2024 European Elections: What do they mean for Britain?

With all eyes cast over our general election on the 4th of July, the nonetheless important elections to the European Parliament take place this across the weekend. This marks the first European elections without UK participation, yet the outcome will nonetheless profoundly impact post-Brexit Britain. 

Unlike traditional government-opposition models, the European Parliament’s decision-making is decided collectively, adopting, and amending legislative proposals, supervising other bodies in the European Union, and providing a democratic legitimacy to them. This form of decision-making relies heavily on continuous, cross-group collaboration. This is accentuated by the proportional representation system used in these elections, with most countries employing Party List Proportional Representation, while Ireland and Malta use the Single Transferable Vote, consistent with their national systems.

The results of these elections will shape the next UK government’s collaboration with our closest partners on key issues such as trade, climate change and migration. With far-right parties expected to make gains, this could present challenges for a potential Labour government on all the aforementioned issues. Polls indicating that the right-wing European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) and Identity and Democracy (ID) groups may surpass the centre-left Socialists and Democrats (S&D) Group, posing a risk of socio-political divergence between Britain and the EU, and potentially isolating the UK further on the continent. 

Historically, a grand coalition of the S&D, Christian Democrats (EPP) and Liberals (RE) has dominated in Europe, meaning the potential change of the rise of the far-right being reflected in the European Parliament has the risk of sending tremors across the European political scene.

For Ursula von der Leyen, who is seeking a second term as President of the European Commission, there are risks of being forced to make concessions to the radical right parties, inevitably costing her critical support among progressive forces, potentially leaving the European Parliament, European Council and European Commission at a deadlock. Such a deadlock in the EU jeopardises the European Green Deal and a cohesive migration policy. Traditionally Eurosceptic parties, now influenced by the perceived failures of Brexit, now aim to transform the EU from within, instead supporting a radical redrawing of the EU as an ultimate decision-maker is precisely why Labour will fear a right-wing takeover of EU institutions.

Despite differing political views, most groups in the European Parliament recognise the pressing crises facing Europe, from climate change to migration, Ukraine, and the Middle East. It is for this reason that Britain and the EU will have to, somehow, overcome polarising differences regardless of who is in charge of the Commission and who holds the Presidency. 

The European Union is one of the strongest forces in the world to stand up to ideological and strategic challengers of Russia and China. Thus, in order to de-risk the elevation of these challengers for both the EU and the wider European continent and its allies, there is an absolute necessity for the EU, UK, and its allies to align further on issues of international concern. 

Keir Starmer’s standing on the European Union is thus integral to the extent further compliance. Whilst having stated that Labour seeks to work more closely with the EU, there has been a refusal of being any sort of ‘rule-taker’ or to allow any transfer of sovereignty back to Brussels. Whilst not mutually exclusive, there are certainly going to be difficult conversations had between a hypothetical Prime Minister Starmer and any European Commission President.

In conclusion, the 2024 European Elections are critically important for Britain, even as we abstain from direct participation for the first time. Labour therefore will be hoping that the centre-left can counter the far-right’s rise, with Conservatives finding the potential outcomes more aligned with their policy agenda. As we focus on our general election in the UK, we must also prepare for a potentially transformed Europe which will significantly impact any incoming UK government. The trajectory of Britain’s role within the European continent hinges on these elections, highlighting the enduring importance of European politics for Britain.