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There are seven European parliamentary groupings in total Alamy Stock Photo
EU Explainer

What are European political groupings and why are they important?

How much do you know about the EPP? S&D? Get up to speed before you cast your vote.

APART FROM A big summit every-now-and-again, we rarely hear of the European political groupings in Irish media.

Political groupings are the European Parliament’s way of amalgamating groups of politicians from different parties into one big party, whose values and individual stances align.

These groupings are important for the functioning of a ‘working parliament’ as they compel MEPs to come to a consensus with politicians from across the political spectrum in Brussels who they, on a national level, would usually not agree with.

So what are European political groups? And what is their importance ahead of the next European elections in June?

Why are the politicians put into groups?

Once elected, MEPs join one of seven parliamentary groups which represent their domestic party’s values and are filled with like-minded politicians from across the continent. Those not in groups are classified as ‘non-aligned’.

Grouping the parties together makes the decision-making process a lot smoother, as there would have to be very difficult and lengthy debates in the Parliament if each national party was to sit as a unit.

These groupings are also important for the functioning of the Parliament as they force deals to be made between groups.

irish-prime-minister-leo-varadkar-speaks-at-the-epp-congress-in-bucharest-romania-thursday-march-7-2024-the-2024-epp-congress-designated-germanys-ursula-von-der-leyen-who-seeks-a-second-term-as Former Taoiseach Leo Varadkar speaking at the EPP Congress in Bucharest, Romania last month. Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

Christy Anne Petit, the deputy director of Dublin City University’s Brexit Institute – which studies and examines European policy post-Brexit – explained that while the individual politicians will maintain their political positions during decision-making periods, the groups will base their ideas around common values.

“In European law, a lot of coalitions take place,” Petit said.

“These are not only political but also a grouping of member states. So, the MEP will have a lot of work to do to understand and liaise with the other counterparts.”

As it stands, Sinn Féin, Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael, the Green Party are the only parties who have candidates in the European Parliament. Mick Wallace, Clare Daly and Luke Ming Flanagan all stand as independents.

(We’ll explain later in the piece which groupings they’re all part of). 

Who’s who? And what do they stand for?

There are eight different parliamentary groups in the European Parliament.

The Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats (S&D) is the group with the second highest number of MEPs. The Irish Labour Party is a member of S&D – but Labour currently hold no seats in the European Parliament.

S&D are a liberal grouping and many of their policies include increased workers’ rights, moving to transparent business practices and striving to create social justice in European member states. 

On current European issues, the grouping supports the expansion of the Union, continually stands with Ukraine and were co-legislators for the Migration and Asylum Pact.

Next are European Conservatives and Reformists, a conservative, soft-Eurosceptic group and Identity and Democracy, who are a far-right, anti-immigration, Eurosceptic group. No mainstream Irish political parties are members of either group. 

brussels-belgium-06th-may-2023-the-european-conservatives-and-reformists-european-party-logo-pictured-during-the-open-day-of-european-parliament-on-the-occasion-of-the-europe-day-in-brussels-s European Conservatives and Reformists poster at an European Parliament open day last May. Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

These groups advocate for stricter regulations at borders, are largely against the expansion of the Union and many of their members would be in favour of their states leaving the EU entirely.

There are also 50 MEPs who are currently ‘non-aligned’, meaning they are not part of a group or have been kicked out of one.

A lot of the non-aligned MEPs would be considered on the political fringes, such as members from Hungarian party Fidesz who were kicked out of the European People’s Party over their party leader Viktor Órban’s actions in their home state.

Fine Gael is a founding member of the European People’s Party (EPP), a centre-right conservative group.

The EPP is currently the largest grouping in the Parliament and its representatives, Ursula von der Leyen and Roberta Metsola, are the current heads of the European Commission and Parliament, respectively.

The EPP promotes reforms on migration, such as the group’s ‘third countries’ proposal for the Migration Pact – which you might have heard of in recent weeks – but is not opposed to the expansion of the Union.

