Elections: European elections: The EU’s biggest construction sites

All eyes in the EU are now on the European elections. But things will be particularly strenuous after that. Defense, asylum and climate protection: the challenges are great.

In the coming days, more than 360 million EU citizens will be called upon to vote in the European elections to determine the composition of the next European Parliament. A number of issues that they will have to deal with have already been decided. An overview:


The beginning of the Russian war of aggression against Ukraine was a turning point for the EU. Most leading politicians now agree that the EU, as one of the largest peace projects in history, can only have a secure future if it can defend itself against opponents with armed force in an emergency. However, there is still no common answer to the question of how existing deficits in the area of ​​defense should be eliminated. While Germany is focusing primarily on NATO projects, France wants to use EU money to promote the European arms industry and thus make the EU more independent of the USA.

The decision on how to proceed will probably be made after the European elections – and will also be influenced by the outcome of the US presidential election in November. France's ideas could receive additional support, especially if Republican Donald Trump manages to return to the White House. Trump's statements in the past have raised doubts about whether the US, as a NATO partner, is still fully prepared to stand up for the security of its European allies.

EU enlargement

The issue of EU expansion has also taken on a whole new meaning as a result of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The reason is that many politicians believe that a larger EU should be one of the geopolitical responses to Russia's war of aggression. There is also concern that countries with no prospect of joining could enter into closer partnerships with their system rivals China or Russia. This applies in particular to the states of the Western Balkans, some of which have been hoping in vain for many years for greater progress on the road to joining the EU. In the case of the newer accession candidates Ukraine and Moldova in particular, it is also a matter of showing the people there that it is worth fighting for freedom and democracy.

The issue of enlargement is particularly difficult because admitting many more countries would require extensive adjustments on the EU side. With regard to the possible admission of Ukraine, for example, agricultural policy is considered critical because the war-torn country is comparatively large and would probably have to receive subsidies for a long time.

Climate protection

One of the biggest projects of the EU Commission under President Ursula von der Leyen in recent years has been the so-called Green Deal – an unprecedented package of measures and legislation that, among other things, is intended to ensure a drastic reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. The “Green Deal” includes new requirements in areas such as energy, transport, industry and agriculture. By 2030, renewable energies are to account for 42.5 percent of total energy consumption in the EU – which also serves the aim of becoming independent of Russian gas.

After the various climate laws have been passed, the big challenge now is implementation. Stricter rules for agriculture were partially withdrawn a few weeks ago after major protests by farmers in many EU countries. A nature conservation law that was actually planned was recently in jeopardy again. It is also unclear whether the decision that no new cars running on petrol or diesel should be allowed by 2035 will hold. The plan, often referred to as the end of combustion engines, has attracted a lot of criticism. The CDU and FDP, among others, want to stop it.

Economic policy

In economic policy, the focus is increasingly on Europe's competitiveness. Competition from China and the USA is a particular concern. The EU's trade deficit with China recently amounted to almost 400 billion euros. And a report commissioned by the EU states and the EU Commission recently stated: “While gross domestic product per capita in the USA rose by almost 60 percent between 1993 and 2022, the increase in Europe was less than 30 percent.”

So has Europe missed the boat on economic policy and if so, why? “Previous explanations leave a lot open,” wrote Michael Hüther, director of the employer-friendly German Economic Institute (IW), in an article for the “Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung” a few days ago. He finds it convincing that many regulations and stronger union influence than in the USA are preventing productivity gains in Europe. In addition, high energy prices and ambitious climate policy are challenges for the economy.

However, measures against unfair competition practices are also likely to be discussed after the election. For example, the EU is currently investigating the extent to which China is giving its car manufacturers unacceptable advantages in the electric vehicle market through significant state subsidies. Punitive tariffs could be imposed.

Migration and asylum law

Although the controversial asylum reform was finally decided in 2024, the issue of migration will probably continue to have a grip on the EU even after the election. In addition to German municipalities, other European countries are also complaining about overloaded asylum systems. Now it is all about implementing the new rules: a major task that will particularly challenge the EU countries on the external borders. Ultimately, the member states should be obliged to use uniform procedures at the external borders so that it can be quickly determined whether asylum applications are unfounded and the refugees can then be deported more quickly and directly from the external border.

In order to relieve the burden on countries where many refugees arrive – for example Italy, Greece or Spain – a “solidarity mechanism” is to be introduced. The plan is for at least 30,000 refugees to be redistributed from these countries to other EU countries each year. If the countries do not want to take in refugees, they must provide support in other ways, for example financially. It is questionable whether all countries will ultimately play along: the first voices from Poland and Hungary have already been heard saying they want to avoid this mechanism.