Geo-Economics and Politics

EU elections 2024: Who won and lost – and what happens next?

European Elections Night 2024

Societal polarization is a key risk the world will face in the next two years. Image:  EU 2024 - Source: EP/ Philippe BUISSIN

Spencer Feingold
Digital Editor, World Economic Forum
Simon Torkington
Senior Writer, Forum Agenda
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  • Right-wing parties gained ground in the 2024 European Parliament elections, though less than predicted.
  • Despite the significant wins and losses, no single bloc emerged with an overall majority in the European Parliament.
  • Centrist parties are working to form a coalition to support a second term for Ursula von der Leyen.

Voters across Europe went to polls this month to make their voices heard in the 2024 European Parliament elections.

Elections for the European Parliament, the world's only directly elected transnational governing body, are held every five years and are managed by national governments. This month, 720 members of parliament were elected, 15 more than in the previous elections.

The number of lawmakers elected from each European Union country is based on degressive proportionality. This means that members of parliament from larger countries represent more people than lawmakers from smaller countries. Germany, for instance, elected 96 members of parliament this month while Malta elected six.

The aftershocks of the June elections are still reverberating across the continent after some of Europe’s most prominent leaders suffered setbacks. Meanwhile, right-wing and far-right parties made significant gains, though failed to achieve the results polls had predicted, with two important exceptions.

In France, for instance, a coalition including President Emmanuel Macron’s Renaissance Party garnered just 14.6% of the vote. The far-right Rassemblement National, which campaigned on an anti-immigration ticket, won 31.3% of the vote. The results prompted Macron to immediately dissolve the French Parliament and call a snap election.

There were setbacks for centrist parties in Germany, too. Chancellor Olaf Scholz saw his Social Democratic Party forced into third place behind the Alternative for Germany (AfD), a far-right party. Overall, right-leaning parties in Germany took more than 45% of the vote.

"It often makes most sense to understand the European Parliament elections as 27 national referendums on government policy in the EU member states," said Andrew Caruana Galizia, Head of Europe and Eurasia at the World Economic Forum. "This time was no different, with the real shocks emerging at the national level in Europe’s two largest economies."

Meanwhile, in Italy, Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni saw her right-wing Brothers of Italy party consolidate its position with 28.7% of the vote.


Building coalitions

Despite the significant wins and losses across Europe, no single bloc emerged with an overall majority in the European Parliament. Consequently, leaders are now engaged in negotiations to form coalitions that will form the basis of the balance of power in Brussels.

Coalitions are a necessary part of European parliamentary politics given the large number of parties from the 27 countries that make up the EU. The coalition blocs are formed on the basis of similar political leanings rather than the countries their members represent.

The European People’s Party, for instance, is made up of members who are part of ideologically similar centre-right parties from across Europe.

A political group in the European Parliament must have at least 25 members of parliament drawn from a minimum of seven EU countries. Finance for these blocs comes exclusively from the budget of the European Parliament, with no external funding allowed.

European Parliament (2024-2029) – Provisional results:

Image: European Union

In the elections this month, the European People’s Party emerged as the largest single party, with 186 of the 720 seats. The bloc nominated European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen as its candidate for leader of the next Parliament.

"A centrist, pro-European majority is still very much intact," Galizia added. "But how far to the left or the right this majority shifts in coalition talks aimed at voting through a new European Commission in autumn will play an important role in setting the European agenda for the next five years."

According to media reports, von der Leyen is working to form an alliance with social democrats and liberals to form a majority.

"Throughout my election campaign, I worked hard to build a broad and effective majority in favour of a strong Europe," von der Leyen said at a conference of Germany's Christian Democratic Union party following the election. "For this reason, we will now approach the large political families who also worked well with us in the last mandate."

Von der Leyen added that her party would "build a bastion against extremes" in the next European Parliament, calling the European People’s Party an "anchor of stability".

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen attends the 36th Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party convention in Berlin, Germany, May 8, 2024.
Ursula von der Leyen attends a Christian Democratic Union party meeting following the EU elections. Image: REUTERS/Lisi Niesner

The risk of polarization

The success of far-right parties in the European elections is further reflection of the of political and social polarization seen elsewhere around the world.

The World Economic Forum’s Global Risks Report 2024 ranks societal polarization as the world's third most serious risk in the next two years. The polarization risk, the report notes, is heighted this year due to the high number of elections taking place in 2024.

Social and political polarization remains a long-term risk, too. In the Forum's report, the issue ranks as the 9th most serious risk facing the world in the next 10 years.

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