By Laurent Donceel, Policy Director, A4E

On 20-21 June, the European Heads of State and Government are expected to nominate a new President of the European Commission . This will be the first of a long process of nominations and elections of presidents of the European Parliament, European Council, European Commission and other key EU posts which will reach an end once the EU Executive is fully sworn in by MEPs, possibly by early 2020 only.

Four main trends have emerged in the analyses of this year’s European elections:

  • A sharp rise in voter turnout from 42% to 50.9%, reversing a decade-long trend of declining participation;
  • A relative fall for the traditional political families, in particular the European People’s Party (EPP) and the Socialists and Democrats’ group (S&D), now respectively at 179 and 152 MEPs;
  • A strengthening of the centre and green parties, who see their size in the European Parliament increase from 51 to 76 MEPs and from 68 to 110 MEPs respectively;
  • A contained advance of the nationalists and extremes throughout most Member States.

It will take some time before the election results impact the European Commission’s priorities and its formation. But certain issues have already dominated the pre-election debates and continue to be present in the current talks for the formation of a parliamentary majority supporting the future mandate of the EU Executive.

These issues include: the future of Europe’s industrial policy; the climate and environmental crisis; security and migration challenges as well as regional and social discrepancies in economic growth. Each of these priorities will have an impact on future air transport and aviation policies throughout the continent.

If higher voter turnout reflects greater interest in EU actions, the question now is what – and how much, the new European leaders can deliver on? Improving the mobility of all Europeans whilst supporting the shift towards low-carbon air travel are key A4E priorities. They also need to top Europe’s political agenda.

On the majority of the key themes of the future European work programme, aviation has a message and significant ways to contribute:

  • EU transport policy can be linked to the sustainability agenda by integrating social and environmental goals in an appropriate and balanced way, based on the economic sustainability of the air transport sector.
  • In many ways the air transport sector is a prerequisite for achieving many development goals. Transport underlines the right to access what people need: jobs, markets and goods, social interaction, education and other services.
  • Improved access to transportation can help address general concerns such as depopulation of rural areas, or socio-economic cohesion throughout the EU.
  • Security, alongside safety, is airlines’ top priority. EU efforts to reinforce controls at external borders so as to preserve Schengen’s free movement area should not hinder the flow of passengers in Europe.
  • Finally, a full completion of the Single Market for aviation will continue to contribute to bringing Europeans closer together, supporting the integration of European regions.

Defining the current priorities and integrating subsequent policy proposals into a coherent roadmap in which a future parliamentary majority can be based on remains uncertain. The EU is stepping into uncharted territory with its inability to rely on a large coalition of the two main political families (EPP and S&D) as it was the case during the previous legislature. European policy-making could therefore become more unpredictable. The need to secure large coalitions before any major vote may potentially affect the efficiency of the legislative action. Yet, inertia is certainly the least desirable outcome of these European elections.

One increasingly likely scenario which would ensure that divisions will not lead to a paralysis of legislative action is a large pro-European majority composed of the EPP, S&D, the liberals of Renew Europe (previously known as ALDE) and the Greens. This would require agreeing on a detailed coalition programme serving as a founding document for EU action during the next five years — something never yet formalised at the European level of governance.