look set to materialise. Given that the governing parties’ MEPs resigned as members of the European People’s Party in 2021, they are expected to either continue as independents or join a less influential political group within the European Parliament.

The Parliament is viewed as the most critical EU institution of the Hungarian government, in contrast to the Council, where Viktor Orbán has successfully negotiated political agreements in recent years. Such manoeuvrability is set to be tested by the Law and Justice (PiS) party’s loss in Poland’s national election. PiS proved a key ally in Council. However, Orbán can expect support from Robert Fico, who has recently returned to power in Slovakia.

Economic woes could worsen EU relationship

The Hungarian government finds itself in a challenging position on the European front. Record-high inflation and economic difficulties are further exacerbated by the withholding of EU funds. Ongoing tensions between the Orbán government and the EU revolve around rule-of-law and corruption concerns.

The government introduced four justice reforms in the spring, but the European Commission has raised questions on judicial independence.

Rumours suggest any agreement reached would involve Hungary not vetoing planned EU financial support for Ukraine. In exchange, Hungary could gain access to roughly half of the EU’s allocated funds (22 billion euros) and loans (3.9 billion euros), totalling around 13 billion euros.

Presiding over change

Adding to the complexity, Hungary will hold the Presidency of the Council of the EU in the second half of 2024. A number of MEPs have attempted to throttle Hungary’s power in the role and even questioned whether it should be allowed to hold it.

However, the European Council, comprising the leaders of EU member states, is ultimately responsible for the decision and is reluctant to change the schedule. Hungary’s Presidency will coincide with key events: the formation of the new European Parliament and European Commission, and the adoption of the annual EU budget.

Beyond establishing a Ministry of EU Affairs in 2023, Hungary has laid out priorities that include the likes of competitiveness, artificial intelligence, promoting EU values, EU enlargement into the Western Balkans and combatting illegal migration.

The 2024 European and municipal elections in Hungary promise to be a very interesting period. Grayling is here to assist our clients in navigating this complex landscape.

Party conference season delivers anything but bread and butter politics

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Grayling UK FMCG Policy

Now that the dust has settled on party conference season, it would be remiss to say that FMCG policy was high up the agenda for either of the main two UK political parties. While HS2 dominated proceedings in Manchester, Labour Conference provided a platform for Kier Starmer to woo the business community during his Leader’s speech – albeit covered in (hopefully biodegradable) glitter. But there was very little by way of concrete policy for the sector to get its teeth into.

Perhaps it is to be expected that party conference season focuses on the big-ticket items for Sunak and Starmer as they seek to define their approach to the issues that will likely define the forthcoming election campaign – housing, energy, and transport, to name a few. Getting into the weeds of policies including Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR), Deposit Return Schemes (DRS), and restrictions to high in fat, salt and sugar (HFSS) products might not be too palatable for businesses or voters still navigating a cost-of-living crisis.

In fact, Rishi Sunak’s surprise move to ban smoking for the next generation was the closest either party got to outlining an approach to FMCG policy, and even this announcement was directly linked to easing the cost burden on the NHS. A cynic might even suggest this could be a ‘legacy’ policy for a Prime Minister firmly against the ropes.

But just how much is the decision to kick the can down the road damaging progress? Continued government delays to waste reforms have left businesses millions of pounds out of pocket, whilst Labour’s lack of clarity on recycling and HFSS policy makes it difficult for the FMCG sector to develop marketing strategies and plan investments.

To focus in on food, it has been six months since Henry Dimbleby quit his position as the UK’s food tsar amidst anger at a lack of strategy from the government on health and diet. Dimbleby, though, remains a formidable force, and following Conservative Conference, criticised the government’s decision to prioritise smoking regulation over the growing obesity crisis.

It wouldn’t be controversial to say there has been a lack of ambition to develop a coherent, collaborative approach to food policy, with the current government using the guise that any intervention will amount to ‘nanny-state’ politicking. For now, it seems the Conservative Party is keen to brush any policies that could increase the cost of the average shopping basket under the rug, to avoid the potential voter backlash.

