Elections for the European Parliament took place from 6 to 9 June. In this article we share some initial thoughts about the election results and what they could mean for the sustainability agenda of the European Union. 

The outcome of the European election was not an enormous surprise and very much in line with what had been predicted by polls for the 720 seats available in the new European Parliament. The centre-right European People’s Party (EPP) remained comfortably the strongest party with 189 seats, followed by the centre-left Socialists and Democrats (SD) with 136 seats. Renew, the third member party of the existing coalition along with EPP and SD, as well as the Greens, suffered significant losses with Renew holding on to 74 seats and the Greens retaining 51 seats. 

On the other hand, the EU-critical far-right parties, the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR and formerly home of the British Conservative Party) and Identity and Democracy (ID) established comfortable gains - 83 and 58 seats respectively. The biggest winners by share were, however, the currently non-attached parties which occupy 88 seats (consisting of 45 newly elected Members of the European Parliament, ‘MEPs’). 

It is worth noting upfront that in September 2023 the number of available seats in the European Parliament for the 2024 election was increased by 15 from 705 to 720.  This followed the adjustment of available seats for the 2019 election from 751 to 705 following the exit of the United Kingdom from the European Union in February 2020 (the '2020 adjusted European Parliament’).  Therefore, any comparison of seat counts between 2019 and 2024 is not straightforward. 

  • The results for the EPP are somewhat of a surprise. The EPP was set to remain the strongest party but predicted to lose seats. The fact that it was able to increase its share by 13 seats compared to the 2020 adjusted European Parliament is remarkable not least because Victor Orban’s Fidesz in Hungary used to belong to the EPP until March 2024 and does not contribute to the 2024 count. 
  • The losses of the Renew party did not come as such a big surprise but the final number of seats that the party ended up with is at the lower end of pre-election predictions. The biggest contributor (nearly half of the losses) was in France where Besoins Europe, the alliance to which Emmanuel Marcon’s LREM party also belongs, lost 10 seats compared to the 2020 adjusted European Parliament.
  • The losses of the Greens are significant with 20 seats fewer in 2024 than in the 2020 adjusted European Parliament. It is worth, however, noting that its share in the European Parliament from 2024 will still exceed its share in the 2014 European Parliament and be aligned with its share in the 2009 European Parliament, hence making the 2019 election results rather an outlier than a ‘greenlash’ as some commentators have put it.
  • The Germans seemingly punished their national government coalition of Socialists, Greens and Liberals. The biggest losers were the Greens contributing 9 seats to the overall loss of seats of the European Greens. Alternative für Deutschland (Alternative for Germany) became the second strongest party after the EPP and will belong to the group of Non-attached at the European level.
  • As expected, the French Rassemblement National (National Rally) tactically led this year by its upcoming young leader Jordan Bardella (and not Marine Le Pen), is the strongest national party in the future ID group. Similarly, Giorgia Meloni’s nationally governing Fratelli d’Italia (Brothers of Italy) is the strongest party in the future ECR group. 

This outcome of the election had some national repercussions and is also expected to have an impact on the direction of the European Union over the next five years. Firstly, in France it prompted Emmanuel Macron to dissolve the parliament and call for new parliamentary elections on 30 June and 7 July – just days after we can expect, if everything goes smoothly, first decisions at European level about the top positions in the European Parliament, the European Commission and the Council, hence securing the impact of the outgoing government under Macron in Europe over the next five years.  In Germany, the coalition government is under visible pressure too, with representation at the European level falling to only 31 out of a possible 96 seats. The German chancellor’s Socialist party has even fallen behind the heavily diminished Greens. 

As a result, Europe’s so-called “engine”, the power-house tandem of France and Germany, will face significant impediments in leading on the project of further European integration. With so much turmoil in Europe’s biggest economies, it might rather go unnoticed that in most other Member States centrist parties have showed a relatively strong performance, securing the strong majority of the leading coalition in the European Parliament. 

What does this mean for the agenda of the next European Commission? First, the EPP remains the largest party, and therefore, following tradition, will be likely to have the Commission President picked from its political lines. Ursula von der Leyen, as the EPP’s official candidate, will have the first try and, whilst back in 2019 she failed (by a significant margin) to secure all votes of all coalition MEPs (comprising EPP, SD and Renew), her track record over the past five years might well boost her in gaining most of the 399 votes of the same (only slightly diminished) coalition this time round - even without taking into account any votes from other parties. She is also rumoured to have the support of the Council. For the long term, pre-election concerns were that she would have to work more closely not only with opposition parties led by Brothers of Italy and National Rally in the European Parliament, but also within the Council with Giorgia Meloni and a new set of French ministers (assuming Macron will conclude his own term in 2027). 

If Ursula von der Leyen is re-elected, she would not be expected to change significantly her agenda. This would make it more likely that previous discussions in favour of: (i) simplification of regulatory (reporting) burdens to improve global competitiveness of the European Union; and (ii) continuation of support for the European Green Deal and the Digital Agenda are likely to be ongoing.  It is also likely to mean that recommendations set forth, for example, in Enrico Letta’s Report on the Single Market from April 2024, or the upcoming report by Mario Draghi on the future competitiveness of the European Union, will set the tone for the next five years.