“The 2024 European elections marked the end of old-fashioned sovereignism” Pascal Lamy’s assessment and perspectives

“The 2024 European elections marked the end of old-fashioned sovereignism” Pascal Lamy’s assessment and perspectives


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“The 2024 European elections marked the end of old-fashioned sovereignism” Pascal Lamy’s assessment and perspectives

This interview is also available in French and Spanish in Grand Continent.

Ten days on, as the process of nominating Top Jobs is beginning at the European level and, in France, the dissolution of the government has upended the political space, what have you taken away from this significant European election?

The European elections are a hybrid. Interpreting them means considering a trajectory in two phases, a bit like an airplane as it is taking off and gaining altitude. You must go through an area of national turbulence, but you continue to climb and only then do you reach a zone where navigating is calmer, where the sky is clearer.

At the national level there are specific cases — we are well positioned in France to be aware of this — depending on the relationship between political forces or the moment in the national political cycle, which makes it difficult to draw conclusions about the whole based on that scale. It is different at the European level. Because the European level is the result of an aggregation, any changes are inevitably slower, softer, with national advantages and disadvantages which to some extent counterbalance each other.

The epicenter being in Paris did not cause any aftershocks in Brussels?

The continental approach shows that there was no sudden jolt, but a slow, continuous shift. When you look at the numbers since 1979 over 50 years there has always been a slight rightward trend.

This time happens to be a bit more than usual since the EPP and the two far-right groups obtained more seats. But we are not facing the extreme predictions where each of these groups managed to secure 30 more MPs.

Given this context, does the option of a second von der Leyen seem to be the right one?

European governance is based on a bicameral parliamentary system with an upper chamber, representing States, and a lower chamber, comprising Parliament. As far as the lower chamber goes, it is likely, though not certain, that the coalition between the Christian Democrats, the Social Democrats, and the Centrists that supported the Commission during the previous legislature will be renewed.

We will know more in the coming days, but this configuration gives Ursula von der Leyen a good chance at becoming the next President of the Commission, meaning she would succeed herself. I believe this would be a welcome continuity in these very chaotic times.

With the dissolution, or the apparent disappearance of Frexit as an option threatened by the historically Eurosceptic right, do the 2024 European elections mark an acceleration towards the Europeanization of national politics?

Yes, this is an interesting interpretation that I share. The hybridization of national and European elections has led to particularly striking domestic ramifications, at least in the case of France and perhaps, after the summer — with the domino effect of the Länder elections — in the case of Germany. I view this process, which has both a political and an anthropological dimension, as a step in the construction of a single European space.

The overlap of these two scales is becoming too strong to ignore. It is pointless to say that the European elections are not national when, in practice, Emmanuel Macron dissolved the National Assembly and Alexander De Croo resigned after their respective defeats.

Following the dreaded midterms — in France the winner always lost the presidential election and the subsequent legislative elections — are the Europeans changing their tune?

This hybridization is also dynamic. Even though the European elections are one round, they will have a second round that is purely national, and possibly even a third round if the result of these national elections leads to a different position of the French government in the Council of Ministers.

In France, of course, the presidency retains a firm grip on international affairs, diplomacy, and Europe. Nevertheless, the balance of power can change. It’s conceivable that a Bardella government — a possibility which, unfortunately, does not seem improbable from my point of view — will want to make its mark on certain European projects.

This time, the overlap will not be static, but rather dynamic by creating a situation that reverberates at the national level, and then once again no doubt at the European level. Whatever the current difficulties or one’s personal political preferences, the construction of a hybrid, democratic European space is firmly underway.

Before we come back to the French case, let’s focus on this idea of a shift that will not have a major impact, and could even create a form of continuity with the re-election of the Commission President. In one of our interviews, you yourself demonstrated that von der Leyen’s structuring axis — and perhaps even the European inertia that preceded her — was the Green Pact. Despite the surface effects and this continuity, are we not facing a change of course?

I do not think this shift affects the direction so much as the derivative — in the mathematical sense of the term. In other words, the direction will not change, but its implementation may be slowed down.

Why is that?

