The European Union is likely facing the most difficult years in its history: there is a war in Europe and no one knows how far Russian President Vladimir Putin will go with his aggressive policy. Nine countries are knocking on the EU’s door with all their might and want to be let in as quickly as possible. In order to be able to cope with new members, the EU would first have to reform itself, for example in the setting and distribution of budget funds, but also in the decision-making rules. This will be a major undertaking – with an uncertain outcome.

In addition, there will be a huge financial need in the coming years that will exceed anything that has come before. The money is needed for the digital and climate policy transformation, a significant increase in defense spending, the reconstruction of Gaza and Ukraine, and for the billion-dollar migration agreements with third countries. The demand for new debt funds – jointly financed through a type of Eurobond, which Germany has always rejected – is likely to come by 2025 at the latest.

And: The EU is still not crisis-proof if a new wave of migration should occur. The new EU asylum package will not be implemented for another two years and it is unclear whether the agreed measures will actually be implemented by the member states and whether the planned rapid deportations of illegal migrants will work.

The newly elected EU Parliament has an important role to play in solving these problems. The House of Representatives, which has a seat in Brussels and Strasbourg, is now more powerful than ever before. That is why these European elections were particularly important. But what are the five most important lessons from the election results?

Firstly, the feared shift to the right in the European Parliament has not occurred. The extreme right and right-wing populist groups ID (Identity and Democracy) and ECR (European Conservatives and Reformists) have only gained around twelve seats together and do not even have 20 percent of the total 720 seats. However, this also means that the seats of the AfD, which were excluded from the ID group, have been lost.

In contrast, the centre parties made up of European Christian Democrats (EPP), Social Democrats, Liberals (Renew) and Greens have a solid majority of almost 450 votes. However, there are no formal coalitions in the EU Parliament and no party discipline. This makes finding a majority so unpredictable. In addition, the individual factions have not been a homogeneous group for many years, but are often at odds with each other and vote differently. Yet unity in Parliament is so important.

For the next five years, the more the major parties disagree with each other, the greater the influence of the right-wing parties in parliament. For this reason, EPP party and parliamentary group leader Manfred Weber (CSU) wants to take precautions and open his party to the right-wing populist ECR for partial cooperation with the “Fratelli d’Italia” and the ODS of Czech Prime Minister Fiala – but he expressly does not want a coalition with the ECR.

On the one hand, Weber wants to weaken the right-wing bloc in parliament. But at the same time, Weber sees the danger that the liberals could crumble in the long run after the heavy electoral defeat of their star performer, French President Emmanuel Macron and his Renaissance party movement, and thus become unpredictable in terms of establishing bourgeois majorities in parliament.

And Weber has learned in recent years that he cannot rely on the Greens. The public turn of the Christian Democratic majority group in the newly elected EU Parliament towards parts of the right-wing populist parties is certainly a first in parliamentary history. The reason for this, however, is that it will be more difficult than ever before to achieve a consensus among the centrist parties in everyday political life.

Secondly, given that the gains made by right-wing parties were nowhere near as great as expected, the EPP is the clear winner of this European election. The party was able to clearly improve its result, while all other centrist parties suffered losses, some of them heavy.

The Social Democrats remain the second strongest force in Parliament, having suffered slight losses. The EPP and the Social Democrats form the core of the bourgeois centre in the EU Parliament. Both together are the bulwark against right-wing parties – if they are united.

The need for the EPP and the Social Democrats to cooperate closely in the coming years will be much greater than in the past. The reason: Liberals and Greens are likely to become even more unpredictable than in the past because their groups are more fragile and they are more at odds with each other.

Thirdly, the question of which party has the most power in Brussels is much clearer today than it was five or ten years ago: it is the EPP. It has a majority of around 50 votes in the new parliament over the second-placed Social Democrats. Against this background, it is all the more remarkable that the European Christian Democrats now have a clear majority in the European Council, the decision-making body of the 27 EU heads of state and government, with 13 prime ministers. The Social Democrats, on the other hand, have only four heads of government.

Accordingly, the EPP will have 13 commissioners in the new EU Commission from November 1st, and the Social Democrats will probably only have three commissioners. As EPP party and parliamentary group leader, Weber is now the strong man in Brussels: in future he will coordinate the 13 Christian Democratic heads of government and the 13 EU commissioners. At the same time, he is the clear majority leader in the EU Parliament.

The result: Von der Leyen is on Weber’s leash. In the future, she will no longer be able to act as freely as she has in the past five years. Weber, together with CDU party leader Merz and Greece’s Prime Minister Mitsotakis, has already prescribed an agenda for her: she must pay much more attention to competitiveness, reducing bureaucracy and security issues. On the other hand, the EPP will soon begin to gradually tear down von der Leyen’s ‘Green Deal’.

Fourthly, this development is dramatic. After this election, Europe is finally lacking a leader and a politician who – like Chancellor Angela Merkel for many years – would be able to find a compromise in difficult decision-making situations in Brussels as a widely respected figure. This shortcoming is likely to have particularly serious consequences given the major challenges of the coming years.

In the three years of his chancellorship as head of government of the largest EU country, Chancellor Olaf Scholz has not managed to earn any particular respect in Brussels. After the SPD’s result in the European elections, his position will be weakened. Especially since his colleagues are likely to assume that Scholz will not be re-elected in autumn 2025.

Emmanuel Macron, on the other hand, sees himself as the leader of Europe, but this assessment is shared by far not all EU heads of government – unlike Merkel in the past. After the blatant defeat in the European elections, Macron’s position in Brussels is likely to erode.

Among the heads of government of the large member states, only Italy’s Prime Minister Meloni is firmly in the saddle and assertive in her own country – but the right-wing populist belongs to the wrong party for a real leadership role in Europe. Nevertheless, after this election in Brussels she is one of the election winners. Meloni’s weight in the European Council will increase, and her party will be able to increase its influence in the EU Parliament.

Fifth: Commission President von der Leyen has a good chance of being re-elected to her post. EPP leader Weber should succeed in organizing a majority for her among the heads of government in the European Council. Macron’s support is uncertain, but after this election defeat he will probably have great difficulty pulling a surprise candidate out of the hat again – as he did in 2019 with Merkel – who can be implemented.

The vote in Parliament poses a certain risk for von der Leyen. The members of parliament will vote on the European Council’s candidate proposal in July. Five years ago, von der Leyen only received a razor-thin majority of nine votes. Mathematically, the majority of the centre parties in Parliament should easily be enough this time. But even in the EPP – as in 2019 – there will again be numerous members of parliament who will not vote for von der Leyen for various reasons.

On the other hand, von der Leyen has recently provided the Social Democrats and the Greens with very good arguments to vote against her re-election in parliament. In recent weeks, she has announced several times that she wants to work with the right-wing populist Meloni. That was a serious strategic faux pas.

“It was an unnecessary mistake,” said a leading EPP member, exasperated. According to WELT information, Meloni had already signaled internally several times that her party would support von der Leyen’s re-election. Therefore, there was actually no need for the Commission President to publicly declare her support for Meloni and thereby give her political standing. In the end, the displeasure of numerous members of the centrist parties in Parliament will probably not be enough to prevent von der Leyen from running.