The impact of the European Parliament’s rightward shift will depend on the extent to which the far right can unify as well as on the willingness of the center to engage with parties to their right.

The 2024 European parliamentary elections were long expected to deliver a dramatic far-right surge. Instead, what we got was a much more nuanced picture. Befitting a Europe that is feeling increasingly insecure, far-right forces did make significant gains, with high-profile wins in some countries. These were not matched in most EU countries, however. Regardless, the political journey of much of the far-right from decades-long pariahs to political normality points to structural shifts within the bloc. An earthquake it was not, but the impact of the election will be felt across the continent. 

The Results 

Confirming its frontrunner status, the center-right European People’s Party (EPP) will remain the largest group in the parliament, followed by the center-left group Socialists and Democrats. Rounding out the parliament’s centrist trio, the liberals of Renew were penalized by voters but managed to clinch third place, while the Greens—in significant respects one of the key success stories of the 2019 election—also saw their support fall

Building on their increasing strength in many national contexts, parties belonging to the wider arc of the far-right collectively won an unprecedented 131 out of 720 seats*—a number that could go up in the future given the record number of non-aligned members of parliament. They emerged as clear victors in ItalyAustria, and especially in France, and registered best-ever results in countries such as Germany. But they underperformed in several others, including in Hungarythe NetherlandsSweden and Portugal, compared to what most predicted and many feared. 

This remarkable yet uneven picture leads to two conclusions. First, while these parties made historically significant inroads weakening Europe’s mainstream forces, the center will continue to hold majorities that matter. But, second, it would be a tragic mistake to equate these more nuanced election results with business as usual. For a continent that had long relegated the far-right to the political fringes, this is still a shocking development that will also matter. 

The Impact

As in 2019, when a “Green wave” across Europe presaged the Union’s ambitious climate agenda, these results will affect procedures, politics, and policies. 

The incoming European parliament will likely be more rudderless, polarized, and fragmented than in the past. The painstakingly cobbled-together compromises that traditionally settled policy feuds among parliamentary groups will also be harder to reach.

With a more right-leaning legislature, the EU’s overall political center will probably move right-ward. This might drive a shift toward less EU involvement and more national control over key policies or a hardening of the bloc’s position on critical issues such as the green transition, Ukraine, or immigration. Given many of these parties’ uncertain commitment to democratic principles, the politics of strengthening the bloc’s democratic core and rule of law may also get a lot messier. 

The Uncertainty

While the EU will inescapably feel the impact of these results, two key factors will decide the extent. 

The first factor is the ability of far-right forces—which come in a wide variety of flavors (populist, radical, nationalist, and so on)—to act as a solid bloc.

The European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) and Identity and Democracy (ID) groups that sit to the right of the EPP,  and have represented the far-right so far, contain a multitude of parties that are united mainly around issues such as opposition to immigration. But they differ on many others. Consider, for instance, the war in Ukraine, on which two of the camp’s leaders—France’s Marine Le Pen and Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni—are starkly divided. This means that there are still tremendous obstacles to overcome for the far-right if it is to translate its newfound numerical strength in the parliament into blunt power. For some, the expulsion of Germany's far-right Alternative for Germany party from the ID group may make a possible convergence easier; while true, this also points to how difficult it is to essentially Europeanize different nation-based factions.

A second critical factor that will loom over any discussion of Europe’s political reordering concerns the appetite of the EPP to engage with the forces sitting to its right. 

Far-right parties now hold or support government positions in eight of the 27 member states, including the Netherlands, Czechia, Sweden, Italy, and Hungary, and their strong showing on Sunday will only intensify the questions of engagement—toward what objectives, and on what terms—confronting the EPP. The first test in this regard involves European Commission President Ursula Von der Leyen, who hails from the party and needs a parliamentary majority to secure her sought-after second term. If she ends up relying on parts of the far-right camp to get re-elected, this will send a strong signal about EPP’s willingness to work with forces it traditionally considered beyond the pale. 

In any case, these European elections have shown that Europe is shifting to the right. What remains to be seen is how big this shift is and what its impact will be. Sunday gave us some strong hints as to the EU’s trajectory. But it has also raised serious questions for the bloc at a time of unprecedented security threats, lingering economic concernsdemographic anxiety, societal divisions, and broad uncertainties about its political and policy direction.


* According to current provisional results.