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The European elections: What is new for universities?

As the results of the EU elections become clearer, EUA’s Thomas Jorgensen discusses the major changes in store and how universities could be impacted.

The dust is still settling after the European Parliament elections. Nationalist groups have gained, but so have the liberal and green groups. What does all this mean for Europe’s universities?

The big news is that participation has gone up for the first time in the history of the Parliament and is now back to more than 50%. This could be a historic turn: European politics is evidently something people care about - whether they like the EU or not. Universities have played a role in this success. Across the continent, they have recognised their mission for civic engagement and organised debates, mobilising students and creating awareness of the political process that the elections are a part of.

The other news is that the European Parliament is no longer a two-party system with major centre-left and centre-right groups meeting at the middle. Any majority needs to be formed with at least three groups. There is much talk about different possible coalitions. While there needs to be a majority to approve the new Commission and its president, the European Parliament does not form a government by itself. It is not necessary that the same groups always work together. Moreover, the groups do not always vote as blocks, and sometimes split. Therefore, the end of the two-group system is not necessarily a revolution.

Regarding the nationalist parties, they will remain but a loud minority. However, we also have some very loud pro-Europeans. Some members of the European Parliament (MEPs) have been elected on a very strong pro-European platform, and they will be visible as well. We might see more emotional debates, but in the daily work of the Parliament, the pragmatic centre holds.

Looking at what can affect universities, support for the funding programmes has been very broad and very large in the past. There is no sign that the current constellation in terms of groups would begin back-paddling on being generous towards Horizon Europe or Erasmus. Research and education evoke consensus; this is not where we will see the big fights or turnarounds.

However, there are many new parliamentarians, and we might have some positive surprises if they want to take research, education or innovation up as a cause to profile themselves on. Generally, many of the research “veterans” are still there, but they are almost all in the moderately conservative European People’s Party (EPP) Group. There is space for newcomers in the other groups to make their mark in supporting research. The liberals and green group had quite detailed chapters on research and innovation in their election programmes, but they do not (yet) have a research champion like the EPP.

Lastly, the good performance of candidates who are pro-European values (like Frans Timmermans who brought the Dutch social democrats back from the brink) might bring discussions on that topic to the fore. As academic freedom is an increasingly important topic, we might see some MEPs pick this cause when speaking up for European values.

In sum, there is reason to be excited about the new Parliament, the many new faces and the many university-relevant topics to be taken up. It is now for universities to motivate them to do so.

“Expert Voices” is an online platform featuring original commentary and analysis on the higher education and research sector in Europe. It offers EUA experts, members and partners the opportunity to share their expertise and perspectives in an interactive and flexible exchange on key topics in the field.

All views expressed in these articles are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of EUA.

Thomas Jorgensen

Thomas Ekman Jørgensen is Senior Policy Coordinator at the European University Association

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