Next year, from June 6 to 9, 2024, EU citizens will cast their votes in the European elections. Voters determine the new distribution of seats (and power) in the European Parliament, thereby indirectly influencing the EU’s priorities until 2029. The political landscape in member states is constantly shifting, making the outcome of next year’s elections uncertain. In a blog series on the European elections, colleagues Sterre Schrijver and Danaï Kostoulas analyze recent developments in EU member states and talk about their possible influence on the upcoming European elections, the distribution of the 720 seats in the Parliament and ultimately on the formation of a new College of Commissioners.
Political landscape at the national level
1) Poland elections: return of pro-European Donald Tusk
Today’s European political landscape is marked by the increasing popularity of conservative, right-wing parties. This trend is expected to be reflected in the European Parliament after the June 2024 elections. In this regard, it is notable that Polish voters have taken a different course.
Poland, where the PiS (Law and Justice) has been in power since 2015, was long seen as a major player in conservative and Euroskeptic politics. Despite coming out of the ballot box as the most popular party, PiS failed to find enough support to form a new government. As a result, liberal, pro-European Donald Tusk – former president of the European Council (2014-2019) – was elected as Poland’s new prime minister.
Tusk’s upcoming premiership will have major consequences not only nationally, but also for European politics. As one of the largest member states, Poland offers a counterweight to the French-German power bloc that emerged after the exit of the United Kingdom, possibly resulting in a power shift from Western to Central Europe. In addition, a pro-European Poland would mean a strengthening of intra-European cooperation, with more unified voices in areas such as (military) support to Ukraine and the (international) propagation of so-called “European values. In doing so, Tusk’s appointment could lead to more Polish votes for the European People’s Party (EPP) (center-right), as opposed to PiS’ European Conservatives and Reformists (ECH) (conservative right).
At the same time, Tusk’s leadership could mean bad news for the alliance between Poland and Viktor Orbán’s Hungary. Poland and Hungary have in recent years regularly protected each other from the EU’s normative course. So the new upcoming Polish government will have the potential to shake up the existing European power relationship considerably.
2) Slovakia elections: return Euroskeptic Robert Fico
Where Orbán may be losing an ally to Poland, it seems to have gained one in neighboring Slovakia. Indeed, after the Sept. 30 parliamentary elections, former Prime Minister Robert Fico’s social-conservative, populist SMER party emerged as the largest. Fico’s views on military aid to Ukraine and Russian sanctions, in particular, are diametrically opposed to those of most other European member states.
The consequences for European politics following the result were soon apparent. For example, SMER was expelled from the European Social Democracy Group (S&D) for entering into a coalition with, among others, a far-right party. In the process, Fico’s positions on support for Ukraine, the LGBTQ+ community, migration, the rule of law and his pro-Russian stance were widely criticized from within the group.
3) Political developments in Spain and Portugal
On the Iberian peninsula, socialist parties appear to be under pressure. In June, at the beginning of their EU presidency, Spain held elections following a defeat of ruling parties in regional elections. The right-wing flanks then became the largest; this was repeated in the last national elections. Alberto Núñez Feijóo’s center-right party Partido Popular emerged the largest at the ballot box, but failed to form a coalition. Then on Nov. 17, after four months of coalition negotiations, socialist Pedro Sanchez was sworn in again as prime minister. Sanchez’s social democratic PSOE party will form a minority cabinet with the far-left Sumar.
Portugal is also facing early elections next March. Portuguese Prime Minister António Costa, leader of the Socialist Party (PS), resigned in early November following a corruption scandal. That while Costa, as one of Europe’s longest-serving prime ministers, was a favorite candidate to succeed Charles Michel as president of the European Council in 2024. The elections in and spring immediately set the stage for the European elections three months after.
According to the latest POLITICO polls of Dec. 18, the European People’s Party (EPP) is expected to lose about 20 seats. Nevertheless, the line of expectation is that the EPP will still be the largest party after June 9. Compared to the June polls, the S&D (social democrats) has had to lose a little, due to the cessation of the Slovak SMER’s participation (see “Slovak elections”). Furthermore, a substantial increase in seats is still expected for the ECH (European Conservatives and Reformists), mainly at the expense of The Greens and thus the EPP.
As the 2024 European Parliament elections approach, it is becoming increasingly clear how the political landscape within the European Union will shift, including with an eye toward an increasing movement to the right. The recent victory of the PVV (Freedom Party) in the Netherlands fits well into this development. Here it will be particularly interesting how a new potentially right-wing and less pro-European coalition will affect relations within the EU and the Dutch view of the EU.
Elections also provide opportunities to put new issues on legislators’ agendas. Leading up to the election, Public Matters will highlight several election-related topics.
"In 2024, from June 6 to 9, citizens of the European Union will go to the polls for the European Parliament elections."
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