Polls show that the big losers from the EU elections will be on the left - Bad news for the environment?

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With the rise of far-right populism in Europe, polls are showing that the most substantial losses will be on the left. The grand collation between the centre-right European People’s Party (EPP) and centre-left Socialist and Democrats (S&D) that currently governs the European Parliament and Commission allowed for a balanced legislative agenda which did not lack ambitious proposals, such as progressive environmental policies. However, the anticipated turmoil on the left can easily distort this tendency and lead to a more conservative European Parliament. This in turn could affect the EU agenda greatly, especially in the field of environmental policy.

Greens/EFA and GUE/NGL

For the parliamentary groups of the Greens/European Free Alliance (Greens/EFA) and Confederal Group of the European United Left/Nordic Green Left (GUE/NGL), current voting intentions data point to an overall loss of seats for both parties (-8 for the former, and -6 for the latter). National parties, that feed seats to the far-left alliances, have generally enjoyed a stable electorate for the last decade. However, as populist parties on the far-right rise, an increasing amount of people have been attracted to switch to these “trendier” anti-systemic movements. The largest decrease of support for the Greens/EFA comes from Sweden, with the alliance anticipated to lose their entire Swedish delegation. For the more extreme leftist GUE/NGL the most substantial hit will likely come from Italy and Spain, but projections are that they will exceed the number of MEPs in relation to the more moderate Greens/EFA, contrary to the current situation.

Socialist & Democrats

S&D, the most prominent parliamentary group on the left is not a coherent parliamentary alliance, especially when it comes to ideological standing. The group is characterised by substantial factions of MEPs representing post-socialist Member States, often being a part of previously communist parties. The political profile of these parties underpinned by their electorate, is very conservative. In Romania and Bulgaria for instance, the left-wing parties that are part of the S&D group stand on political platforms which are far more conservative than the traditional centre-right national parties, which are mainly supported by the younger electorate. As a result, the progressive standing of S&D is predominantly reinforced by the traditional Western socialist parties.

On this backdrop, the main risks posed to the left-wing agenda of the European Parliament are the substantial losses expected in Italy and Germany. Italy’s Partito Democratico (PD) is currently one of the largest national delegations within S&D. Recent polls show that this delegation will shrink substantially from 31 seats to 15. Likewise, the German Socialist Party (DSP) is set to lose 12 seats. With the exception of Spain, no other major Member State is anticipated to increase its delegation within the S&D.

 

Effect on environmental policy

The cross-European trend of a diminishing left wing combined with an observable tendency of extremist political groups overtaking the more moderate ones, are factors that will expectedly influence the legislative agenda. One concrete result of such a development will likely be a decreased level of ambition regarding environmental policy.

Environmental and Climate Change policies have been high on the agenda throughout the current term of the EU institutions. They succeeded to complete many flagship policies, such as the Circular Economy and Clean Energy Package. Others were revised and prepared for implementation, including the new Emission Trading System rules. Finally, several initiatives, such as those part of the Sustainable Finance Action Plan, started their legislative journey but are yet to be finalised, with a few still awaiting Commission’s proposals.

The European Parliament is at the heart of the Union’s environmental agenda. Each of the Commission’s policy initiatives for this term have been further strengthened by the Parliament, which for instance introduced more stringent rules for emitters and new regulatory mechanisms for containing climate change. What is more, MEPs launched many “green” campaigns ranging from reducing plastic waste and pollution to greener transport. In this regard, the Parliament is currently profiled as the most ambitious of the three institutions, whilst it is also the one most open to industry advocacy and lobbying campaigns.

According to the latest polls and pattern observed above, however, the new Parliament will likely have a significantly weakened voice when it comes to environmental topics. Whilst the ambition for progressive legislation does not solely lie within the European left, a decrease in leftist MEPs would certainly distort the “core” of environmental policy. The reduced strength of the left-wing will certainly lead to reduction of proactive support for progressive policy initiatives. This new reality will most certainly lead to a visible deviation from the current dynamics.