European elections 2024: Choosing between war and peace

The International Institute for Middle East and Balkan Studies (IFIMES)[1] based in Ljubljana, Slovenia, regularly conducts analyses of events spanning the Middle East, the Balkans, and global affairs. IFIMES analyses the current situation regarding the upcoming European Parliament elections, which will be held from 6 June to 9 June 2024. From the analysis "European elections 2024: Choosing between war and peace," we publish the most important and interesting excerpts.

European elections 2024: 


Choosing between war and peace


In the 27 EU member states, elections for the 720 Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) will take place from 6 June to 9 June 2024. These elections are held every five years. The allocation of MEPs by country is as follows: Germany (96), France (81), Italy (76), Spain (61), Poland (53), Romania (33), Netherlands (31), Belgium (22), Greece (21), Czech Republic (21), Sweden (21), Portugal (21), Hungary (21), Austria (20), Bulgaria (17), Denmark (15), Finland (15), Slovakia (15), Ireland (14), Croatia (12), Lithuania (11), Slovenia (9), Latvia (9), Estonia (7), Cyprus (6), Luxembourg (6), and Malta (6). Consequently, six countries dominate in terms of representation: Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Poland, and Romania.

The European Parliament consists of seven political groups: the Group of the European People's Party (EPP), the Group of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats in the European Parliament (S&D), the Renew Europe Group (Liberals), the Group of the Greens/European Free Alliance, the European Conservatives and Reformists Group, the Identity and Democracy Group, and the Left Group in the European Parliament - GUE/NGL.

Approximately 350 million voters are eligible to cast their ballots, and their choice of votes will shape the direction of the EU for the next five years. Right-wing and far-right parties have made significant gains within the EU in recent years, and this rightward shift is likely to be reflected in the future composition of the European Parliament. Certain far-right parties are associated with Russia and Russian influence. Historically, it was left-wing parties that had ties to Moscow, but in the current political climate, it is the far-right. The pervasive Russian corruption has deeply infiltrated EU institutions. Voter interest in the elections is significantly higher than it was five years ago. Key priorities for EU citizens include combating poverty, supporting public health, achieving energy independence, creating new jobs, ensuring food supply security, addressing migration and asylum issues, and maintaining effective defence and security.

This year's European Parliament elections are exceptionally important. Concurrently, elections are underway in the United States, putting the Euro-Atlantic alliance to the test. The identity of the next American president is of crucial importance to the EU. The question remains whether open, free democracies will prevail. Europe must prioritize defence and protection as fundamental tasks. The EU still continues to uphold its international obligations, (re)position itself in international relations, and determine who enters Europe and under what conditions.

EU between Euroscepticism and Euro-optimism

After each five-year mandate in EU institutions, there is a noticeable increase in Euroscepticism. The EU is not led by top-tier politicians, which is evident in the candidates for the European Parliament and later in the composition of the European Commission.

These EP elections are crucial as they will chart the EU's course, determining whether pro-sovereigntists, federalists, or confederations gain strength or if the EU pursues a different direction. This will be significantly influenced by net recipient member states of funds from the EU budget (states that receive more from the EU budget than they contribute). The upcoming EU elections, amid current geopolitical and geostrategic circumstances and interests, carry added weight. 

The EU administration is led by technocrats, operating as a thoroughly bureaucratized apparatus. Even unelected officials decide on the fate of states. The European Parliament is the only institution that is directly elected through a democratic process. Destructive policies emanate from certain EU member states or groups of member states. 

With the departure of the United Kingdom, the position of Germany in relation to France is jeopardized, as their mutual relations have not been at such a low level for a long time.

Differentiation in the right-wing political spectrum

During the financial crisis, a notable differentiation occurred within the left-wing political spectrum, separating traditional social democratic and socialist parties from the far-left, exemplified by parties like Syriza in Greece.

The European People's Party (EPP), being the largest political group in the European Parliament, is experiencing a differentiation process between traditional conservative and Christian democratic parties, and the far-right. This process will lead to a shift in power dynamics among political groups in the European Parliament.

Analysts believe that the upcoming elections for the European Parliament will be marked by a confrontation between so-called "Sorosoids" and "Orbanoids," referring to political parties that draw inspiration and support from George Soros and Viktor Orban, respectively. This confrontation is particularly prevalent in South-eastern and Central Europe. The increasing divide among EU member states, favouring some while marginalizing others, presents a clear danger.It's imperative that Eastern European member states assume more significant roles within EU institutions; otherwise, the EU will be seen as an exclusive 'Western Europe' club.

