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During our latest webinar on the Future of the EU, EUmatrix.eu CEO Doru Frantescu and Prof. Simon Hix from the European University Institute in Florence shared their insights on the current and future political trends at the EU level with over 100 stakeholders from EU institutions, diplomatic missions and representatives from top companies and Brussels-based organisations.
Below, you will find the main takeaways from our exchange.
1. State of the EU in 2023
Eurobarometer data shows that the level of support for the EU has remained stable over the past decade, despite the many crises that the Union faced (migration, Brexit, Covid, Ukraine’s war, etc.). However, this overall stable picture is the result of different trends across countries.
For instance, the support for the EU in the CEE region has slightly diminished over the past years and the favourability by these countries’ populations is now lower compared to the rest of the Union.
This also reflects EUmatrix.eu previous findings on the Council, which show that CEE governments are increasingly challenging the EU consensus especially on environmental issues. According to Prof. Hix, the refugee crisis was a key moment in establishing this new fault line, as it catalysed the CEE dissatisfaction with unpopular policies that are seemingly “imposed” by the bigger Member States.
2. EP elections 2024
More fragmentation and polarisation is to be expected after the 2024 elections of the European Parliament, as shown by the latest projections by Eumatrix.eu.
This means that decision-making will become more difficult in the next Parliament, as an increasing number of political forces would be required in order to form majorities. Importantly, the polarisation in the next Parliament might be exacerbated by the increasing regulatory divergence between the two largest groups, the EPP group and the S&D group. While showing the latest EUmatrix.eu forecasts, our CEO Doru Frantescu pointed out that the next Parliament is likely to be less regulatory-oriented on environmental topics especially, while the impact on other policy areas (such as digital policy) would be more mixed.
Feel free to contact us at [email protected] for more forecasts and insights on the upcoming EU elections. We can provide you with dedicated briefings, visualisations and presentations on how the elections will likely affect specific EU policies (such as environment, energy, health, digital, trade, etc.).
Importantly, while EPP and S&D are facing electoral decline, the EPP might benefit from the leading Italian party Brothers of Italy joining its ranks (the party is currently part of the ECR group).
The dynamics to the right of the political spectrum are important to watch and especially the possibility of a convergence between ECR and ID parties to form a larger group (possibly the second largest in the Parliament).
Many of these parties are playing a stronger domestic role compared to 2019 (they are either in government, providing confidence and supply or leading opposition parties), and are looking for a way to increase their influence at EU level.
The outlook on the turnout appears negative, says Prof. Hix, after the significant gains in 2019. He argues that there is a lack of innovative proposals (e.g. promoting voting through apps or new digital tools) to increase turnout especially among younger people.
3. The next European Commission
Ursula von der Leyen is perceived by the national capitals as having done a satisfactory job in dealing with the many crises from the last few years (especially Covid and Ukraine’s war), also thanks to her strong focus and experience on security matters. According to Simon Hix, von der Leyen will be very difficult to stop, as both the CDU/CSU party and the Scholz government are likely to back her. In such a case, the German Greens (which are set to get a Commissioner post as per the coalition agreement) are likely to be compensated in a different way.
As also pointed out in our previous Eumatrix.eu analysis, von der Leyen is a moderate EPP politician that would better appease the more left-leaning political families in the European Parliament, as well as the German and French government, compared to more conservative EPP options.
As per the Spitzenkandidaten process, Prof. Hix believes that it is likely to be undermined again by the Council, especially since there is lower enthusiasm for the process among the main political families, such as the Socialist one, and Macron’s party (the biggest in Renew) is explicitly critical of the system.
However, if von der Leyen were to fail to get the expected support, then the Spitzenkandidaten process could still play a role in boosting the chances of potential alternative candidates to the EU top position.
With regards to the rest of the college of Commissioners, the increasing political fragmentation will also be reflected in the new EC’s leadership structure. While Breton from the centrist Renew family is the best-positioned to take on an important executive Vice-Presidency position in the next Commission, there is room for a Socialist from a smaller country to rise and potentially replace Timmermans (who is facing a more difficult domestic landscape).
Finally, if Brothers of Italy ultimately stays in ECR, this political family would also have the strength to demand a stronger representation (in terms of portfolios) in the next Commission.
4. EU in the world:
According to Prof. Hix, the EU has been more united on Ukraine than expected (e.g. despite the heterogeneous effects of refugees, energy prices, and countries’ links to Russia).
The EU standing in the world also benefits from the close relationship with the US administration and its involvement in the Biden-promoted "global alliance of democracies" (which strengthens Europe's links to the Pacific region).
At the same time, the threat of "Brexit contagion" has subsided, while Macron's "European Political Community" initiative provides a framework for European-wide collaboration and coordination.
On the negative side, the war in Ukraine is far from over, and the medium-term implications for the continent remain highly uncertain no matter the final outcome.
There is also high uncertainty concerning the outcome of the 2024 US Presidential election. A potential victory of Trump (which is not unlikely at the moment) would complicate EU-US relations, especially concerning trade. Additionally, regardless of the electoral outcome, the US increasingly turns its attention towards Asia, which is likely to remain a long-run trend.
Also, the EU remains divided on how to address China’s global rise, such as on trade, the treatment of China’s technology (e.g. Huawei’s infrastructure) and its reaction in case of a potential conflict in Taiwan.
Finally, the EU is likely to face a new refugee crisis in the summer of 2023, which will increase the stakes for the finalisation of the Migration Pact (currently heading towards inter-institutional discussions).
Contact us at [email protected] for more information on our electoral monitoring and legislative forecasting services.
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