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Europe’s far-right might win the election and yet lose the political battles

Europe is about to enter a new policy cycle, with elections to the European Parliament in June and a new Commission to be appointed this coming autumn. Polls suggest the far-right will grow from one-fifth to one-fourth of the seats in the European Parliament. It remains to be seen if they manage to form one big block or stay disunited. A strong and confident right will probably succeed in blocking new climate legislation that puts costs on households and industries. Still, we do not expect the new Parliament to push for a re-opening of the Climate Law or the numerous directives and regulations recently revised to fit the 55% emission target for 2030.

Next week, from 6 to 9 June, citizens across Europe will have the opportunity to elect their representatives to the European Parliament. Apart from lawmaking, the EP co-decides the EU budget, and approves the European Commission, the executive branch of the EU apparatus. The new Parliament will constitute itself in mid-July and start deliberating on policy files in September.

The member states in the Council are expected to re-designate Ursula von der Leyen as Commission President-elect in July/August, and, following its endorsement by the European Parliament, the new Commission will probably take office in October or November.

In this article, we try to assess the rise of the far-right across Europe and discuss how that might affect future energy and climate policy. We compare possible majority configurations in the European Parliament and look at the high-level policy timeline for the rest of 2024.

Far-right to grow but remain fragmented?

The outgoing European Parliament had its centre of gravity on the right-hand side of the political spectrum, and that tilt is set to increase in the next legislature. The centre-right EPP and the centre-left S&D will probably remain the largest factions. The Liberals, the Greens and the far-left are projected to diminish in favour of the far-right.

Table 1 shows the number of seats the political groups are expected to hold in the new European Parliament, based on a recent poll of polls. It also lists the main national contingents of the various groups. 

Table 1: Political groups - projected size and main contingents

*Majority needed if all members are present. In most cases, one third or more of the members is sufficient to form a quorum. The absolute majority is equal to half plus one of the present members.

The big question is whether the large right-wing contingents – Rassemblement National, Fratelli d’Italia, AfD, PiS, Fidesz, and others – will manage to unite as one big block. Currently, the hard/far-right MEPs are divided between the Identity and Democracy group, which is now centred around RN (France), and the European Conservatives and Reformists group (ECR), which includes Italy’s Fratelli, Poland’s PiS, and Spain’s Vox. In a third batch are the unattached parties, most notably AfD, which was recently kicked out from ID.

If right-wingers unite, they will easily form the second-biggest group, ahead of S&D. That might put them in a position to wield real influence. According to the latest projections, the three-party-group coalition that produced most of the winning majorities in the outgoing parliament – the EPP, the S&D, and Renew – will have around 400 seats in the new Parliament. While that might sound like more than enough to form an absolute majority – 361 votes are required in a full plenary session – the truth is that the political groups are loose alliances with little tradition for using the party whip to impose voting discipline.

Some MEPs typically diverge from the European-level party line to defend a national line or because they disagree individually. In short, any attempt to form a winning majority must factor in a certain margin of defectors. In this context, the EPP group might be tempted to reach out to ECR or other groups on the right.

The path to a majority goes through the centre

The figures below illustrate possible ways to seek to muster the 361 votes necessary to reach the majority threshold in the new Parliament. All figures are purely hypothetical and only intend to illustrate possible scenarios. The main input is a voting projection taken from Politico’s poll of polls from 24 May, see more details in Table 1. Note that our pie chart sectors for the various political groups do not represent their projected number of seats, but likely votes, which we set lower, to allow for 10% of abstentions or diverging votes.

Figure 1 shows a continuation of the existing EPP, S&D, and Renew grand alliance. In this scenario, the three groups are only one vote short of a majority. They will succeed if they manage to get more than 90 percent of their MEPs to follow the party line or obtain outside support, e.g., from the Greens or the far-left.

Figure 1: Grand Central Coalition

Figure 2 depicts a hypothetical alliance between EPP, the ECR, and ID, based on the projections for the national parties that are currently part of those groups. In this scenario unattached far-right parties such as Germany’s AfD are grouped as part of the opposition. Here, we see that the combined votes of EPP and the two organised hard/far right groups are far from reaching a majority.

