European election results spark fears over weakening climate ambitions

The police use water cannon against climate activists of “Extinction Rebellion” movement, who block the Utrechtsebaan on the A12 road, during a protest in The Hague, on September 9, 2023.

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Green parties were on track to lose seats in the European Parliament elections, provisional results showed on Monday, sparking concerns that the bloc may be on the brink of scaling back its climate policies.

The left-leaning Greens/European Free Alliance were set to win 52 seats in the legislative branch of the 27-member trade bloc, according to preliminary results. That’s significantly lower than the 71 seats the Greens/EFA secured when the green faction enjoyed its strongest ever showing five years ago.

It comes amid a broader shift to the right and a green backlash — or “greenlash” — against policies designed to tackle the climate crisis and protect the environment.

The far-right Identity and Democracy group made major gains across the European Union, while the right-wing European Conservatives and Reformists logged a slight uptick in votes.

In Germany, where the Greens govern as part of a so-called “traffic light” coalition alongside the center-left Social Democrats and pro-business Free Democrats, support for the Greens nearly halved compared to 2019. Provisional results showed the party in fourth place on 11.9% of the vote.

Support for the Greens also fell in Austria and France, where the far-right outperformed and prompted French President Emmanuel Macron to call snap elections.

Across the continent, frustrated farmers have taken to the streets in recent months to push for further exemptions from European Union environmental regulations. Nationalist and far-right parties — traditionally skeptical of climate issues — have also been vocal critics of green policies.

If we’re not going to accelerate the action here, our European industry is going to lose this global race and that’s what I’m worried about.

Bas Eickhout

Lead candidate for the Green Party

Bas Eickhout, lead candidate for the Green Party, said that support for the far-right parties across the bloc could jeopardize Europe’s progress on climate action.

“I would say that the global green race is on, and you see that in China, you see that in the United States, so this means Europe really needs to step up its action,” Eickhout told CNBC’s Silvia Amaro.

“I don’t fear rolling back, but if we’re not going to proceed, if we’re not going to accelerate the action here, our European industry is going to lose this global race and that’s what I’m worried about.”

Eickhout said in a separate statement on Sunday that the losses in France and Germany had “obviously been a blow” and the rise of the far-right was “extremely concerning for all those who believe in a democratic European Union and in just and equal societies.”

Ricarda Lang (l-r), Federal Chairwoman of Bündnis 90/Die Grünen, Terry Reintke, the Greens’ lead candidate for the 2024 European elections, and Omid Nouripour, Federal Chairman of Bündnis 90/Die Grünen, react to the initial projections at the Greens’ election party in Berlin’s Columbiahalle.

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However, the Greens were set to place first in Denmark and the Netherlands — and Terry Reintke, another leading candidate for the party, said in the same statement that strong results for the party in Sweden and Finland should be seen as an “important milestone for our political family.”

Reintke pointed out that voters had elected MEPs from green parties in countries which had never sent greens to the European Parliament before, such as Croatia, Latvia, Slovenia and Lithuania.

“It is now more important than ever to secure a stable pro-European democratic majority in the European Parliament. This democratic majority must come together in the face of the far-right,” Reintke said.

Green Deal ‘cannot go back’

Ahead of the vote, researchers warned that the outcome of the European elections was likely to put significant pressure on the European Green Deal, the region’s showcase carbon neutrality program.

Pedro Marques, vice-president of the center-left Socialist and Democrats Group, said on Monday that pushing forward with climate polices was likely to be a challenge, given the support for the far right.

“We are concerned, and we certainly will not allow, from our side, [for] that to happen. Which means [the] Green Deal cannot go back, but we are prepared to give it this additional twist, which is a Green Deal, but taking care of the transitions,” Marques told CNBC’s Silvia Amaro.

“Our economy, our small enterprises, our citizens, they are affected by the transition to this new green economy so let’s support them — but that does mean going back with the Green Deal,” he added.

We can maintain pro-European, pro-democratic majority in EU Parliament, MEP says

Jorg Asmussen, CEO of the German Insurance Association and former deputy finance minister of Germany, said Monday that he did not expect the outcome of the European elections to trigger a snap vote in Germany. He added that the country’s current coalition government would likely continue to “muddle through” until September next year.

“In what I see on the European level, the pro-European and also pro-competitiveness agenda will not change. So, the influence of the extremes on the right or on the left of politics will be limited,” Asmussen told CNBC’s Annette Weisbach.

“I would see an influence in EU and German migration policies as well as on the Green Deal, which for sure will be recalibrated … because there is not sufficient support in the future in the European Parliament but of course the climate issue will not go away,” he added.

An activist shouts slogans during a Fridays for Future climate rally at Unter den Linden boulevard in Berlin, Germany on May 31, 2024.

John Macdougall | Afp | Getty Images

Environmental campaign group Greenpeace said that, regardless of the election results, voters across the bloc still ranked climate change and saving nature among their top concerns, arguing that a clear majority wanted the EU to take action in these areas in the next five years.

“This election will not make the climate and nature crisis any less existential,” Greenpeace EU campaigner Ariadna Rodrigo said in a statement. “Flooding, droughts and heatwaves will only get worse, and all newly elected politicians will have to act to maintain our planet’s ability to sustain life and give our children a future. Whoever is in power, we will hold them to account and remind them of their responsibility.”

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