Editor : SHAIREE MALHOTRA

Special ReportsPublished on May 29, 2024 PDF Download
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European Elections 2024: Policies, Partners, and Predicaments

Attribution:

Shairee Malhotra, Ed., “European Elections 2024: Policies, Partners, and Predicaments,” ORF Special Report No. 227, May 2024, Observer Research Foundation.

Editor’s Note

In a mammoth election year with almost half of the world’s population heading to the polls, the supranational European Union (EU) is also gearing for elections. While the Indian election holds the spot as the world’s largest in terms of sheer scale, the European elections—with voting taking place transnationally across 27 nations to elect 720 Members of European Parliament (MEPs)—have no global parallel. The European Parliament is the main direct link between the EU’s institutions and its citizens.

The Guardian refers to the upcoming European Parliament elections scheduled from 6-9 June as “the most important pan-European vote for decades.”[1] Indeed, the Old Continent confronts a fundamentally changed world since its last election in 2019. Not only is this the first EU election after the conclusion of Brexit, but in February 2022, Russia’s war on Ukraine brought the previously unthinkable spectre of war back to European soil, just as Europe was recovering from the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic. Thus, Europe, in 2024, stands at a crossroads.

Against a belligerent backdrop and the prospect of American disengagement from the region, issues of security and defence are dominating pre-election debates. Issues of climate change and decarbonisation, which dominated the 2019 election landscape, have been relatively relegated.

On matters of foreign policy, while Europe’s ties with nations such as India have strengthened, its two most consequential relationships are experiencing strain. Ties with China are at their lowest point, while its transatlantic alliance with the United States is falling under the shadows of trade tensions and the uncertainties of American domestic politics.

Mirroring national trends in EU member states, the European election is expected to take a sharp turn to the right, with far-right ideas getting further mainstreamed. This may impact decision-making and collaboration in a number of key European policy areas, including ongoing support for Ukraine, EU enlargement, and climate change and the green transition, with potentially negative consequences for a progressive EU policy agenda.

As the EU’s estimated 400 million eligible voters get ready to vote, the outcome and resulting power balance within the European Parliament will play a crucial role in determining the Union’s future trajectory. It would also indicate whether the world will witness greater European nationalism or deeper integration.

This report delves into the intricacies of the 2024 European elections and analyses the key policy issues at stake for the continent, as well as the elections’ impact on Europe’s ties with its key international partners—i.e., India, China, and the United States. Each chapter in this timely curated compilation provides a well-rounded expert perspective to discerning the myriad challenges and shifts underpinning current EU dynamics.

The report opens with Doru Peter Frantescu’s chapter that lays the ground to provide an understanding of the functioning and mechanism of this unique electoral system. Doru highlights the key political groups contesting the elections and their ideological positions, and offers insights on the distribution of seats and data-driven election forecasts.

In the second chapter, Tomi Huhtanen underlines the core policy issues, and the key concerns of EU citizens revolving around economic anxieties and security challenges. Emphasising the contrast between citizens’ current lack of trust in national governments and the comparatively higher level of trust in the EU, Tomi outlines an agenda for the future EU leadership.

The third chapter by Susi Dennison describes how the mainstreaming of extreme parties might impact the nitty-gritty of parliamentary deal-making. With centrist forces increasingly entering into compromises in order to get legislation in critical areas passed, Susi cautions against the EU’s progressive agenda coming under strain, with consequences for the future of the European project.

In the fourth chapter, Fanny Sauvignon, Luca Nipius, and Stefania Benaglia describe the challenges surrounding the European Green Deal, and the need to balance decarbonisation and green transition goals with industrial competitiveness. The authors urge closer strategic cooperation with the EU’s global partners to ensure that green policies such as the Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism (CBAM) create their intended impact rather than generating disputes.

In the subsequent chapter, Mathieu Droin tackles the critical issue of security and defence that has engulfed European debates in recent times. As Europeans become increasingly compelled to shoulder greater responsibility for their security, Mathieu highlights the elections’ impact on the continent’s security and defence.

Segueing from the fifth chapter, Tara Varma underscores the fundamental shifts in the transatlantic partnership, irrespective of the outcome of the November 2024 elections in the United States, which have resulted in a paradigm shift on the part of Europeans to take charge of their own security. Tara views the upcoming NATO summit in Washington DC, marking the 75th anniversary of the alliance’s formation, as an opportunity for increased NATO-EU cooperation in this direction.

Amaia Sanchez-Cacicedo then makes a case for the EU and India to bridge the gap between their differing normative origins, while allowing their strategic partnership to deepen by focusing on issues of common interest and the desire to carve ‘a middle path’ vis-à-vis China and the US. Amaia posits that the outcomes of both the Indian and European parliamentary elections this year are unlikely to shift the fundamental direction of the relationship, which is advancing at a positive, albeit slow pace.

In the eighth chapter, Alberto Turkstra takes on the subject of the EU’s ties with China, which are described as having reached a historic low and from which Europe aims to ‘de-risk’. Outlining the European political parties’ views of China based on their party manifestos, Alberto predicts that the post-election make-up of the European Parliament will maintain its hard line on China. He notes that competition and rivalry will likely define EU-China relations.

The report closes with Zsuzsa Anna Ferenczy’s chapter that analyses the wide range of threats confronting European democracy and polarising societies through disinformation, authoritarian interference, and hybrid warfare. Crucially, Zsuzsa provides key lessons for European society to better equip itself to defend its electoral processes, in the context of increasing convergence between Russian and Chinese disinformation efforts.

- Shairee Malhotra

Read the report here.


Shairee Malhotra is Associate Fellow, Europe, with ORF’s Strategic Studies Programme.

[1]The Guardian view on the 2024 European elections: a continent at the crossroads,The Guardian, March 5, 2024.

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