A Europe Wary of Decline Heads to the Polls: What to Watch

(Bloomberg) -- The European Parliament election that wraps up on Sunday won’t just decide the 720 lawmakers who will serve in the EU assembly for the next five years. It will also give an indication of how the bloc will handle critical issues, including the war in Ukraine, and how it would navigate a possible second Donald Trump presidency.

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About 360 million people in the European Union are eligible to vote in the election, which kicked off Thursday. A majority of the EU’s 27 nations will hold their ballots on Sunday, with results trickling in throughout the evening.

EU leaders last month called for an “urgent paradigm shift” to counteract geopolitical tensions and more assertive actions by countries outside the bloc. French President Emmanuel Macron has presented the election as an existential fight for the continent and pivotal for Ukraine’s battle against Vladimir Putin.

Despite a series of recent setbacks, far-right parties are aiming for electoral gains that could bring migration to the top of the political agenda and complicate progress on the EU’s ambitious climate goals. Projections show that nationalist groups stand to pick up seats compared with the election five years ago, but fragmentation between parties could make a right-wing bloc elusive.

At stake are critical issues that need to be decided during the next parliamentary term, including how to make European industries more competitive, how to boost the bloc’s defense capabilities and how to compete with China. Future spending for Ukraine could also face parliament’s approval.

Here are the main issues to watch:

Winners and Losers

The center-right European People’s Party is expected to win and, along with the center-left Socialists & Democrats and centrist Liberals, be able to command a comfortable majority in parliament.

The EPP is projected to pick up 180 seats, the S&D 138 and the Liberals 86, according to a polling average compiled by Europe Elects. That would give the mainstream alliance 404 seats in the 720-seat parliament. This result should give the coalition some breathing room. But that could be imperiled by a strong result by the nationalist groups.

The Greens took a key role negotiating the adoption of the EU’s first climate-neutral policy package, but their ambitions have crashed with the energy crisis that followed Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the rising cost of living. They are projected to secure 56 seats, down from 72 in the outgoing parliament

Far Right

Even though the far right is expected to pick up seats on Sunday, infighting and scandal have left some nationalist groups in disarray, potentially limiting their political influence. The German Alternative for Germany has been struck particularly hard, with its lead candidate Maximilian Krah having stepped away from campaigning amid a spying affair scandal.

The AfD was eventually expelled from its pan-European political group Identity and Democracy after Krah said that not all members of the Nazi SS paramilitary organization were criminals.

Without the AfD, ID is projected to win 68 seats in the assembly, according to Europe Elects. That would be down from the December projection when it appeared on track to win 93. The right-wing European Conservatives and Reformists alliance — which includes Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni’s Brothers of Italy — is expected to pick up 75 seats.

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European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen needs parliament’s approval to seal her bid for a second term, and last time she secured the assembly’s backing by just nine votes. Having lost the support of several lawmakers since the last election, she may need to cooperate with parties the EPP previously has refused to work with. She’s suggested an openness to working with parts of the ECR group.

Some national leaders, including Germany’s Scholz, have warned her not to seek the support of populists, risking a split in the coalition. “There must not be any far-right or right-wing populist parties,” he said at a party event last week in Berlin. The Socialists’s top candidate Nicolas Schmit went further, warning von der Leyen against cooperating with Meloni’s Brothers of Italy party.

Von der Leyen seemed to try to tamp down the controversy during a campaign trip this past week. “To build a strong Europe we need a strong majority in the political center — this means pro-EU, pro-Ukraine, pro-rule of law,” she told several reporters while campaigning in Porto, Portugal. “Extremists from the far left and the far right are trying to divide us, we will not let this happen.”


The first major national exit polls, including in Germany, will be released on Sunday at around 6 p.m. local time. The first projections of the parliament’s makeup are expected at 8:15 p.m., based on a mix of exit polls and polling in places where voting is ongoing. The fuller projection comes around 11:15 p.m.

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