The European Parliament will shift to the right in June. That is the prediction of Simon Hix, Professor in the EUI Department of Political and Social Science. Together with Kevin Cunningham, Hix led the study “A sharp right turn: A forecast for the 2024 European Parliament elections”, published by the European Council on Foreign Relations on 23 January.
The resulting policy brief forecasts voting patterns six months ahead of the 2024 European elections. The findings indicate that far-right populist parties are expected to poll first in nine member states, namely Austria, Belgium, France, Hungary, Italy, Poland, the Netherlands, Slovakia, and the Czech Republic.
"Our results are quite explosive," explained Hix. "The rise of the far-right movement is not new. However, in many countries, at the national level, these parties have now reached a point in which they are considered as serious players in the formation of government."
Indeed, this phenomenon can be observed across almost all countries to differing extents in Europe, resulting in the mainstream parties on the right sitting on the fence when dealing with the far-right. According to Hix, this will have major ramifications in shifting policies in the EU. "These elections could see the same kind of threshold being crossed at the European level, where they become such a big block in the European Parliament that it will be difficult to ignore them in the adoption of policies," he said.
Regarding the methodology behind the forecast, Hix explained that the team looked at current opinion polls, six months before election-time, comparing them to what happened following the opinion polls six months ahead of the EU elections in 2014 and 2019. "If we know their political family, their current opinion poll standing, and how they performed in the last national and EU elections, then we can use that information to forecast the upcoming elections," Hix explained.
The report has received wide attention across top-tier media outlets like The Guardian and Politico. "The reason the report received so much coverage is because our analysis is the first to come up with a proper forecast and to consider the potential policy implications of the election outcome," Hix explained.
Notably, the report highlights the Nature Restoration Law as a key piece of legislation to illustrate the impact of changing party composition on policy outcomes. The Law faced a critical vote when the European People's Party's (EPP) attempt to reject the proposal narrowly failed. Despite this, the Parliament ultimately accepted the Commission's proposal, resisting efforts from right-wing groups to weaken the actions through subsequent votes on amendments.
"The average member of the Parliament used to be in the Liberal group in the middle of the Parliament. Now, the average member is going to be in the EPP, on the central right," Hix said. "So, the centre right will find themselves in the middle of the Parliament and they can decide ‘Do we form a coalition to our left or do we form a coalition to our right?".
In responding to the challenges faced by European voters, Hix emphasised that the mainstream parties’ struggle to respond to major structural changes in European politics. In particular, he mentioned growing inequality, climate concerns, and immigration as pressing policy issues. "In a sense, one way I think about it is, if democracy works and there have been really dramatic, economic and social structural changes over the past 20 to 30 years, that should be reflected in politics," Hix explained.
Addressing infrastructure, regional inequalities, developing comprehensive climate policies, and focusing on societal and economic integration are some of the strategic topics Hix proposes for the mainstream party platforms leading up to the 2024 elections. Another notable recommendation is to advocate for a positive approach to immigration. "No one is making a positive case for immigration," Hix said. "We need immigration in Europe, with our aging population. What mainstream parties need to do is address the question of how we are going to integrate new arrivals, socially, politically, and economically."
On EU foreign policy matters, in particular regarding Ukraine, he anticipates minimal impact. "Even though some of the parties on the right are sympathetic to Russia, there is a big division as many parties in Central and Eastern Europe support the EU's position on the war," he stated.
Moreover, on European security policy, Hix acknowledged the potential impact of the upcoming US Presidential election. "The big question, of course, is Trump.", he explained. "If Trump wins, that would fundamentally change the debate in Europe about European security policy. It will be very interesting to see how the new European Parliament would respond to that."
The policy brief “A sharp right turn: A forecast for the 2024 European Parliament elections” was published by the European Council on Foreign Relations on 23 January. The data will be updated in one month. On 14 February, Simon Hix will discuss the forecast model at the European University Institute during the event “A forecast for the 2024 European Parliament elections”, organised by the Robert Schuman Centre’s European Governance and Politics Programme.