Right Wing Gains in Upcoming Parliamentary Elections Could Diminish EU Support for Climate Policy

On February 6, 2024, the European Commission published a detailed climate impact assessment that proposed a goal of reducing EU net greenhouse gas emissions by 90% by 2040 in order to reach its goal of achieving net zero emissions by 2050, highlighting that climate action continues to play a prominent role in EU political discussions. However, given that EU parliamentary elections are taking place between June 6 and June 9 this year and the contrast in climate views between left-wing and right-wing politicians, the EU’s ability to achieve its climate goals will be primarily influenced by which parliamentary parties gain the most seats this election cycle.

EU parliamentary elections occur every five years, and elected officials hold five-year terms, meaning that the next round of elections that could impact climate action will not occur until 2029. A total of 720 Members will be elected to the European Parliament this year. MEPs are elected nationally, and the number of MEPs elected to the European Parliament from each Member State is proportional to the population of each member state. As a result, Germany will have the largest number of MEPs after this election cycle (96), followed by France (81) and Italy (76).

The European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR) published a study in January 2024 based on polling performed in 11 European countries, 9 of which were EU nations comprising 75% of the EU’s total population. The study aimed to predict what issue areas will influence how votes are cast in the 2024 European elections. The study found that European voters are primarily concerned about five issue blocs: climate change, global economic turmoil, immigration, the COVID-19 pandemic, and Russia’s war in Ukraine. Voters concerned about climate change and immigration tend to be the most mobilized to vote, suggesting that these voters will have the most influence on which European parliamentary parties gain seats.

Voters who are concerned about immigration tend to vote for far-right or anti-European parties that promote more limited climate action. In contrast, voters concerned about climate change tend to vote for left-leaning or green parties. Within the EU, there are also certain member states whose voters tend to prioritize immigration or climate change more strongly. The ECFR study found that 31% of voters in Germany are most concerned about immigration, while 27% of voters in France are most concerned about climate change. The ECFR study also found that 24% of voters under 29 named climate change the most critical issue. At the same time, older generations were more likely to name immigration as the most important issue area.  Additionally, Europe’s most educated people were more likely to consider climate change the most critical issue. At the same time, groups like farmers were less likely to support climate-focused parties as they felt they had been unfairly burdened with the cost of fighting climate change.

Opinion polls conducted within the ECFR’s study predict that populist, right-wing parties will gain more seats in this election cycle while center-left and green parties will lose seats. Anti-European populists are likely to cast the most votes in nine EU member states, including France, Italy, Poland, and Austria, and cast the second or third highest in another nine member states, including Germany, Spain, and Sweden. As a result, for the first time, a coalition of Christian democrats, conservatives, and radical right MEPs could emerge in the European parliament, stunting EU climate action.

ECFR predicts that the European People’s Party (EPP) will hold the most significant number of parliamentary seats after this election cycle (173), followed by the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats (S&D) (131) and the Identity and Democracy party (98). However, the EPP and the S&D are predicted to lose seats compared to the current parliament, given that voters have voted more frequently for extremist parties over the last two election cycles and less frequently for mainstream parties. The centrist Renew Europe (RE) group and the Greens/European Free Alliance (G/EFA) are also predicted to lose seats. In contrast, the populist right-wing Identity and Democracy (ID) group is projected to gain 40 seats. Given that numerous EU climate laws have only passed by a small margin in recent European Parliament votes, a seat shift foretells a negative impact on EU climate action. Suppose a radical right coalition does indeed emerge as the majority coalition. In that case, they will likely reject climate laws or only accept watered-down versions of them, making it difficult for the EU to achieve its 2040 and 2050 climate goals.

As such, it will be essential for center and left-wing parties to mobilize voters in the coming months. On a broader scale, parties supporting environmental action should also highlight to voters that climate action is necessary to prevent natural disasters and fossil fuel dependence and is not a threat to economic growth and development.

This Post was submitted by Climate Scorecard European Union Manager Brittany Demogenes.

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