EPC: EU elections 2024: The Member States’ perspective

by | Jun 17, 2024

(13 June 2024 – EPC, Brussels)

Speakers:

  • Daniel Schade, Policy Fellow, Das Progressive Zentrum
  • Luis Simón, Director of the Brussels Office in Brussels and Senior Analyst, Elcano Royal Institute
  • Marc-Olivier Padis, Director of Studies, Terra Nova
  • Maria Skóra, Research Associate at the Institut für Europäische Politik and a policy fellow at Das Progressive Zentrum
  • Péter Krekó, Executive Director, Political Capital

Moderator:

  • Corina Stratulat, Associate Director and Head of the European Politics and Institutions Programme, European Policy Centre

Corina Stratulat opened the panel saying that in the aftermath of the 2024 European elections, this event does not aim to recap what had happened, but to shift the attention to the national dimension. After all, there were twenty-seven electoral races, and the national context is not always clear outside the concerned member state.

Before the discussion, Sophie Pornschlegel, strategic lead of the project on the 2024 European elections with Open Society Foundations shortly talked about the comparative analysis they have been working on with Maria Skóra, Daniel Schade and Marc-Olivier Padis, stating that the final report is expected to be published in September.

Marc-Olivier Padis started with the French perspective, emphasizing that the good result of Rassemblement national shows that the far-right party managed to win over voters who were reluctant to vote for them until now, namely women, pensioners, higher middle class workers and young people. This means that voters of RN look now more like the average French voter, without any specificity. Padis had two explanations why, in addition to the young, handsome RN candidate Jordan Bardella who had all the assets to charm people. On one hand, people wanted to say no to President Emmanuel Macron in these “midterm elections”. On the other hand, the RN managed to normalize itself, being more cautious, not setting into serious matters, trying not to provoke or hurt anymore. According to Padis, the snap vote is going to have the same result. Macron supposedly wanted a “moment of clarification”, but three weeks without an electoral campaign are not going to bring that. What’s more, Macron decided alone, making it personal, so people will vote for or against him.

Luis Simón continued with the Spanish perspective, highlighting the gap between the EU and the national level, since the latter often does not reflect EU matters. He underlined the intense politicization in Spain, with key issues for conservatives being the passing of the amnesty law and accusations of corruption, while socialists warned voters about the risk of far-right and Euroscepticism. Even with some EU overtones, the campaigns remained national. The polls initially suggested a big gap which started to close over time. The result was a slightly bigger difference than expected. The turnout was 49% which is lower than in 2019, but higher than when there were no local elections at the same time.

Daniel Schade explained the German perspective. The “democratic experiment” of lowering the age limit to sixteen years did not go as expected, because young people voted more for the far-right and some smaller parties which displays that they are not as liberal as people think. These sort of “midterm elections” reflected the national level which made them “the least Europeanized elections” Schade can remember. The big winner was far-right AfD along with far-left BsW, but Volt also made its way with three seats. The Greens were the big losers, although not as big as people assume. AfD could go back into ID, or form a new group, but neither would be easy, while BsW could join the Left, even though it might not be welcomed. Contrary to French RN, these parties went more extreme, and they still managed to succeed. Schade assumes that Tik Tok had a lot to do with it, and campaign strategies can explain the success more than the fact that the parties became more radical.

Maria Skóra talked about the Polish perspective, stating that this was an election marathon for her country. At the end of last year, PiS was replaced by a new coalition on government led by Donald Tusk. Ever since, Poland has been portrayed as a positive example of overcoming populism, but Skóra added: “I’m here to disappoint”. The 2024 European elections were the extension of the political competition on the national level. Civic Coalition won by only 1% which PiS tried to frame as if they still had the “hegemony”. In fact, junior coalition partners of Tusk actually lost many voters. The big winner was far-right Konfederacja with 12% of the votes and six seats. The turnout was not high, only 40% and there was a debacle of the myth that young people are more liberal, because Konfederacja and PiS were popular among them. The main conclusion Skóra drew was that young people are good investment for parties. The losing Left should reach out to them as well and improve its social media skills. They lost their mobilizing power, because identity issues such as women’s rights are not enough, social and economic issues are also needed to convince voters. Furthermore, Skóra suggested awareness raising and stronger emphasis on media literacy.

Last, but not least, Péter Krekó added the good news from the Hungarian perspective. Fidesz got 45% which was a decrease. They lost 2 seats, but it is not “catastrophic”. Nevertheless, Viktor Orbán definitely has a new challenger in Péter Magyar who managed to get 30% after only three months, outperforming expectations. It is interesting to note however that Magyar used a Trumpian rhetoric against Orbán. The traditional left collapsed, “eaten up” by Magyar whose party, Tisza got seven seats. They will join EPP. All in all, there was a huge shift to the right in Hungary. The big question is: can Magyar keep it up until 2026? Tisza’s European policies were actually not discussed, but considering the EPP’s defining power, Tisza might have to adapt to the group. The thing that worries Krekó is Magyar’s nationalistic rhetoric. Tisza is not another Fidesz, but does have populist tendencies. Fidesz would prefer to join ECR, but they might have a better chance with ID. Giorgia Meloni would probably not want to invite a troublemaker, and ID is closer to Orbán’s position anyway. Krekó mentioned the advertising Fidesz used during the campaign too. On one hand, they said that Magyar is a psychopath, the puppet of the EU and the US, on the other hand, they tried to convince people that Brussels wants a war only Orbán can prevent. Similarly strong narratives can be expected in the future. Krekó concluded that it was a Europeanized campaign with a twist.

As closing thoughts, Krekó voiced the importance of the Ukrainian front, where defeat would equal the “end of the Western world as we know it”. Simón thinks that the outcome of the US elections is critical for the transatlantic relations, and the EU has to take it into account. Skóra recommended increasing the preparedness against autocratization and paying more attention to the rule of law. Padis wishes that the Green Deal would still go on, and Shade hopes that the centre – as Ursula von der Leyen said – is really holding.


You can watch the event here.

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