On the other hand, the Labour Party signalled a more interventionist approach to tackling the obesity crisis and, at its conference, major retailers lined up to voice their support for mandatory targets and legislation to tackle unhealthy food – arguing that a voluntary approach isn’t going far enough.

While Labour’s shadow public health minister Preet Gill told conference a new ‘health mission delivery board’ would be established as part of a crackdown on HFSS sales and advertising, there remains very little – to pardon the pun – meat on the bones of Labour’s policy proposals. Labour will be aware that backing Dimbleby’s sweeping reforms could risk accusations of putting further strain on the pockets of consumers, and as such, the party remains paralysed on this issue – on the one hand pushing manufacturers to go further to reformulate, and on the other, avoiding saying, well, anything at all really.

So, what about waste and recycling reforms? Both EPR and DRS remain firmly on the backburner while businesses seek to understand exactly how the reforms will work together. Consistent household collections – or ‘seven bins’ – has been villainised by the Prime Minister himself, despite a similar policy proving hugely successful in Wales.

Given how divisive these reforms have become – with DRS becoming the first skirmish of the Internal Market Act – it seems unlikely that the technicalities of food and packaging packing policy will come into the limelight before the election. For Labour, a lack of resource in Shadow Ministerial teams may mean policy cannot be fully formed until, and if, the party gets into government.

But still, as parties’ wargame their election strategies, it is crucial to engage with influencers across the political sphere to outline the technicalities and genuine business impacts of policies impacting the sector.

On HFSS it seems likely we’ll see a change in direction to a more interventionist approach once any new government is in post and has got past the election hurdle, whereas packaging policy remains an open door ahead of DRS and EPR ‘go live’ dates in October 2025. But we know there’s an ambition to do more to boost recyclability and reform the waste system, so what will come next? It’s critical to engage now, to help shape and scope the debate, before the future direction of policy travel becomes too far set in stone.

Polling should always be taken with a pinch of salt, but it seems increasingly likely the UK will welcome its first Labour Government in 15 years – so don’t be slow to forge those relationships. With Starmer’s new-look Labour Party there is a legitimate opportunity for businesses to engage in the policymaking process, and to highlight to positive initiatives underway in the FMCG sector – whether promoting healthier options, low-and-no alcohol alternatives, or innovative packing formats.

At Grayling, our specialist FMCG team is well-versed in navigating this complex and volatile policy landscape. We are proud to help organisations:

  • Target political influencers and media to highlight the need for a supportive policy framework.
  • Navigate a complicated regulatory environment, identifying risks and opportunities on the horizon.
  • Hero the positive consumer story to tell on sustainable diets and packaging, building brand affinity.

To speak with our dedicated FMCG team, please contact Michael Broughton via

Germany in the run-up to the European elections

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Germany in the run up to the European elections

By Johannes HEUSER – Head of Public Affairs | Germany

European elections: performance review of the traffic light coalition?

Elections of the European Parliament are always highly influenced by domestic political dynamics. The so-called “traffic light coalition” of Social Democrats (SPD), Greens and Liberals (FDP) – in office since winter 2021 – has been criticised for months and its popularity is waning. The most recent illustration of this dynamic were the state elections in Bavaria and Hesse, where all parties suffered severe setbacks at the ballot box.

This is in large part due to the fractures between the coalition partners. While the FDP is often criticised as a blocking party due to its centre-right political orientation, the Greens on the other hand face accusations of overly ideological policies. The SPD, the party of the chancellor, tries to position itself as a mediating third-party, but is currently losing ground in the polls as well.

Winners of this behaviour are the conservative parties: Christian Democratic Union (CDU), Bavarian Christian Social Union (CSU), and the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD). The internal conflicts within the coalition provide both parties with plenty of tactical ammunition for the upcoming European election campaigns. If the parties of the traffic light fail to develop a positive narrative on their governing polices in the coming months, they can all expect severe losses.

