The centre holds in the European Parliament (EP), with the European Peoples’ Party (EPP) and Socialists and Democrats (S&D) maintaining the strongest positions. But gains from the right undermine governments in major capitals, such as Berlin and Paris. What could the greater influence of the far-right parties mean for EU institutional dynamics and EU policy areas?

Europe’s right starts the week celebrating, while the liberal and left-leaning politicians and voters are waking up with headaches. The Greens and the liberal Renew (RE) lost a combined total of around 40 seats, while the far-right Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) and Identity and Democracy (ID) together gained 13 seats. The centre-right EPP added a respectable ten seats, while the S&D lost a few.

Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and her EPP emerge as the strongest single group and can claim to have tempered the surge of parties farther to the right. Now she may try to strike a deal with old coalition partners S&D and RE, which would yield a paper-thin majority for her re-election as Commission President.

The alternative is to explore options with the ECR, comprised mainly of Italian Prime Minister Georgia Meloni’s Brothers of Italy, who has been making inroads with von der Leyen recently, and a weakened Law and Justice (PiS) in Poland, which supported her last presidency but may not be so willing this time around.

We have four takes from our Europe experts on what the election results mean for the political character of the European Parliament, dynamics between EU institutions and implications in certain policy areas.

The Good, the Bad and the Uncertain

By Malte Zabel

The election result is not surprising, but it is remarkable. There are arguments in favour of the ‘glass half full’ and ‘glass half empty’ perspectives (more of the latter, I’m afraid…). And there are also several uncertainties, the outcome of which we cannot yet fully predict.

The good: Apparently, voter turnout has increased, and the democratic centre still has a stable parliamentary majority. The predicted shift to the right happened, but it could have been even heavier. For example, the Dutch Party for Freedom (PVV), achieved a strong result but, contrary to some polls, did not win the election in the Netherlands.

Furthermore, for the first time in what felt like an eternity, the PiS was not Poland’s strongest force. Victor Orbán’s Fidesz has remained below 50 percent for the first time in more than a decade and is facing a new, serious challenger. Finding majorities might become more volatile, but the European Parliament is not caught in a stalemate.

The bad: Nonetheless, the shift to the right remains significant, with the results in France and Italy standing out. Right-wing parties won in five member states – France, Italy, Austria, Belgium and Hungary – and made big gains in others. In the eastern German states, the Alternative for Germany (AfD) clearly became the strongest party, way ahead of the Christian Democrats, which won the elections in the other parts of Germany.

In total, the ECR and ID parliamentary groups gained 13 seats, while also some of the almost 100 non-attached MEPs come from right-wing parties. As well as increased parliamentary influence, the success of right-wing populist parties makes an impact at national level and therefore on the European Council (EUCO).

France faces political uncertainty following Macron’s snap election announcement after the historic win of the National Rally (RN). The German result does not give the Chancellor any support. A Franco-German leadership role in the EUCO, which has hardly materialised recently anyway, is no more likely after these elections.

Another fly in the ointment is that the campaigns were again predominantly national – mostly a deliberate political strategy. This does not do justice to the importance of the European elections, especially as it is now virtually impossible to separate national and European issues.

The uncertainties: Three questions stand out:

  1. Will the majorities change? The old von der Leyen coalition of EPP, S&D and Renew has 400 votes. Even with an incorporated dissent rate, this could be just enough for an absolute majority needed to elect the Commission President – but very closely so. But the key question is whether the EPP will seek to close ranks with the Greens to back up its majority or to individual ECR parties such as the Czech Civil Democratic Party (ODS) and – more controversially – the Brothers of Italy. The latter option will probably depend on the very topic, such as migration and maybe some economic policy issues which rank very high on the EPP’s list of priorities. However, a structural cooperation with those parties would certainly affect the willingness of the S&D and Renew to cooperate with the EPP. Talks this week, which will primarily focus on the election of the top personnel, will likely be an early indicator.
  2. What happens next in France? The situation in France is worrisome and Macron’s decision is very risky. If he loses the election and cannot disenchant Marine LePen in the 2027 French presidential election, his decision will be a double boomerang with significant consequences for Europe’s political capacity to act and also for France’s support to Ukraine, as he needs the General Assembly for releasing money.
  3. What will happen to right-wing groups? A formal merger of the two existing political groups is still unlikely. The sometimes-diametrically opposed positions on Russia and the war in Ukraine stand in the way. But movement within the camps is likely, if only because many right-wing MEPs are still non-attached, including Hungary’s Fidesz and Germany’s AfD. Against this backdrop, it is theoretically possible to form a third right-wing parliamentary group, albeit with high formal hurdles, including recruiting at least 23 MEPs from at least seven different EU member states.

