The new European Parliament is set to shift to the right, yet a mainstream coalition may still secure a second term for European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen. The snap elections President Emmanuel Macron has called in France might delay decisions about top jobs.

The European parliamentary elections ushered in a victory for right-wing parties, reflecting the rise of the far right in the European Union since the 2019 elections. Against expectations, the center-right European People’s Party (EPP) also managed to increase its share at the polls, reconfirming itself as the leading political force of the European Parliament. As predicted, far right political groups, represented by the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) and Identity and Democracy (ID), have managed to increase their shares in the parliament. Additionally, sizable delegations of far-right party representatives currently listed as non-aligned will enter the parliament—such as the Alternative for Germany, Alliance for the Union of Romanians, Hungary’s Fidesz, and Poland’s Confederation. Depending on the upcoming weeks’ negotiations, Fidesz, which secured 10 mandates, may also join ECR.

Yet, the rightward swing has not delivered a right-wing majority sufficient to elect the next president of the European Commission. This is because the center-left Socialists & Democrats (S&D) held their ground. If the liberals from Renew had a poor outcome, the Greens suffered an even harder blow, finishing behind both far right groups.  This was potentially a signal of widespread discontent with the socioeconomic costs of the green transition and the EU’s Green Deal that has been a hallmark of the past five years.

EPP, which is essential to any majority coalition, will now seek to obtain enough votes in the EP to secure a second term for its Spitzenkandidat (top candidate), Ursula von der Leyen. In principle, this could be possible with the support of S&D and Renew. However, what may appear a comfortable majority could be easily eroded by an anonymous vote in the EP, given the existing political divides even within that party family. 

For her part, von der Leyen, who was courting Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni of ECR before the elections, has now stated that the EPP will “build a bastion against extremes”. What comes next depends on von der Leyen’s definition of “extreme”. To secure the necessary votes, the tactical rapprochement with Meloni may continue. With Brothers of Italy now sending the largest delegation within ECR to the EP, Meloni’s support could indeed provide a safer margin for von der Leyen’s reelection. However, this support would have to be obtained behind the scenes, as S&D has spoken out against any cooperation with the far right.

While Meloni emerged victorious, the biggest winner of the night was Marine Le Pen’s National Rally (RN)—proving not only that national politics can influence European elections, but also that this can play out the other way around. After RN took nearly one-third of the vote in France, which affords it the largest EP delegation and dominance over ID, French President Emmanuel Macron called for early French parliamentary elections to take place on June 30 and July 7. Macron is gambling that by facilitating the party’s path into power on the national level, he could curb the eventual rise of RN to the French presidency. Yet, with the far right rising and normalizing, opening the doors to national government may just add fuel to the fire, further legitimizing Le Pen’s political platform. If it succeeds in entering government, RN’s standing on the European level would also be strengthened in relation to ECR, with both groups being led by governing parties. A potential cooperation, sought by Le Pen, could gradually erode the cordon sanitaire that for the moment still prevents ID—and thus RN—from having direct impact on European legislation. In the short run, early elections may nonetheless delay the allocation of EU institutions’ key positions, set to be discussed later this month, such as the presidencies of the European Commission and the European Parliament, as well as the choice of a high representative for common foreign and security policy.

The impact of this rightward swing is too early to call, but it will likely differ from area to area, with a variable geometry of coalitions emerging in the European Parliament. With the defeat of the Greens, the progressive push over the past five years that brought about the Green Deal will come to an end. The far right is expected to push back on climate and green transition agendas. Cooperation with parts of the center-right could continue on a restrictive migration policy, while calls for a Europe of sovereign nation states will get louder in the coming term.