The upcoming European elections

Bringing development policy (back) in the picture

Bringing development policy (back) in the picture

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Hackenesch, Christine / Niels Keijzer / Svea Koch
The Current Column (2024)

Bonn: German Institute of Development and Sustainability (IDOS), The Current Column of 29 January 2024

Bonn, 29 January 2024. 2024 is a critical year for the European Union. In June, European citizens will elect the next European Parliament, which will play a key role in law making and in setting the strategic direction for the next European Commission to enter office later this year. Current polls  predict that the European People’s Party (EPP, the family of conservative European parties) will retain its position as the largest group in the European Parliament.

What remains unclear is whether the other long-established political groups will together represent a parliamentary majority in favour of the European integration process, or if the EPP will instead decide to work with Eurosceptic or even radical right groups. Once a new European Commission takes office, its composition and policy agenda is expected to become more conservative in light of the European Parliament elections as well as recent electoral shifts in member states.  

To assess the implications of the elections for EU development policy, it is worth looking back at how EU development policy evolved since the last elections and leadership changes in 2019. Ursula von der Leyen started her term as Commission President by calling for the EU to become a geopolitical player. Development policy was supposed to support the EU in that role. This geopolitical mandate, which was further fuelled by major crises such as the Covid-19 pandemic and Russia’s invasion in Ukraine, lead to substantive shifts in the focus of EU development policy. Compared to five years ago, development policy is now more explicitly motivated and positioned to contribute to the goals of other policy areas such as security, energy or migration policy. It is also expected to promote the EU’s visibility, its strategic autonomy and resilience, to support the EU in becoming more autonomous regarding security and defence matters, as well as help diversify foreign supply chains.

Two major initiatives are crucial in this regard: Global Gateway and Team Europe. Team Europe was first introduced as the EU’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic. It aimed at pulling together financial resources from all EU institutions and member states to increase Europe’s visibility and geopolitical clout in addressing the consequences of the pandemic in partner countries. Global Gateway is motivated to counter China’s Belt and Road initiative and Chinese omnipresence in developing countries more generally. It seeks to promote large-scale infrastructure investments in energy, transport, digitalisation, education and health, claiming that the EU has a different approach than China because it is a union of democratic states. In fact, another key rationale for Global Gateway is to build strategic corridors with partner countries to secure Europe’s supply of energy and critical raw materials.

Now, what development policy changes may we expect from the new European Parliament and Commission?

First, an electoral shift may lead to even more polarised debates on the rationale and necessity of EU development cooperation and increased pressure to use the development budget to halt migration flows. Second, regardless of the new political balance of power within and across the EU institutions we can expect both Team Europe and Global Gateway to continue. Both emerged from earlier strategic considerations on increasing the EU’s visibility and stronger focus on pursuing the Union’s own interests through development policy.

For now, both initiatives have in some ways contributed to more visibility and strengthening cooperation among the EU institutions and member states. Both are important steps forward.

However, in their current shape Team Europe and Global Gateway will be more detrimental than helpful for the EU in the mid- to long-term. Continuing the current direction of assertively and pragmatically pursuing the EU’s geostrategic interests carries the risk of fuelling conflicts of interest with a more assertive Global South. In the next legislative period after the elections in June, the democratic, centrist party families must therefore join hands to further develop Team Europe and Global Gateway in a way that reconciles Europe’s interests with the needs of its partners and ensure that the initiatives promote multilateralism, peace and sustainability.

Currently, the EU and the Global South are on different wavelengths on a number of key global issues, ranging from migration, extraction of critical raw materials, energy transitions and continued extraction of fossil fuels to questions of democracy and the war in Ukraine and the Middle East. To counter these tensions, the Union’s responses should reflect a greater openness for a real dialogue with its partners and greater willingness to address their priorities such as unsustainable debt levels and significantly increase support to transform their economies in a socially responsible, climate-neutral way. The next European Parliament and Commission leadership should ensure that the EU pursues its own priorities and communicates them clearly while at the same time listens to and learn from its partners.

About the authors

Hackenesch, Christine

Political Science


Keijzer, Niels

Social Science


Koch, Svea

Social Science


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