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Moderate Interest and Great Expectations: The View from Paris ahead of the European Elections

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By Angeline Charbonnier, Public Affairs Director | Paris, France

In late February, Renaissance, President Macron’s party, announced that MEP Valérie Hayer would head the party’s list in the European elections on June 6-9. This long-awaited announcement brought weeks of political twists and turns to an end, marked by several reshuffles of Prime Minister Gabriel Attal’s cabinet following the controversial appointment (and subsequent dismissal) of Amélie OudeaCastera as Education Minister.  

Likewise, the agricultural crisis in France – and across the EU – has rocked the government and is likely to set the tone and be a major campaign issue for the European elections. While recent announcements by PM Attal and Minister of Agriculture and Food Sovereignty Marc Fesneau, and union support, have managed to quell farmers, several pockets of resistance persist. To wit, President Macron’s inauguration speech at the annual Agriculture Fair, a ritual of French political life, and inaugurating the event per tradition, was met with violent reactions. 

The agricultural crisis has seen both Macron’s Renaissance and Marine Le Pen’s nationalist and right-wing populist party National Rally make several appeals to farmers. Renaissance in particular has made several promises including assistance for farmers’ income, defending food sovereignty at the European level, and strengthening controls during trade negotiations. The suspension of the ‘Ecophyto’ plan marks a significant setback in the government’s sustainable agricultural plans. In the meantime left-wing parties, which remain markedly fragmented in France, have failed to make their proposals heard and are currently absent from the debate. 

      1. Voting Intentions  

According to a survey conducted by Odoxa for Public Sénat and the regional daily press, the National Rally currently dominates the French political landscape with 30% of voting intentions. While Renaissance are the runners-up, following a 2-point drop the poll only found that 19% of voters intend to support them in June. 

On the left, the list led by the Socialist Party and Place Publique, headed by MEP Raphaël Glucksmann, has consolidated its dominant position with 11% of voting intentions, a 2-point increase since previous polling. Meanwhile, the Ecologists, represented by MEP Marie Toussaint, have experienced a significant increase with 8.5% of voting intentions, but remain 5 points below their 2019 results. 

       2. The French Electorate’s Expectations 

Perhaps more than ever, purchasing power and rising prices will be the two main issues for French voters on June 6-9. In its monthly EuroTrack barometer for “Les Echos” and Radio Classique, OpinionWay-Vae Solis reports that these two issues showed a strong increase – respectively +6 and +5 points – in January and occupy the top two positions, while security (-3) and immigration (-6) remain behind and are on the decline. 

Regarding economic actors, while demands vary across sectors, there is a growing sense of frustration against new regulations mandated by the green transition, deemed too drastic and even inconsistent at times. One of proposals part of the Green Deal package aimed to reduce pesticide use by 50% by 2030 – this text was rejected by the European Parliament in November. 

      3. The Candidates  

National Rally (Rassemblement National, RN) 

The RN launched its campaign by highlighting immigration as a central theme. Their strategy is divided into three categories: “green files,” “orange files,” and “red files,” with the aim of renegotiating European treaties. The appointment of the former director of Frontex, Fabrice Leggeri, as number three on the RN list illustrates the party’s desire to attract high-ranking public figures. 

Renaissance (Rebirth, RE) 

After internal hesitations, Valérie Hayer, a sitting MEP from a rural background, was chosen to lead the list. She will have to maintain or improve the score of the presidential majority, currently surpassed by the RN in the polls, amid the ongoing agricultural crisis. 

The Ecologists (Europe Ecologistes Les Verts, EELV) 

Marie Toussaint, a jurist and key figure in the EELV party, has been designated as the party’s leader. Her task will be to repeat the success of 2019 by proposing an autonomous list and focusing on the fight against climate change. 

The Republicans (Les Républicains, LR) 

MEP François-Xavier Bellamy will lead LR’s list once again, representing France’s historic conservative faction, with the aim of performing better than in 2019. The party aims to surpass the results of smaller far-right parties such as Eric Zemmour’s Reconquète, whose list is being led by key figure Marion Maréchal. 

France Unbowed (La France Insoumise, LFI)  

MEP Manon Aubry, co-president of the radical left group in the European Parliament, will lead the LFI list. The party advocates a break with what it calls ‘liberal Europe’ and hopes to mobilise voters around an alternative vision for the bloc. 

