28th Feb 2024

EU Parliament will see far-right surge at election, study says

  • Anti-EU populists are expected to top polls in nine member states: Austria, Belgium, France, Hungary, Italy, Poland, the Netherlands, Slovakia and the Czech Republic
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The European Parliament will swing sharply to the right after the June elections, with anti-EU populist parties gaining seats across the continent, according to a new report by the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR) think-tank.

"This could have significant implications for the EU Commission and Council's ability to take forward environmental and foreign policy commitments, including the next phase of the European Green Deal," said Dr Kevin Cunningham, co-author of the study.

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According to the ECFR's predictions, anti-European populists are expected to top the polls in nine member states: Austria, Belgium, France, Hungary, Italy, Poland, the Netherlands, Slovakia and the Czech Republic, while they are also likely to come second or third in a further nine EU countries.

Forecasts for 2024 show that the two biggest winners will be the Identity and Democracy (ID) group, with almost 100 MEPs (an increase of 40 seats), and the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR), with 85 MEPs (an increase of 14 seats).

Combined, the two populist-right groups would make up nearly a quarter of the chamber — surpassing the European People's Party (EPP) or the Socialists and Democrats (S&D) for the first time, and narrowing the gap with them, as ID would become the third-largest political force.

"We expect that populist voices, particularly on the radical right, are likely to be louder after the 2024 elections than at any point since the European parliament was first directly elected in 1979," reads the report.

Despite these projections, the EPP is expected to remain the largest group in the parliament with 173 MEPs (compared to 178 at present), and thus the one with the most agenda-setting power, including over the election of the next EU commission president.

The EPP and the S&D, the two largest groups in the parliament, are likely to see a new decline in support, in line with the results of the last two EU elections — and they won't be the only ones.

The centrist group Renew Europe (RE) and the Greens/European Free Alliance (G/EFA) will also lose representation, falling from 101 to 86 seats and 71 to 61 seats respectively.

On the contrary, The Left will gain ground from 38 to 44 seats, which could be strengthened if Italy's Five Star Movement (+13 seats) decides to join them, the ECFR predicts.

Moreover, the EU critics will grow alongside the populist-right coalition, from making up 30 percent to 37 percent of the chamber with the ECR, ID, The Left and the Non-Attached MEPs (NI).

Despite the uncertainty of these predictions, due to possible changes in current opinion polling and the groups that some political parties will join, the report notes that the "sharp right turn" is unlikely to be affected by these affiliations.

Migration and environment

The post-election changes will definitely benefit the rightwing, and the so-called 'super-grand coalition' (EPP, S&D and Renew) may no longer be guaranteed a winning majority when voting together, as they are projected to go from having 60 percent of the seats to 54 percent.

"The majority in the next EU parliament is likely to back a continuation of the type of financial, logistical and military aid that Western states have been approving for Kyiv since February 2022," reads the report, but also notes that an increased number of MEPs will be more sympathetic to Russia.

In addition to the changes in the coalition of the centrist parliamentary groups, the think-tank identifies another major shift with policy implications: that of the centre-left coalition (S&D, Renew, G/EFA, The Left).

The shift in the centrist grand coalition would mean that the EPP would have to form alliances with partners to its right on policy issues such as economic and monetary affairs, the internal market and consumer protection.

Under a second scenario, a narrow centre-left majority would be replaced by a new populist-right winning coalition (of EPP, ECR, ID and most non-attached MEPs), and the EU environmental, and migration and asylum policies, would see a major setback from the work of the previous mandate.

"Against a backdrop of stirring populism, which may reach a new peak with the return of Donald Trump as US president later this year, parties of the political mainstream need to wake up and take clear stock of voter demands," professor Simon Hix, co-author, and Stein Rokkan, chair of comparative politics at the European University Institute, said.

The results should also be read in a national context, the authors of the study argue, as they could particularly influence voters in countries such as Austria, which has national elections scheduled for autumn 2024, or Germany, which is expected to hold its next parliamentary elections in 2025.

"While progressive European leaders cannot, and should not, tell voters what to do, they can build a credible alternative to a sharp right turn in the political mandate given to the next set of EU institutions," the report concludes.


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