What you need to know about the European Parliament elections


The European Parliament elections are taking place between the 6-9 June, giving EU citizens the chance to elect Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) to the organisation’s main legislative body. These elections take place every five years.

Why do the elections matter?

The supranational character of the EU means that all elections and subsequent policy decisions made are significant to its members. The Parliament acts a legislator, sharing with the European Council the ability to adopt and amend legislation. It also supervises the work of the European Commission and other EU bodies.

Legislation discussed and formed in the parliament ranges from human rights law to foreign policy considerations: those who are elected to the parliament can exert considerable influence over member states. The composition of the parliament impacts over 500 million citizens and those elected can shape the political direction of the EU for the next five years. MEPs perform other important functions, including electing the president of the European Commission – head of the executive body of the European Union, and also endorses the EU budget.

While the polls decide the composition of the next legislature at a European level, they are also a tool for citizens to send messages to their own respective governments. Some may vote to demonstrate dissatisfaction with their domestic government as a protest vote, or to vote for a Eurosceptic party. This is becoming increasingly prevalent as suppressed financial growth, the rising cost of living and a feeling of decline across the EU has led to a turn towards populism and far right ideals. Member states including Italy and the Netherlands have seen far-right candidates perform extremely well in recent elections.

How do the elections work?

Member states are represented by MEPs who are elected by citizens with the number of seats dictated by the size of the country. Within the parliament there are blocs which are the equivalent to political coalitions as politicians sit with the bloc they feel best represents their beliefs, ideology or values. Votes for the European Parliament are carried out through system of proportional representation, which minimises the risks of tactical voting, but is highly likely to produce a factionalised parliament with many competing agendas.

In each of the member states individual elections take place. Currently, there are 705 MEPs which are dispersed throughout the seven different blocs representing groups spanning from the left to the right of the political spectrum. For the past five years, the centre right EPP (European People’s Party) has held the most seats in the parliament, driving an overall centre-right EU policy direction.

Far-right parties are anticipated to perform strongly

The rise of the far-right in the EU would be extremely transformative. The EU’s stance on topics such as the environment, economics and migration will be put under pressure by an increasingly loud and divergent far-right voice.

This recent emergence stems from a range of factors: people’s desire for greater financial stability, fears of the cost of living, anti-immigrant sentiment, denouncing of EU integration policies and the rise of automation leading to fears of job losses.

Overall, across the EU there has been a steady rise in far-right support since the last parliament vote in 2019. The far-right party for Freedom (PVV) in the Netherlands under Geert Wilders won most seats in the November 2023 election. Dutch European Parliament polls which were held on the 6 June have already revealed significant gains in this election for the PVV, exit polls indicate. France’s far-right National Rally, which garnered most votes in the 2019 European polls, are anticipated to perform strongly again. Historically, the EU elections have seen citizens to vote for more extreme parties who stand a greater chance at gaining influence within the EU rather than domestic governments.

Far-right groups are likely to attempt to roll back some of the agenda set since 2019. The European Green Deal, a flagship policy driven by incumbent European Commission President Elizabeth Von Der Leyen is likely to become under pressure. Far-right and centre-right parties have increasingly promulgated the importance of protecting industry and jobs over burnishing green credentials. However, far-right parties are fragmented in their approach to many issues, meaning they often do not vote as a bloc. This will hinder their ability to wield political influence. If there is a shift to the right, the EPP may seek few allies further to the right, especially if centrist or centre-left parties underperform.

An increase in right-wing nationalist thinking within the EU could also slow the EUs military support packages for Ukraine amid the ongoing invasion by Russia as right-wing groups like the German AfD Party and the Austrian Freedom Party are critical of sending further aid and have demonstrated extremely dovish approaches towards the Kremlin.

Key takeaways for businesses

Corporations, businesses and organisations within the EU will see regulatory changes should the EU face the so called ‘far-right surge’, which will have a significant impact on policymaking and the future EU regulatory framework. With far-right successes, the regularity environment is likely to be less green; while the EU will likely stick to promoting energy independence, some long-term commitments on net-zero targets will likely be delayed. The increased presence of Eurosceptic parties in the European Parliament will also likely drive greater fragmentation, and hinder approaches at further integrating projects like common European defence policies. Eurosceptic parties are likely to target other key pieces of legislation, such as the Common Agricultural Policy, which has driven a recent farmers’ protests and strikes during the previous six months.

Trade relations are also likely to be impacted by the composition of the next European Parliament. While trade policy falls under the remit of the European Commission, the parliament can substantially slow trade deals and can negotiate on trade policies. The make-up of the parliament will impact major EU trade agreements, such as the long-delayed EU deal with Mercosur countries in South America. The new parliament is likely to be more sceptical towards, and tougher on, China, counteracting what the EU perceives to be trade malpractice by Beijing. Within the EU the new parliament will have the ability to scrutinise further strengthening of the single market and impact the progress of a long-awaited Capital Markets Union.

The election will also have a prescient impact on negotiations for the next EU budget. Discussions will include whether to extend any post-Covid recovery payments, alongside defence and support for infrastructure projects, all topics which will be monitored closely within several sectors of European commerce. This will likely see disputes over defence payments and attempts by several parties to reduce budgetary amounts spent on agriculture. The European Parliament plays an indispensable role in scrutinising this budget.

Lucy Cleminson
Intelligence Researcher
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