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2024 Election Fever as World Shifts Elections

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As 2024 unfolds, the world reflects on a series of pivotal elections that have reshaped, and will continue to reshape, global political dynamics

On the evening of 9th June, the results of the European Parliament elections were finally revealed. Despite some national successes, the European far-right did not achieve a sweeping victory and will remain distant from executive power in Brussels. Nevertheless, they will influence many European debates and policy decisions. While the composition of the European Commission and the appointments for foreign policy and enlargement portfolios are still pending, other elections in Europe and across the Atlantic may have a more pronounced effect on Southeastern Europe.

From the European Parliament and snap elections in France to the highly anticipated US presidential race, these elections will have far-reaching implications for international relations and regional stability. This article explores how these electoral outcomes may impact the world and, secondly, the Western Balkans.

EARLY JULY IN LONDON AND PARIS

In the UK, Prime Minister Sunak has scheduled elections for 4th July. Despite Conservative hopes that improved macroeconomic figures might rally voters, a Labour victory seems inevitable. There is little doubt that Keir Starmer will form the next cabinet, with the Conservatives’ fate and the potential rise of Nigel Farage’s Reform Party still to be seen. Labour has maintained a poll lead since late 2021, growing as the Conservatives managed the succession from Johnson via Truss to Sunak. The elections are centred on domestic issues, including the future of the NHS, housing, ecology and migration. Labour’s stance on nuclear deterrence, NATO, and support for Ukraine remains unchanged, with no significant shifts in European affairs anticipated.

Across the Channel, the stakes are higher. Following a poor performance by his coalition in the European elections and a strong showing by the National Rally (RN), Emmanuel Macron announced snap parliamentary elections. His strategy aimed to pre-empt RN’s calls for new elections and pressure centrists to rally around him. However, this quickly faltered as six left-wing parties, including the Socialists, formed the New Popular Front, evoking the anti-fascist coalition of the 1930s. The Republicans faced internal turmoil, with President Eric Ciotti pushing for an alliance with RN despite opposition from pro-Macron leaders.

In the UK, despite Conservative hopes that improved macroeconomic figures might rally voters, a Labour victory seems inevitable

The latest polls suggest that RN could secure 35% of the votes, the New Popular Front 28%, and Macron’s coalition around 20%. Given France’s two-round majority system, these figures don’t directly translate into seats. Tactical voting typically disadvantages RN, aligning centrist and left-wing voters against them. Nonetheless, Macron faces a challenging path to any meaningful success. RN is poised to increase its representation in the National Assembly. By 7th July, the new parliament will reveal whether it is fragmented and ineffective or if a functional coalition emerges, led by either the resurgent left or Macron’s centre.

IMPLICATIONS FOR EU ENLARGEMENT

These elections have already diminished France’s influence in Brussels. RN’s potential to govern France and impact EU politics creates unease among Brussels stakeholders, who fear disruptions across major political projects, from fiscal discipline to Ukraine support. With a strong performance by AFD in Germany and a fragile governing coalition, the European Council lacks leaders with stable domestic majorities.

A quick agreement among the three major European Parliament groups has proposed that Ursula von der Leyen remain as European Commission President, Antonio Costa lead the European Council, and Kaja Kallas replace Josep Borrell with the enlargement portfolio. Focusing on Russia and Eastern Europe, Kallas faces the challenge of accelerating EU membership negotiations for Ukraine and Moldova, who have leapfrogged Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Kosovo*.

The Western Balkans’ EU enlargement has been stagnant for over two decades, with Serbia and Montenegro negotiating for over a decade without clear progress. In contrast, the swift inclusion of Ukraine and Moldova is driven by political expediency and support for Kyiv and Chișinău amid ongoing Russian aggression. Enthusiasm may wane as detailed reforms and deliverables come into play for these new candidates.

The Western Balkans show no clear signs of progress in the enlargement process. While new economic initiatives like the Growth Plan exist, the ultimate goal of full membership remains elusive. It raises the question of whether renewed efforts by the candidates or fresh energy from the EU to frame negotiations as a geopolitical necessity could expedite integration for countries already economically and socially aligned with the EU.

The recent EP elections did not produce clear advocates for this approach, leaving doubts about whether enthusiasm for Eastern European enlargement will extend to the Western Balkans. Achieving this requires vision and political coordination from the new EU leadership.

AWAITING THE US ELECTIONS

Europe’s gaze turns to the US elections on 5th November, pitting Biden against Trump again. Most European capitals prefer a Biden victory to maintain the status quo, fearing a more challenging relationship under Trump.

If elected, will Trump initiate a specific plan to halt the Ukraine war? He has hinted at his negotiating prowess for swift resolutions, but details remain scarce. His advisers suggest proposals such as an armistice along current front lines, pushing Ukraine to negotiate by threatening to withdraw military aid and warning Russia of intensified US support for Ukraine if Moscow resists negotiations. This scenario contrasts with Europe’s preference for peace through Russian withdrawal, but could be a domestic win for Trump.

While new economic initiatives like the Growth Plan exist, the ultimate goal of full membership remains elusive

Secondly, would Trump favour certain EU national governments, particularly those reliant on US security commitments, such as Budapest and a few Eastern European countries? This seems likely. Additionally, Trump’s focus on China as a Cold War adversary will demand Europe’s alignment with US measures, such as chip sanctions involving Dutch company ASML.

Regionally, some governments are preparing for a potential Trump presidency. Belgrade collaborates with Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, on a contested real estate project. At the same time, Trump’s former envoy to the Western Balkans, Richard Grenell, is engaged in Serbia and Albanian ventures. Grenell criticises Albin Kurti’s administration in Priština, indirectly supporting Belgrade.

THE WESTERN BALKANS’ PROSPECTS

The Western Balkans’ best-case scenario lies in a change of perspective by incoming EU leaders. Brussels should foster a dynamic accession process framed as a geopolitical necessity and a political win for the Union and the West, appealing to the rising EU-sceptic right. Even a Trump administration could support this shift if it occurs. Otherwise, the region faces more lost time, passivity, and short-termism.

Dr Milan Igrutinović
Institute of European Studies,
Belgrade

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