Tuesday, June 25, 2024

How Will the EU Elections Results Change Europe?

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The results of the June elections for the European Parliament, one of the legislative bodies of the European Union (EU), has shaken the continent’s politics. Amid rancorous debate over migration, the war in Ukraine, and the future of the union, far-right parties made significant gains, especially in France, where President Emmanuel Macron announced snap parliamentary elections beginning later this month. That move could deepen political turmoil in one of the EU’s most important members.

Why has Macron called for parliamentary elections?

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President Macron’s decision to dissolve the National Assembly, France’s lower house of parliament, was a reaction to the election success of the far-right National Rally (RN) party, which won more than double the votes of Macron’s centrist alliance. He is hoping to regain the political initiative by forcing the French electorate to decide now, rather than in two years when elections were originally scheduled, whether they actually want to be governed by the far right. 

What are the potential consequences?

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In the French system, a fresh parliament results in a new cabinet and prime minister, though the latter is less powerful than the president. (Presidential elections are held separately, and are scheduled for 2027, when Macron won’t be able to run again due to term limits.) The short campaign period until the first and second round of votes on June 30 and July 7 will be a challenge for Macron’s Renaissance Party, which was founded as an electoral vehicle for Macron himself and otherwise has weak party infrastructure. Some polling suggests that Renaissance could lose half its seats.

If the RN achieves a majority, it can form a new government, including choosing a new prime minister. This arrangement, in which the president and the government come from different parties, is known as “cohabitation,” and could make governing more complicated. In this scenario, the young and charismatic RN leader Jordan Bardella could become prime minister and former party leader Marine Le Pen could stand for president in 2027.

Governing could demystify the far right and ultimately erode its support—certainly, it is Macron’s hope that he could restrain the RN while he is still president. But it could also give the party unprecedented powers domestically, and a strong platform to compete for the presidency in 2027. A far-right ruler in power in Paris—which together with Berlin is the driving force of the European Union—will be a much greater challenge to the bloc than the far-right leader in Rome, Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni.

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Do the European Parliament elections results portend a broader rightward shift? 

The far-right parties consolidated and expanded their influence in the European Parliament, but their surge was less than the incumbent centrists initially feared. They gained a third of seats overall, though the centrist parties maintained a majority. The far right is disorganized and internally divided, which dilutes its power. Many of its representatives, including members of the Alternative for Germany (AfD) and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s Fidesz party, are so far non-affiliated with any of the parliament’s broader political groupings. 

But while the political center still holds in Europe, the most important question is whether the center-right European People’s Party (EPP), the largest single grouping, will eventually be willing to open up to the far right for political support or eventually as a coalition partner, something centrist parties have previously rejected. This dynamic is already visible in member states such as the Netherlands, and can result in a mainstreaming of the far-right agenda, especially on migration.

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How could the election outcome shake up the EU’s leadership?

The EU’s top jobs will be redistributed proportionate to the updated influence of the political parties and member states. Most importantly, the European Parliament will have to confirm a new president of the European Commission, the EU executive body, which is empowered to initiate laws. 

The first term of the current Commission president, Ursula von der Leyen, made her a respected counterpart in the United States and globally. She has led the agenda on the European Green Deal, a major suite of climate initiatives, as well as on China and security policy. 

Von der Leyen has faced criticism from both right- and left-wing parties over migration policy and other major issues. But the continued majority of the centrist bloc in parliament gives her a fair chance to be reelected to a second term and carry her agenda forward for another five years.

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