European Parliament Elections Primer: What to know before June 6–9 

At a Glance

  • The European Parliament elections will take place across EU countries from June 6-9, 2024. Although the nationalist right and far right are expected to gain seats from the liberal-centrists and the Greens, the center-right and center-left will broadly maintain their share of the vote and share of seats. Pre-election polling indicates around 55% of representatives will still come from the centrist political groups, however, the right-wing parties expected to gain seats will not be their comfortable bedfellows.
  • As usual, the European elections are being fought mainly on national issues specific to each country. Transnational, EU-wide issues that are cited as common areas of concern include support for Ukraine, the effects of the EU’s Green Deal, and immigration.  
  • Despite the anticipated gains on the right, EU policy will not lurch dramatically to the right after the election. The checks and balances in the European Union system spread responsibility for setting policy direction and making laws across different governing bodies. National governments call many of the shots and at the end of June are set to name a new President of the European Commission, the EU executive which proposes legislation and implements EU decisions.
  • The new parliament must then vote to “elect” —a vote to approve—the new Commission President. The parliament’s parties and groups offer their support strategically to build the simple majority needed in exchange for particular EU policies—or at least the promise of them. EU policy plans announced later in the year, therefore, may well reflect elements of the right’s agenda. The content is not yet clear, but there is no prospect of a wholesale U-turn on the EU’s climate ambition and sustainability rules. A greater focus on defense and improving the EU’s global competitiveness is already planned. 


European Parliament Elections: The Basics 

Elections to the 10th legislature of the European Parliament will take place across the 27 member states of the European Union (EU) between June 6-9. Seven hundred twenty Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) will be elected using various national proportional representation systems. These elections are just one part of a wider changing of the guard in the machinery of the EU which happens once every five years and will continue for the rest of 2024.

The center-right, center-left, and liberal-centrists together hold 59% of seats in the current parliament. The center-right is the largest political group with over 25% of seats, followed by the center-left (nearly 20%) and then the liberals (14%). Greens and regional parties hold 10% between them, the nationalist right just under 10%, and far right parties 8%. The far left have 5% of seats and the remaining MEPs do not align with any of the political groups.

The elections are critically important because they will determine the political composition of one part of the EU system for the next five years, however, they will not directly set the EU’s policy direction or choose who gets the most powerful jobs in the EU machine.

Appreciating broadly what the European Parliament does and doesn’t do—and how—is key to making sense of the elections and the outcome. There are four fundamental facts to know:

  1. It legislates, but not alone. The European Parliament plays a key role in defining and agreeing upon EU legislation, but it does not act alone: national governments acting together in the EU Council of Ministers are the other “co-legislators.” The European Parliament and Council are obliged to negotiate based on their respective positions to agree upon each law. Neither of them can propose EU legislation—that power is reserved for the European Commission, the EU’s executive branch.
  2. Its political majority does not “govern” the EU. The European Parliament elections don’t lead to the formation of a government or even to a governing coalition of parties which agree to pursue parts of their manifestos. Most political groups produce manifestos and some choose figurehead “lead candidates,” but there is no rule which requires, for example, the President of the European Commission to come from the largest political group in the parliament. The results of proportional representation have always forced EU political groups to collaborate in order to even legislate, and this is set to continue.
  3. It approves the EU executive but does not choose the Commissioners. The European Parliament does play a key role in “electing” (approving) by simple majority the new President of the European Commission, who will take office for five years. The European Commission President, currently Ursula von der Leyen, is named first by the European Council—Heads of State and Government of the EU countries—at the end of June, with the parliamentary vote to follow in July or September. The parliament will also hold hearings of all the other new European Commissioners nominated by the national governments before voting them as a block later in the year.
  4. Its political groups are broad tribes, not disciplined forces. EU countries are allocated fixed numbers of seats based on their population, and these seats are divided between each country’s national parties based on the results of the national votes. The political groups in the parliament are formed by parties and MEPs from different countries and may be more or less coherent; some, like the center-right EPP (European People’s Party) group and the S&D (Socialists & Democrats) group, have a long history; the far right ID (Identity and Democracy) group was formed after the 2019 elections, includes the French Rassemblement National and Italian Lega, and has recently excluded the German Alternative für Deutschland. The nationalist-conservative right ECR group and the ID group, and some of their member parties, have found it difficult to find common ground in this parliament, partly due to fundamental disagreements about the threats posed by Russia and China. All the groups are less disciplined in their voting than party delegations in most national parliaments, which leads to less certainty about vote outcomes and even more concessions and negotiation.

Voting will start in the Netherlands on Thursday, June 6, and end with polling in 20 EU countries on Sunday, June 9. Official projections and then results start to emerge after the final polls close on June 9, but the full confirmed results usually take at least a few days. 


