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European Elections Will Set the Stage for a More Necessary and Complex EU

Public Affairs
European Elections Will Set the Stage for a More Necessary and Complex EU

By Hana Bartakova, Account Director at Instinctif Partners  

European elections begin. The political landscape of Europe stands on the brink of significant change. This election is not just another routine political event; on the contrary it has the potential to modify the European Union’s future and redefine its role on the global stage.

A Shift to the Right?

Current projections suggest that the European People’s Party (EPP) is poised to emerge victorious, maintaining its dominance as the leading centre-right party. However, success in the polls is not a guarantee for overall victory. The EPP will need to navigate a complex political landscape to maintain decisive influence, in particular if it secures fewer seats than in 2019. Ursula von der Leyen’s future as President of the European Commission hinges on the EPP’s performance. To secure a second term, von der Leyen will likely need to forge alliances and her approach to this task, as well as her rapprochement with the far-right right-wing groups, is not to everyone’s taste. This manoeuvring highlights a broader trend: the rise of populist and right-wing parties. Voters across Europe, driven by dissatisfaction, pessimism, and also Russian propaganda, are increasingly turning to extreme options. This shift could lead to a more fragmented and polarized European Parliament.

National Issues with European Implications

Campaigns in the 27 member states are dominated by national issues and are usually focused on local political competition. Nevertheless, some topics emerge as common concerns across the board living standards, inflation, energy prices, health concerns, AI regulation, migration, and support for Ukraine. These topics resonate deeply with citizens, reflecting their immediate worries.   So, in the broader geopolitical context, the need for more security, competitiveness, common defence, the controversial and yet  pressing issue of climate change and approach to healthcare have the potential to unify these disparate national campaigns into a cohesive continental narrative. The majority of the electorate is more aware than ever of the need for coordinated action at the EU level.

The Far-Right Fracture

The de facto coalition between the EPP, the social democrats (S&D) and the liberals (Renew Europe) will be very probably maintained, but with less mandates, meaning less power. That is why Von der Leyen hesitates to close the door to the conservative-eurosceptic ECR. Not only she might need their support for re-confirmation at the helm of the European Commission; her behaviour also reflects the EPP tactics of preventing a conservative-far right alliance.

From this point of view we are witnessing a growing friction between French and German far-right parties, which should deliver the biggest number of MEPs to the group Identity and Democracy (ID).  Marine Le Pen’s National Rally and Germany’s Alternative for Germany (AfD) are struggling to present a united front due to diverging priorities and strategies. This division could reduce their collective influence within the future European Parliament, potentially weakening the far-right bloc. Businesses should monitor these dynamics closely, as they could shape the legislative environment in unexpected ways.

The Business Perspective

For businesses operating in Europe, the outcome of these elections will have profound implications. The significant turnover expected in the European Parliament—nearly half of the MEPs will be new—means that businesses must act swiftly to build relationships with the incoming representatives. Engaging early and effectively with new MEPs and nurturing connections with often-overlooked civil servants will be crucial.

Additionally, the European Commissioners’ hearings after the summer break  will offer a golden opportunity to shape the policy agenda for the next five years. A well-prepared and executed campaign can ensure that specific industries and issues receive the attention they deserve.

The 2024 European Elections are more than just a routine exercise in democracy; they are a pivotal moment for the EU. The decisions made by voters will not only determine the composition of the European Parliament but will also influence the nominations for top European jobs (Commission, European Council, European Parliament, European diplomacy) and thus the direction of European policies and the behaviour of the EU in addressing global challenges in the years to come. Businesses and policymakers alike must be prepared for a transition period of significant turbulence and ready to navigate the complexities of a changing political landscape.

The stakes are high – in the context of growing global competition and less respect for the rules of the game, the related loss of competitivity and the rather imminent military threat from Russia, the role of the EU is bound to grow. At the same time the internal debate inside the bloc and within individual countries will get more heated with the strengthening of the anti-European and “patriotic” forces. Dealing with the EU will therefore become more necessary – and more complex.

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