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Blog | EU Elections and the future of European environmental policy

This blog, written by Antoine Oger, IEEP Research Director, gathers his first reactions and predictions to the aftermath of the EU elections.  

As the results of the European elections unfolded on Sunday, conflicting feelings were growing. The successes of far-right parties, notoriously critical of the EU in general and of its green policies in particular, throughout the continent were clearly alarming. These successes in major European economies such as Germany, France or Italy, could potentially disrupt the adoption of much needed environmental legislations in the years to come. This is extremely concerning indeed since adequate sustainability policies at the EU level are arguably our best answer to the existential challenge of the triple planetary crisis unfolding in the current fraught geopolitical context.  

But at the same time, there was also a sense of cold calculation settling in, when noting that the new allocation of seats in the European Parliament would be unlikely to derail the coalition between the EPP, S&D and Renew groups that has been at the helm of most EU policy files for the past 5 years. The coalition which has embarked on the European Green Deal and adopted its most emblematic legislation, such as the EU climate law, will likely continue to operate. There is therefore a hope that the issues of climate change, biodiversity loss and pollution will still be addressed with the sense of importance and urgency that our best available scientific knowledge keeps telling us.   

The devil is in the details of course, as the concrete consequences of the elections will be found in the nitty gritty of the European policy-making machine.  

The increased influence of the EPP on the governing coalition for instance is likely to eventually become the main lesson learned from these elections. The group will be in a position to secure the vast majority of positions of influence in the next European Parliament (Committees, rapporteurs’ roles etc.) and will thereby be the main driving force of most EU policies moving forward. Ursula Von Der Leyen is now the clear favourite for the position of European Commission President after the very low score of Emanuel Macron’s party in France and will pursue the group’s political objectives.   

Meanwhile, the Greens will clearly lose influence at the EU level compared to previous years. While it could be argued that their results are not as bad as expected, they simply do not have the number to significantly impact voting majorities in the European Parliament. The next weeks and months will therefore be crucial for the group as they will need to maximise their political savviness to identify and secure strategic positions to drive emblematic policy files. Their influence on the election of the President of the European Commission and their capacity to secure commitments for the EC work programme for instance will be a major first test.  

But the elephant in the room remains the behaviour of the far-right groups and parties if their absence from any consistent ruling majority is confirmed.  Von der Leyen did not discard working with ECR (and in particular with the Italian far-right party Fratelli d’Italia of Georgia Meloni). Yet, considering the election results (Fratelli d’italia fared rather well, but ECR gained only a few seats), that is unlikely to become a stable pact of government, rather a threat of ad hoc alternative voting majority to further coerce Renew and S&Ds into accepting EPP’s preferences.   

The sheer size of the far-right parties in the new European Parliament will no doubt put rightward pressure on EU policy. ECR and ID (and to some extent non-aligned) may seek to leverage their increased presence through building up ad hoc blocking minorities on certain emblematic policy files to them (immigration, security, defence, etc.), thus scoring easy political points rather than exerting a continuous influence across all policy files. Yet, their history with difficulties in aligning on many strategic issues at the EU level (relations with Russia, industrial policy, trade etc.) could make it challenging for them to enter into wider political agreements and become a coherent movement in the European Parliament.  

Most importantly, we must recognise that far-right beliefs on environmental issues are not uniform and that this may be reflected in the behaviour of MEPs. Similar to the EPP, their views and support of environmental legislation will likely vary depending on the policy file and support amongst their constituents, as well as the importance of the file for their Member State. The results of future elections in other major EU economies such as France could also be a key factor as the incentive for far-right groups to stabilise their institutional relations and become a more influential force on the European stage could only grow if backed by a larger number of members of the Council. 

We must also acknowledge that the debate and agenda had already shifted as a result of the major external and internal crisis that the EU has been facing during the past 5 years (Covid pandemic, war in Ukraine etc.). The onus is now undeniably more on security, defence or competitiveness aspects over environmental considerations. We need to recognise this and integrate economic and social strands to the transition to a greener and wellbeing economy.  

These new dynamics will impact several crucial policy files that the new EU legislature is expected to embark on in the coming years. First come the discussion on the overall target for the reduction of EU GHG emissions by 2040 and the changes to be made to the EU climate policy framework to support it, like the potential extension of the EU Emission Trading System (ETS). The proposal on this new climate target is expected to be published by the European Commission in the first months of 2025. Another key file is the negotiation on the next Multiannual Financial Framework covering the period 2028-2034 and which is expected to start during the summer of 2025. Major arbitrations will be made during that process and the inner political dynamics of the EU institutions will be key. The next legislature will also be responsible to bring the EU toward several 2030 international commitments such as the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) or the Global Biodiversity Framework (GBF). The new EU institutions thereby carry a significant responsibility.  

In the run-up to the elections, the debate raged on whether the EGD would be dismantled, even though research tended to point toward a degree of resilience (including IEEP’s Green Deal Barometer). In the end, the continuation of the same coalition makes an all-out assault on the entire EGD rather unlikely but conservative forces at the European Parliament (at times backed by the Council) can be expected to impact the enactment, transposition and implementation of some of the most controversial or emblematic sustainability-related legislations. In 5 years, we may therefore see a Green Deal mostly still in place on paper but facing vast implementation challenges and lacking transformative potential. Whilst these practices may serve short-term political objectives, nevertheless in the long-term they create an environment of policy uncertainty that exacerbates mistrust of the EU among both citizens and stakeholders. 

We must support the new EU Institutions to further engage in the long-term transition toward a net-zero economy that remains within planetary boundaries and puts the wellbeing of its citizen at its heart. The Institute for European Environmental Policy will play its part.  

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