Shaping the Future: Insights Into the 2024 European Parliament Elections

With almost half the world’s population having the chance to vote 2024 is “the ultimate election year”. With the European Parliament (EP) elections on the horizon, millions of Europeans hold the power to shape the future of European democracy through their votes – this will be the second largest democratic exercise in the world.

While the initiation of new EU legislation falls within the authority of the European Commission, as full co-legislators both the Parliament and the Member States in the European Council play pivotal roles in shaping the legislation’s wording and collectively shaping European law – a process that affects business operations all over Europe.

The European Parliament is one of the three main European institutions that govern the bloc of 27 member states. Together with European governments, it sets the laws relating to common European policy and the European market for almost 450 million people.

EP will shape key policies identified by European leaders as a priority for the next five years among which:

  • Transitioning the EU to achieve zero net greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.
  • Formulating an industrial policy to maintain the EU’s competitiveness in comparison to global powers like China and the USA.
  • Establishing a European energy union to lower energy prices and enhance supply stability.
  • Implementing a Capital Markets Union to facilitate fundraising from private investors.
  • Strengthening the EU’s production capacity in the defense sector.

The upcoming European Parliament elections in June 2024 are set to have significant implications, not just at the EU level but also domestically across Member States. These elections, often viewed as 27 distinct national elections, play a key role in shaping the political landscape. While they may not directly alter the composition of national governments, they strongly influence the stances that heads of state or government adopt in subsequent months and years. For instance, if political parties campaign against certain EU policies or if voters express strong opinions on issues like immigration, EU enlargement, or the EU’s Green Deal, these sentiments will likely guide national governments’ approaches to EU policymaking post-elections.

Shift in the political mood across Europe

One key outcome expected in many Member States is the rise of anti-establishment populist parties, which underscores a significant shift in the political mood across Europe. This shift will undoubtedly impact the dynamics of both national and EU politics.

According to the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR), in nine EU member states including Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, France, Hungary, Italy, Netherlands, Poland, and Slovakia, anti-European populist parties are expected to lead the polls, while in Bulgaria, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Latvia, Portugal, Romania, Spain, and Sweden, they could rank second or third.

The left-right balance in the European Parliament will shift dramatically to the right. Projections indicate that almost half of the seats in the Parliament might be occupied by Members of EP (MEPs) from outside the central coalition of the three main centrist groups (Socialists & Democrats – S&D; European People’s Party – EPP; Renew Europe – RE (liberals, previously ALDE). Due to the average voting cohesion within groups in the EP, where it is not always certain that all MEPs will adhere to group voting directives, the small difference in numbers may not suffice for these three groups to consistently secure a majority when voting together.

The two main political groups in the Parliament – the European People’s Party (EPP) and the Socialists & Democrats (S&D) have dominated the Parliament for much of its life, until 2019 holding between 50 and 70% of the seats between them. No single Group has ever held a majority in Parliament. These two main political groups (EPP and S&D) and their relationship has been described as a the “grand coalition” are likely to continue losing seats (the number of their mandates fell in the last two European elections).

The trajectory of the upcoming policies and legislation

The shifts in political groups and coalitions in the Parliament will influence the EU’s policy agenda and the trajectory of upcoming EU legislation. Typically, coalitions on policy matters within the EP do not arise from formal agreements; rather, political groups determine their voting positions on an issue-by-issue basis. This will be evident in foreign policy and environmental actions, where the new majority may resist robust EU initiatives aimed at addressing climate change.

On the one hand we can expect a diminished central coalition, likely to lose influence on key policies such as economic affairs and market protection, potentially shifting rightward as the EPP collaborates more with parties to its right than with the S&D. Additionally, increased Euroscepticism within the European Conservatives and Reformists Party – ECR (soft Eurosceptic and anti-federalist), Identity and Democracy Party – ID (alliance of nationalist, right-wing populist and Eurosceptic), and parts of the EPP may lead to new majorities advocating for greater economic and regulatory independence from EU directives, aligning with Member States like Hungary and Italy that favor less EU oversight.

On the other hand, the reduction in MEPs on the left compared to the right suggests that in areas previously won narrowly by the left, right-wing majorities are now more probable. This shift is expected to be particularly evident in civil liberties, justice and home affairs, and environmental policies, where slim center-left majorities could give way to a new populist right coalition consisting of the EPP, ECR, ID, and most non-attached MEPs.

The new right-wing majority concerning civil liberties and justice and home affairs could also impact the EU’s capacity to enforce rule of law standards.

European elections in Bulgaria

On June 9, Bulgaria will hold its sixth Parliamentary election since 2021, marking its first combined election alongside the European Parliament vote. The recent political instability has fueled the rise of anti-system sentiment in Bulgaria. This surge of populist forces coincides with a decline in the representation of center-left and green parties.

