Center for American Progress

EU Elections: What the Results Mean and Why They Matter

EU Elections: What the Results Mean and Why They Matter

While pro-European and democratic forces hold the majority in the EU parliament elections, far-right gains portend trouble ahead.

Photo shows the EU flag displayed in the foreground, and one man near polling stations in an empty hallways
A flag of the European Union is seen in the foreground as a man prepares to cast his ballot for European Parliament elections at a polling station in Warsaw, Poland, on June 9, 2024. (Getty/Wojtek Radwanski/AFP)

Democracy was on the ballot in the European Parliament election that ended on June 9, as citizens in the union’s 27 member states participated in one of the world’s largest democratic exercises. The results present a mixed picture at both the European level and within individual member states. Despite far-right gains, the overarching outcome is that the center holds, for now. The two major centrist blocs, the center-right European People’s Party (EPP) Group and its counterpart, the center-left Socialists and Democrats (S&D), saw their vote shares remain relatively unchanged.

Still, the gains by far-right parties, which ran on campaigns tinged with hypernationalism, could leave Europe in a precarious position. Pro-European forces must continue to work together to maintain support for Ukraine, address climate change, and build a humane and realistic immigration policy. The task ahead is daunting but necessary: As EU leadership negotiations start next week, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen needs to hold the center line, prioritize unity, and address citizens’ concerns in order to counter the rising tide of extremism.

Progressives on both sides of the Atlantic should be bold, pushing for comprehensive policies that address economic inequality, social justice, public safety, and environmental sustainability.

The results

The EPP remains the largest group in parliament, with 26 percent of the seats (189), almost unchanged from 182 seats in 2019. The center-left S&D captured 19 percent (135 seats), down from 154 seats five years ago. More dramatic shifts occurred on the pro-European and progressive left. Renew Europe (RE), a coalition of progressive pro-European parties, fell from 108 to 79 seats, securing around 11 percent. The Greens/European Free Alliance (G/EFA) dropped from 74 to 53 seats, slightly more than 7 percent, reflecting a broader anti-green backlash across the continent. In contrast, far-right groups made notable gains. The right-wing European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) rose from 62 to 73 seats, reaching 10 percent, while Identity and Democracy (ID), a far-right nationalist, populist, and euroskeptic group, secured 8 percent, with most of their seats coming from Marine Le Pen’s National Rally (RN).

Notably, the far right gained significant support in the big three countries: France, Germany, and Italy. In France, the RN captured 31 percent of the vote, prompting President Emmanuel Macron to dissolve the National Assembly and call for new parliamentary elections—a gambit that could risk that bloc’s long-term security assistance for Ukraine and result in a Prime Minister Le Pen. In Germany, the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) garnered nearly 16 percent of the final tally, their best-ever showing. Meanwhile, the ruling coalition of Greens, Liberals, and Social Democrats suffered their worst performance ever, with Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s Social Democratic Party experiencing a historic defeat. In Italy, Giorgia Meloni’s Brothers of Italy skirted just under 30 percent, a resounding success for the anti-immigrant and right-wing incumbent.

Percolations of resistance to a far-right agenda have shown through in surprising places.

Percolations of resistance to a far-right agenda have shown through in surprising places. In Hungary, where Prime Minister Viktor Orbán has become the poster child for illiberal nationalism, opposition parties managed to hold their ground against the ruling Fidesz party, which had hoped to dominate the election. In Poland, the pro-European Civic Platform (KO) rallied significant support despite the growing influence of the far-right Confederation party. Latvia sent its first-ever progressive party to the European Parliament, in a stunning rebuke of a campaign marked by anti-elite and nativist rhetoric. In Spain, the Socialist Workers’ Party (PSOE) and other centrist parties managed to counterbalance the rise of Vox, a far-right party known for its “anti-woke” and anti-LGBTQ+ policies.

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Implications for the EU policy agenda

The question remains whether the far right will act as a coherent political bloc or descend into particularism and infighting. The far right is not unified on all issues. For instance, Italian Prime Minister Meloni has aligned with majorities in the European Union and the United States in supporting Ukraine. However, other far-right parties in Europe are more skeptical and openly friendly with Vladimir Putin’s Russia. Marine Le Pen’s RN has sourced financing from Russian banks (since paid off), and Germany’s AfD has consistently pushed for lifting sanctions against Russia and expressed admiration for Putin’s leadership style—a phenomenon the Germans call “Putinversteher.” Such a fractious stance within the far right appears unlikely to pose real challenges to prevailing transatlantic security policy. Yet much of what happens on Ukraine depends on whether Meloni continues to play a constructive role in Brussels—a strategy that could economically benefit Italy by securing additional EU funds for migration and energy security but could also alienate her euroskeptic base.​

Less certain is the fate of landmark climate and nature legislation in the European Union, given that groups across the right and center-right spectrum hold positions opposing climate action. For example, parties such as France’s RN and Germany’s AfD have openly criticized and opposed climate policies, arguing they harm national economies and individual freedoms. Similarly, the center-right EPP has shown resistance to ambitious climate measures, further muddying the waters of effective environmental action. Taken together, these positions cast doubt on the European Union’s future commitment to addressing climate change.