Policies, Polling, and People 

The European Parliament election is fought mainly on national issues. The European political blocs produce manifestos about their plans for the EU, but voters still vote for national parties and make their choice based on national issues. Whether they want to give their government a kicking or have seen campaigns dominated by domestic policy or scandals, they rarely vote based on a detailed assessment of EU policies or to set a clear direction for the EU’s future. Unusually, in the 2024 election, a few issues are clearly both nationally significant in enough member states and important to the EU to be identified as “issues for the election”:

  • Support for Ukraine: The European Union has offered temporary protection to over four million people fleeing the war in Ukraine, and EUR 98.5 billion overall in support of Ukraine and Ukrainians, including economic, humanitarian and military assistance. European voters are offered choices between parties who believe further support is essential, including some nationalist right parties, and those who do not, including far right parties. Over the next five years, the EU’s influence on defense decision-making is likely to increase, unless its wings are seriously clipped by forces in the European Parliament.
  • Green policies and excesses: Faced with high costs of living and increased environmental regulation, some Europeans are beginning to question the wisdom of leading the world in climate and sustainability efforts, and demand better efforts to bolster Europe’s global competitiveness. This affects how some will vote in these elections. Others say the ambitious EU Green Deal legislation of the last five years was the result of the Greens’ performance in the 2019 elections and continue to support the role the EU has played in championing climate and sustainability. The EU is not about to dismantle its climate targets and U-turn on all the environmental legislation it has already passed. But widespread farmers’ protests in particular have increased voter support for both eco-pragmatists and climate deniers.
  • Immigration: National governments have increasingly struggled to align on using the European Union machinery to manage non-EU immigration in line with their voters’ expectations, even though certain controls are only possible at EU level. The effects of immigration have now become an issue in so many EU countries that the issue is common to the European and national elections.

The parliament will shuffle to the right. Current polling suggests the nationalist-conservative right and the far right will gain seats at the expense of the Greens and the liberal and centrist parties, but the share of seats for the largest political groups of center-right and center-left will remain remarkably stable. This is a “sharp right turn” in that the traditional center-right is not set to benefit from a fall in popularity particularly of the German Greens and French President Macron’s centrist Renaissance; rather, it is those further to the right on the political spectrum, such as the Alternative für Deutschland and the French Rassemblement National, that stand to benefit. Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni’s Fratelli d’Italia, currently part of the nationalist right group, is expected to do well while Matteo Salvini’s Lega, which sits in the far right ID group, is set to lose a significant number of seats.

Overall, the number of seats at issue is a relatively small proportion of the total. The latest polls suggest the center-right, center-left, and liberals are still likely to hold 55% of the seats together—down only 4 points on the current parliament. So why all the fuss in Brussels? The EU capital is rife with speculation that even this limited change reduces Ursula von der Leyen’s chances of leading the European Commission for a second term. Surely, some say, a major rightward shift in EU policies will have to be promised in order to secure von der Leyen’s nomination by governments and her approval by the parliament? Others point to the math: As long as the center has over 50% of the seats in parliament, surely it can appoint von der Leyen without making concessions?

The history of the EU shows us that scenario planning beats speculation about names. There are so many moving parts in the EU machine at this point that identifying exactly who will play what role and whether specific policies will be changed is impossible—those people don’t know themselves and the details have not been identified yet. Ursula von der Leyen remains the favorite to be the next President of the Commission. But remember that she was never slated to become the Commission President in 2019; she was a compromise candidate, drafted in late in the process to the surprise of almost everyone. That could happen again.

Our central scenario at present is that, based on results consistent with current polling, the consensus-oriented politicians in the future European Parliament—center-right, center left, liberals, and beyond—will find ways to work together on core issues of interest to business, including Europe’s global competitiveness. But we don’t rule out the possibility of forms of collaboration between politicians of the right on particular issues, perhaps including immigration. 


What Global Businesses Should Know 

EU policies will still be globally relevant, regardless of this election. The EU regulates many areas of business in its own market of over 448 million people, and this size gives it global influence which its individual member states lack. The EU has also set regulatory trends which have influenced other countries’ choices of policy and legislation—the so-called “Brussels Effect”—and has increasingly legislated in ways that cause businesses to change their practices beyond Europe’s borders. With rising concern about the EU’s global competitiveness, the next European Parliament will not shy away from continuing to make the most of the EU’s influence.

Climate action remains on the agenda. Even with a shuffle to the right in its parliament, the EU will likely keep intact its climate ambition to be the first net zero continent by 2050, along with many of the measures designed to achieve this. There will be some course adjustments and easing of requirements, but the machine will not be thrown into reverse gear; the plan for EU green growth and deriving competitive advantage from the green and digital transition is too entrenched. Plus, there is no consensus on a compelling alternative.

The EU’s future plans will emerge over the rest of 2024. The results of the European elections will not themselves lead to major announcements revealing the EU’s future policies and priorities. EU leaders are set to agree their vision for the next five years at the end of June, and the new Commission President will likely set out their plans in broad terms in July or September, with more detail about immediate measures likely by December. 


In this year of EU transition and with political change affecting so many EU member states, global companies benefit from specialist EU public affairs and government relations advice. With over 50 team members, EGA Brussels has the experience and skills to help you navigate the EU institutions within their wider context. Our subject experts offer deep knowledge of EU-level policies in their specialist areas along with familiarity with policies in EU member states and global awareness. We connect your business priorities to the policies and politics of the European Union. For further information, please contact EGA’s Europe team at or