Will the Economic Security Toolbox Go Back on the Shelf?

By Cora Jungbluth

The EU has just started to position itself as a geopolitical player in the past five years. Only recently, economic security has climbed to the top of its agenda – which is something of a novelty for the bloc that has traditionally focused on trade. It has thoroughly overhauled its trade defence toolbox and introduced the notion of systemic rivalry vis-à-vis China and others.

To continue this course and really put this economic security focus into practice requires the EU and member states to pull together and act in unity more than ever before. No single member state has the political and economic weight to achieve equal geopolitical footing with the US and China. The EU together at least stands a chance.

The results of the election, however, might weaken the willingness to achieve concerted and coordinated action at EU level. Therefore, this could, in turn, jeopardise the efficient use and further enhancement of the EU’s economic security toolbox in the coming legislature.

Right-wing and populist parties have scored high in many member states. They tend to oppose yielding political power and decision-making to the EU in general – and to favour a more lenient approach towards Russia and China. This shift in focus might affect the behaviour of member states in EU institutions, especially those member states where the right-leaning parties polled strongly.

The incoming Parliament and Commission should – and probably will – continue on the geopolitical course that von der Leyen has set for the EU, but they might be faced with much stronger hurdles and headwinds.

More Inward-Looking, Less Able to Trade?

By Etienne Höra

A coherent, effective trade agenda to reduce dependencies and diversify relationships is a key component of economic security – and pursuing such an agenda will likely become even more difficult following the elections.

The growing fragmentation of the European Parliament and the rise of right-wing populist forces, most of which promote economic nationalism, add to the EU’s latest challenges in negotiating and concluding trade agreements. This has become evident, not least, in the failure of the planned agreement with Australia, a likeminded partner in most respects – and this does not bode well for other ongoing negotiations.

An increasingly inward-looking EU may face even more difficulties in addressing its partners’ concerns and building constructive relationships, including sensitive areas, such as critical raw materials.

Another key development to watch is the future of agriculture in EU trade policy. Trade partners, especially in the Global South, have long criticised the EU’s high levels of protection and strict standards for imports tied to policies such as the Green Deal and the Farm to Fork strategy, which are perceived as hidden protectionist measures.

The coming EU Parliament will be less green, more protectionist and likely more sensitive to the farmers’ lobbying. This aspect of EU trade policy, which is closely linked to trade support for Ukraine in the form of tariff suspensions, may therefore see substantial reshaping.

Far-right Shift Complicates Challenges for EU’s Timid Industrial Policy

By Lucas Resende Carvalho

The EU is faced with multiple perils. To tackle these, ambitious strategic goals that will require massive, targeted investments have been set out. However, success is made all the more daunting by the EU’s sluggish economic growth and increasing global protectionism that exposes the vulnerabilities of its export-dependent economy.

To achieve these targets, the EU needs a coherent industrial policy framework that mediates the gap between private sector interests and the broader public good, addressing the strategic objectives that cannot be left to the market alone.

To complicate matters further, there is a disconnect between the EU’s ambitious industrial goals and its implementation. This is mainly due to the lack of public funding at the EU level. The absence of a comprehensive common budget along with a fragmented European industrial policy not only prevents the EU from achieving its strategic goals, but it creates division within the single market.

The sweeping success of austerity-focused, far-right parties threatens to further restrict direly needed green and growth-enhancing investments. Additionally, more austerity risks aggravating the vicious cycle of political and economic decline, fuelling the populist sentiments driven by poor economic performance across member states and regions.

Now, more than ever, Europe needs substantial green investment to manage its transition, overcome secular economic stagnation and regain its competitive edge on the global stage. While the election results have left some breathing room for the pro-European parties, the possible parliamentary majorities have now become even slimmer, complicating the political compromises needed for growth-driven investment and a future-oriented industrial policy.

The EU Withstands Internal Pressures, But External Challenges Remain

By Jake Benford

Liberals and conservatives – in their different guises – had braced themselves for a right-wing surge in the European elections, reflecting the new strength of populist, hard-right and, in some instances, anti-democratic forces across the continent. With the results out, their key message – that the centre has held together – may be factually true.  Yet with right-wing parties winning or gaining significantly in numerous member states – including Germany – such self-assurance from the political centre has an uncertain ring.

The threat of internal instability overshadowed – at least during the campaign – the EU’s parallel challenge of dealing with new external pressures in a geopolitical and increasingly volatile international setting. The triple problem of establishing and pushing through a new economic security agenda, EU enlargement and engagement with wider Europe will require stable political conditions in Brussels. But new levels of EU flexibility and coherence in dealing with different types of partners, from likeminded allies to systemic foes, will be required too.

