EU elections June 2024: why it matters

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Belgian Foreign Minister Hadja Lahbib poses with a European flag in a fake polling station to encourage people to vote in the upcoming European elections.

Laurie Dieffembacq | Episode | Getty Images

The political make-up of the European Union is about to change as voters in the 27 member states go to the polls from Thursday to Sunday.

With growing support for far-right parties, analysts expect a more protectionist policy from the bloc, with fewer climate targets and more defense spending.

CNBC investigates why these elections are important for Europe and the rest of the world.

Relations with the US

European Union lawmakers and officials widely cheered U.S. President Joe Biden’s 2020 election win, seeing it as a new dawn in the transatlantic relationship. Until then, European officials had been significantly challenged by the previous administration, under Donald Trump, which had imposed trade tariffs, disagreed on climate pledges and shocked mainstream politicians with its combative style.

The future of the transatlantic relationship is still uncertain as American voters head to the polls in November and it remains to be seen whether Biden will remain in the White House or whether Trump will return.

But whatever happens, the EU has learned an important lesson: it may no longer be able to rely on the US for defense in the future. Trump has previously noted that he would not protect NATO countries from Russian attacks if they fall behind on their membership payments. In addition, US lawmakers took several months to approve new financial aid to Ukraine, raising questions about their long-term commitment to the matter.

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As such, the EU’s next policymakers are expected to increase spending and work more closely with themselves on defense.

Relations with China

The European Commission, the EU’s executive branch, is expected to announce new tariffs on Chinese electric vehicles just days after the elections take place.

The EU is walking a tightrope in its ties with China.

On the one hand, Brussels recognizes Beijing as a strategic rival, but at the same time it wants to maintain cooperation on climate issues and geopolitical issues.

Green promises

In the aftermath of the 2019 EU elections, the bloc claimed it was the world champion of a climate-friendly agenda. But with more climate-skeptical politicians arriving in Brussels, the bloc is expected to relax some of these previous ambitions.

“The rightward shift in the EU Parliament would only facilitate a delay in further environmental legislation and possibly even the dilution of existing agreements, such as phasing out conventional cars by 2035,” Citi analysts said in a research note in late May. .

“This could include more support for nuclear energy or even supporting fracking for cheaper and more reliable gas,” she added.

Giorgia Meloni, Prime Minister of Italy, during an election campaign meeting of the Brothers of Italy ahead of the European elections in Rome, Italy, on Saturday, June 1, 2024.

Bloomberg | Bloomberg | Getty Images

The future of Ukraine

In the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Kiev has applied to join the European Union and official negotiations could begin as soon as this month.

Although this process will likely take many years to complete, it is already raising questions about how much the EU will have to change to accept Ukraine and other new members.

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There is a general feeling that the EU will have to take over this qualified majority to get things done instead of looking for the usual consensus. This would mean that decisions would have to be taken without the need for unanimity, as this becomes increasingly difficult the more Member States there are.

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Citi analysts also said that if Ukraine were to potentially join the EU, there could be a “major shift in net contributions”, which would likely upset countries that are currently net recipients of the EU budget.

“Even greater Eurosceptic representation is also likely to weigh against bold reforms that could make enlargement difficult,” the analysts said.

‘It’s the economy’

A whole Europe research showed in March that citizens see the economy, social justice and employment as the most important dimensions for the future of Europe.

This is especially important at a time when the bloc is still recovering from an inflation crisis that dominated most of 2023.

Goldman Sachs said in a research note in May that the EU faces three structural problems: a worsening demographic outlook, weak industrial investment compared to the United States, and low productivity growth.

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