Europe has voted – what lies ahead

By José Arroyo & Cameron Kelly | Brussels, European Union 

The June 2024 European elections marked an important moment for the continent’s political landscape. As citizens from 27 countries cast their votes in one of the largest elections in the world, the results indicated notable changes in voter priorities, political allegiances, and the balance of power within the European Parliament. The election period was characterised by heightened political disputes and a shift away from discourse surrounding climate and sustainability, a core feature of the 2019-2024 mandate, towards issues such as competitiveness, migration, and defence. The voter turnout remains stable, at around 51%, almost the same as in 2019.

A shift to the right

In line with predictions, the centre-right European People’s Party (EPP) has emerged as the largest political group in the European Parliament, securing 186 seats, accounting for 25.83% of the total. The Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats (S&D) followed with 134 seats, representing 18.61%. Renew Europe (RE) garnered 79 seats (10.97%), while the far-right European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) and Identity and Democracy (ID) obtained 73 seats (10.14%) and 58 seats (8.06%) respectively.

This election marks a significant change in the balance of power between the left and right wing in the European Parliament, as gains made by the EPP and far-right come at the expense of, most notably, Emmanuel Macron’s Renew and the European Greens. All eyes will now be on European Commission President and lead candidate of the EPP Ursula von der Leyen, who will have to decide on whether to maintain her political allegiances with the pro-European Renew and S&D groups or seek support from parties to her right. Either decision will have drastically different implications for the EU’s legislative priorities over the next 5 years.

However, in her victory speech on election night von der Leyen clearly indicated that she was aiming for the first option, declaring: “There remains a majority in the centre for a strong Europe, and that is crucial for stability. In other words, the centre is holding. But it is also true that the extremes on the left and on the right have gained support, and this is why the result comes with great responsibility for the parties in the centre. We may differ on individual points, but we all have an interest in stability, and we all want a strong and effective Europe.”

Change, but not fundamental

While this shift to the right indicates growing Euroscepticism and nationalism in some countries, the fundamental structure of the European Parliament remains relatively stable, as the pro-European centrist coalition has successfully retained its majority with 401 seats. This suggests that the outcome will not fundamentally challenge the governability of the EU, even if the far-right gains in seats. This suggests that the outcome will not fundamentally challenge the governability of the EU, regardless of whether the far-right have gained seats.

European Commission President and lead candidate of the EPP Ursula von der Leyen will now likely seek to recreate a centrist coalition with her political counterparts in the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats (S&D) and Renew Europe (RE) groups. This approach mirrors the coalition formed during the 2019-2024 European mandate. A coalition with far-right groups, including the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) and Identity and Democracy (ID), is now ruled out due to their insufficient seat count and the refusal of the S&D and RE to cooperate with far-right factions – though the EPP could form alliances with these groups to secure a majority for certain policy files and political decisions.

What next?

Now, the European Council, representing national heads of state and government, will meet to analyse the result and nominate a candidate for Commission President, presumably von der Leyen. The next step for the Commission President nominee will be to secure an absolute majority vote from the European Parliament – this will likely take place at the new Parliament’s first plenary session in July.

Once the Commission President is confirmed by Parliament, the European Council, with the agreement of the new Commission President-elect, selects a list of candidate Commissioners, one from each Member State and each assigned a particular policy portfolio. These candidates attend hearings before parliamentary committees to review their respective fields of responsibility, and to approve (or not) each Commissioner candidate. We would expect to see the final “college” of Commissioners confirmed by the end of November.

In the meantime, EU national leaders will agree on the EU’s political priorities that will guide the EU’s action for the next five years. It is to be adopted in June 2024 and will likely confirm the support for “New European Competitiveness Deal” to enhance industrial competitiveness.

Incumbent losses and French snap election

The impact of the European elections have not just been felt in Brussels; the results have also dealt a significant blow to some incumbent national governments, including Germany and Belgium. But perhaps the most significant immediate outcome of the European Elections has been French President Emmanuel Macron’s decision to call a snap legislative election just hours after provisional results indicated a landslide victory for Marine Le Pen’s far-right National Rally, amounting to a staggering 31% of the French vote versus just 14.5% for President Macron’s governing Renaissance party. The President’s announcement is likely strategic, seeking to capitalise on Le Pen’s unpreparedness for a parliamentary election campaign while also seeking to mobilise voters who did not participate in the European elections but may be concerned about a far-right majority in the French National Assembly.

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