European Parliament Elections: Everything You Need to Know

The new seat allocations of each bloc will more than likely affect the options of possible coalition partners, with more opinions giving benefit to the Right.

The past weekend carried out one of the world’s largest elections, concluding the voting for the 10th European Parliament, although not the largest election any election coordinated virtually seamlessly between 27 countries, over four days involving millions of people is impressive. With the date following shortly after our own, and its geopolitical implications I thought it would be a great time to do a quick delve into the outcome of the 2024 parliamentary election, going over some of the results and the causes behind them, reviewing some of the possible coalitions needed and how this may impact EU policy in future. 

Parliament Groups, Seats & Voting Affiliation:

Let’s start off with what this new European Parliament (EP) will look like seat-wise. Unlike before, EP will now have 720 seats, 15 more than previously when it had 705, the seat increase is due to the region’s demographic changes (which is a little funny considering that Brexit caused a reduction in MEPs). Much like our parliament for a proposal to be adopted, there needs to be 50% plus 1 (now needing 361 votes instead of the old 353 votes).  A key difference is that, unlike most parliaments where parties vote according to their political lines, there are over 100 parties, so grouping is done based on ideological similarities between parties. Currently, the existing 7 blocs from the previous parliament are (from Left to Right);

The Left, the Greens, Socialists & Democrats (S&D), Renew Europe (centre Left), the European Peoples Party (EPP/centre Right), the European Conservatives & Reformists (ECR), the Identity & Democracy (ID) and lastly the Non-Inscrits  (NI) which is not a bloc but the name given to members of the European Parliament (MEPs) who are not currently aligned with any ideological bloc or have any voting affiliation.

Before continuing, remember that although the blocs are formed on ideological commonalities, as is the case in all government-like bodies, even supranational ones, voting in practice is characterized more by power and opportunistic considerations.

2024 Election Outcomes & Rationalizing the Growth in the Right:

There have long been predictions of an increase in the electoral wins of Europe’s Right win, predictions that were quickly realized as overall Left took a beating, with the biggest loser being the centre-left Renew, down 23 whole seats from the last election something that may drastically damage ambitions its bargaining power. The Greens aren’t far behind having lost 18 seats, S&D lost 5 seats but will be the second largest bloc and possible kingmakers with 134 seats. The Left has the least bleeding with 1 seat gone. With the loss of seats amongst the Left came large wins for those across the fence. Making the most gains is the centre Right EPP, remaining unchanged as the largest bloc, snagging 10 additional seats, putting them rather comfortably at 186 seats in the 2024 parliament. Next is the Conservative & Reformists going up by four seats, the furthest bloc I&D getting a boost by 9 seats and the NI although not being a bloc of its own has grown by 39 seats (which would have been the largest gain if it was a unified bloc because they would have 101 seats).

Crucial to note is that the seat changes between the Left-Right are not a direct reflection of large-scale Right victory throughout Europe but instead caused by the big jumps in Right-wing support in certain countries, namely Germany, France & Italy where the Right gained more of the vote- giving them more members in the EP. In France’s case, the share of the vote secured by the Far-Right Rassemblement National was so large, around 31% compared to 15% won by French President Emmanuel Macron’s Renaissance, that it caused Macron to dissolve the French parliament in order to hold a snap two-round snap election, citing the move as intending to give choice of France’s parliamentary future back to the French people.  The impact bigger EU members have on EP election outcome is a flaw in the EP’s ‘degressive proportionality’  principle which takes into account the population size of each EU member state to ensure accurate representation at the EU level seeing as larger states represent more people than their smaller-state counterparts. The Right in the rest of Europe does seem to have made, they’re marginal compared to these 3 countries, in some instances, Right parties dipped, like in Hungary, Denmark, Finland and Sweden.

What’s wrong with more Right?

The largest (and possibly only) benefit of the Rights’ electoral achievements is that it shows that both the European Parliament elections and its democracy work and are for the time being alive and well. The functional principle of allowing anyone to occupy elected office if they cross a voting threshold underpins any true democracy, even if they are historically undesirable elements. It shows an increase in European political awareness as argued by Kai Arzheimer that “increasing levels of Far Right mobilization against and within the EU can be viewed as evidence that European Integration has become so politicized that it can no longer proceed by stealth”. Concerns about EU integration aren’t the issues carried by the Right, others include anti-immigration as seen with Germany’s AFD, the increase of social-centred services like health care, education and any concerns that when placed into the perspective of voters are matters that the voters take seriously. Analysis and opinions that reduce the Right rise to the result of protest votes ignore the reality that Right groups, even in their advocacy for exclusionary politics represent the groupings who relate to these policies, many of which are disillusioned with the prospects of Leftist or Left-Centrist governments sufficiently dealing with the economic, cultural and social vulnerability/precariousness experienced by Europeans.

While it is true that the more progressive blocs within the EP will have to deal with a bigger Right bloc, it is a Right that is not as unified as they are painted out to be.