Place Publique & Socialists (Place Publique, PP – Parti Socialiste, PS)  

MEP Raphaël Glucksmann, known for his commitment to human rights, will lead Place Publique’s list, which joint with the Socialists’. His main goal will be to surpass the party’s 2019 results with a social-democratic vision of Europe. 

French Communist Party (Parti Communiste Francais, PCF) 

Léon Deffontaines has been designated to lead the PCF’s autonomous list. With the aim of exceeding 5% of the votes, he hopes to reconquer the popular electorate with a campaign focused on communist values. 

      4. Abstention Perspectives: Moderate Interest in European Elections  

A survey by Elabe on February 10 reveals moderate interest in the European elections among the French electorate. Indeed, only 47% of those surveyed say they are interested, while 53% are not. Among those interested, 35% are somewhat interested and 12% very interested. Interest in these elections also varies according to demographic criteria: It is more pronounced among those aged 65+ (57%), residents of large urban areas (54%), executives (52%), and men (51%). Conversely, it is less pronounced among those under 65 (43%), residents of rural areas (39%), and workers.

Photo by: Chesnot/Getty Images

Vladimir Putin’s next re-election

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By Fedor Pilipenko, Public Affairs Analyst / Germany

In the notable election year of 2024, nearly half of the global population will participate in shaping their respective governmental structures. Among them are the citizens of Russia, who are poised to participate in this weekend’s presidential elections, determining the country’s leadership for the ensuing six years. Although Grayling has not been active in Russia since the war with Ukraine and despite the expected outcome of this election, its significance persists, particularly from a geopolitical standpoint, helping to shape the trajectory of European and American foreign policies.

Terms and status quo

The term “elections” may sound somewhat blatant given the prevailing circumstances surrounding the upcoming electoral process. Elections in Russia have long faced criticism for their lack of transparency and fairness, with significant shifts observed since the previous elections in 2018. This marks the first election in Russia since Vladimir Putin’s incursion into Ukraine, which precipitated economic sanctions, substantial loss of life.

As of 2024, independent media within Russia remains inaccessible without VPN services, censorship prevails, threatening severe penalties for any criticism of the Russian armed forces, while protest activities remain suppressed due to COVID-19 restrictions which have been enforced since 2020. In addition, virtually all Kremlin critics and opposition are in prison or exile. The most prominent of them, Alexei Navalny, died a few weeks ago.

The legitimacy of these elections is further undermined by various factors. For the first time, a three-day election with the possibility of electronic voting is being introduced in many regions of Russia, which opens up opportunities for unlimited election manipulation. In addition, elections are planned in the annexed regions of Ukraine, where it is practically impossible to accurately determine the actual electorate.

Under these conditions, Vladimir Putin is able to run for his fifth term as Russian president and possibly extend his rule until 2036.

Who are the opponents?

This time, there are only three candidates on the ballot alongside Vladimir Putin, the lowest number in Russia’s recent history. All of them from parliamentary satellite parties: Nikolai Kharitonov (“Communist Party”), Vladislav Davankov (“New People”) and Leonid Slutsky (“Liberal Democratic Party”). None of them criticised Putin directly; only Davankov spoke out moderately in favour of negotiations and an end to the war. The anti-war candidate Boris Nadezhdin has already been excluded due to an allegedly high error rate in the signature lists required for a candidature.

Official polls currently estimate support for Putin at over 70%, but at the same time show a war-weariness and willingness to negotiate among the population. However, the extent to which these sentiments will be reflected in the election results remains uncertain in view of the prevailing political repression and the possibilities of election manipulation.

What lies ahead for the West?

With Putin in power, Russia’s course in Ukraine is unlikely to change. A new wave of mobilisation after the election is considered very likely if the Russian leadership sees a need on the frontline. In many ways, the future of Ukraine will depend on the presidential elections in the USA in November, which, as the largest donor of money and weapons, could take the opposite course if Donald Trump returns into office. Currently, an improvement in Russia’s Western relations is difficult to imagine without a complete withdrawal of troops from Ukraine, which would mean a defeat for Putin.

Conclusion

There is little to suggest that anything could stand in the way of Putin’s re-election this weekend. Two years after the start of the war, Russian civil society has little choice with no political competition and a constrained ability for public protests. The West will probably have to continue to prepare for a Russia with Putin.

Photo by: EPA/ALEXEI NIKOLSKY / SPUTNIK / KREMLIN POOL

European elections: Another five years for Von der Leyen?

