Results of the June 6-9 European Parliament elections, in which about 51% of 370 million-plus electors in 27 European Union (EU) countries voted, showed gains for right wing and far right parties at the expense of mainly Left and liberal parties.

The center-right group European People’s Party (EPP) was projected to win the most seats, 186, in the 720-member House that meets in Strasbourg, France — 10 more than in 2019, when too, the EPP was the largest group.

The rightwing Identity and Democracy (ID) group, which includes the French opposition leader Marine Le Pen’s far-right National Rally (NR), was projected to win 58 seats, a gain of 9 seats. In response, French President Emmanuel Macron called a snap election to Parliament, saying he could not ignore the outcome of the European election in which his pro-Europe Renaissance party performed badly.

The Eurosceptic European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) group, which is dominated by Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni’s Brothers of Italy party, was projected to win 73 seats, a gain of 4.

Who are the major players in these elections, and why do the results matter for Europe at large?

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What is the European Parliament?

The EU is a unique supranational entity. Its member states pool their sovereignty to acquire a collective strength and global influence that they cannot achieve individually.

In practice, this means that member states delegate some of their decision-making powers to the shared institutions they have established. The European Parliament, the Council of the EU, and the European Commission (EC) are some of their core institutions.

Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) are directly elected by citizens of the 27 member states. Therefore, it provides a certain democratic legitimacy to all EU activities.

The 720 seats of the Parliament are allocated on the principle of ‘degressive proportionality’, meaning smaller states elect more MEPs than their populations would proportionally warrant. MEPs are chosen by proportional representation, ensuring the number of elected MEPs is proportional to the votes they receive.

What are the functions of the European Parliament?

The Parliament has three major functions.

First, it adopts and amends EU legislation along with the Council of the EU. Second, it supervises the functioning of all other EU institutions and bodies, particularly the EC. It approves or rejects appointments to the EC. Third, the Parliament shares authority over the EU budget with the Council, which allows it to influence EU spending.

The Parliament also ratifies international agreements, including those on trade and investment.

The new Parliament will shape the EU’s direction for the next five years on issues such as climate change, migration, the Green Deal aimed at making Europe climate neutral by 2050, digitisation, support for Ukraine, and policies towards Russia, China, the Middle East. , and the Indo-Pacific.

Who will be the major players in the new European Parliament?

Voters in the European Parliament elections choose from their national political parties. The winning candidates then become part of Europe-wide political groups in the European Parliament. Almost all major parties in the 27 EU countries are affiliated with one or the other of these European groups, based on commonalities in ideology.

A minimum of 23 MEPs from at least one-fourth of EU Member States can form a new group in the European Parliament. Currently, there are seven groups in the Parliament: European People’s Party (EPP); Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats (S&D); Renew Europe; Greens/European Free Alliance (Greens/EFA); European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR); Identity and Democracy (ID), and the Left Group (GUE/NGL).

Many European center-right conservative parties, like Germany’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU), align with the EPP. Most center-left socialist parties, like Spain’s Socialist Workers’ Party, are part of the S&D group. Many centrist liberal parties, such as Macron’s Renaissance party, belong to Renew Europe. Most right-wing parties are associated with the ECR and ID groups, like Meloni’s Brothers of Italy and Marine Le Pen’s National Rally respectively.

No group has been able to achieve a majority in the Parliament in recent years. But the EPP and the Socialists have remained the two major groups. With each election, the Parliament has become more fragmented, leading to issue-based coalitions.

This year, the right and far right have grown at the expense of the Greens, Renew, and Socialists. But pro-Europe progressive groups like the EPP, S&D, Renew, and Greens have still managed to win more than 60% of the seats.

Two far-right political parties — Alternative for Germany (AfD) and Hungarian Fidesz — are not part of any group. Altogether, far-right parties are projected to secure more than 150 seats. Overall, while the EPP has emerged as a clear winner, far-right parties have gained significantly.

How might the EU’s position on hot-button issues like immigration be affected by these results?

The European Parliament mirrors broad political trends across Europe. Many EU countries such as Italy, Finland, and Hungary, have right-wing governments. Right-wing parties have made significant gains in Germany and France in recent years.

As a result, the position of the Right in the European Parliament has also strengthened. These parties are gaining traction from issues including increased immigration into Europe, national identity, and skepticism towards many EU policies. Their persistent anti-immigrant, anti-EU, and anti-Islam rhetoric has resonated with many voters.

This shift has pressured many center-right parties to adopt harder positions on immigration. There will be increased support for tighter border controls and stricter immigration and asylum rules in the new Parliament.

The high costs of green transition goals may also face scrutiny. Although climate action remains generally popular in Europe, many parties exploit the skepticism for specific measures. They have gained support from farmers protesting against emission reduction measures, consumers facing rising energy prices, and industries struggling with declining competitiveness due to the switch from fossil fuels. Even the EPP now aims to overturn the ban on combustion engine cars by 2035.

And why has Emmanuel Macron called snap polls in France?

Macron dissolved the French Parliament after suffering a humiliating defeat in the EU elections to National Rally, which garnered 31% of votes compared to the President’s centrist liberal party’s 15%. Marine Le Pen has welcomed the announcement.

European elections in many EU countries have traditionally seen protest votes against their governments. Macron has thrown a challenge to the far right — and seeks to gauge its popularity and evaluate its governing capabilities, as well as test the choice of the French public.

The two-round national elections in France differ significantly from European elections. The French system may pose a challenge to many populist candidates, because it requires candidates to secure a substantial vote share to win seats. Far-right parties may end up short of a majority, and it is very difficult to govern without a majority in the French Parliament.

Macron will be hoping that the election demonstrates that the far right, despite rising, does not yet have the popular support required to win national elections.

How could the elections impact French politics and Macron’s position?

France has a semi-presidential form of government, in which citizens vote separately for Parliament and President, and the President appoints the Prime Minister. The President and PM typically belong to the same political party or coalition.

Macron’s party is the largest in Parliament, but lacks a majority. This has been a challenge as he has tried to advance his agenda in the legislature since being re-elected President in 2022.

If his party emerges victorious in the elections scheduled to take place in two rounds on June 30 and July 7, Macron can govern effectively for the remaining three years of his presidency and better take on the challenge of the far right.

In the event of a defeat, Macron’s own position will remain unaffected. But he may be compelled to appoint a new PM from the opposition, perhaps from the far right. This could result in “cohabitation”, the situation in which the President and Parliament represent opposing political factions. In this scenario, Macron’s powers to shape domestic affairs will be reduced significantly.

A recent example of cohabitation was in 1997 when President Jacques Chirac had to coexist with a socialist-led coalition dominating the French Parliament for five years.

Gulshan Sachdeva is a Professor at the Center for European Studies and Coordinator, Jean Monnet Center of Excellence, Jawaharlal Nehru University.