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Robert Schuman Centre for Advanced Studies - European University Institute

Uniting forces and divisive lines: Political positions before the elections

If we were to imagine that the European Union was one single political space, which would be the most consensual and most divisive political issues among parties and voters?

03 June 2024 | Research

Five European Union flags waving in front of an EU building, with purple pixelized elements, part of the visual identity for EUANDI, the voting advice application developed by the European University Institute, integrated into the image.

On 6-9 June European Parliament elections take place separately in all 27 member states, with national parties competing against each other. The research team who developed the voting advice application EU&I at the Robert Schuman Centre, analysed the most consensual and polarizing issues among EU parties and the trends emerging from a sample of about 150,000 citizens using the application.

On abortion, defence and security, rule of law and cost of living

Contrary to the polarized landscape often portrayed in the media, the study reveals significant agreement on several key issues. Abortion rights see a striking 74% of EU parties opposing restrictions, an opinion echoed by more than 80% of EU&I users so far. This highlights a clear divergence from the contentious debates seen in other parts of the world, such as the US.

A broad consensus has also emerged over defence and security issues: more than 70% of the parties agree that EU should strengthen its security and defence policy and support increasing military spending. This position is mirrored by almost 80% of users who favor strengthening EU defence policy and 72% who support military aid to Ukraine. Strong support for Ukraine to join the EU underlines the collective response to external threats.

The principle of democratic governance also shows high agreement, with 85% of users and 68% of parties, who had an opinion on this question, supporting sanctions against member states that undermine the rule of law. This reflects a shared commitment to upholding democratic values within the EU.

Parties converge also on two economic issues that have been highly relevant in recent years: the problems faced by European farmers and the cost-of-living crisis, with 71% of parties in favour of protecting farmers from external competition as well as 70% approving state intervention to control rising costs of basic commodities. While user support is slightly lower, around 60%, these issues remain rather consensual.

On veto power, environment, soft drugs and immigration

Nevertheless, several issues strongly divide EU parties and voters. The most divisive issue is the veto power of individual member state: 48% of the parties that have an opinion on that issue are in favour of member states having less veto power, 50% are against it. While many European leaders have expressed their dismay over instances when one country blocks some crucial decisions at the EU, there is still very high disagreement over curtailing such power. Users are similarly split, with the highest share of ’No opinion’ responses as many struggle to take a stance on this issue.

On environmental policy, there is a slight majority of parties and users on the ’green side’ on issues such as promoting public transport through green taxes and supporting renewable energy, but a more specific policy - the proposed ban on selling internal combustion engine cars by 2035 - reveals sharp divisions, showing that the discourse on climate action versus economic impact is highly polarized.

The legalisation of personal use of soft drugs sees a near-even divide, with 48% of parties in favor and 44% against. Users lean slightly more supportive at 53%, indicating a contentious debate on personal freedoms versus regulatory control.

As to be expected, immigration policy continues to polarize, with 50% of parties and 44% of users supporting stricter immigration controls, while 43% of parties and almost 40% of users oppose such measures. The mandatory relocation system for refugees also divides opinions, although user support is slightly higher.

This analysis covers 274 political parties and 6 (Irish) independent candidates across the 27 EU countries. EU&I is designed to help citizens find the political party that best matches their preferences in the 2024 European Parliament elections. The tool was developed by a group of over 150 European researchers and is led by Lorenzo Cicchi and Andres Reiljan.

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Disclaimer: The sample of users of the EU&I application is not a representative cross-cut of EU citizens and should not be interpreted as such.

Last update: 03 June 2024

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