For two reasons. The first is legal: most of the legislative blocks of the Green Pact are in place, including the pathway to decarbonization by 2050. And with the miraculous adoption this week of the Nature Restoration Law thanks to the courageous independence of Austria’s Léonore Gewesler, we are now in the implementation phase. This can certainly be slowed down somewhat depending on the views of the new European Parliament, but I think that the changes will take other forms. For example, in the composition of the Commission.

The Council of Ministers is very clearly further to the right than five years ago: there are now only four social-democratic governments in Europe, two of which — Germany and Spain — carry weight, but they are not in a comfortable position. The others are either liberals, Christian Democrats, or groups that are further to the right than the Christian Democrats, such as Giorgia Meloni.

What is the second reason?

Within the structure of European opinions the environmental question remains a decisive one as a recent study from the Jacques Delors center in Berlin showed 1 . It’s true that this matter was not at the heart of the debate at the level of the European elections, but the reasons for this have to do with its hybrid nature. The only issue that came up, and which far-right groups spoke out against, was the ban on the sale of new thermal engine cars beginning in 2035. I see more the effect of a hardening of opinions caused by a firm timeline; it is clear that there are people who do not want to be required to change their cars. But as far as the other measures, surveys and public opinion surveys show that the European population, within its deepest ideological structures, remain pro-environment when it comes to decarbonization as well as biodiversity issues, even if they are not discussed as much.

You’ve mentioned a gradual, long-term shift to the right. But looking closely at these trends, we can see a tectonic shift: the groups that used to be to the right of the European People’s Party were clearly Eurosceptic. Today, Bardella’s National Rally has received a historic result by no longer explicitly supporting Frexit, whereas the few groups in favor of a Frexit account for less than 3% of votes.  How do you explain this conversion to Europe? Do you think this is merely tactical and rhetorical? Does this alter the balance within Parliament?

It is the confirmation of a movement that the Grand Continent, much to its credit, identified before any others, highlighting Viktor Orbán’s Gramscian role in this shift.

It was he who shifted the far-right away from the sovereigntist, old-fashioned anti-European position of “leave Europe, down with Europe, long live the nation”, to “our goal is to participate in European power, exercise European power, and we will therefore do that from the inside instead of pretending that we must be outside (of it)”.

Some Eurosceptics on the right of the spectrum have also gone from Brexit to Make Europe Great Again…

Meloni’s influence on the far-right at the European level was indeed brought about by Orban; he is the true mastermind behind this change. The fact that the Hungarian Prime Minister, during the rotating presidency at the Council, chose “Make Europe Great Again” as their motto is no coincidence. A portion of the European far-right will now try to influence the exercise of European power by attempting to penetrate it via parliamentary alliances or nominations to the Commission.

Is there overlap between the People’s party and the parties to the right of it?

Yes. It takes different forms depending on the country. In a certain number of cases, the right wing of the EPP  — within the EPP there is a right wing, a center, and a left wing — can be tempted to vote with the ECR. As a detailed examination of votes in the European Parliament published by the Delors Institute in Paris shows 2 , this is far less likely to be the case for the ID and other small groups that belong to neither the ECR nor the ID on the far right.

There are also countries where this possible continuity is emerging, in Italy for example, and even now in France. In Germany, the fact that the CDU and the CSU are in the same group means everyone can be part of the Christian Democrats, whereas in Bavaria, they could perhaps have a different position if we correctly measured preferences along political axes. Compromise is necessary in a parliamentary system; strength is needed in order to carry weight and occupy the maximum number of positions that matter in determining agendas or carrying out work in the Commission or plenary. This strength lies in numbers.

How would you define this movement? Is this a reinforcement of European inertia outside the Community framework?

It is one of the ingredients of the gradual politicization of the supranational space and how it relates to the national space. It is a confirmation of this hybridization; we are not practicing one form of parliamentary democracy at the national level and another form of parliamentary democracy at the European level. The inclusion of the far right on this stage is also a moment of progress for the constitution and the slow emergence of this European political space. These elections are one step in this process.

One issue that was not central to the campaign, but which drives the strategic agenda and the deep-rooted inertia of the institutions, is the matter of defense. Is it a key ingredient of this hybridization?