The line-up of the new Commission will be more significant than the make-up of the EP (which has limited powers on matters of foreign policy and defence), and events may move fast. Ursula von der Leyen looks likely to be confirmed as Commission President and the Socialists are set to propose António Costa as President of the Council. This leaves the Liberals to propose a new EU foreign policy chief, with Kaja Kallas in pole position. Diplomats are suggesting personnel decisions could be decided as early as next week.

An interesting test case for the EU when it comes to bringing allies further into the fold will be how Brussels looks at the UK, which is expected to be under new political management by early July. Re-establishing institutional relations and some foreign policy coordination – and perhaps even starting work on developing a bare bones Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA) in line with the new global security agenda – are things to watch. Of course it takes two to tango, so initial foreign policy moves coming out of Westminster will be observed carefully in Brussels.

Southern Neighbourhood Concerns Increase Vulnerability to Rising Far-Right

By Christian Hanelt

The past 12 months of the last European Union legislative period showed just how little potential was leveraged to develop EU relations with neighbours in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). Driven by fears of migrants crossing the Mediterranean, Ursula von der Leyen, in tandem with Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, promoted bilateral cooperation with Tunisia, Mauritania, Egypt and Lebanon, mainly to avert migration for financial aid.

The EU-27 was unable to contribute to ending the Hamas-Israel war or to solving other ongoing Middle East conflicts. On the bright side, new joint positive efforts between the EU and its MENA neighbours have commenced so they can work together in the fields of trade and green energy production.

The importance of the Southern Neighbourhood for the EU regarding nearshoring, trade, energy, food and political stability became obvious after the Russian invasion of Ukraine. What attention the EU will give to the MENA region after the European Parliament elections will largely depend on three factors: The spirit of cooperation between the centrist parties; who will become EU High-Representative for Foreign Affairs; and who will become EU-Commissioner for enlargement and neighbourhood.

If the newly strengthened right-wing parties and the Italian prime minister Giorgia Meloni claim more influence, EU policies towards the south will focus less on the green transition, but more on fossil energy production and trade; less on free movement, but more on preventing migration; and less attention to democracy and rule of law promotion, but more focus on national export interests.

climate impacts

However, if the centrist parties in the European Parliament maintain control of the Parliament and the Commission without bringing in the far-right, they can push three partnership-oriented initiatives forward:

  1. Following the example of the green partnership with Morocco and raising the potential for joint trans-Mediterranean green energy production, such as solar, wind and hydrogen, for local needs, as well as export to Europe. These win-win projects create valuable jobs and enable the Southern Neighbours to export their products CO₂-free to the EU, according to CBAM regulations.
  2. Modernise the ageing free trade and association agreements with Southern Neighbours. The outdated quota system for importing agricultural products from the south should be abolished, as Mediterranean-wide heat and water stress make it necessary for the agricultural sectors of the north and south to work in partnership to meet the growing EU demand for agricultural products.
  3. These necessary social and economic initiatives can better succeed if the EU can bundle and strengthen its foreign and security policy instruments to contain and resolve wars and conflicts in the Southern Neighbourhood region, including Libya, Gaza and Syria.

About the authors

Lucas Resende Carvalho is a Project Manager at the Bertelsmann Stiftung in the Europe’s Future Program.

Nathan Crist is Project Manager in the Europe’s Future Programme at the Bertelsmann Stiftung, working on the Europe’s Economy Project.

Etienne Höra is Project Manager in the ‘Europe’s Future’ programme at Bertelsmann Stiftung. His focus lies on the EU’s trade policy in this geoeconomic age, as well as the consequences of China’s increasing assertiveness for the EU.

Cora Jungbluth is Senior Expert in the Europe’s Future Programme at the Bertelsmann Stiftung. Her research focus is on China, foreign direct investment and international trade, especially the role of emerging economies.

Malte Zabel is Co-Director of the Bertelsmann Stiftung’s Europe’s Future Program, which pursues projects on the EU’s sovereignty, a coherent internal market and European public opinion.

Jake Benford is Senior Project Manager on Bertelsmann Stiftung’s Europe‘s Future programme.

Christian Hanelt is Senior Expert for the EU Neighbourhood and the Middle East, working in the Bertelsmann Stiftung’s Program “Europe’s Future.” His areas of expertise include the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership, the Israeli-Arab conflict, the EU’s relations with the Gulf region, economic developments in the Arab world, and the causes of flight and migration.

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