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Grayling Brussels, European Union

After months of speculation in Brussels, current European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has now officially announced her bid for a second five-year term. During a press conference on 19 February 2024, at an event organised by her centre-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party in Berlin, Von der Leyen proclaimed her wish to become the lead candidate of the European People’s Party (EPP) for the upcoming European elections on 6-9 June. This puts her in prime position to secure a second term. 

Von der Leyen remaining in power: what would this mean for the 2024-2029 mandate? 

“We must defend against divisions from within and from outside. I am sure that we have the strength to do so, and that is the task that I have set for myself,” said Von der Leyen at the CDU event in Berlin.  

In the present geopolitical uncertainty, proceeding from changes in the political landscape and the questioning of European values inside and outside of the bloc, maintaining the head of the EU executive could signal stability and unity. 

The EU’s swift response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and coordinated response (despite resistance from Hungary) is probably one of Von der Leyen’s strongest legacies. With extensive experience not only as Commission President but as former Defence Minister of Germany, Von der Leyen is likely to continue to prioritise strengthening European security and independence – especially if Donald Trump secures a second term in the US Presidential election in November, bringing back his anti-NATO, America-first rhetoric. 

Closer to home, Von der Leyen will also have to adapt to more pressing concerns within her own political group and across Europe. She is likely to face a balancing act in maintaining EU unity and keeping the far-right at bay. Despite her visionary Green Deal under the current mandate, a second term could see her priorities shift towards more urgent citizen concerns: reassuring European farmers, limiting red tape, and developing an EU Industrial Deal to boost Europe’s innovation and competitiveness. 

The Von der Leyen legacy 

While Von der Leyen clearly achieved making the EU more geopolitical and using its economic weight for the advancement of its interests, this does not mean that it has always been a success. Her uncompromising and German-induced support for Israel following the 7 October 2023 Hamas terrorist attacks was followed by silence and indecisiveness towards Israel’s atrocities in Gaza and the West Bank. As such, she is blamed for inconsistent upholding of European values and human rights, whilst severely damaging Europe’s reputation in the Global South.  

More mixed was her track record on dealing with the Covid-19 crisis. On the one hand, as Commission President, von der Leyen oversaw a relatively cohesive crisis response, with the EU managing to maintain a good degree of internal market coherence. It even enacted health-related policies (even though health is technically not an EU competence), with the joint procurement of vaccines a particular success story – though it eventually led to the Pfizergate scandal, which perpetuated the stereotype of a corrupt EU elite and did Von der Leyen’s reputation no good.  

Is von der Leyen’s return a done deal? 

Von der Leyen’s announcement is only the first step towards securing a second term as Commission President. She must be formally nominated as her party’s lead candidate, or “Spitzenkandidat”, at the EPP’s electoral congress in Bucharest, Romania on 6-7 March. 

If she is confirmed as the EPP’s lead candidate, she will become the first sitting Commission President to run for re-election while holding office since the Spitzenkandidat system’s implementation in 2014. This means she will have to abide by a set of rules that govern campaigning for EU office while remaining a Commission official, such as having to set up separate social media accounts, clearly distinguishing between statements made as a Commissioner and as a candidate, and not being able to use any resources from the Commission for campaign purposes. 

What are the chances of a second Von der Leyen term? 

If she is formally appointed as the EPP’s lead candidate (given her popularity and the fact that there is no competition from within the group, this is widely expected to be the case), Von der Leyen still needs to be nominated by Member State leaders and confirmed by the European Parliament in a public vote. As per the Spitzenkandidat process, the lead candidate of the political group with the most votes in the European Parliament election should receive a mandate to serve as Commission President. Therefore, the EPP would need to win a majority of seats in order for Von Der Leyen to assume the role – which they are currently on track to do. It must be noted, however, that EU leaders have a history of circumventing this process – so nothing is a given just yet. 

What’s the competition looking like? 

Von der Leyen will have to face contenders from other political parties, such as Bas Eickout and Terry Rientke from the Greens, Valérie Hayer for Renew, or Nicolas Schmit from the Socialists & Democrats. Currently, S&D holds second lead in polls, directly behind Von der Leyen’s party, EPP. This places Schmit, who currently holds a position as the European Commissioner for Jobs and Social Rights, as her strongest opposition. 

In the European Council, except for Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, no significant opposition is expected from the EU 27 leaders. Across the EU, prime ministers, such as Finland’s Petteri Orpo, Spain’s Pedro Sánchez, and others, publicly declared their support for her candidacy. 