Yes, especially for reasons that pertain to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. If there’s one issue that European opinion has always been very much in agreement on — including in Hungary — it is support for a European army. The portion of Europeans in favor of a European army is enormous. This desire is completely disconnected from the realities that having a European army would imply. It would mean that the supranational democratic space had become stronger than the national democratic space.

How do you explain this paradox?

This desire is a kind of utopia. Opinion is for it, but we come up against the extraordinary difficulty of bringing the military up to the supranational level which implies a single strategy, exchangeable weapons, shared casualties, unified commands, rapid orders, and a single leader. The forces that have been blocking this are declining under the threat of danger. Ukraine changed everything. And, if he is re-elected, Donald Trump could act as a secondary shock.

We can’t say that this is a subject that came up during the campaign…

Yes, but if defense was not a source of controversies or debate in the European elections, it is not because people don’t want to talk about it, it’s because they are in agreement. Proportionately speaking, public preference for a European defense is comparable to the consensus on the environment. When I talk to people who are not experts on Europe, I hear a lot of them complaining about the lack of a European defense. I fully respect this opinion; I am simply noting that it neglects or ignores the steps that need to be taken to get there, both technically and politically. If you are in favor of a European army, you must accept that the head of that army will probably not be someone from your country.

Are we not facing a “soft consensus”, as Jean-Yves Dormagen describes in our pages in terms of the ecological transition? In an abstract way, everyone seems to agree, but as soon as we look at the real consequences and apply this syllogism, we immediately find new divisions and fractures.

The invasion of Ukraine created political energy that was not there before. Crises are what drive political energy. It is because of that that we can move forward. Given what we can read on the political signals that were sent by the European elections and the consequences in the Parliament and the Council, I see no reason for this dynamic — which will be slow — to be interrupted. This is especially because within the ECR there is no meaningful resistance on this matter and because, when it comes down to it, Orban is not against it.

It would be hard not to ask you to comment on the most striking domestic political effect of the European elections: the dissolution of the National Assembly. Do you think that a Bardella government would signal a break with European integration?

I do not know because, apart from a principled nationalist stance, the RN has refrained from clarifying its position in order to maintain its catch-all strategy. I’m speaking carefully here, but in the French institutional and constitutional system, the European question is largely a matter for the President of the Republic. Emmanuel Macron, elected 7 years ago, has been and continues to be able to inject momentum into European construction, with Sorbonne 1 and now Sorbonne 2, even if the Christmas tree is still a bit overloaded.

This is not to say that there won’t be changes, because there are many day-to-day decisions and arbitration that have to be made at the government level, particularly through the workings of the General Secretariat for European Affairs (SGAE), which prepares, passes, and then transmits directives on French positions to the Permanent Representation in Brussels, who then defends them. These arbitrations would be different with a Bardella government than with an Attal government. If the Commission needs a majority to adopt a text in the Council of Ministers, and France’s position is decisive in securing that majority, that could change things.

What topics would you identify as potential areas of conflict?

On the crucial issue of Ukraine’s defense, or on future issues such as reform of the Common Agricultural Policy, the European budget and the pace of the ecological transition, an RN prime minister could bring about significant change.

On the other hand, when it comes to immigration, there’s relatively little chance in the short term of the subject being revived at the European level because we have recently changed migration policy quite substantially by tightening up the Dublin agreements.

Could the underlying movement of this shift lead to a situation where Frexit once again becomes a possibility?

I do not believe so. Circumstances and external constraints — the business of a world riddled with multiple crises — are pushing in the other direction.


  1. Abou-Chadi, T., Jansen, J., Kollberg, M., & Redeker, N., «Debunking the Backlash-Uncovering European Voters’ Climate Preferences», Policy Brief, Centre Jacques Delors and Hertie School, March 2024.
  2. Brack, N. & Marié, A. «Une poussée à droite aux élections conduirait-elle à un changement de la coalition centrale au Parlement européen ?», Policy Paper n. 300, Institut Jacques Delors, April 2024.
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Gilles Gressani, Pascal Lamy, “The 2024 European elections marked the end of old-fashioned sovereignism” Pascal Lamy’s assessment and perspectives, Jun 2024,

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