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EU Policy. What went wrong for the EU election-losing Greens and Liberals?

Bas Eickhout, lead candidate for the European Greens, and Valerie Hayer, of the presidential Renew party, at an election event.
Bas Eickhout, lead candidate for the European Greens, and Valerie Hayer, of the presidential Renew party, at an election event. Copyright AP Thomas Padilla / Harry Nakos
Copyright AP Thomas Padilla / Harry Nakos
By Marta Pacheco
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Political fragmentation, far-right, national responses to housing, inflation, the war in Ukraine and the efforts required by the European Green Deal may play a role in the painful losses suffered by the liberal Renew group and the Greens following the European elections held between 6-9 June.

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The future of environmental policies may be at risk as the greens and liberals came out as the major losers in the European Parliament elections, having lost 18 and 23 seats, respectively, according to the most recent results today (June 10), compared to the elections held in 2019.

Belgium, France,Germany and Italy are among key countries where liberals and greens suffered heaviest defeats, often to the benefit of the far right, particularly in Paris and Berlin. Lack of access to decent housing and high inflation rates alongside national responses to the war in Ukraine may also have played a role in the far right’s rise and decline of the greens and liberals.

While final results for some EU countries are yet to be announced, the latest projections reveal a clear loss in seats for the Greens/European Free Alliance (EFA) and the liberals from Renew Europe sitting in Brussels and Strasbourg. However, the liberals are eyeing an opportunity to forge a coalition with the centrist European People’s Party (EPP) — which consolidated its position as the strongest party, gaining seats for the first time since the 2009 election — and the Socialists (S&D), which broadly retained their position, losing five seats.

Following the first results of the election night, Philippe Lamberts, Greens/EFA Co-President told reporters that the Greens were the only political force advocating for the environmental protection of the planet, “against strong adverse winds in the public opinion in the far right and others too” — in reference to the votes tallied in the Parliament before the elections, in which the EPP and liberals blocked key climate files.

“You may well have a majority between the three of you," Lamberts warned leaders from the EPP, S&D and Renew Europe, adding: "But if you are looking for stability and for responsible policies within the next five years, embracing the various flavours of the far-right, cannot be an option for you.”

But the liberals already appear to be making overtures to the centre parties. Commenting on the outcome of the elections at an event today, Didrik de Schaetzen, the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe’s (ALDE) secretary-general urged the EPP and S&D groups to “work together in the spirit of compromise”.

“Numerically it looks like the three of us [EPP, Renew Europe and S&D] could have a string majority, what matters is the compromise that will come from the discussions,” De Schaetzen said.

De Schaetzen reprised the desire for non-cooperation with the far right at the EU level, despite the significant gains made by its parties, and maintaining a so-called “cordon sanitaire” to block parties such as Rassmemblent National from participating on parliamentary committees. 

His counterpart, Benedetta De Marte, European Green Party ‘s (EGP) secretary-general, acknowledged “some issues that are not small” between the liberals and the greens at national level and blamed political fragmentation for the rise of the far right.

“These ambiguities enable the far right to get where they are,” De Marte said today during the event.

When asked, De Marte rejected the notion that the Greens became perceived as an unreliable partner due to their resistance to the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) or for advocating very strongly for the European Green Deal, the EU’s flagship programme to reach carbon-neutrality by 2050,  saying the group had been "reliable and constructive" and that the party's goal is to "change things and not just hold positions".

The Greens secretary-general said the party had recognised that it was “not going to repeat the success of 2019” adding there was a “drive [towards climate action] in society that unfortunately we don’t see anymore”.

Despite the massive loss in France, French liberal lead candidate Valérie Hayer said the outcome of the ballots revealed that “no pro-European majority in Parliament is possible without the liberals”.

“We [Renew Europe] proudly intend to be in the driving seat of the next pro-European coalition for the upcoming five years. Our group’s central role will come with a responsibility to make sure our conditions and ambitions are matched,” Hayer wrote on X.

Lawmaker Daniel Freund (Germany/Greens), who was re-elected for another term, linked the weak results for the Greens to developments at national level, such as housing and inflation.

"Greens in Germany lost significantly with younger voters. This is alarming. Our campaign was not able to address these voters — to show them the urgency of our climate policy,” Freund told Euronews.

“However, I think what we see in Germany — and to a certain extent in France as well — is that voters used these European elections to express their dissatisfaction with their national governments," he added.

James Kanagasooriam, chief research officer at polling platform Focaldata doesn’t see the election outcome as a “collapse” for the greens, despite the “tilt to the far-right”.

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“The Greens are down, but not necessarily the population's views on climate change,” said Kanagasooriam. “The data is clear, EPP voters stand closer to the S&D and Renew than other parties in regards to green issues, and their voters will probably expect policy tracking in that direction,” he added.

"Continuing the net-zero transition agenda in this mandate is a strategic choice to reposition the EU on the map of industrial powers," said Neil Makaroff, director at the pan-European think tank Strategic Perspectives, adding: "Such a plan could cement a coalition between the EPP, S&D, Renew and the Greens."

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