Under the Lisbon Treaty, seats are allocated to each state according to population and the maximum number of members is set at 751. Since 1 February 2020 and the United Kingdom’s leaving the EU, 705 MEPs sit in the European Parliament. Their number will rise to 720 after the 2024 elections.
Representation is currently limited to a maximum of 96 seats and a minimum of 6 seats per state and the seats are distributed according to “degressive proportionality”, i.e., the larger the state, the more citizens are represented per MEP.

Bulgaria will maintain its representation with 17 MEPs (2.41%) in the new European Parliament following the elections.

The Current distribution of seats in the European Parliament is as follows:

  • European People’s Party (EPP): 7
  • Socialist & Democrats (S&D): 4
  • Renew Europe (RE): 3
  • European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR): 2
  • Independents: 1

Use your voice

At this critical juncture for Europe, every shift in the political landscape carries profound implications for citizens and businesses alike. Bulgarians face a pivotal choice: to remain on the periphery or to forge closer ties with the powerhouse economies. In this pivotal moment, investing in public affairs becomes not just important, but imperative in order to present and “translate” business interests to policy makers.

The Eurobarometer survey published in April revealed a strong interest among EU citizens in the upcoming European elections – The majority (57%) of respondents expressed interest in the upcoming elections to the EP and 68% say they would be likely to vote – nine points higher than 5 years earlier before the 2019 vote.

The study found that some of this general growing interest in Europe is linked to the complex geopolitical and economic context. In the top 3 priorities of EU according to citizens are: fighting poverty, public health, actions against climate change and support to the economy and creation of new jobs. For the first time EU defense and security are also listed among it.

Bulgarians show moderate interest in EU elections, with 51% likely to vote, yet hold a largely positive outlook on the EU, as 48% express favorable sentiments. Over 60% of Bulgarian respondents recognize thаt Bulgaria has benefitted from the EU membership.

The study indicates that Bulgarian citizens place high importance on combating poverty and social exclusion, supporting economic growth and job creation, and public health. These align closely with the top three priorities of EU citizens as well. Notably, Bulgarians rank addressing climate change lower among their concerns compared to their EU counterparts.

With the upcoming elections, a new European Commission and European Parliament will emerge, significantly different from the current ones. The evolving political landscape will redefine coalitions, balances, and the inner circles of European integration.

In this transformed European Union, where will Bulgaria stand over the next five years?

It’s crucial for us to establish clear national priorities that we can effectively advocate for at the European level. We must not only articulate these priorities convincingly but also forge partnerships and unite with like-minded countries to successfully defend them. These are issues on which our country needs to be practical but also emancipated because in an increasingly complex geopolitical and economic context, relying solely on national measures is no longer feasible. Real reforms, in full adherence to democratic principles, are imperative before Member States can expect financial support.

For Bulgaria to navigate this intricate landscape, it’s paramount that our national policymakers in Sofia provide European institutions with clear directives and strategies. Our politicians must champion priority issues on the European agenda and bring it to fruition.

The economic well-being of Bulgaria hinges significantly on its proactive engagement within the Union.

Moreover, the EU must prioritize several key areas: enhancing global trade, spearheading sustainable growth, leading in technological advancements, and equipping the next generation with the necessary skills to thrive in an ever-evolving landscape.
To meet the demands of EU businesses, a clear and resolute message must be conveyed: Europe stands as an open and dynamic marketplace, poised for unparalleled growth and opportunity.

Last, but not least participation in the European elections is crucial not only for shaping the future but also for upholding the strength and values of European Parliamentary democracy.

Eurobarometer, EP Autumn 2023 Survey: 

Six months before the 2024 European Elections

Bulgarians show moderate interest in EU elections, with 51% likely to vote, yet hold a largely positive outlook on the EU, as 48% express favorable sentiments. Over 60% of Bulgarian respondents recognize thаt Bulgaria has benefitted from the EU membership.

Resume: Shaping the Future: Insights into the 2024 European Parliament Elections

Rud Pedersen Public Affairs is a leading independent public affairs and strategic communications consultancy with offices in 17 European countries including Bulgaria and specialized public affairs partners in key capitals across the EU.

As a Public Affairs Partner, we help our clients navigate political systems and to understand the impact of policy and politics on their organizations and their strategical goals.

With almost half the world’s population having the chance to vote 2024 is “the ultimate election year”. With the European Parliament (EP) elections on the horizon, millions of Europeans hold the power to shape the future of European democracy through their votes – this will be the second largest democratic exercise in the world.

2024 is a year of change in European Politics. As Europe stands at a crossroads, every political shift holds the potential to impact businesses, underscoring the importance of proactive engagement.

The upcoming European elections will have influence on the ongoing and new topics and issues of both European and national importance, such as energy, digital policy, transport, food security and agriculture, defense, and many others. At Rud Pedersen Public Affairs Bulgaria we have prepared a brief series of analyses on the predictions on the European elections results as well as identifying national and European intersections and emerging business opportunities across various sectors.

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