This blog post explores the impact of the upcoming shift towards right-wing politics in the European Parliament on development aid. It highlights the crucial role of MEPs in shaping policy agendas and raises concerns about potential changes in aid priorities and budget allocations. Additionally, it emphasizes the significance of citizen engagement in influencing transnational policy decisions.

What elections? - The European Parliament (EP)

The European Parliament (EP) is the only transnational assembly whose members are directly elected. European Union (EU) citizens have been choosing their representatives, or members of the European Parliament (MEP) by universal suffrage since 1959. MEPs are responsible for representing the interests of EU citizens, that is a role especially crucial considering one of the functions of the EP is to approve and monitor the EU budget. 

The functions of the EP are not limited to budgetary decisions, but they also work alongside the Council of the European Union to adopt European legislation, based on proposals from the European Commission. Therefore, the Parliament has significant power over setting the policies and deciding the priorities. The elections carry vital importance, considering the extend of influence the MEPs have in a wide scope of topics including human rights, environment and climate, security as well as supporting the economies of member states and fighting poverty.

Currently a total of 705 seats are distributed based on the population sizes, and once the MEPs are elected, they work within political groups in the Parliament. The MEPs choose existing groups based on their political affiliations or form new ones. The list of political groups currently existing in the Parliament:

  • The Left GUE/NGL (37 seats),
  • Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats (S&D, 140 seats),
  • Greens/European Free Alliance (Greens/EFA, 72 seats),
  • Renew Europe (102 seats),
  • European People’s Party (EPP, 178 seats),
  • European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR, 68 seats),
  • Identity and Democracy (ID, 59 seats), and
  • 49 independent MEPs.

The Political Landscape of the European Parliament

The European People’s Party (EPP) leads the charge in the European Parliament with its center-right stance, heavily influenced by German Christian Democrats and by Polish and Romanian members. They have been key players in pushing the Green Deal alongside the socialists and liberals but are now showing a green skepticism ahead of elections. The Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats (S&D) fights for fairness and jobs but has been rocked by the Qatargate scandal. Renew Europe, driven by Macron’s French Renaissance party, is openly pro-EU, emphasizing democratic values. 

The Greens / European Free Alliance, known for their climate crusade, face a tough election with potential seat losses. The Left Group (GUE/NGL) champions workers’ rights and equality, though internal splits loom large. The European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR), featuring Poland’s Law and Justice Party and Italy’s Brothers of Italy, remain tough on migration and EU overreach but are ready to play a bigger role. Lastly, Identity and Democracy (ID), the far-right faction, is gaining ground economic discontent, despite controversies and allegations of cozying up to Russia. 

Not all Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) belong to a political group. These individuals are known as non-attached members. Presently, there are 46 non-attached MEPs hailing from diverse political backgrounds, including the populist Italian Five Star Movement and the Greek Communist Party.

(You can find the full version of the overview of economic and social stances of the current political groups here.

2024 EU Elections

The polls predict that the European People’s Party will remain the majority political group. A major shift to political right is expected, in parallel to populist radical right-wing parties gaining seats in several EU countries. With that, the center-left coalition (S&D + RE+ G/EFA + the Left) is likely to be weakened, putting the agenda focusing on topics like development, gender equality, civil liberties, and environment in danger.

Development aid – what is it?

It is public opinion that as an extension in the political atmosphere of the Parliament, changes in various areas are expected. One topic that emerges worry is development aid. Since 1992, the EU´s focus on humanitarian projects has been broadening, eventually leading to becoming the largest donor for development aid in the world donating at least 0.7% of their GDP. The Union works mostly indirectly by funding local and international NGOs (non-governmental organizations) and the funds are used by the staff of those organizations to do the field work.

The global partnerships approach gives way for the experts who acquire the most information about the local political and socioeconomic atmosphere, and of course the community, to organize their operations. As a rule, the aid funds are provided based on need, with neutrality and impartiality principles. Global poverty reduction, sustainable development, and protection of human rights and democracy are listed as the EU objectives.

Development aid – what is the significance?

Following the mirroring the inclination to right in the European Commission, the policy priorities are expected to shift as well. First and foremost, the share of development aid in the planned budget is expected to decline, due to prioritizing domestic issues such as national security and economic growth over humanitarian aid. Stricter criteria for the eligibility to financial aid and increased conditionality are expected to follow, as a result of instrumentalization of the concept of effectiveness.

A unilateral approach to aid, rather than multinational cooperations might be prioritized, and the focus might shift to the Union countries. Geopolitical change in the focus is likely to repeat in the selection of the beneficiaries and the planned programs, selecting the ones which are promoting conservative values such as tradition and religion. As a common concern, it is also stated that development aids can be instrumentalized as a leverage against the beneficiary countries, virtually forcing them into whatever agenda the policy-makers have. In the case of a right-wing majority in the EP concerns about forced anti-immigrant policies are also noteworthy.

Conclusion: a dilemma

Decreased budget share available to NGOs and selective termination of some projects lead to inefficient results in the development programs in the needed areas, and arguably causing increased migration. As people living in the areas of crises or political conflicts, or in a developing country with already insufficient resources for its population, would have less resources available to build infrastructure and employment when the development aid is less available. Therefore, with the expected increase in the share of right-wing MEPs in the EP, it seems like the EU politics will observe protestation from both ends of the political spectrum as a result of new controversial policy changes and budgetary distribution.

Finally, one must keep in mind that the democratic process making citizens´ influence possible on a transnational level is a rare possibility, giving individual opinions a chance to be heard.