Lowering the voting age to 16 

Reducing the voting age threshold would enlarge the pool of eligible voters, thereby enhancing the legitimacy of elections and elected representatives, as they would be chosen by a broader electorate. However, lowering the voting age, and consequently expanding the voter base, does not necessarily translate to increased voter turnout (the percentage of eligible voters who actually cast their votes in elections). Lowering the voting age to the proposed 16 years for acquiring voting rights and "expanding" the electorate may result in an overall increase in the number of voters.

Countries like Austria, Belgium, Malta, and Germany have already granted voting rights to 16-year-olds. Greece has set a similar age limit of 17 years. Scotland already permitted 16-year-olds to participate in the 2014 referendum on Scottish independence. Nevertheless, there are still many EU countries that prohibit individuals under 18 years of age from voting in European Parliament elections.

In the 21st century, age remains one of the few remaining criteria, alongside citizenship and/or residency, that limit active and passive voting rights. Discrimination based on various grounds, including age and nationality, is prohibited in the European Union. The right to vote is a fundamental political human right that is inalienable and non-transferable, thus any limitation on it must be thoroughly justified.

The underrepresentation of young voters has a negative impact on the quality of decision-making in local, national, and European representative bodies, as they often focus excessively on past issues rather than future development matters. Therefore, the proposed reduction of the voting age to 16 would contribute to a more balanced influence of different generations on local, national, and European decision-making. It is time to take the necessary steps, lower the electoral threshold, and allow young people to have a say in shaping their future in the present.

EU's enlargement policy

The EU's enlargement policy has provided a new impetus to integration. Historically, EU enlargement has often been prompted by crises.

The Russian invasion of Ukraine presents an opportunity for the EU to initiate accelerated mechanisms for enlargement. However, this hinges on the political will within the EU to include Western Balkan countries in its membership, as there is a tangible risk that these countries might gravitate towards other interest spheres and integrations. Enthusiasm for EU membership has waned in the Western Balkans, with alternatives to EU membership beginning to emerge due to the EU's past policies in the region. These policies have been characterized by various forms of conditioning, coercion, and humiliation and have never been genuinely sincere. People in the Western Balkans strongly resist such treatment from the EU. If EU enlargement priorities focus primarily on Ukraine or even include Moldova and Georgia while neglecting the Western Balkans, it would represent a defeat for the European vision in the region and pose a risk of permanently losing the Western Balkans to the EU. Of particular concern is the perception among the population of the Western Balkans that the EU, primarily a "Catholic Europe," does not want countries with predominantly Orthodox or Muslim populations as its members.

The EU between war and peace

The precursor to the EU was the Coal and Steel Community, established immediately after the end of World War II as a peace project with a Euro-Atlantic foundation. Over time, there has been qualitative and quantitative evolution into the European Economic Community, later the European Community, and now the European Union.

It's crucial to acknowledge that both world wars began in Europe, underscoring the paramount importance of peace within the EU. This significance has been particularly highlighted following the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the conflicts in Gaza. Will Europe be a continent of war or a continent of peace? The answer to this question will largely depend on the outcome of the upcoming European elections.

Election of the President of the European Commission –Lack of Visionary Leadership

Among the primary tasks awaiting the newly elected Members of the European Parliament is the selection of the President of the European Commission.

Political parties represented in the seven parliamentary groups of the European Parliament have nominated one candidate each for the position of President of the European Commission. These candidates currently include Walter Baier (European Left), Sandro Gozi (Renew Europe), Ursula von der Leyen (European People's Party), Terry Reintke (European Green Party), and Nicholas Schmit (Party of European Socialists).

The current President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, is seeking re-election, but it may be time for a candidate from Eastern Europe to assume that position. The leaders of the 27 EU member states, forming the European Council, will consider the election results and then appoint the candidate whose name is proposed to the European Parliament. Political groups in the EU Parliament could utilize the system of lead candidates, known as the Spitzenkandidat, as they did in 2014. According to this principle, each group proposes a presidential candidate before the elections, and the group that wins the most seats is mandated to select the President of the European Commission. It's not ruled out that the new President of the European Commission could be someone who was not a Spitzenkandidat, as happened in the previous European election.

Analysts believe that the upcoming European elections are decisive for the future of the EU. Without comprehensive reform, the EU cannot survive long-term and overcome its internal crisis. The current approach to leading the EU is outdated. The question of migrants and asylum policy must not sow discord within the EU but rather serve as a catalyst for unity in finding suitable solutions. A unified external and defence policy is indispensable for the EU's ongoing evolution. Despite challenges, the EU remains an attractive destination for living, as evidenced by the numerous migrants who aspire to make the EU their new home for life and work.

Ljubljana/Bruxelles, 6 June 2024 

[1]  IFIMES - International Institute for Middle East and Balkan Studies, based in Ljubljana, Slovenia, has a special consultative status with the United Nations Economic and Social Council ECOSOC/UN in New York since 2018, and it is the publisher of the international scientific journal "European Perspectives."