Figure 2: EPP turns right

Figure 3 considers the possibility that the hard and far-right parties in ID and ECR will manage to unite in some way with the currently unattached AfD and Fidesz (Hungary). This scenario demonstrates how a united far-right is still far from reaching a majority.

Figure 3: Far-right united

* 10 percent of coalition MEPs abstain or vote against, all opposition MEPs vote against.

It should be noted that the figures in no way represent Veyt’s view on the likely outcome of the elections.

Why is the far-right so disunited?

Most right-wing parties across the continent want to limit immigration and defend what they see as traditional national values. This typically involves opposition to ‘woke’ identity policies, to feminism, or, more generally to anything perceived as progressive. In many countries, the right-wingers are seeking to cast themselves as rebels against a culture discourse dominated by the left.

Regarding energy and climate, many right-wingers are strongly opposed to policies that put additional costs on European consumers and industries. While they might appreciate renewable energy for cutting emissions and reducing the continent’s dependency on imported fossils, they are more worried about purchasing power and competitiveness.      

The far-right is split on what role the EU should play. Some, like Italy’s Lega, talked a lot about leaving the EU in the aftermath of the financial crisis. Some clearly would like to transform the EU into a mere international organisation based on consensus rather than majority decisions. Others, like France’s RN and Italy’s Fratelli have recently been keener to stress their European credentials.

Arguably the most difficult point right now is where the different parties position themselves on the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Many far-right politicians have traditionally hailed Vladimir Putin as a strongman who defies the ‘political correctness’ and ‘progress’ they see as all too dominant in Western Europe. Some, like Le Pen and Meloni have come around to support Ukraine, while others such as AfD and Fidesz are still loath to criticise Russia.  

Possibly more important than differences in substance is the one in form. Some engage in openly racist or anti-Jewish discourse. Others, and again Meloni and Le Pen come to mind, are clearly trying to clean up their image.  

How will the vote affect European climate policy?

We can safely assume that the new Parliament will have little appetite for passing more climate legislation. The EPP group has long said it wants a pause from new climate measures, and its election manifesto agreed in Bucharest in March, highlights more support for manufacturing industries to decarbonize and keep their factories in Europe. The liberals in Renew share that view.

Does that mean the Green Deal could be scrapped? Probably not. The numerous fit for 55% revisions proposed by the European Commission in 2021 are largely concluded, except for some remaining delegated/ implementing acts, most notably on aviation and maritime ETS.  

The next big thing coming up is the 2040 emission target which is meant to set a pathway to reaching net-zero emissions in 2050. In February 2024, the European Commission addressed a ‘communication’ to the European Parliament and the Council, suggesting a 2040 target of 90%, in line with the recommendations of a scientific advisory board from June 2023.

The Commission proposal received a tepid response. The Greens reject the plan’s heavy reliance on carbon capture/storage and carbon removals. The EPP said it will ‘consider’ the proposal.

S&D on the other hand, adopted an election manifesto in Rome in early March calling for the EU to set “a strong EU climate for 2040”. S&D was very sceptical of an ETS 2 for road transport and buildings during the recent policy revision (see below), but the current signals suggest an attempt to rally pro-climate voters.

It will be up to the new Parliament to agree on a position on the 2040 target. MEPs might be reluctant, but the Commission is expecting a political endorsement of its communication, ideally by the end of this year, so that it can start preparing a concrete legislative proposal to adopt the 2040 target.


ETS 2 will likely stay on course

The prospect of a right-leaning Parliament makes it relevant to ask whether we should expect a push to cancel or water down the ETS 2 that is set to start in 2027 for emissions from road transport and buildings, sectors that have so far been under the remit of the member states’ various national climate programmes. The creation of this new ETS 2 was a central part of the “fit for 55” revision of the EU ETS that was concluded by EU lawmakers in December 2022 and entered into force in May 2023. 

ETS 2 will lead to higher energy costs for consumers, but to sweeten the pill, the money raised from the auctioning of ETS 2 allowances will enter the Social Climate Fund (SCF) and be funnelled back to European households via their national governments. The fund is estimated to raise around EUR 65 billion to finance better insulation, energy efficiency, the uptake of low-emission vehicles, and other measures that will benefit households.