Photo by: Vincent Kessler/Reuters

European elections and the chemical industry: the REACH revision saga

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By Eugénie Boulo-Daniel, Public Affairs Manager | Brussels, European Union

As the 2024 European elections approach, a sense of anticipation ripples through Brussels, heralding a pivotal moment for the future of environmental policy and the chemical industry’s role within it. In this electrifying atmosphere, the ongoing saga of REACH revisions underscores the complexity of balancing human health, environmental protection, and economic interests. This year, the voices of millions will not only decide the political fate of Europe but also shape the trajectory of its environmental policy. As we stand on the cusp of these landmark elections, we explore how the evolving political landscape could reshape the EU‘s approach to its most pressing environmental challenges.  

All eyes on the chemical industry since 2020 

In the 2019 elections, climate change and environmental protection were centre stage in campaigns and political debates. This trend was reflected in the votes, with almost 10% of the European Parliament’s 705 seats going to the Greens political group, its highest score ever. President Ursula von der Leyen’s Commission answered these growing public concerns with the European Green Deal: a blueprint for transformational change in Europe’s economy and society 

As part of the Green Deal, the Commission launched the Chemical Strategy for Sustainability (CSS) in October 2020, which aimed to review the EU’s already sophisticated chemical legislation by further containing the most hazardous chemicals in the environment. The strategy’s ambitions included banning some of the most harmful chemicals in consumer products, by modifying the two main EU chemical legislations: the Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals (REACH) Regulation, and the Classification, Labelling and Packaging (CLP) Regulation. 

56 actions were anticipated, with the more controversial to be tackled under the REACH revision – such as polymer registration, endocrine disruptors, PFAS restrictions, the introduction of an ‘essential use’ concept, reform of the authorisation and restrictions process, and the ‘safe and sustainable by design’ concept. 

Over the past three years, the Commission services and external consultants have worked closely with the industry and relevant stakeholders to draft definitions and define concepts. The chemical sector, facing what they call a double twin transition(encompassing climate, digital, strategic autonomy, and sustainability), had long called for their own sectorial Transition Pathway, as set by Internal Market Commissioner Thierry Breton for many other economic ecosystems. Predictability, stability and coherence continue to be core asks from the sector. 

Yet the REACH revision is proving to be a headache for the Commission’s services 

While the current Commission took an important step forward by proposing a recast of the CLP Regulation in 2022, the REACH revision has been postponed repeatedly and is yet nowhere to be found.  

One of the main new political concepts that will be proposed under the revised REACH is the “essential use” exemption criteria, to ensure that “the most harmful substances” chemicals are only allowed if their use is “necessary for the health, safety or is critical for the functioning of society” and if there are “no alternatives available”. This being said, despite some progress in the form of a report released by an external consultant in 2023, as of today there is no clear and common definition of “essential use”. This definition and how to introduce it in the approval process, amongst others, may be the reason behind the long REACH delay. 

A key file in the hands of the next Commission 

It is expected the EU elections campaign will be dominated by two issues: migration and the social costs of fighting climate change. The polls predict a rise of the far right and a remarkable decline of the liberal Renew group and of the Greens. This underscores the Green Deal fatigue felt across the EU, and a switch to an industrial and strategic autonomy perspective, in answer to nationalist concerns. The European People’s Party (EPP) remains in relatively strong in the polls and there is a widespread assumption that current Commission President Ursula von der Leyen will run for a second term (to be confirmed during the EPP summit in Bucharest on 6-7 March). While having to defend her Green Deal legacy, von der Leyen will also have to adapt to these more pressing concerns within her political group and more broadly across Europe.  

The first consequences of that potential shift from a Green to an Industrial Deal will be reflected in both the timing of when the REACH revision proposal will be released – one of the first files of the new mandate, or one of the last of this mandate? and how pro-industry its content is. Rumours announce a REACH revision in January 2025, a full three years after the initial timeline set in the CSS. 

Once the proposal released, the institutional debate around the revision of REACH will be a key model of what to expect in the next mandate and how decisions will be taken with a polarised European Parliament, a fragile majority and a weaken voice from the Greens. 

Watch this space 

The years 2024-2029 will be particularly critical for the European chemical industry. The non-stop development of new green technologies is expected to lead to a doubling in chemicals production in 2030 compared to 2020. The impacts of the REACH revision, therefore, go beyond simply the chemicals industry and will affect the whole value chain in Europe and worldwide. 