Beyond climate issues, far-right groups are often united in their antiestablishment rhetoric, attacks on women’s rights, and shameless use of antisemitic tropes. Meloni’s Brothers of Italy exemplifies this trend with strict anti-immigration policies and incendiary, often racialized, xenophobic rhetoric. In Poland, the Law and Justice party, along with the far-right Confederation party, opposes abortion rights and seeks punitive measures against LGBTQ+ communities. Similarly, Hungary’s Fidesz, under Viktor Orbán’s leadership, targets nongovernmental organizations and independent media with virulent antisemitic slander.

The recent EU elections demonstrate that the far right is here to stay, that it is not a relic of the past, and that it must be dealt with seriously. These parties not only shift EU politics further to the right but also blur the lines between mainstream and extremist views. Normalizing the extreme right can erode democratic institutions and increase violence against marginalized communities. Maintaining a clear distinction between centrist and far-right parties, a strategy referred to as the cordon sanitaire, ensures parliamentary politics remain anchored in fundamental democratic principles.

Yet for too many Europeans, especially younger Europeans, threats to democracy ring hollow. In France, a plurality (32 percent) of voters aged 18–24 voted for the RN, worryingly more than the 65+ demographic, at 26 percent. One of the more concerning trends from the elections was voter turnout. For example, also in France, about 50 percent of the registered voting population abstained. These numbers bespeak a structural disconnect with democracy that transcends traditional anti-incumbency sentiments.

The road ahead

Despite shared issues across member states, recent EU elections have failed to foster a unified European electorate. Instead, the latest EU elections amplified domestic protest votes, weakening support for the European Union in key countries such as France, Germany, and Italy—countries where the far right has gained the most ground. These elections provided an outlet for voters to project domestic grievances onto the supranational plane, in turn emboldening the radical right and destabilizing national governments. The phenomenon underscores the urgent need for bold, unified policymaking at the European level.

The EPP bloc, as the largest group in the parliament, must now deliver a clear answer on how it sees the future of Europe. Will it stick to its pro-European values or seek support from the populist far right and jeopardize Ukraine’s security, climate action, and transatlantic cooperation? Von der Leyen, who is the front-runner to remain as the EU chief, must step up to the moment and choose the democratic and pro-European path, despite differing opinions in her political camp. On election night, she stated that the center holds. This must now translate into an agreement between pro-European parties that stays the course on Ukraine and remains true to European values and democracy.

On the other side of the ledger, progressives must shape a pro-European, democratic majority that addresses citizens’ concerns. Many Europeans feel their societies are headed in the wrong direction, concerned about rising cost of living, job insecurity, irregular migration, and crime. Far-right populists exploit these anxieties, while centrist pro-European parties pay the electoral price. Indeed, support for the far right often reflects a lack of confidence in national and European leadership. This underscores the need for a bold policy agenda that integrates domestic and European policymaking. Pan-European progressives should focus on bolstering EU defense, reinvigorate economic growth, advance clean energy to reduce dependence on Russian gas, incubate innovation, and improve living conditions to strengthen the European project and build resilient, inclusive democracies. Achieving these goals requires reforms across the continent.

To better support Ukraine, progressives need to ensure that EU decision-making aligns with majority interests by expanding qualified majority voting for foreign and security policy and enlargement decisions. This change will prevent rogue member states, such as Orbán’s Hungary, from blocking major decisions, including urgent aid to Kyiv. To effectively deter Russia, the European Union must enhance its defense capabilities and solidify its defense industries. Establishing an EU defense commissioner and positioning the European Union as a defense procurement entity, similar to its vaccine strategy, will ensure consistent investment in critical defense sectors, including munitions production for Ukraine. Accelerating investments in renewable energy and modernizing infrastructure to reduce reliance on Russian gas are also geopolitical imperatives. Supporting projects such as the Three Seas Initiative will enhance energy security from the Baltics to the Adriatic.

Addressing people’s concerns about rising cost of living, the housing crisis, and job security requires robust industrial policies and infrastructure investments. The European Union should adopt a strategy similar to the Biden administration’s Inflation Reduction Act, fostering innovation through initiatives such as Horizon Europe and supporting workforce development via Net-Zero Industry Academies to upskill and reskill workers. An ambitious policy should include incubating next-generation technologies and new green initiatives. Balancing these efforts with strong anti-corruption measures will ensure that democratic institutions can deliver on citizens’ needs, securing a more stable and prosperous future.


Europe stands at a crossroads, and the next five years will be the most decisive in the history of the union. EU lawmakers must deliver tangible improvements in the lives of their citizens, or else risk a perpetual state of public anxiety that will only offer fertile ground for the far right to continue to grow. Conversely, if progressives persist in challenging the far right, as successfully done in some member states, and succeed in delivering improvements to people’s lives, 2024 could indeed be a turning point.

The situation in Europe is instructive for the United States. Progressives on both sides of the Atlantic should be bold, pushing for comprehensive policies that address economic inequality, social justice, public safety, and environmental sustainability. It is not enough to muddle through. Only through such decisive action can there be a future where democracy, security, and prosperity prevail over division and extremism.

This piece greatly benefited from the help of Michael Clark, Sadhana Mandala, Camille Meshack, and Jaden Sissem. 

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Senior Fellow

Robert Benson

Senior Policy Analyst


National Security and International Policy

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