Text resize: A A
Change contrast

How the expected Eurosceptic surge in June’s European elections may strengthen the European Parliament

It is widely expected that right-wing parties sceptical of Brussels will make gains in the upcoming European elections. Despite this, such parties’ newfound power may ironically bolster the institutions of which they have been so critical.

June 7, 2024 - Francis Shin - Articles and Commentary

A banner in Brussel's European quarter informing of the European Parliamentary elections in April 2024. Photo: Alexandros Michailidis / Shutterstock

As campaigns for the European parliamentary elections enter their final stretch, numerous polls have indicated that Eurosceptic populists (composed of the right-wing European Conservatives and Reformists/ECR, and the far-right Identity and Democracy/ID) will have their strongest showing in the institution’s history in June’s elections. Pro-European figures should take heart though, as despite the expected success among Eurosceptics, the projected populist gains could ironically push the European Parliament towards acting as a stronger legislative check on the executive powers of the European Commission and European Council.

In fact, a trend towards an empowered parliament has already emerged with its unprecedented lawsuit against the European Commission for its unfreezing of EU funds to Hungary, and could be further accelerated by the expected populist surge in the European Parliament this year. Under these circumstances and/or the introduction of new reforms, this shift of power towards the European Parliament would ironically begin to address the “democratic deficit” complaints that are lobbied against the European Union by the very Eurosceptic parties that are expected to increase their seat counts by large margins this year.

Between the late 1980s and the late 2010s, the European Parliament was dominated by a de facto grand coalition of the European People’s Party (EPP) and Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats (S&D). While legislation would regularly pass through the body, the consensus-based nature of the coalition meant that most Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) would in practice pass legislation that enacted lowest common denominator policies between the centre-right and centre-left. This arguably reduced the European Parliament’s legislative activities.

Nevertheless, these dynamics changed after the 2019 European elections, when the EPP and S&D had to approach other parties to confirm a new president of the European Commission and agree upon a legislative agenda. This resulted in a more politically active European Parliament that later played a key role in supporting the European Green Deal, as well as developing responses to the COVID-19 pandemic and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Now, with the European Parliament’s lawsuit against the European Commission, the legislature is testing the existing system of checks and balances by arguing that the European Commission is selectively implementing the rule of law and protections for fundamental rights across Europe. This would theoretically determine whether the European Parliament can hold the Commission to account for failing to uphold its existing duties.

Given these dynamics and the projected populist gains, two de facto majority outcomes are the most likely: one centred upon moderate political groups, or another developed around a national conservative orientation.

The first scenario would occur if the centrist-aligned European Parliament political groups (primarily the EPP, S&D, Renew, and/or the Greens–European Free Alliance) develop an informal “cordon sanitaire” to counter the rise of the radical right. While the EPP has tacked to the right in a (mostly ineffective) attempt to outmanoeuvre the right-wing populists in securing votes, this likely will not stop the S&D, Renew, and/or the Greens from considering a deal with the EPP. This would be done to develop a majority in the same informal manner that the EPP and S&D parties arguably did previously. The foundation of such a cordon is already emerging, as the S&D, Renew and the Greens have all already rejected forming a majority that would include the ECR. Some national EPP affiliates, including the German CDU, have openly expressed support for a moderate majority.

In this scenario, the majority may even continue to press the European Council to back far-reaching constitutional reforms, including empowering the European Parliament to gain the right of legislative initiative (currently the Commission possesses the sole authority to propose legislation). This could see ideas floated such as the streamlining of the European Commission’s size to 15 positions as a rebranded “European Executive”, among others. Given the expected populist surge and how the majority of the current European Parliament session has supported these changes, the moderate MEPs may aim to prioritize the EU treaty amendments to stave off possible future Eurosceptic attempts to shrink the power of the European Parliament.

The second case would likely involve the EPP forming a national conservative-inspired majority with the ECR and a moderate group. Italian Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani, a senior EPP figure, has ruled out any agreement between the EPP and ID, but was more open to a coalition between the EPP, Renew and the ECR. This outcome would only come to pass if any group among the S&D, Renew or Greens choose to forgo their earlier commitment not to collaborate at a deeper level with the ECR.

Yet, it is the very constitutional reforms the moderate parties support that could alienate the majority of the EPP from a cordon sanitaire coalition, as most EPP members voted against calling for constitutional reforms. Even in a national conservative scenario though, the European Parliament would more likely act as a check on the European executive bodies, albeit with existing instead of new powers in a manner like the ongoing lawsuit against the Commission.

Consequently, although there have been some concerns that the right-wing populist surge in the European elections may hamper the functioning of EU institutions, observers should be mindful that the increased political competition between the European Parliament’s political groups would still be more representative of existing political tensions throughout the EU. In testing the institutional cohesiveness of the European Union, the projected populist surge may push it towards becoming more democratically accountable as well.

That said, there is already growing interest inside and around the European Parliament on it exercising more of a check on the powers of the European Commission and European Council, which is especially demonstrated in the recent lawsuit. Whether it be by the constitutional reforms supported by most moderate parties in the European Parliament or the increased exercise of legislative checks on executive power under a national-conservative coalition, the incoming session of the European Parliament may prod the EU towards addressing its democratic deficit.

Francis Shin is a research analyst specializing in transatlantic institutions, anti-corruption and clean energy policy. He has previously worked at the Atlantic Council, Royal United Services Institute and Center for a New American Security.

Please support New Eastern Europe's crowdfunding campaign. Donate by clicking on the button below.

, , , ,


Terms of Use | Cookie policy | Copyryight 2024 Kolegium Europy Wschodniej im. Jana Nowaka-Jeziorańskiego 31-153 Kraków
Agencja digital: hauerpower studio krakow.
We use cookies to personalise content and ads, to provide social media features and to analyse our traffic. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. View more
Cookies settings
Privacy & Cookie policy
Privacy & Cookies policy
Cookie name Active
Poniższa Polityka Prywatności – klauzule informacyjne dotyczące przetwarzania danych osobowych w związku z korzystaniem z serwisu internetowego https://neweasterneurope.eu/ lub usług dostępnych za jego pośrednictwem Polityka Prywatności zawiera informacje wymagane przez przepisy Rozporządzenia Parlamentu Europejskiego i Rady 2016/679 w sprawie ochrony osób fizycznych w związku z przetwarzaniem danych osobowych i w sprawie swobodnego przepływu takich danych oraz uchylenia dyrektywy 95/46/WE (RODO). Całość do przeczytania pod tym linkiem
Save settings
Cookies settings