Green Dreams and Realities: Navigating Voter Fatigue in the EU Elections

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Farmers protests European Parliament - Greens European elections

By José Arroyo, Senior Consultant | Brussels, European Union

On the 4th of February 2024, the European Greens officially adopted their election manifesto ahead of the European Parliament election in June. The Greens are currently the fifth biggest group in Parliament and have been influential during the past mandate in pushing for reforms to decarbonise the European economy under the European Green Deal. However, their electoral prospects are dire, and they are at risk of losing around a third of their seats as the EU faces growing backlash against its green agenda, as we witnessed very recently with farmers’ protests across the continent. Nevertheless, the Greens aim for even more ambitious climate goals for the 2024-2029 legislative term and have picked two high-profile MEPs to lead their campaign: Terry Reintke from Germany and Bas Eickhout from the Netherlands, two senior figures in the European Parliament, respectively running for their third and fourth terms in office. Much of their influence in the new Parliament depends on the results of the election and the alliances that will be formed after it.

Riding the green wave

From the 2nd to the 4th of February 2024, green politicians from across Europe met in Lyon, France, for their Electoral Congress, where they elected their lead candidates and adopted their manifesto. The Greens have seen a very successful few years in Europe, riding a green wave in 2019 that brought them their best-ever result in the last European elections. In addition, far from being a minority opposition movement, Green political parties form part of coalition governments in 6 EU Member States, with Germany as their crown jewel, where they are one third of the “traffic light” coalition along with the liberals and the social democrats of Chancellor Olaf Scholtz.

Green Deal ambition

During the current mandate of the European Parliament (2019-2024), the Greens have been instrumental in reforms to decarbonise key sectors in Europe’s economy, with the European Commission led by conservative Ursula von der Leyen even adopting many of their ideas. The Green Deal, a flagship initiative of the von der Leyen Commission, sets 2050 as the target date for the EU to become a climate neutral continent. This has translated into legislative reforms aiming to make almost all sectors more sustainable, from transport, to agriculture, packaging and buildings. Von der Leyen described these efforts as “Europe’s man on the moon moment” and holds up the Green Deal as an example to be followed by other countries aiming to move away from fossil fuels.

Green Deal fatigue

However, these ambitious climate targets and accompanying measures are facing increasing backlash, leading to ever declining popularity of Green political parties. For the past four years, for instance, farmers in the Netherlands have been protesting measures aimed at cutting agricultural pollution as they argue they would hurt their business and reduce their already meagre incomes. This even led to the founding of a new farmers’ party to represent their concerns that made important inroads in the Dutch provincial election earlier this year. The success of the protests and concerns around farmers’ livelihoods may have also contributed to the success of far-right leader Geert Wilders in the national election last year. The farmers’ protests have now spread across the bloc with a mass tractor protests blocking the European quarter in Brussels on the 1st of February 2024. European leaders such as French President Macron and Belgian Prime Minister De Croo have echoed this “climate fatigue” by asking for a “regulatory pause” on further environmental legislation.

Because of this, the European Greens face a significant electoral setback in June, with polls predicting a loss of a third of their seats and the group going from the fifth to the seventh largest in Parliament, which would leave them with little influence in the legislative process. Nationalist and Eurosceptic parties are in contrast expected to make substantial gains, with the next Parliament likely to veer to the right.

Renewed ambition

In this context, the Greens are set to campaign on a so-called “Green Social Deal”. They aim for the EU to bring forward its climate-neutrality objective from 2050 to 2040 and for an end to the use of coal by 2030, and of all fossil fuels by 2040. They also target fossil subsidies, which they want to see phased out by 2025 with “all other environmentally harmful subsidies” being withdrawn by 2027. As an alternative, the Greens want to transform Europe’s energy system so that it relies completely on solar, water, wind, and geothermal energy by 2040. Importantly, they no longer mention biofuels, which were mentioned back in the 2019 manifesto as having a role to play so long as they did not compete with food production or cause biodiversity loss. In addition, the Greens want to transform the controversial Common Agricultural Policy (the EU fund supporting agriculture) to redirect the money into organic farming and agroecological production.

To finance these changes, the Greens would increase national taxation and push for taxes at the EU level. They would establish a minimum capital gains tax in the EU, push Member States to implement the OECD agreement on corporate minimum tax, extend the carbon border tax to new polluting sectors, apply the “polluter pays” principle across all sectors, create a European Financial Transactions Tax, and make the EU windfall tax on energy companies permanent. With these new revenues, they would reinforce the social welfare state, passing a directive on minimum income to establish an adequate level of support (60% of the median income) in each EU country for people between jobs or who cannot work.

