In uncertain times, marked by unprecedented challenges, the European elections will affect the lives of 512 million European citizens. For the first time since 1994, the average turnout across all 28 member states has been just over 50% (a rise from the 42% in 2014), demonstrating a rising interest in the EU and increasing awareness of the importance of the European elections.
Transnational issues like climate change, trade wars, migration or data protection have grown too big for individual member states to tackle. With national governments increasingly harmonising their policymaking at the European and international level, the democratic legitimacy and influence of the European Parliament has become more important than ever: not just for the ’EU bubble’—but also for regulators and decision-makers in member states, where the impact of EU decisions is keenly felt, and across the global business landscape, where the adoption of EU norms and standards is becoming all but inevitable.
To help you navigate these uncertain times, we have taken a closer look at the new power balance in the European Parliament and what it means for business.
European Parliament 2019 – 2024
Source: European Parliament
We have outlined the different European political groups’ positions on a number of key topics that have been fiercely debated over the last months and are highly likely to influence the agenda in the next legislative mandate.
Take a look below and on our EU4Change Microsite to see what the new Parliament thinks about key questions on health, digital policy, industrial policy, trade, climate and energy, based on pledges and ambitions outlined in the political groups’ manifestos. These positions give a good indication of possible coalitions, legislative priorities, and areas of disagreement.
While the final allocation of seats will need to be formally confirmed in the coming days, the overall picture is clear: Despite losing some seats, the centre-right European People’s Party (EPP) remains the largest political group in the new Parliament (currently 180 seats out of 751), closely followed by the Socialists (S&D – 146 seats). The biggest winners are the Eurosceptics, due to a rise of far-right parties in countries such as Italy and Germany (114 seats); and the Liberals (ALDE/Renaissance – 109 seats), which saw Emmanuel Macron’s République En Marche (Renaissance) join the group. The Greens also performed well, with 70 seats for this mandate. We may still see some movement in the coming days/weeks where national parties change their affiliation in the European groups and new groups may be formed.
The new balance of power means that the existing ‘grand coalition’ between the centre-right EPP and centre-left S&D – previously guaranteeing stable majorities – can no longer command a majority and building consensus has become more difficult. The newly emboldened, loose coalition of far-right parties can be expected to further polarise debate in Parliament, but beyond their Eurosceptic and extremist rhetoric these parties differ considerably on many issues, including trade and environment, and their ability to overcome these differences will ultimately determine their power. The impact of the growing number of anti-EU Members of the European Parliament (MEPs), including the UK Brexit Party, remains to be seen: some may prefer to shout from the sidelines rather than engage in detailed policy work. The pro-European parties, on the other hand, are still the dominant force in Parliament but any majority will now require finding compromises between three or four political groups rather than just two. These majorities are likely to look different depending on the legislative file: for instance, internal market issues may see a coalition on the right, whereas centrist groups like the Liberals and Greens, may become kingmakers for controversial issues such as tax justice, data protection and ambitious climate targets.
In contrast to the previous term, where the pro-European parties managed to marginalise Eurosceptic MEPs for key positions in the Parliament, we will see more non-centrist MEPs taking committee chairs, which may have an impact on the ability to compromise in committees. With regard to the top jobs across the EU institutions (Parliament President, Commission President, High Representative for Foreign Affairs, Council President, President European Central Bank), the three main political groups (the centre-right EPP, centre-left S&D and the Liberals) will have to divide those seats among them.
According to the EU Treaty, member states propose a candidate for Commission President, ‘taking into account the elections to the European Parliament’. As in the 2014 elections, European political parties have appointed lead candidates (the so-called Spitzenkandidaten) whereby the group winning most seats would take the presidency. Member states need to endorse the candidate and a majority in Parliament needs to approve any final nomination. As the largest political group in the Parliament, the EPP is putting forward their candidate, the German Manfred Weber, but it is by no means certain that he will get the required support in Parliament or that member states will follow the Parliament’s suggestion. Heads of State and Government will gather on Tuesday 28 May to discuss the election results and may propose other candidates.
The new Commission President will define the Commission’s agenda for the next five years. The priorities are expected to centre around being a protective Europe that is strong on security; a competitive Europe, supporting its industry with a focus on innovation and digitization; a fairEurope, in which tax evasion will not be tolerated; a sustainable Europe, in line the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals and reinforcing efforts on climate change and green growth; and an influential Europe on the international stage, with a focus on the UN and the reform of the WTO.
Our EU4Change microsite gives an overview of the different groups and Spitzenkandidaten’s positions.
Having had a seat in the European Parliament for 15 years, the Bavarian Christian Democrat has the support of the largest political group and is the favoured candidate of Angela Merkel. However, with no previous experience in an executive role, member states may doubt whether he is up for the job and may want to go with another candidate. The poor performance of the Christian Democrats in Germany may undermine his chances to win a parliamentary majority in support of his candidacy.
The current second-in-command in the Juncker Commission and former foreign minister of the Netherlands, is a well-established figure in Brussels with extensive government experience. Depending on the outcome of the elections and the possible coalition that can be formed with potential partners such as the liberals and/or the greens, Timmermans could well get a majority in Parliament to support his bid to become Commission President and the excellent performance of his political party PvdA in his home country may give him an additional boost.
The current Commissioner for Competition would be keen to return and is well-liked in Brussels. However, she does not stand a chance if the Spitzenkandidaten-process is respected; and if it is up to national leaders to propose new candidates, she risks missing some allies: Germany and France have soured on her after her recent decision to block the Siemens-Alstom merger, and her Danish home party is likely to lose its majority which could endanger her nomination.
Despite not being a Spitzenkandidat and an alleged lack of interest in the position, the Frenchman is often mentioned as a “compromise president”. As Brexit negotiator, he has toured the EU and built strong relationships with heads of government across the different political groups. However, Brexit might turn out to stand in the way, as he risks not being available in case of further delays. French president Macron is supportive of Barnier, but other member states may be less keen.
Current CEO of the World Bank and former Commissioner, she is considered a good compromise candidate, taking into account gender balance and giving a stronger voice to Central/Eastern European member states. Her nomination would go against the Spitzenkandidaten process, and her main challenge might be getting majority approval in Parliament.