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EU elections: Democracy remains strong in Europe

EU elections: Democracy remains strong in Europe

European Union 2024 The big news after the European Parliament elections was that democracy was on the margins. This was written by Mats Carlsson, former director of the Foreign Policy Institute and now an independent analyst.

In a world where we have become accustomed to bad news for democracy—more authoritarian governments, declining democracy indicators, and threats to democracy even in the United States—the big news may be the “non-news” that democracy was on a pedestal. There were no reports of political abuse, electoral fraud, or illegality. To be sure, Russia and China continue to work with their proxies, but no one believes they had a serious influence on the votes in 27 countries to choose the 720 members of the European Parliament.

Large party groups form

More than 50% of Europeans went to the polls again, with significant increases in some smaller countries. The four main party groupings remain dominant. They fell slightly from 69 to 65 percent.

The ruling parties in Germany and France lost heavily. But Macron responded with more democracy, not less, by calling new parliamentary elections. In Germany, the alternative is not the AfD, but Ursula von der Leyen's Christian Democratic Union, which won a large majority, and is a strong European party with a strong security policy.

In other countries, the results have been mixed, but by no means can we see a right-wing populist trend.

  • The two problematic parties in Poland and Hungary have seen their positions weaken. Law and Justice in Poland has declined, and Orbán's party in Hungary is under pressure. The far right did not achieve the expected progress in Belgium despite the loss of the liberal government. Geert Wilders was unable to maintain his recent success in the Netherlands.
  • Meloni is strengthening the right in Italy but the Democratic Party has become almost as big. Le Pen is doing the same thing in France. Meloni and Le Pen's position came at the expense of the classic center-right parties, which had long since disappeared from that half of the plane. There is something new happening on the right in some European countries. Some forces may be “domesticated.” Of course, their rise is dangerous, but as it appears in these elections, it will not directly threaten democracy in any way.
  • If you then look at the results from across Europe, from Spain to Greece to Scandinavia, you will find mixed results that must be looked at and analyzed from country to country and new conclusions drawn. But we cannot see threats to European democracy and stability.
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Von der Leyen is still going strong

Ursula von der Leyen is right: “The center is coherent.” Its position has not weakened compared to the days before the elections.

We have a good chance of having an equally good Commission again, the best in my view since Jacques Delors took over the presidency from 1985 to 1995 and implemented some of the most decisive reforms. There is no doubt that the European Union faces enormous challenges, both geopolitical and geoeconomic. We will see whether the EU leadership that is now advancing has the necessary skills.

But it is not clear whether the elections will weaken key areas where there was cause for concern.

  • Support for Ukraine will not weaken.
  • On migration policy, and the part about which the EU can do something, decisive steps were already taken two months ago, with Ylva Johansson taking over as chief commissioner.
  • Environmental politics has already become mainstream. It is not the Green Party, but rather the centrist parties and the business community, that must now take decisive steps. To be sure, one might worry about the “green backlash” (the backlash against the EU's environmental policy), but if we strengthen democracy and rationality, it is likely that it will not go backwards.
  • For the S&D (Social Democratic Party group), this election result is not bad at all. The Social Democrats in Germany have a year or two to do something for themselves, but in many other countries such parties have strengthened their positions after years of decline.
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Finally another dog that didn't bark. Debate about basic economic policy has not prevented what this Parliament can do.

This means that options are open. Democracy has not gone backwards. The question now is what do national and European policies do with all this?