A smaller platform post-elections

Despite the growing Green Deal fatigue, the Greens aim to continue pressing for the EU to increase its ambitions for the green transition, demanding stricter targets and advocating for a wider social support network to respond to the social costs of strict environmental measures. They embrace the green achievements of this mandate but demand more action for the next one. Some of their proposals are unlikely to be realised. For example, the European Commission is very unlikely to consider bringing forward its 2050 decarbonisation target and it’s difficult to imagine 27 EU countries agreeing on a common European tax on financial transactions.

However, the real question is how strong the Greens will be in the European Parliament after the election, and how they can leverage their votes to transform some of their demands into actual policy in cooperation with other groups. Much depends on the electoral results and the alliances that will emerge after election day. During the current mandate, the informal governing coalition has been composed of the EPP (centre-right), the S&D (centre-left), Renew Europe (liberals), with occasional support from the Greens. With a strong showing for parties to the right of the EPP, it would be tempting for the EPP to move away from its current allies and reach either formal and informal deals with the ECR (conservatives) or ID (far-right) political groups. In this relatively unlikely scenario, the Greens will have little say in the new mandate. Even if this does not happen, a stronger right-wing in the Parliament will leave the Greens with less leverage to implement their policies.

Of course, there are still four months to go, and campaigning is just starting, so it’s still all to play for. But, as recent protests show, the Greens are facing an uphill battle to convince voters of the need for yet more ambitious climate laws.

Slovenia ahead of the European elections: an increasingly unpopular government

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Slovenia

By Tjaša Doljak, PA Consultant | Slovenia

Slovenian political parties are gearing up for the 2024 European election race, coinciding with the mid-term of the current left-green(ish) government. Despite enjoying strong public support in its initial year, PM Robert Golob’s Freedom Movement party is now experiencing a decline in popularity among voters.

Current government faces significant decline in public support

Just a year ago, 58.2% of respondents rated the government’s work as successful while in November 2023, the picture is completely reversed, with 56.3% of respondents now rating the government’s work as unsuccessful. The polls also revealed that the public’s trust in the work of PM Golob has significantly declined, with a rating of 2.33 (out of 5) for his work. This marks one of the lowest ratings given to PMs in Slovenian history, and, in the past, such low ratings have often resulted in votes of no confidence.

This has led to a considerable drop in support for the PM’s Freedom Movement party, down from 40% immediately after the 2022 elections to just 27.8%. A notable concern for politicians is the increase in undecided voters, growing from 19% in January 2023 to 33% at the end of the year.

A series of obstacles

That being said, it does not appear to be the end for PM Golob just yet. A low approval rating is to be expected given the challenges Slovenia – and most of Europe – is facing, including economic slowdown, high inflation, and increased prices of goods and services.

At the same time, Golob’s actions – such as proposing an increase in taxes, unmet promises of a reform of the health system, the introduction of a very rigid system for recording employee working hours, along with allegations of unauthorised pressure on the former interior minister among others – have contributed to his declining popularity with voters.

2024: a year of reconstruction

Slovenia’s primary challenge in 2024 is expected to be post-flood reconstruction. In August 2023, heavy rainfall led to severe flooding in many parts of Slovenia, marking the most significant natural disaster since Slovenian independence in 1991. The catastrophic floods resulted in loss of life, extensive damage to homes, and destruction of roads and infrastructure.

Countless businesses were affected, resulting in estimated damages ranging from 3 to 9 billion euros. The reconstruction budget has yet to be defined as the government is still finalising the so-called flood reconstruction act, thought plans include a 5-year tax on banks’ balance sheets and a temporary increase in taxes on legal entities’ incomes. This measures will be difficult to swallow with the national economy in a cooling-off phase.

Slovenia in the European Parliament 

Slovenia has 8 representatives in the European Parliament, evenly split between the centre-right and centre-left. The largest opposition party, centre-right SDS (EPP), together with the non-parliamentary people’s party SLS, holds three MEPs while the Christian party NSi (EPP) has one MEP. On the left, the Social Democrats (S&D) and the Freedom Movement (Renew) each have two Slovenian MEPs.

All the current MEPs are publicly recognized individuals, with some of them having already served more than one term in Brussels. It is still too early for any predictions regarding the outcome of the EU elections (candidate lists are still under preparation), especially for voters not leaning towards centre-right parties, who typically tend to decide at the last minute.

