Road to EU 2024

National Dynamics Remain Significant Amidst European Election Preparations

March 2024
By Maximilian Powell

As we approach the European elections this June, it’s essential to recognize that other significant national political dynamics are ongoing. It’s worth noting that the European Council, composed of member state leaders, will nominate its candidate for Commission President, who will then be elected by the Parliament. The Watcher Post offers insights into the talking points across the continent.

Far-right PVV Freedom Party led by Geert Wilders won 37 seats out of 150 in the Netherlands’ general elections on 22 November, far ahead of the Labour-Green alliance led by former EU commissioner Frans Timmermans and the conservative People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD) of outgoing Prime Minister Mark Rutte. However, as of 14 March, Wilders said that he would not be prime minister due to a lack of support across the political spectrum. If made PM, Wilders would become the first PM for the ID group.

Following a corruption scandal, Socialist PM António Costa resigned (caretaker PM until a new government is formed), and Portugal held a snap parliamentary election on 10 March. The centre-right Democratic Alliance coalition won 29.5%, with the incumbent Socialist Party at 28.7%. The far-right Chega party emerged as a key actor, getting 18%. President de Sousa has met with the parties from 12 to 20 March as part of the process of appointing a new prime minister.

Croatia will hold elections on 17 April. Prime Minister Andrej Plenković’s government (HDZ/EPP) is seen as the most likely victor. Croatia’s President Zoran Milanovic announced that he would run against Plenković’s representing the Social Democratic Party, however, the Constitutional Court said on Monday 18 March he can only run for PM’s post in the April parliamentary elections if he resigns as head of state first.

Belgian Federal elections are scheduled to take place on the same day as European Elections – i.e. 9 June 2024. Voters will elect the 150 members of the Belgian Parliament (the Camber of Representatives) for a five-year term.

Incoming Hungarian Presidency of the Council (July – December 2024)
Hungary is set to take over the rotating EU Presidency in July 2024, right after the European elections. Members of the European Parliament floated strategies in May 2023 that could be employed to weaken if not entirely cancel Hungary’s EU presidency amid issues between EU institutions and Hungarian leader Viktor Orbán over backsliding on the rule of law. However, any major interruptions remain unlikely.

On Tuesday 19 March, Bulgaria’s two largest political parties failed to reach an agreement on a new power-sharing cabinet, opening the way to possible snap elections.  Prime Minister Nikolay Denko from the liberal PP-DB party resigned this month ahead of a planned rotation with Bulgaria’s former EU commissioner for innovation Mariya Gabriel from the centre-right GERB party. However, negotiations between the two partners collapsed on Tuesday over the designation of posts in the new government. Reports suggest that Gabriel insisted on keeping her current foreign affairs portfolio along with the premiership and the GERB also demanded the key defence and energy ministries. Denkov said this was “unacceptable”.

On Wednesday 20 March Leo Varadkar announced he is stepping down as Taoiseach (Irish PM) and Fine Gael leader. He will remain as Taoiseach until a new party leader is elected after the Easter recess. His successor will have a full two months before the local and European elections in June. Despite calls from the opposition, Varadkar stepping down makes an early election less likely, and the coalition government between Fine Gael (EPP), Fianna Fail (RE) and the Greens (Greens) looks likely to complete its mandate with elections expected at the latest in March 2025.