Home|[in] focus|The EU in a Changing World: An Outside Perspective on the 2024 European Parliament Elections
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by Philani Mthembu


Categories: [in] focus

by Philani Mthembu


The previous elections of the European Parliament took place in May 2019 at a time when the world looked vastly different to the contemporary reality. The COVID-19 pandemic had not taken place, and the conflict in Ukraine had not escalated to its current phase. These events have had far reaching impacts on Europe’s role in the world, shaping perceptions in Africa and parts of the global South on Europe’s evolving place in an increasingly fragmented geopolitical landscape. The pandemic saw a backlash from Africa and much of the global South, with European countries accused of adopting nationalistic approaches that played out through the hoarding of vaccines, the imposition of unilateral travel bans with negative impacts on the economies of trade and development partners in Africa, and a failure to support positions advanced by South Africa, India, and many countries from the global South on a temporary waiver on intellectual property rights to boost vaccine production and distribution in the global South.

In 2024, Europe will see nine parliamentary elections, with some likely to produce changes in government. As political fragmentation continues to impact important countries in Europe, it may become increasingly difficult to command stable working majorities. The Economist Intelligence Unit suggests that countries governed by coalitions will likely have to rely on large multiparty agreements, which may impact the speed of decision making and the coherence of policies adopted.

Significant elections in Europe in 2024

Projections by Europe Elects suggests the centre-right European People’s Party (EPP) will remain the largest formation, followed by the Socialists and Democrats (S&D). Some polls indicate gains for far-right parties in the European Parliament elections in June 2024, and observers from across Africa and the global South are seeking to understand the implications for Europe’s relations with the continent in an increasingly fragmented geopolitical landscape, especially as the EU seeks to tackle issues such as immigration, climate change, economic partnerships with Africa, and EU enlargement. The EU will need to adapt and move with speed to maintain its role in Africa and the global South instead of being bogged down by bureaucracy and indecision.

In a changing geopolitical landscape, the EU will have to address the question of its strategic autonomy in a multipolar world order. While its relationship with the United States and NATO will remain important to its defence strategy, African stakeholders will continue to observe whether the EU can build up its own defence capabilities, enabling it to play a larger role in peace and stability efforts within Europe, and in Africa and the global South. This is especially important with the conflict in Ukraine continuing to escalate, and with the United States appearing to be playing a more proactive role than European stakeholders, despite the conflict taking place in Europe and having far reaching implications for the economic and social wellbeing of EU citizens and the European security architecture. Indeed, a multipolar world order offers opportunities that can be seized by a more autonomous EU, which would be able to merge its hard and soft power attributes.

African stakeholders will especially be interested in ensuring closer alignment between the EU’s trade policy in Africa and the continent’s own efforts to enhance regional integration and intra-Africa trade through the African Continental Free Trade Area (AFCFTA). The EU will however need to address African criticism of its approach to the Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) as key African stakeholders have accused the EU of further fragmenting the continent by not negotiating through existing regional economic communities (RECs). It will also be important that the EU focuses less on countering China and Russia in Africa, and more on its own value proposition on the continent through enhanced infrastructure financing, continued development cooperation, and supporting the institutional capacity of Africa’s pan-African institutions. In working with civil society organisations across the continent, the EU should follow a two-pronged strategy of building their capacity, including through institutional funding, while not neglecting the task of building the capacity of African state institutions. Indeed, weak states tend to be bad for efforts to enhance development and growth on the continent, and have the potential of eroding democratic gains.


Dr. Philani Mthembu is Executive Director at the Institute for Global Dialogue. 

This article originally appeared in Boell Thema, a Magazine of the Heinrich Boell Stiftung https://www.boell.de/de/2024/03/26/boellthema-124-europa

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