Could Slovenia get a 9th MEP?

There are currently 705 MEPs in the European Parliament. In June 2023, the European Parliament proposed that the number of MEPs should increase to 720 after the 2024 elections. This would result in an increase in the number of MEPs for certain countries including Slovenia, increasing the country’s representation in the Parliament.

Will the Czech Republic reverse its historically low voter turnout in the European elections?

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Prague

By Michal Šiffner, Senior Public Affairs Consultant | Czech Republic

A chance to reverse historically low voter turnout? 

The Czech Republic is gearing up for the European Parliament election, ending a year and half of electoral inactivity—a notable anomaly in the typically dynamic Czech political environment. However, the European Parliament elections do not tend to attract significant attention from Czech voters; in 2019, the Czech Republic had the second-lowest voter turnout of all EU member states.  

Research on voter turnout suggests that Czech politicians have so far failed to communicate the value of the European Parliament to citizens. Although election day is still quite far away, the current situation is already beginning to suggest that this time the situation may be a bit different compared to the previous European elections and the parliamentary parties will be careful not to underestimate the situation. 

Knock-on effects of the EU disconnect  

Low voter turnout in the European Parliament elections traditionally benefits center-right parties (currently leading the government coalition), which generally count on more educated and engaged voters with a greater interest in European issues. In contrast, the strongest opposition party of former Prime Minister Andrej Babiš, ANO, despite its current high popularity, will have to face up to the fact that its voters are not particularly interested in what is happening at the EU level. The ANO’s goal will be to mobilise voters and ensure the highest possible turnout, while undoubtedly trying to take advantage of the citizens’ dissatisfaction with the current economic situation. 

A loss of trust in traditional political parties 

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Petr Fiala’s present government finds itself contending with unprecedented low public opinion midway through his term, and surveys reveal a notable level of distrust. In fact, all parties of the ruling five-party coalition are gradually losing popularity. Support for Fiala’s ODS is around 12%, Pirates 10%, STAN 6%, TOP 09 5%, and KDU-ČSL 4%. This trend has been spurred by a crumbling economy and record inflation, but also by the government’s poor external communication. The opposition SPD is currently polling around 10% which shows rather stable support for his far-right anti-system party. Meanwhile, ANO’s Babiš is a clear frontrunner, leading the polls with around 33% support. 

The upcoming European Parliament election may, to some extent, serve as a referendum on the current government. For all political parties, it will act as a litmus test for the regional elections that will take place just four months later. 

Complex coalitions for the European elections 

Government coalition parties ODS, KDU-ČSL and TOP09 have decided to run together again as part of the SPOLU (“together” in Czech) coalition, as they did in the 2021 general elections. While SPLOU proved to be a strong brand in these elections, it might be a risky move from the perspective of the European elections. While domestically, the SPOLU parties are largely aligned on most issues, there are long-standing differences, particularly in matters related to the EU, most notably over adoption of the euro. In the European Parliament, ODS also belongs to a different political group than the other two coalition partners.  

In the national elections, voters were able to overlook these differences with the prospect of removing Andrej Babiš from power. However, in the European Parliament election, this could pose complications. For many TOP09 voters, the most liberal and pro-European party in the SPOLU coalition, it may be difficult to simultaneously support conservative and Eurosceptic Alexander Vondra from ODS, who is the leader of the SPOLU candidate list. However, the decision to run together to maintain the thus far successful SPOLU brand should be therefore seen more in the context of the 2025 regional and general elections, rather than as a tactic for the 2024 European elections. 

More names to watch on the MEP candidate lists 

The other two members of the current government coalition, STAN and Pirates, have confirmed they will not repeat their cooperation from 2021 following internal disagreements. In assembling their candidate list, the Pirates will rely on their current MEPs – led by the current MEP Marcel Kolaja – in combination with less-known party members. Meanwhile, the STAN candidate list will be led by an experienced politician and former member of parliament, Jan Fárský, along with well-known economist Danuše Nerudová, who enjoys significant support among young and liberal-minded voters.  

The opposition party ANO will no longer be able to rely on its most successful MEPs, Dita Charanzová and Martina Dlabajová, as they both left the party due to its shift away from liberal politics towards nationalism and conservatism. In the European elections, the party will be led by the less well-known former Minister for Regional Development Klára Dostálová, whom ANO presents as an expert on European funds. The party will once again seek to attract voters primarily based on the personality of the party leader, Andrej Babiš, though he is not running in the European elections himself. As mentioned earlier, it is likely that ANO will focus primarily on voters dissatisfied with the current government, competing especially with protest parties such as the far-right populist SPD. 