Voting Coalition and Bloc changes:

The new seat allocations of each bloc will more than likely affect the options of possible coalition partners, with more opinions giving benefit to the Right. Realistically, any feasible coalition with revolve around the centre-Right and Left, so Renew and EPP, the question then becomes what third and in some cases fourth partner will be needed to get past the majority threshold? For many the most obvious would be the Grand coalition, used to refer to the coalition of S&D, EPP, & Renew (400 seats). POLITCO give 3 other coalition alternatives (along with a nifty graphic that allows you to select blocs to see which combinations would have how many seats) the Grand coalition with the Greens (453 Seats), the Grand with ECR (526 seats) and a Centrist-Right coalition of Renew, EPP and ECR that would 23 seats short of a majority and would need the help of another in order to make it. There may be opportunities and possibilities for a ‘super Right’ coalition comprised only of the EPP, ECR & ID which would provide 317 seats and could, in theory, barter the remaining seats from other Right-wing MEPs like Recently Germany’s Alternative für Deutschland (AFD) that have 15 MEPS or FIDESZ who have 10 and are not currently in any bloc. The problem here is that a purely Right-wing coalition is not something to be expected seeing as the Right is by no means a unified or coherent group and is more ideologically prone to friction over many issues ranging from differences in Euroscepticism to security-related matters and even the affiliation and opinions of members. Less than a month ago AfD was booted from I&D, over allegations related to one of AfD’s top candidates taking Russian money and another being a Nazi apologist. One sterling example is the difference of opinion on Russian relations between Poland’s  Prawo i Sprawiedliwość (PiS) and Hungary’s Fidesz.

The already existing groups are not set in stone either, bloc make-ups and ideological allegiances can all changes-particularly among the Far- Right which has a history of changing group members within the EP. It is possible that we may likely see a re-organization of both the Right and Left to increase their cohesion and bulk up the power packed in their voting punch.

Implications of these elections on EU policy (local and foreign):

Being the place where European-wide policy and regulation are drafted, formulated, discussed and if they can make it past the majority, adopted the still a parliament, where policy and legislation are formulated, although no party has an outright majority now have increased influence over the formulation over European policy and what and overall outcomes of these potential policies and budget may look like.

One of the largest issues is security, i.e. continued support for Ukraine, and based on probable voting coalitions this is likely to stay the same, even among most of the Right (excluding a few). Keep in mind that elected MEP ideally reflect voter sentiments back home which show increasing ‘Ukraine fatigue’ in some EU states, this may mean MEPs placing support for Ukraine on the backburner as they attempt to respond to the shifting opinion of voters.

Other recurring security matters & initiatives like a more coherent form of European Defence policy, that is high on the EPP agenda will doubtlessly face strong opposition from members of the Far-Right, and possibly Far Left, opposition already visible Fidesz’s Victor Orban rejecting the EPP’s EU-wide conscription plan proposal emphasising Hungary’s autonomy in its defence matters and the need for more peace focused approached to ensuring security in the region.  

Euroscepticism will be another that we will likely see more prevalence. Eurosceptics have been making calls for less EU in Europe in the hopes of constricting EU influence on domestic issues, especially regarding economic, security and regulatory policy for member states. The reduction of the Grand coalition has made more wiggle room for either the ECR or the ID, along with other Eurosceptics in the EPP to create majorities around such policies.

Stricter EU immigration policy is another matter that may now see a majority in support. It is likely the Right will make plays to reform EU asylum framework that will allow member states more discretion along with allowing the limitation of sharing refugee allocation. The swelled Right will have more weight to put behind their push for more hardline stances on migration laws and regulations for the union, one of which will enhance efforts in the externalization of EU borders.

A final factor that must be mentioned is the potential outcome of the upcoming US presidential election 2024, which preliminary polls suggest will see Donald Trump emerge victorious. In this event, the EU will need to grapple with a US that will probably return to pre-Biden isolationism, as Trump who has been very vocal about his negative feelings towards NATO, the EU and trans-Atlantic interests, opting for a ‘protectionist’ stance where the US shifts its focus inwards.  A less globally involved US even on a minor scale means the EU will need to cover more ground in its foreign & security objectives, something demanding stronger cooperation between its member states. Cooperation that will not leave to the EU the luxury of parliamentary deadlocks. Emphasis on the role the US plays in the EU’s current defence strategies cannot be overlooked, as current EU security is underpinned by historical sustained reliance on the US & NATO as a defence guarantor. A fact made painfully visible as the majority of equipment and material allowing Ukraine to maintain its war against Russia is US-supplied. Outside of this, a Trump victory would further embolden rejections of strategic interdependence by Eurosceptics along with trans-Atlantic interests toward alternative foreign policy partners.

Neo Sithole
Neo Sithole
Neo Sithole is PhD candidate at the University of Szeged & a currently with the European Centre of Populism Studies. His areas of interest include African and European populism, Afro-European diplomacy and foreign, regional and global security, and global solidarity.