Have EU voters tired of the green agenda? Far from it

The final results from the European Parliamentary elections are in, and the Greens/EFA Group is likely to have just 51 of the European Union’s 720 seats—20 fewer than in the previous parliament. This has led to much collective handwringing in environmental circles, with some pundits arguing that the results will inevitably lead to a watering down of climate ambitions. This blog post argues that while the results will likely have a significant effect on how the European Union talks about green issues, the substance of existing EU policies will remain broadly unchanged.

As a result, more than 50,000 large companies will still have to comply with the bloc’s more stringent sustainability reporting requirements, with the first submission deadline in mid-2025. Complying with these new regulations will require significant time and resources. However, the resulting data and analysis will also offer a huge resource that companies can use—with relatively little additional investment—to help tell their sustainability stories in ways that appeal to their full range of key stakeholders.

What happened in June’s European Parliamentary elections—and why?

Europe’s green parties have lost more than 25 percent of their seats in the European Parliament. This poor showing, which had been widely predicted in the months running up to the elections, pushes the green faction down from the fourth- to the sixth-largest parliamentary grouping. 

Analysis of the overall drivers of this electoral shift is ongoing, but geopolitics—including conflicts in Ukraine and the Middle East—and the rising cost of living may have crowded out environmental concerns in the minds of voters. Some voters may also have perceived green policies as bearing some responsibility for price increases.

It is worth noting, however, that election results differ significantly across the 27 Member States, indicating that national dynamics—rather than a broader disenchantment with the green agenda—may be the key to understanding the shift in party composition. Decrease in support was most marked in France and Germany, Europe’s biggest economies, which saw a significant increase in the share of votes going to parties on the far left and far right. The picture was much more positive in other parts of Europe; green parties won the election in Denmark and the Netherlands, for example, and a number of countries in Central and Eastern Europe elected candidates from green parties for the first time.

What is the likely impact of decreased support for European green parties?

The fallout from these elections is ongoing, but three broad themes are likely to characterize the green agenda during the 2024–29 parliamentary session.

Continued support for existing policies. The existing green agenda—of which the European Green Deal is the centerpiece—is unlikely to be dismantled. Unpicking existing legislation is notoriously difficult in the EU context, and, more importantly, there continues to be widespread support for climate policies. While the Greens/EFA Group may have lost support, the pro-European center, which continues to voice strong support for the green transition, has kept the majority of parliamentary seats. Polling shows a large majority of EU voters are in favor of continued or strengthened climate action.

A more challenging legislative environment. Given the societal unease evident in these election results, there is likely to be considerably more scrutiny of potential new green legislation in the incoming parliament. In particular, there will be increased focus on potential tensions between long-term targets and the day-to-day wants and needs of the European population. This increased caution could have serious implications for important green issues that we already know will be on the agenda over the coming years—including, for example, the European Union’s contributions to the Loss and Damage Fund, the phasing out of new gasoline and diesel cars, and the implementation of the European Union’s Critical Raw Materials Act.  

A shift in green messaging. The most important shift under the new parliament may be in rhetoric, rather than policy. Overall, we should expect to hear less about the importance of ambitious climate actions. And the focus of green messaging is also likely to shift: we will hear fewer moralistic arguments and more about the importance of green action for competitiveness, energy security, and strategic autonomy. The focus will be on how the green agenda benefits individuals and the economy.

What can companies learn from these elections?

There are three key takeaways for companies that want to learn the lessons of this election and prepare for the new political cycle.

  1. Green issues aren’t going away. Under the European Green Deal, the European Union is still committed to cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 55 percent (from 1990 levels) by 2030 and reaching net-zero emissions by 2050. This will require an acceleration of on-the-ground climate action, including by the private sector. Companies should expect that regulators and consumers will pressure them to enact—and reward them for—ambitious green initiatives.
  2. Stricter reporting requirements are already baked in. Existing regulatory requirements are unlikely to change. This includes the Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive (CSRD), which will require around 50,000 companies operating in the European Union to disclose a broad swathe of information on their societal and environmental impact. The first deadlines will be in 2025, covering 2024 data. Companies that do not yet have a plan in place urgently need to ensure that they have access to the necessary capacity and skills—not only to meet regulatory requirements but also to tell a compelling story and get the most out of their sustainability investments.
  3. The way you talk about green issues matters. Through the work of LEFF Sustainability Group, we see every day the power that storytelling has to burnish—or undermine—a company’s reputation. Regulators, customers, and investors care about green issues, but the messaging around them needs to be carefully calibrated. Couching green issues in business objectives can help companies communicate consistently across audiences; investors want to understand the bottom-line benefits of sustainability policies, for example, while price-sensitive consumers want sustainable products but aren’t necessarily prepared to pay more for them. Every member of your target audience should be clear about the strategic or economic benefits of your climate-related actions for them, as well as for the environment.

The European Parliamentary election has shown yet again that the path to net-zero emissions will be as challenging as it is important. Getting the right goals and policies in place is, of course, nonnegotiable. But so is finding the right stories and communication angles to motivate—and sustain—the actions and behavioral changes that will be required to achieve them.

Katie Parry

Katie Parry is passionate about helping clients find the stories and narratives that will unlock the change they want to see in the world. Her principal focus is on sustainability, but she also has substantial experience across other sectors and industries, including the public sector, consumer, and technology. Before joining LEFF, Katie was a McKinsey & Company consultant and a lecturer in writing for public policy in the Harvard Kennedy School Communications Program. She has also managed a clean-water research program for the World Bank and spent two years as the United Kingdom’s climate security negotiator at NATO. She holds an MPA from the Harvard Kennedy School, an MS in statistics from the London School of Economics, and a BA in philosophy, politics, and economics from the University of Oxford.