Migration policy – the key underlying debate in German elections

One key political battleground in Germany is migration. The EU is facing an increased volume of migration and the question of how to adequately deal with this development is at the centre of German inner politics, despite the recent agreement on the EU asylum and migration pact.

Some political figures try to use this development to their advantage: proposals for a harsher migration regime, for instance, by Thorsten Frei, whip of the opposition parties CDU/CSU, call for the abolition of the individual right to asylum, and migration is likely to be a central issues of the parties’ election campaigns.

Similarly, the far right-wing AfD has been at a polling at a high for weeks. While the party achieved 10.3% in the federal elections back in September 2021, it is currently polling at more than 20%. The promise of CDU leader Friedrich Merz – “With me there will be a ‘firewall’ to the AfD” – is being questioned by his own party, and this firewall could well crumble in light of the European elections.

Manfred Weber (CSU), head of the EPP (centre-right) European parliamentary group, has publicly described the AfD as his party’s main rival in next year’s European elections. At the same time he has forged close links with Giorgia Meloni, Italian Prime Minister and part of the European Conservatives and Reformers (ECR) political group. In Germany, as in many other Member states, the question of liberal vs. illiberal party movements and their identity as regards the EU will keep resurfacing.

Climate policy – an issue that will be dividing German voters

The Green transition remains a perennial issue in German discourse. The European Green Deal aims to make Europe the first continent to become climate-neutral by 2050. Naturally, such a project entails conflicting goals between economy and ecology, which will be fought out between the German parties in the upcoming European election campaign. If past debates (such as the dispute over the phase-out of combustion engines or the reform of the German Climate Protection Act) are anything to go by, the issue will continue to elicit controversial and emotional reactions throughout the election campaigns.

EU enlargement and structural reforms – heralds to state aid and subsidies discussions in the next term

Germany is the largest net contributor to the EU. In view of the discussions about EU enlargement, which could result in the accession of financially weaker countries such as Ukraine or Moldova, there concerns around the potential negative impact on German state finances.

The traffic-light coalition remains split on the issue of structural reforms: While members of the Bundestag from the Greens and the SPD welcomed structural reforms in the monetary policy arena, the FDP categorically rejects the idea of regulating European financial and fiscal policy through majority decisions instead of unanimity. Even though this issue is currently only discussed among expert circles, it might also spill-over on the parties’ stance on state aid and subsidies, leaving Germany even more divided.

Party front runners – No surprises

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen (CDU) has yet to confirm whether she will seek another term in office after the European elections. Despite past power struggles between von der Leyen and Manfred Weber, CSU member and head of the European People’s Party (EPP), the only thing that seems certain is that if she wants to, she is sure to be nominated by the EPP.

The SPD has announced Katarina Barley, Vice-President of the European Parliament, as its top candidate for the second time. Barley has campaigned for decisive action against violations of the rule of law in the European Union and has been critical of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban.

The FDP has nominated defence expert Marie-Agnes Strack-Zimmermann as its top candidate, which could indicate the growing importance of security policy issues in the party’s positioning. Strack-Zimmermann gained popularity as an advocate of comprehensive arms aid for Ukraine despite directly criticising her coalition partner Chancellor Olaf Scholz (SPD).

The Greens will not decide on their top candidate until November; however the odds are on Terry Reintke, co-president of the Greens in the European Parliament.

The AfD has chosen Maximilian Krah as its top candidate, a far-right nationalist.

The Left is led by its party leader Martin Schirdewan, who is currently a co-group leader in the European Parliament. With the announcement of a new leftist party in Germany led by Sarah Wagenknecht the role of the far-left may diminish overall.