Under her presidency, von der Leyen has opened membership talks to multiple countries, including Bosnia and Herzegovina, Ukraine and Moldova.

The EPP is also in favour of increasing the security of the EU and strengthening the size and control on the European single-market in all aspects, such as introducing the Digital Markets Act which plans to enact tough new laws on app developers.

The Green Party are members of the Greens–European Free Alliance group, a green and regionalist party.

The Green Alliance focus much of their attention on making sustainable legislation to promote greener policies in Member States and making the EU a more equal place to live through politics.

nature restoration Irish Green Alliance MEPs Grace O'Sullivan (L) and Ciarán Cuffe after the nature restoration law was passed in the Parliament last month. Ciarán Cuffe Ciarán Cuffe

The Greens were hugely supportive of the controversial nature restoration law but also spearhead progressive environmental legislation such as the plan to renovate buildings to reduce their emissions by make them more energy efficient.

Its members also advocate for the quick roll out and fulfillment of measures that are a part of the EU’s Green Deal, which plans to halve emissions in three years time and reach net-zero emissions by 2050.

Sinn Féin and the Irish independent MEPs are aligned with ‘The Left in the European Parliament’, a left-leaning, socialist group. It is the smallest grouping in the current formation of the Parliament.

The Left Group have six main areas of focus: economic justice, climate action, gender equality, defending human rights, opposing international conflicts and upholding democracy and ethics.

Many members of The Left aim to achieve these outcomes through left-leaning, socialist policies. However, The Left is looked at as a marginal grouping, according to political researcher at the Brexit Institute Ian Cooper. 

This is because much of the group are not totally ideologically aligned with each other and The Left itself is only made up of 37 of MEPs (fewer members than in the non-aligned group).

Fianna Fáil is currently aligned and a member of the Renew Group (often also named ALDE) which is a pro-European, liberal group.

The group also have a particular interest in farming and fisheries and are currently working towards reforming health structures in member states. Similar to the EPP, Renew are also in favour of strengthening and protecting the EU single market.

Renew also have a particularly strong take on the protection of democracy and freedom. For example, a number of Renew MEPs recently travelled to the Rafah Crossing as observers.

Why are the groups important?

While these groups don’t form coalitions within the Parliament, the sum of their seats does determine how influential the party will be during the five-year term. 

John O’Brennan, a professor at the Department of Sociology at Maynooth University whose work focuses on European Union institutions and politics, told our podcast The Explainer this month that the size of the groupings determines their entitlement to positions on important committees.

This is important because, according to O’Brennan, the “really important business” of the European Parliament takes place within these committees.

The more seats each group has can lead to them having more positions as lead-negotiators for new laws within each committee as well as better positions to carry out international diplomacy.

brussels-belgium-15th-may-2019-the-candidates-to-the-presidency-of-the-commission-pose-on-stage-prior-to-a-debate-at-the-european-parliament-credit-alexandros-michailidisalamy-live-news Stage for the European Commission Presidential debates in 2019. Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

It is also the Parliament’s responsibility to accept the new group of European Commissioners and elect the President of the parliament. The groups who voted for the same candidates will usually form a partnership within the parliament’s term.

This partnership is not a coalition, rather a space between groups that creates bi-lateral support for various pieces of legislation during the five years they hold their seats.

Ahead of the elections in June, it’s believed there could be a large shift to the right or left in many states, with anti-European, populist candidates expected to top polls in at least nine EU member states, as of January.

These candidates are more likely to join the more staunch, radical groupings – in turn, creating a more polarised parliament. 

This point has heightened concerns among some countries that key European pillars, such as the Green Deal, support for Ukraine and further EU enlargement, will be left behind or overturned in the aftermath of the upcoming elections.


This work is co-funded by Journal Media and a grant programme from the European Parliament. Any opinions or conclusions expressed in this work are the author’s own. The European Parliament has no involvement in nor responsibility for the editorial content published by the project. For more information, see here.

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