European elections: a barometer of public sentiment 

As the election season unfolds, the results will serve as a barometer of public sentiment towards the current government and provide insights into Czech political dynamics on both domestic and European fronts, especially ahead of important regional and general elections in 2025. 

European elections 101

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Vote European elections

By Charles FELD – Director, Energy, Environment and Transport | Brussels, European Union

So… what are the European elections? Who can vote? Who can stand for election? When are they happening? How on earth can 27 countries coordinate voting? And why does it matter?

Watch the video below to find out…

 

 

European elections: Belgium’s priorities and the great packaging debate

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packaging waste

By Sophie JACOBS – Agrifood Director | Brussels, European Union

On the 1st of January, Belgium assumed the six-month European Union Council Presidency: a pivotal moment for shaping the future of EU policies. However, this leadership role comes with unique challenges, as Belgium only has a few weeks at the beginning of its presidency to finalise crucial negotiations with the European Parliament on key legislative files if it wants them to be adopted during this Parliament’s mandate.

A key focus for Belgium during its presidency is the Packaging and Packaging Waste Regulation (PPWR): new rules aimed at cutting down on packaging waste and underpinning Europe’s transition to a circular economy. The goal of this legislation is to ensure that ‘’all packaging in the EU is reusable or recyclable in an economically viable way by 2030”. It outlines the fundamental criteria for packaging design and composition, establishing targets for the reusability, collection and recycling of packaging materials.

While there is agreement on the legislation’s goals, debates are ongoing about the best methods for achieving them. The Council’s adoption of its position on the text in mid-December – despite outstanding disagreements amongst Member States – confirms the determination of all parties involved to get the PPWR finalised before the June elections. The Belgian Presidency now faces the complex task of reconciling ’divergent positions within the Council and bridging the gap with the European Parliament’s more industry-friendly approach. The outcome of these negotiations holds considerable importance for industry given the ubiquity of packaging, and will impact the entire supply chain.

Balancing ambition with supply chain realities

As highlighted above, despite the Spanish Presidency’s success in securing adoption of the Council General Approach at the end of last year, several Member States expressed reservations about the current text. Discontent arose particularly around balancing reuse and recycling, with some countries expressing disappointment with a lack of ambition, while others criticised the overemphasis on reuse. Balancing these divergent perspectives will be challenging, but Belgium’s reputation for moderation and creativity to build compromises is an important asset.

In addition, the Commission’s role in the upcoming discussions (so-called “trilogues”) should not be underestimated. Commissioner Sinkevičius reiterated the need for an ambitious text that goes beyond recycling and defended the Commission’s proposed targets for reusable packaging, rejecting criticism of the Commission’s impact assessment. Last minute changes to the Council position included a provision which would require a review of the 2040 reuse targets based on a life cycle assessment of single-use and reuse packaging. Will this be enough to please the Parliament, or will it hold firm on immediate exemptions from reuse targets if reuse is not the option delivering the best environmental outcome?

The debate extends beyond reuse, with bans on certain packaging formats sparking controversy in both the Parliament and Council; the Council’s decision to limit the ban on single use packaging for fresh fruits and vegetables to only plastic packaging raises questions about the rationale behind this restriction and why it was not then extended to the other banned packaging formats.

The clock is ticking

All three EU institutions have been working under immense pressure, with the PPWR being one of the most heavily lobbied files of this mandate. As the negotiations enter into the final stages, the pressure will be ramped up even further as all parties seek to reach an agreement ahead of the European elections – or run the risk of having the file re-opened under the next mandate. The current Parliament in particular will be keen to finalise the text, with MEPs involved in the file looking to be able to point to huge success as part of their campaigns.

Belgium’s diplomatic skills will be put to the test as it seeks to reconcile diverse interests an in extremely tight timeframe. Discussions will start this week and should be finalised before 9 March. The hope is that decisions made within this pressure cooker over the next few months will nevertheless take into account the far-reaching consequences on businesses in Europe, and that the final text will effectively mitigate the environmental impact of packaging and packaging waste without putting the entire supply chain at risk.

 

Shifting tides in European politics: the rise of the ‘Dutch Trump’

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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.

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.