While personnel discussion, will be a key part of the constitution of the next European Parliament and the European Commission, Germany as the largest economy in Europe, will remain one of the key power players driving the overall policy agenda in Brussels. If you are looking for in-depth analysis of Germany’s stance on policies and stakeholder, get in touch with our Berlin office.

Labour Party Conference: Focused on winning

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As the curtain closes on Labour Party Conference 2023 – possibly the last before the next general election – we look at the key themes that businesses should take away.

Last year’s gathering took place against a backdrop of that Liz Truss Budget and a government on the verge of collapse. Labour’s lead in the polls was in ‘crushing landslide’ territory and, perhaps for the first time, there was a real sense of expectation rather than hope. The atmosphere was verging on giddy.

Labour Party Conference 2023 was last year’s older, more mature sibling. The watchword was ‘focus’. Rumours abound that the Shadow Cabinet, backbenchers and PPCs were under strict instructions to limit their refreshments and avoid any potentially compromising situations. It seemed to work; everyone was on their best behaviour.

The message discipline was impressive, and the extensive courting of business by Labour over the last year appeared to have paid off. Businesses were there in their droves, causing some members to mutter that the atmosphere was overly corporate. Senior Labour staffers didn’t mind, though. This was by far the most lucrative conference for the party in recent years, providing an important boost to the coffers ahead of the next election.

In response to the Prime Minister’s backtracking on net zero targets and HS2, shadow ministers confidently and consistently argued for policy stability above all, even if that means making some difficult calls such as not revoking recently awarded oil and gas licenses. In emphasising the economic arguments for ambitious and stable decarbonisation targets to drive private investment, Labour impressed businesses and avoided the trap that Rishi Sunak set last week.

Conference appeared to be a crystalising moment in Labour’s offer to business: we’ll provide the structures, policy certainty and stable government; we expect you to partner with us to drive significant investment. In a “third way” moment that would have made Tony Blair proud, Keir Starmer presented this in his speech as “not state control, not pure free markets…but a genuine partnership”.

The speech, while perhaps not delivered with the same verve and punch as last year’s, presented a clearer vision than we had previously heard from Starmer. That vision is taking shape around the idea of “national renewal”. The central premise of his argument is that the UK is broken and entering an “age of insecurity”, where the forces of technology, economic weakness, movement of people, and climate change combine to demand a remodelling of the British state after 13 years of Conservative neglect.

This is not “sunlit uplands” by any means, more a sober diagnosis of the significant challenges that can be overcome with hard work – and a warning to the party faithful and the country that change will not happen overnight. There was a strong feeling amongst delegates that Labour needs to not just win the next election but win big and govern for at least 10 years.

The big ticket policy in the hour that Starmer spoke had been announced by Shadow Chancellor Rachel Reeves the day before in her surprisingly tubthumping speech. Labour’s plans to radically overhaul the planning system for critical national infrastructure and building 1.5m new homes, including using development corporations to overcome barriers, sound bold and risky given how local objections can cause political headaches.

Alongside this, there was plenty for Labour’s core voters to get their teeth into, from VAT on private schools to the appointment of a Covid corruption commissioner. Naturally this wasn’t enough for some on the left of the party, who would have preferred less talk of fiscal discipline and more radical investment in public services.

But if the aim of the conference was to present the party as united, serious and ready to govern, then Starmer and his team will feel it is mission accomplished. However, while there was strictly no complacency from the party leadership, expectations of party members are running high. The pressure is now on to deliver the majority that they expect, for which winning in Scotland will be key. Anything less will surely be seen as an enormous missed opportunity.

To chat to the team about your organisation’s Public Affairs strategy, contact Alex Dismore at

2023 Spanish General Election

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By Javier CORRALES – Head of Public Affairs | Spain

Our Spanish public affairs team has prepared a detailed analysis of the 2023 Spanish General Election. The analysis allows you to discover the political takeaways from July 23rd, with surprising results that will have consequences in the Spanish socio-political arena.

