Author : Shairee Malhotra

Expert Speak Raisina Debates
Published on Jun 17, 2024

Despite the war in Europe, economic challenges, global trade tensions, and farmer protests, the 2024 election saw the centre retain control in the European Parliament.

Key trends from the European Parliament Elections 2024

From 6-9 June, European citizens from the EU’s 27 member states voted to elect 720 Members of the European Parliament (MEPs). The European Parliament’s role involves approving, reviewing, and amending legislation, including approving the EU budget. The 2024 election came at a critical moment with over two years into the return of war in Europe, a myriad of economic woes plaguing the continent, global trade tensions, and farmer protests. This was also the first EU election to take place after Brexit, and the first since these began in 1979 that the United Kingdom (UK) was not part of. The elections resulted in a turnout of 51 percent, similar to the 50.7 percent recorded during the 2019 elections. 

The centre holds

Despite gains for the far-right, the centre still holds in the European Parliament. The centre-right European People’s Party (EPP) emerged as the outright winner, with 189 seats, more than the 176 it secured in the 2019 elections. The centre-left group of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats (S&D), even while reducing its seats from 144 to 135, will continue to be the second largest group in the European Parliament. 

Despite gains for the far-right, the centre still holds in the European Parliament. The centre-right European People’s Party (EPP) emerged as the outright winner with 189 seats, more than the 176 it secured in the 2019 elections. 

The far-right surges

Capitalising on voter concerns such as high costs of living, farmer protests, and a backlash against immigration, in France and Germany, the successful performance of the far-right served as de facto referendums on national politics. The Alternative for Germany (AfD) came second ahead of Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s Social Democrats despite facing several scandals. Marine Le Pen’s National Rally, which is part of the Identify & Democracy (ID) group and is in direct opposition to President Emmanuel Macron’s Renaissance party, won double the votes and secured 31 of France’s 81 seats. The debacle led to Macron calling a snap election in France. In Austria, the far-right Freedom Party fared on the top, and in Hungary, President Viktor Orban’s Fidesz, currently not part of any group, even while facing fierce competition from his new rival Peter Magyar and his Tisza party, gained 44.8 percent of the vote share. In Spain, the far-right Vox came in third behind the Popular Party, part of the EPP group, and Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez’s Socialists.

Mirroring national trends, the overall far-right, which includes the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) group, ID, and those not adhering to any specific group, gained 146 seats. This would render the far-right the second largest group in the European Parliament, just behind the EPP, if it were to come together and form a single group. However, internal divisions on key questions such as Russia and ongoing EU support for Ukraine make it unlikely to have a unified voice. For instance, Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni from the ECR group has emerged as a staunch supporter of Ukraine despite her far-right credentials, clashing with France’s Le Pen and her historic links to Moscow. Yet the far-right’s large numbers could prove disruptive to a progressive EU agenda and impact elements such as the future of the European Green Deal—the EU’s ambitious legislation to make Europe climate-neutral by 2050. 

Mirroring national trends, the overall far-right, which includes the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) group, ID, and those not adhering to any specific group, gained 146 seats.

The Greens suffer major losses 

With climate change being relegated in the EU’s priorities, the Greens/European Free Alliance were the major losers. Despite some gains in countries such as Denmark, the Greens vote share substantially declined from 71 to 53 seats. This will have implications on the EU’s green agenda already under strain by farmer protests and the centre-right’s adoption of more rightward positions. 

The liberals lose but still come in third 

In addition to the Greens, the liberal Renew Europe (Macron’s group) were the other losers, where seats were reduced from 102 to 79. Yet despite sustaining heavy losses in France, Germany, and Spain, the group made some gains. In Slovakia, the opposition Progressive Slovakia party won despite a recent assassination attempt on the country’s populist left-wing Prime Minister Robert Fico. Overall, at 79 seats, Renew Europe still makes up the third largest group in the European Parliament. 

In addition to the Greens, the liberal Renew Europe (Macron’s group) were the other losers, where seats were reduced from 102 to 79. 

What’s next? 

The first task for the new EU assembly and its MEPs would be to approve the next president of the European Commission, which is the EU’s executive body. The incumbent von der Leyen from the EPP remains the top choice and is likely to secure a second term in office. Despite earlier rumours of French support for former Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi at the helm of EU affairs, Macron’s crushing defeat in the European election and his focus on the forthcoming domestic snap election means he is unlikely to play his usual disruptive role, paving the way for von der Leyen’s second term. However, she still needs the support of at least 361 MEPs, which on the surface appears easy to gain given that the centre currently holds over 400 seats. However, some of these MEPs (at least 10 percent) are likely to defect from their groups, due to which von der Leyen may need the support of other groups to secure the numbers, including potentially the far-right. 


 Shairee Malhotra is Associate Fellow at the Observer Research Foundation.

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Author

Shairee Malhotra

Shairee Malhotra

Shairee Malhotra is Associate Fellow, Europe with ORF’s Strategic Studies Programme. Her areas of work include Indian foreign policy with a focus on EU-India relations, ...

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