A new political map: Getting the European Parliament election right

By Martin Banks

New polling says the results of the EU elections could have “significant consequences” for the EU’s policy agenda.

Several public opinion polls were carried out by the respected European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR).

They are timely as they come just ahead of the Europeans heading to the polls in just two weeks.

Part authored by polling experts Simon Hix and Kevin Cunningham, the ECFR employed extensive polling data and advanced statistical modeling to predict voter behaviour in the European elections.

The main findings of the study, out on 23 May, include:

* Anti-European populist parties are forecast to top the polls in nine EU member states, including Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, France, Hungary, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, and Slovakia; and score second or third place finishes in a further nine countries, including in Bulgaria, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Latvia, Portugal, Romania, Spain, and Sweden;

* A coalition comprising the “populist right” could emerge with a majority for the first time. Consequently, almost half the seats held by MEPs would fall outside the “super grand coalition” of centrist groups EPP, S&D and Renew Europe (RE). This fall in representation could mean that the coalition will not have enough seats to guarantee a winning majority on key votes.

The results, say the authors, could have significant consequences for the EU’s policy agenda.

This ranges from the European Green Deal, support for Ukraine, and the bloc’s enforcement of the rule of law.

In the current parliament, a centre-left coalition have tended to win on environmental policy issues, but many of these votes have been won by very small margins. With a significant shift to the right, it is likely that an ‘anti-climate policy action’ coalition will dominate beyond June 2024.

The authors say, “With pro-Russian groupings expected to enter the next parliament, together with a softening of a political coalition for the enforcement of democratic European values, there could be implications for Ukraine’s war effort and the EU’s future efforts to enforce the rule of law.”

The polls also suggest that pro-European parties are at risk of losing ground to the far-right in the European elections, by mistakenly focusing their political campaigns on migration and promoting a narrative of EU success across crises, including the Covid-19 pandemic, climate change, and Russia’s war on Ukraine.

In its polling dataset, it found that:

* Migration policy won’t define the election. Just 15% of respondents across the polled countries see immigration as the leading crisis of the past decade, compared to 21% selecting global economic turmoil, 19% the Covid pandemic, 16% climate change, and 16% the war in Ukraine. Only in Germany (29%) and Austria (24%) was immigration cited as a lead concern by a plurality of respondents.

* Pro-Europeans should be wary about campaigning on the EU’s track record. European leaders may be tempted to highlight the European Commission’s record on Covid-19, the Green New Deal, and support for Ukraine. But its successful performance on these crises is not recognised by many voters, so a campaign based on the current European Commission’s record could backfire.

* The far-right is divided – and is unlikely to define the EU agenda beyond June. ECFR’s dataset found that there exist important divisions among anti-Europeans with regards to support for Ukraine. Further divisions are also visible on the salience of migration as a political issue and on EU membership.

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