The Popular Party (centre-right party) was the most voted list, although Pedro Sánchez (the current president from the centre-left party, PSOE) is emerging as the main candidate for the investiture. However, a repeat election is an option that cannot be ruled out either.

Click here to read the analysis in full.

Whisper it, but the Liberal Democrats might be back!

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In his closing speech to Lib Dem Conference, Leader Sir Ed Davey left no doubt that the party is confident in its ambition to chip away at the “Blue Wall” at next year’s general election. Davey’s upbeat message was reflected throughout the conference. Party members, lobbyists and journalists recognised that there is a cautious optimism, and crucially, the same, united aim of unseating Conservative MPs in seats where the Lib Dems came second the last time round.

In line with this mantra, this will be a more focused, realistic campaign than we’ve seen in recent electoral cycles. It’s a far cry from the overly ambitious language of the 2019 General Election, when Jo Swinson brazenly kicked off the campaign saying, “I can be the next PM”.  This time round, Davey’s slightly more modest speech saw no mention of winning the election, or even getting into government – and only a handful of mentions of the Labour Party.

On the back of impressive by-election wins, much of the Lib Dems’ hope is pinned on candidates in key target seats to continue the momentum, especially in some of the highest profile marginals. Many of these were the stars of the show at well-attended fringe events this year in Bournemouth. To pick out a few, it’s worth keeping an eye on Josh Babarinde in Eastbourne, Danny Chambers in Winchester, Monica Harding in Esher and Walton, and Max Wilkinson in Cheltenham – who could all be prominent voices in any future Lib Dem parliamentary party.

Businesses also seemed to have got the message that the Lib Dems are back on the map. On Monday, the Lib Dems hosted a reception to conclude their full programme of Business Day events, with Deputy Leader Daisy Cooper addressing a packed room of at least 200 people. Some of the UK’s largest businesses were well represented on the exhibition floor – a marked shift from Lib Dem conferences of recent years. This felt like a clear sign that the party is being taken seriously once again, and the Lib Dem leadership is ready to engage.

The speeches in the conference hall suggest that this is a party that has already decided its policy platform for the next election. It’s all about health, the environment, and the cost of living – and we’ll hear these key themes being played out repeatedly in the coming months. The voters the Lib Dems are targeting are predominantly based across the South East and South West – and any election pledges will need to cut through with this demographic in the Blue Wall.

With the party well and truly in election preparation mode, and with realistic chances of gaining seats, it’s crucial for businesses to engage with the Lib Dems, and to align their policy proposals to the party’s own electoral priorities, to ensure that their voice is heard in the debate.

Clearly the election campaign will not be without its challenges for the party. Much like any other political party, the Lib Dems are not immune to internal wranglings on core policy issues, whether that’s housing or local environment issues, or disagreement over national infrastructure priorities. Plus, the real elephant in the room – the unresolved question of Europe, will likely be foremost in party members’ minds.

During Davey’s speech, the loudest round of applause by some margin was for his warm words on the EU – promising conference the Lib Dems would fix the UK’s “broken relationship” with Europe. Yet with no mention of re-joining, or new announcements on what this future relationship might look like, many members won’t be convinced.

On a lighter note, Lib Dem conference is renowned for its social events, and eager conference delegates were not disappointed this year. True to style, there was a huge queue of attendees eager to get into the headline karaoke night on Sunday, followed by “glee club” on Monday. Irrespective of what you might read in Politico, the media team were kept busy by a stream of journalists looking to experience a Lib Dem night out, and it’s fair to say that the party enjoyed its moment in the sun.

Discos, party policy debates and being capsized in his kayak aside (yes, that really did happen), Ed Davey can be happy with a relatively smooth conference, and with his key messages widely reported by a renewed interest from the national media. The party will now go away to hone those policy positions as the election race heats up, with its first test in the upcoming Mid Bedfordshire by-election next month.

To chat to the team about your organisation’s Lib Dem engagement programme, contact Alexis King via: