Tuesday 12 March at 18:00 (UK time)


Electoral trends in the EU, the UK, and the US

Speaker: Klaus Welle, Chairman Academic Council of the Wilfried Martens Centre for European Studies
Moderator: James Elles, Director, Ideas Network 2030.

Scroll down for more information or click below to jump to specific sections
> Introduction
> Videos
> Meeting summary
> Speakers bios


2024 is a exceptional year for elections during which more than 50 countries will be going to the polls where over a quarter of the world’s population will have the opportunity to vote. Elections to the European Parliament take place from 6 – 9 June while the US Presidential election will take place on Tuesday 5 November. The UK election is likely to take place in the autumn. The results of these elections will have a fundamental effect as to how the Western Alliance shapes up towards 2030. The Virtual Conversation, featuring as a speaker Klaus Welle, former Secretary General of the European Parliament, focused on the current electoral trends in the European Union, the United Kingdom, and the United States.
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Meeting videos

Click above to watch Klaus Welle’s main speech (22 min video).

Click above to watch the questions and answers session (29 min video).

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Meeting summary

The meeting, featuring as a speaker Klaus Welle, former Secretary General of the European Parliament, focused on the current electoral trends in the European Union, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

The discussion covered a wide range of topics, including the unique system of the European Parliament, expectations for the upcoming EU elections, the rise of populist parties, and the potential changes in EU priorities and partnerships.

The following were the key themes and questions that emerged from the event.

1. The European Parliament’s Unique System:
Klaus Welle emphasized the distinctive nature of the European Parliament, which operates under a division of powers between three independent actors: the Commission, the Parliament, and the Council. Unlike the UK’s House of Commons, where members sit opposite one another, the European Parliament fosters a culture of cooperation rather than antagonism. Welle noted that the strength of alliances between like-minded political parties plays a significant role in influencing the outcome of EU elections.

2. Expectations for the Upcoming EU Elections:
Looking ahead to the upcoming EU elections, Welle shared several key expectations. Voter participation is anticipated to increase by up to 9% compared to previous elections. The European People’s Party (EPP) is expected to perform well, followed by the socialists. However, the liberals and greens are likely to lose a considerable number of seats. Welle also highlighted the expected growth of right and extreme right parties within the expanded 720-member parliament.

3. Defining “Extreme Right” Parties:
Welle discussed the criteria for determining which parties can be considered “extreme right.” These criteria include a lack of willingness towards European integration, a lack of commitment to the transatlantic partnership, and a disregard for parliamentary democracy, pluralism, and the rule of law. Parties such as PVV, Vlaams Belang, AfD, and Le Pen’s party were identified as falling into this category.

4. Potential Shift in EU Priorities:
The meeting also addressed the potential shift in EU priorities from green issues to defence. Welle agreed that defence would become a more pressing issue following the elections, given the volatile situation in the US, the ongoing war in Ukraine, and increased tensions with China. He introduced the concept of the European Defence Pyramid, which aims to build up EU defence capacity while remaining compatible with NATO. This concept involves investing in research, space policy, and civil defence purposes.

5. Future UK-EU Relations:
Regarding future UK-EU relations, particularly in the event of a Labour Party majority, Welle expressed the general expectation that Labour would be more cooperative and prudent in their approach to the EU. They may seek sectoral agreements, such as on the Horizon program. In contrast, the Conservatives, facing competition from the Reform Party, may require more time to adopt a constructive position.

6. Populist Parties and Demographic Trends:
The rise of populist parties across Europe was another topic of discussion. Welle noted that the demographic support for these parties varies across countries. In Germany, AfD support tends to be older, while in France, Le Pen’s party has younger support. Welle emphasised the need for more research to understand the underlying factors driving the growth of populist parties, suggesting that economic and social factors may play a more significant role than cultural factors.

7. Increasing European Productivity and Competitiveness:
To boost European productivity and competitiveness, Welle highlighted the benefits of further integration in the EU single market, particularly in the services sector. He stressed the need for an integrated banking system through a banking union and a capital markets union. Welle also mentioned that while the internal market for goods is shrinking, the services sector is growing, presenting an opportunity for increased focus and growth.

8. Accommodating Ukraine’s Accession:
Looking beyond 2030, the meeting addressed potential changes in the EU to accommodate Ukraine’s possible accession. Welle identified three key issues: the debate on the role of commissioners, the need for stable finances through revenue-raising powers, and the importance of a united foreign policy, security, and defence. He suggested that more qualified majority decisions in the European Council could help achieve a more European approach to these areas.

9. Growing the Transatlantic Partnership:
Finally, Welle emphasized the importance of growing the transatlantic partnership. As the US turns its attention to Asia, Europeans must increase their defence efforts. Re-establishing a new balance between American and European efforts is crucial to address the challenges faced with an increased focus on Asia in the US.

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Speakers bios

Klaus Welle is the former Secretary-General of the European Parliament, a role in which he served from 2009 to 2022. He Chairs the Martens Centre’s Academic Council. He is also a Guest Professor in practice at the London School of Economics, a Visiting Professor at KU Leuven and a Leader in Residence at the Moynihan Center of the Colin Powell School for global leadership in New York. After obtaining a Degree in economics from the University of Witten/Herdecke in Germany, Klaus Welle worked at the CDU Central Office in Bonn, before coming to Brussels where he served as Secretary-General of the European People’s Party (EPP) from 1994 to 1999, Secretary-General of the EPP-ED Group in the European Parliament from 1999 to 2003, Director-General for Internal Policies at the European Parliament from 2004 to 2007, Head of the Cabinet of the President of the European Parliament from 2007 to 2009, and Secretary-General of the European Parliament from 2009 to 2022.

James Elles was a British Conservative member of the European Parliament from 1984 to 2014. He is Co-founder of the European Internet Forum (EIF) and the Founder and Chairman of the Transatlantic Policy Network (TPN). He is also the Honorary President of the European Strategy and Policy Analysis System (ESPAS) and Director of the Ideas Network 2030.

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