The idea of a new ETS 2 was accepted by the member states and (narrowly) by the outgoing European Parliament. Already then, many policymakers were deeply worried about energy poverty and a possible electoral backlash to an ambitious climate policy. Today, most have less appetite for ambitious climate policies.

And yet, the FF55 revision of the ETS directive is a done deal. Given the huge political capital that has been invested and the lengthy and complicated processes that would be required to reopen it, we do not expect the next Parliament to question the directive as such.

That said, if the debate around social inequality in Europe continues to gain momentum it might be difficult to put the concerns about increased energy costs fully to rest.

On the level of member states, resistance could play out as a push to abolish or reduce existing carbon taxes or block new ones. The intensity of these discussions will depend on local context, most notably the level of carbon taxes (see above), the existence or not of overlapping policies targeting road transport and building emissions, and to what extent the governments will be able to compensate consumers with funding from the Social Climate Fund, state aid, or other sources.

On the EU level, one could theoretically see a push to adjust some of the key ETS 2 parameters (e.g. the fuel price thresholds). Still, even minor changes would require opening the ETS Directive, a little more than a year after it was last amended.


How many votes will von der Leyen need to be approved by the European Parliament?

The next European Commission, presumably led by Ursula von der Leyen, will need an absolute majority to be approved by the European Parliament. Assuming all MEPs are present, that means 361 votes in favour.

Theoretically, based on recent polls, EPP could hold 174 votes, S&D 144 and Renew 82, a total of 400. However, not all will support VDL. We saw that in 2019 when she was approved with 383 votes, just 9 above the then-needed threshold (before the seat number adjustments triggered by the UK leaving the EU).

Within her own political family – the EPP – there was widespread anger that the Council launched her candidacy against the Parliament’s own ‘spitzenkandidat” Manfred Weber (who hails from Germanys CDU, just like von der Leyen. Many French members of the EPP group decided not to support her, as did many German members of the S&D.

During the EPP congress in Bucharest in March 2024, some 400 of 489 validly cast delegate votes endorsed von der Leyen’s candidacy.   

To comfortably secure her re-election, von der Leyen will probably need additional votes beyond what she can obtain from EPP, S&D, and Renew. She could approach the Greens, by offering more climate action. Or she could look to the right by promising less climate policies. She cannot do both at the same time. 


What are the next steps?

6-9 June: Elections. The exact timing and voting modalities vary across the 27 member states.  We can expect provisional results to be communicated late evening 9 June on this website:

10-27 June and 1 to 15 July: Discussions among MEPs to form/confirm political groups.

1 July: Belgium hands over the presidency of the Council to Hungary.

16-19 July: Constitutive plenary session of the new European Parliament. MEPs will join the various committees. Election of President, vice-presidents, and committee chairs.

End July/early August (tentative): Designation of a Commission President-elect. European leaders are expected to re-nominate the incumbent office holder Ursula von der Leyen.

16-19 September: First normal plenary session of the new Parliament.

Autumn: Von der Leyen to compose a new Commission (one commissioner per member state). The Commission-elect will be presented to the European Parliament for endorsement, probably in October or November.

Textbox 1: The European Parliament - key facts
720 members from 27 countries (the outgoing parliament had 705 seats after the Brexit departure of UK MEPs). MEPs are elected for a five-year period.
Most MEPs represent a political party from their home country, some are independent. Most also adhere to one of the pan-European political groups. Those who do not, are considered as non-attached (‘non-inscrits’).
Co-legislator for all files treated under ‘co-decision’ (also known as ‘ordinary’) legislative procedure.
Co-decides the EU budget within the financial frames set by the member states’ contributions (the EP has no authority to impose direct taxes).
EP approval is needed before a new Commission can take office.
Has no formal say on foreign and security policy which is a prerogative of the member states in the Council (the Parliament can voice its opinion).
In the 2019-2024 legislature the winning majority was most often formed around the centre-right (EPP), the centre-left (S&D), and the Liberals (Renew) (sometimes also the Greens). As a result, the far-right (and the far-left) have wielded little influence.
Current polls suggest the far-right parties will increase their share of seats. That said, two of the biggest national contingents, France’s Rassemblement National and Germany’s Alternative für Deutschland are not on friendly terms, and it remains to be seen who will muster under ID or some new far-right banner(s) after the elections.