24 April 2024

Policy Breakfast European elections

Travelling forward: An outlook on the European elections and the new EU mandate

The 2024 European elections are just around the corner. What are current voting tendencies among the people in Europe and how does the further rise of parties outside the centrist groups impact EU policymaking? TUI Group organised a Policy Breakfast about these important topics on 16 April 2024 in Brussels.

Besides debating the elections and current trends shaping European politics, the event also focused on what can be expected for the new EU mandate. TUI Group’s Ralf Pastleitner, Director for International Public Policy and EU Affairs hosted the breakfast and was joined by guest speakers Sophia Russack, Researcher in the Institutions unit at CEPS, and Nicolas Le Polain de Waroux, Head of Unit Concept and Design at DG Communication, European Parliament.

The guests of the policy breakfast gathered in TUI's corporate office in Brussels.

New institutional dynamics: Parliamentary majorities and the lead candidate process

The European elections in June 2024 will be held in a context of numerous challenges that need to be solved: climate change, migration and geopolitical shifts, just to name a few. Moreover, the political landscape is expected to change substantially as the current ‘grand coalition’ made up of the conservative European Peoples Party (EPP), the Social-Democrats (S&D) and the Liberals (Renew), is likely to lose seats and parties to the right of the political spectrum could see their relevance increase substantially.

During the discussion, Sophia Russack, Researcher in the Institutions unit at the Centre for European Policy Studies, stated: “There is currently a shift to the right in voting behaviour. In this context, the biggest group in the Parliament, the EPP, may be inclined to find new alliances, in addition to the grand coalition in the middle. Making decisions without the right-of-centre groups, which are expected to account for up to 30% of MEPs, will be possible but the centrist majority will be tighter. This is likely to position the EPP as a quite powerful agenda setter and it’s expected to play a decisive role during the next mandate.”

Sophia Russack (first row, second from the right) is a Researcher in the Institutions unit at the Centre for European Policy Studies since 2016.

Expanding on the lead candidate process, and the probability of another term for Ursula von der Leyen as EC President, she reflected: “It is not impossible that there could be a surprise, but it is still likely that Ms von der Leyen will be re-appointed as Commission President. The confirmation vote may well take place rather in September, instead of during the first plenary session of the Parliament in July, and it is likely that Parliament will try to use the time available to influence the Commission agenda. As to the Member States, it looks rather likely that Ms von der Leyen will obtain the backing of the required simple majority of Member States. She did in general deliver to the expectations of Member States during the current term and can provide stability in turbulent times.”

Voting behaviour: motivation and activation

Nicolas Le Polain de Waroux, Head of Unit at DG Communications in the European Parliament, focused on the current institutional campaign of the European Parliament to encourage people to vote in the next elections. He explained: “Studies show that people in general are civically engaged but we need them to prioritize going to vote on the day of the election. To do so, we have focused our campaign on the importance of democracy. Our message is: “If you don’t vote you will be living in someone else’s democracy, and others will take decisions for you.” In other words, "use your vote or others will decide for you."

According to Eurobarometer data, 72% of European citizens agree that their country has benefited from its EU membership and 57% are interested in the coming European elections (an increase of six points compared to 2018). At the same time, 73% expect their personal standard of living to further decrease in 2024. Reflecting on these figures, Mr Le Polain explained that increasingly “people are more anxious about their life and they know decision making in the EU is important. We have seen in the past that in times of relevant crisis, interest in the EU rises.”

From left to right: Ralf Pastleitner, TUI Group, Sophia Russack, CEPS and Nicolas Le Polain de Waroux, European Parliament.

Now, whilst activating voters remains crucial to nurture the democratic system and a participative Europe, both speakers agreed that it is also very important to stay attentive of how hostile autocracies may seek to influence how people form an opinion and how such regimes may exploit opportunities provided by advanced AI and the use of social media. To tackle this, the Commission has unveiled the Defence of Democracy Package last year with the aim to uphold civil society. Its effectiveness is yet to be evaluated.

Voter turnout: The influence of the young generation

Another key focus of the discussion was on how to attract young voters. Particularly given the fact that Germany and Belgium are allowing young people aged 16 and over to vote for the first time this year in the European elections. It was mentioned that, whilst young people tend to be very engaged and politically active, this not always translates into voting in elections, as young people may prefer other activities to express their political views, like taking part in demonstrations. In this regard, Mr Le Polain highlighted that “we must make voting 'cool' again and we are not fully there yet.”

Regarding attitudes of the young Europeans, we can refer to TUI Stiftung’s representative youth study “Young Europe”, which is carried out on an annual basis. Find out more here. The results from the 2024 Youth Study will be published soon.

With this latest event in its series of Policy Breakfasts, TUI Group once again provided a platform for insightful dialogue on the future of European politics and its impact on various sectors. As the European elections loom closer, the discussions fostered a deeper understanding of the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead for the EU and its citizens.