European Parliament elections: climate policies will suffer


Europe went to the polls over four days, from 6 to 9 June, to choose a new European Parliament (EP), the EU’s main legislative body of the 27-member bloc. The turnout was healthy – slightly less than the highest-ever participation in 2019 – but the results could well constitute a blow for the bloc’s climate protection efforts. There are 720 seats in total, of which 361 seats are needed for a majority.

The EP election’s worst-case scenario did not transpire, namely that Eurosceptic, far-right parties would win so big that they prompt a breakup or fundamental reorganization of the EU. The pro-European parties held firm and still hold a comfortable majority. Even though together with liberal and left-of-centre parties they constitute a large majority in the new EP, an ascendant far right will influence the EU agenda in a significant way, whether it becomes part of the ruling coalition or not.

The far-rightists chalked up stunning, unprecedented gains. The European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR), a populist, Eurosceptic, anti-federalist political group, won four seats more than five years ago, to raise its total to 73. The far-right Identity and Democracy group, a harshly Eurosceptic and populist party, gained nine to give it 58 seats. The non-aligned parties, including Germany’s Alternative for Germany (AFD) and Hungary’s Fidesz party, captured 45 seats.

All three of these factions contain climate sceptics and hard-right populists who have blasted climate policies in their own countries and in the EU. ’The ideology [of environmentalists] is the fight against humans,’ Rassemblement National (RN) leader Marine Le Pen said last year. Her party, she said, represents a ‘much more effective ecology that respects the balance between human activity and nature’.

These totals constitute a victory for the far right, but it is nowhere near enough to destroy the EU, or even to initiate dramatic reforms. The European Peoples Party (EPP), the group of centre-right conservative parties, added nine seats to its 186 total, thus maintaining its status as the largest group in the EP, but far short of a 361 majority. It now has several choices of coalition parties that would re-elect the current president of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen, a German Christian Democrat whose party is the largest in the EPP.

’There remains a majority in the center for a strong Europe and that is crucial for stability. In other words, the center is holding,’ von der Leyen told the media.

’EU politics appears not only more fragmented, but also less intelligible than ever before,’ said Alberto Alemanno, professor of EU Law at HEC Paris and College of Europe, on X, reacting to the election results.

As unclear as the new constellation may be, one thing appears certain: neither the EP nor the Commission will emphasize climate protection the way that it did from 2019 to 2024. In 2019, not only did Europe-wide climate protests alert EU politicians to the concerns of its citizens, and among them many young people, but von der Leyen made the topic her own, which irritated many in the EPP’s own ranks. The president threw her weight behind the European Green Deal, the EU’s formidable climate protection package that spans renewable energy, agricultural reform, transportation and energy efficiency.

Many of the EU’s climate policies are cutting edge and visionary, even though pro-environment groups say they are still short of what’s actually needed to become climate neutral by 2050, which is the EU’s goal. These policies include the world’s most comprehensive carbon pricing system, which has helped Europe slash its greenhouse gas emissions by 38% since 1990. The EU’s carbon pricing system is the cornerstone of the European Green Deal, the bloc’s sprawling climate programme that aims to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 57% (below 1990 levels) by 2030.

‘We have made progress on emission reductions, renewable energy deployment, and investing in clean mobility and clean technologies of the future. The EU is proving that climate action and economic growth go hand-in-hand,’ said Wopke Hoekstra, European Commissioner for Climate Action, in the Progress Report 2023 Climate Action.

However, especially during the second half of the recent term, climate policies suffered a number of setbacks, many of them a consequence of populist conservatives in the EPP itself teaming up with the far-right opposition to scale back, and even kill off, progressive climate legislation. In Germany and the Netherlands, climate legislation provoked farmers to take to the streets and governments to backtrack. Cost-of-living concerns turned many citizens against the policies that opinion polls show that they favour.


In the EU, governments resisted the bolstering of pollution controls for livestock farms and diluted plans to protection biodiversity. They managed to scale back new standards for commercial farming and vehicle emissions, and to weaken a law to restore nature.

The words of EPP Group leader Manfred Weber, an arch-conservative critic of the European Green Deal, as he left an election night party on 9 June, bode ill. He told POLITICO that the EU’s ban on the sale of combustion engine cars after 2035 was a ‘mistake’ and said that the party would discuss rolling it back.

In one of its five ’takeaways’ from the election, Reuters concluded: ’The EU spent the last five years passing a bumper package of clean energy and CO2-cutting laws to hit its 2030 targets, and those policies will be hard to undo. But … many are due to be reviewed in the next few years – including the bloc’s 2035 phase-out of the sale of new combustion engine cars.’

Also, the EP is set to negotiate a new, legally binding target to cut emissions by 2040. ’That goal,’ claimed Reuters, ‘will set the course for a future wave of policies to curb emissions in the 2030s in every sector, from farming, to manufacturing, to transport’.

In terms of electoral results, the big loser was the Greens/European Free Alliance Group. The Greens lost around 20 seats, nearly a third of their total.

’The zeitgeist in 2019 was towards green Europe,’ said Terry Reintke, the European Green Party’s lead candidate before the vote. Reintke went on to underscore that: ’Ursula von der Leyen will not be able, by herself, to continue the Green Deal. This will only be possible if Greens are part of a majority...’

Even though a conservative-left-green majority exists in the EP, the winds of change are not blowing in this direction. The European Green Deal will not be repealed, nor will the carbon pricing system be renegotiated, but climate protection campaigners will have to admit that the going is about to be much tougher with the far right in the foreground.

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The views and opinions in this article do not necessarily reflect those of the Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung European Union.

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