European Elections 2024: Weaving the tapestry of the EU's political future

A new balance of power in the EU and a complex scenario of alliances are emerging to determine the composition of the next European Commission.

Joan Villoslada

In a year filled with presidential elections, the European elections are one of the most significant democratic events globally. These elections will be held from June 6 to 9, involving over 400 million citizens from the 27 European Union countries to elect Members of the European Parliament, which will increase from 705 to 720 members. They are among the largest elections on the planet, surpassed only by India's in terms of the number of voters. 

The outcome of these elections will also have a significant international impact. Legislation passed in Brussels and Strasbourg is crucial for the EU's economic and regulatory framework, as evidenced by initiatives like the European Green Deal and the Digital Services Act. Moreover, the EU's nominal GDP was estimated at approximately $17 trillion in 2023, representing 16.2% of the world's GDP

The results of these elections will also shape the next European Commission, the EU's executive body. Its current president, Ursula von der Leyen, has announced her intention to seek the necessary support to remain in office. If successful, she will face issues that will define the European political agenda in the next term, including energy transition, the war in Ukraine, industrial competition with the US and China, and immigration

What do the polls say?

According to recent polls, there is a clear trend indicating a strengthening of far-right groups, while traditional and centrist parties are losing support. Despite the rise of the far-right in Europe, the nationalist values of these parties cause contradictions with the political nature of the Union, leading to fractures and conflicts among them. 

For example, according to polls by the European Council for Foreign Relations (ECFR) and Politico, traditional parties like the European People’s Party (EPP) and the Socialists & Democrats (S&D) are expected to lose seats, although they will remain the two largest groups. Currently, the EPP is projected to win the elections with 173 seats. 

On the other hand, centrist Renew Europe (RE), the Left, and the Greens are also expected to lose a significant number of seats. The main winners of the elections are anticipated to be the populist right-wing parties. The far-right Identity and Democracy (ID) group was expected to grow the most, while the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) are also set to gain seats. If Hungary's Fidesz party joins the ECR, they could surpass RE and ID to become the third-largest group. 

A complex scenario for alliances

In the face of a clear right-wing victory, there are very few possibilities for a left-wing coalition to lead the Parliament. However, it's also unclear if a center-right coalition along with the far-right will succeed. In recent weeks, populist right-wing groups ID and ECR have begun to fracture rapidly

For instance, ECR’s most prominent leader, Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, announced she would not merge her group with the ID led by Marine Le Pen and Poland’s Law and Justice Party (PiS). It seems the conservative ECR wants to distance itself from ID's more radical policies on immigration and its friendly stance towards Russia in order to become a more acceptable government partner for EPP and RE. 

The division among far-right groups highlights the contradictions nationalist parties face in European elections

In a recent twist, ID has also distanced itself from its most controversial members. A few weeks ago, ID expelled the German far-right party Alternative for Germany (AfD) following several controversies related to revisionist comments about the SS by one of its candidates, a member accused of espionage, and revelations about a clandestine anti-immigration plan

The expulsion of AfD represents a significant blow to ID, losing one of its most important partners and severely reducing its number of seats. Currently, AfD seems to have become a pariah party in Brussels politics, similar to Viktor Orban’s Hungarian party Fidesz, left without a political group. 

The lack of unity and continued division among far-right parties is a symptom of the contradictions nationalist parties face in European elections. These parties' values tend to focus on prioritizing national interests and euroscepticism, making it very difficult for them to vote united on every initiative. The supranational nature of the European Parliament requires its members to sacrifice some national interests to advance projects beneficial to the whole of Europe — sacrifices few nationalist parties are willing to make. 

A new balance of power

The European Parliament is not the only legislative body in the complex balance of power within the EU. The European Council also plays a vital role in European politics and is less likely to be dominated by right-wing ideologies. The European Council consists of the 27 heads of state or government of each member country and is responsible for approving all European Commission initiatives alongside the Parliament. 

The new scenario will pose a significant dilemma for the current president of the Commission and main contender

Because large countries like Spain, France, and Germany are led by social democrats and liberals, and former Portuguese social democrat president Antonio Costa is expected to be elected president of the Council, this body is likely to maintain a more moderate inclination. This means the Council will balance any more radical legislation from the European Parliament

In the previous legislature, President Ursula von der Leyen led the European Commission thanks to a centrist coalition with the liberals RE and the social democrats S&D. Facing a potential far-right surge, von der Leyen has shown openness to collaborating with Giorgia Meloni's party to govern. However, her other partners RE and S&D have firmly stated they will not support a coalition that includes far-right parties. 

In conclusion, while the polls indicate a strengthening of far-right groups and a possible decline in popularity for traditional parties, the internal divisions among far-right parties make it difficult to form a stable coalition in Parliament. Furthermore, the resulting scenario will pose a significant dilemma for the current Commission president and main contender, Ursula von der Leyen. Meanwhile, the European Council could counterbalance a right-majority Parliament due to the strong presence of social democrat and liberal leaders in key countries. 

Luis Viñuales Bagaria contributed to this article.

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