Between the 6th and 9th of June, European Union (EU) citizens cast their vote in the tenth European Parliament elections, shaping the future of the bloc’s political direction. As the election count is being finalised, we dive into what the results could mean for the EU’s green agenda.

In the months leading up to the vote, polls were predicting that the political make-up of the European Parliament will shift to the right, potentially dramatically altering the trajectory of the EU’s sustainable transition.

The provisional results of the elections are aligned with the predictions. However, the future of green policies will lie in the nuances of coalition-building within Parliament and the increasing priority of competitiveness and re-industrialisation.

Winners, runners-up, and those who fell short

On the night of the 9th of June, one thing was clear – the center-right European People’s Party (EPP) were triumphant and further consolidated its power in  in the European Parliament. Based on the provisional results, EPP garnered 189 seats, 13 more compared to the previous mandate.

While the Socialists and Democrats lost four seats, they still maintain leverage by coming in second with 135 seats.

Those who fell short in the elections were the liberal Renew Europe and the Greens/EFA. The two parties lost, respectively, 23 and 19 seats. While Renew Europe remains a third political power, the Greens/EFA rank only sixth.

As anticipated, the right-wing political parties gained ground. The European Conservative and Reformists (ECR) and Identity and Democracy (ID) will hold more than 130 seats combined. The ECR came fourth with 73 seats, and ID follows closely after with 58. In addition, important to consider are the right-wing representatives, which are not yet affiliated with a European political group. This notably includes Germany’s Alternative für Deutschland and Fidesz, which are sending 15 and 10 members (excl. György Hölvényi from the Christian Democratic People’s Party) respectively to the European Parliament. There are also other new far-right parties such as the Spanish “Se Acabó la Fiesta” with 3 seats and the Romanian “Alliance for the Union of Romanians” with 5 seats. In short, while some parties may remain unaffiliated, the final composition of the groups is likely to change.

The rise of right-wing political parties in the European elections sent shockwaves through Member States. In an unexpected turn of events, the French President Emmanuel Macron dissolved the National Assembly and called for snap elections after the National Rally’s victory (with 30.1%). In Germany, the Alternative für Deutschland came second surpassing the party of the current Chancellor Olaf Scholz.

Importantly, the newly elected 720 Members of the European Parliament will have to approve the next President of the European Commission, which is likely to involve political concessions. The formation of a majority coalition within the European Parliament will be a critical milestone for the future of the green transition.

Potential impact on the EU’s green agenda

The European Green Deal, a flagship political framework by Commission President Von Der Leyen, included 130 legislative measures [1], of which 128 have been adopted or are close to adoption. This initiative has positioned the EU as a global leader in combating climate change, with ambitious goals such as achieving climate neutrality by 2050 and reducing greenhouse gas emissions by at least 55% by 2030.

However, already within the previous legislative term, the EU witnessed political maneuvers from Member States and right-wing parties to sabotage measures affecting energy, packaging, nature and due diligence. The continuity and expansion of these policies will depend on the political will of the new decision-makers in charge.

The next EU mandate is set to shift its priorities away from adopting new regulatory measures and obligations for companies towards ensuring implementation of existing laws. Notably, Commissioner for the Internal Market, Thierry Breton, has already floated the idea of a “Green Deal Implementation Act”. The purpose of which would be to reduce burden on industry by zooming into potential synergies between various laws and, where possible, simplify their application.

If we put ourselves in the shoes of Von der Leyen, balancing the demands within her own party and the right-side of the parliament to pull back certain measures (e.g., the combustion engine ban) with the red line of S&D, Renew and the Greens to leave the EU Green Deal untouched will be the key consideration in her mind. While the grand coalition (S&D, Renew and EPP) would have sufficient votes to secure her re-approval as president of the European Commission, the potential of attrition in the secret ballot must be considered. She will thus have to carefully play her cards in negotiations with other parties and conversations within her own EPP to avoid the potential of a negative vote. In any case, the secretary general of the EPP, Thanasis Bakolas, has already publicly stated that cooperation with ECR may occur on a case-by-case basis for major individual files. Beyond the upcoming leverage of the votes, if successful, the coalition partners have limited abilities to avoid this within the legislative term.

Right-wing parties in the EU often have a more cautious or skeptical approach to the EU’s green agenda. They have been often prioritizing national sovereignty, arguing for less EU intervention in Member States’ domestic affairs and they have frequently highlighted the economic costs of green policies. But how could the future European Parliament impact green policies?

  • Right-wing parties may push for more gradual and flexible approaches to climate action, emphasizing skepticism about the urgency of climate change or the effectiveness of certain green policies, meaning that efforts to tighten emissions regulations, expand renewable energy infrastructure, and implement stringent environmental protections may face significant pushback.
  • The focus could shift towards policies that prioritize economic growth and industrial competitiveness over environmental sustainability. This might involve rolling back certain regulations deemed burdensome for businesses and promoting traditional energy sources alongside renewables.
  • Right-wing parties’ emphasis on national sovereignty could result in a more fragmented approach to environmental policies. Member States might be given greater leeway to set their own environmental standards, leading to inconsistencies across the EU and potentially weakening collective climate action.

This political shift would also affect the EU’s role as a global leader in climate action. A less ambitious stance on green policies could weaken the EU’s influence in international climate negotiations and diminish its ability to set global standards, causing a possible domino effect towards international actors.

So, what is next?

There will already be an informal meeting of EU leaders on the 17th of June. While already mostly clear, this is set to informally confirm who will be appointed to the high-level positions (incl. president of the European Commission).  This will be formally confirmed during the European Council on 27-28 June. If all goes according to plan, we could potentially expect a vote on Ursula von Der Leyen as president of the European Commission during the first plenary between 16 and 19 July.  Once confirmed, the EU Member States will have to send their candidates for Commissioners. Subsequently, these will have to go through intense “grilling sessions” and votes at the European Parliament. This usually leads to some nominees being rejected, requiring the Member State to nominate another candidate. Once all have been approved, the European Commission as a whole will be voted upon in an open ballot. And voilà, the new political cycle until 2029 will have properly commenced.