What are the far-right’s chances of getting an upper hand in EU elections?

What are the far-right’s chances of getting an upper hand in EU elections?
Fecha de publicación: 
7 June 2024
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The EU was formed out of the ashes of World War II — mainly triggered by Hitler’s Germany’s imperial ambitions – and aimed to ensure both economic stability and continental peace as a bloc against far-right ideologies like that of the Nazis.

But in the face of growing angst against migration, rising energy prices due to the Russia-Ukraine conflict and a general discontent against established centre-left political dispensations, Europe has seen a surge in the appeal of populist movements.

And this trend could result in the far-right making a comeback in the upcoming EU parliament elections, which is the second largest democratic exercise considering the EU population of 373 million people, recent polls show.

While the two mainstream groups—the centre-right European People’s Party (EPP) and the centre-left Socialists & Democrats (S&D)—have dominated the European Parliament (EP) for much of its existence since the 1950s, experts say this dynamic might change with more right-wing groups in the EP.

“In many European countries, these nationalist and populist parties gain ground”, which will probably show its effects on the upcoming EU elections scheduled on June 6-9, says Jean-Sylvestre Mongrenier, a French professor of history-geography and a researcher in geopolitics in the Thomas More Institute.

Francois Gemenne, a political scientist at Sciences Po in Paris and the University of Liège in Belgium, also believes that the “far-right bodies will gain quite a lot of ground” in the upcoming elections, but he is not sure if they “will be able to form a significant political group, especially now that France’s Rassemblement National decided it will not form a group with Germany’s AfD”.

News outlet Politico’s Poll of Polls shows that the two right-wing groups, Identity and Democracy (ID) and European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR), will significantly increase their share of MEPs in the EP, respectively finishing fourth and fifth.

Previous polls indicated that the ID might have also finished third, but as Gemenne pointed out that the far-right group pushed by Rassemblement National expelled Alternative for Germany (AfD), a party with Neo Nazi leanings, from the bloc after the group’s leading figure made a favourable remark on the SS. As a result, its share of MEPs will decrease in the EP without AfD.

But the ECR, projected to claim the fourth spot, is just one member shy of Renew Europe (RE), a centrist bloc, according to the poll, meaning the right-wing group might also finish third.


People attend a major rally of European nationalist and far-right parties ahead of EU parliamentary elections in Milan, Italy May 18, 2019. Credit: Alessandro Garofalo

The popularity of far-right groups even forced current European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen, who is seeking a second term, not to rule out a possible cooperation with them.

When members of other far-right parties, from AfD to Hungary’s Fidesz, France’s Reconquest, Poland’s Konfederacja and Bulgaria’s Revival party, which are not under ECR and ID umbrella in the EP, combined with the two leading right-wing groups, the total far-right MEPs could be over 180 well ahead of the EPP.

In total, MEPs with far-right views might claim 25 percent of the EP’s 720 seats. This does not sound good news for a bloc which has long sought to distance itself from WWII’s horrific legacies shaped by far-right ideologies.

“We’re going to observe a massive success for the extreme right and the nationalist parties all across Europe, including in countries that are doing very well economically speaking. I’m very concerned that in a country like Austria, for example, the extreme right is tipping the polls,” Gemenne tells TRT World.

Under any conditions, when far-right and centre-right groups combine, conservatist groups will dominate the EP, getting a majority in the parliament, different polls indicate.

Can nationalists form a united front?

While Mongrenier thinks that the far-right gains are “a form of retreat: the temptation of withdrawing into nationalist isolation, behind state borders,” the rise of the European right-wing nationalists is different from WWII movements. “Not dynamic and expansionist nationalisms as in the 19th century or in the first half of the 20th century,” the professor tells TRT World.

Donald Trump, a populist politician seeking a second term despite his recent unanimous conviction by a New York jury, has also long envisioned a similar “retreat” for the US, threatening to quit NATO, a Western-led international alliance, leaving Europe in the lurch.

As a result, while both European populists and Trump’s followers share staunch anti-globalist views, they do not seek any kind of union among themselves, according to Mongrenier. “There is not such a thing like “‘international nationalists’ (nationalist international is an oxymoron) which could take back control at the European scale,” he says.

“In the European Parliament, there isn’t one nationalist group but two of them”, says Mongrenier, referring to the ID and ECR.


Leading figures of far-right Identity and Democracy bloc in the European Parliament.

“For instance, they don’t have the same view about Ukraine and Russia’s military aggression. And each of these two groups is divided,” the professor says, mentioning how France's far-right Rassemblement National was instrumental in expelling the AfD from the ID bloc.

How far-right agenda can influence

Mongrenier still thinks that despite far-right divisions, the nationalist weight in the policy-making process will be “heavier”, especially on issues like immigration, borders, free-trade, supranationalism or federalism. “Influence rather than power. In fact, this is a political trend in all of Europe.”

Other experts also see that even if von der Leyen’s EPP does not form a working relationship with far-right groups in the EP, they can still influence policy “from outside the tent”, putting pressure on centre-right politicians to adopt their positions on migration and other issues.

In France, Emmanuel Macron adopted some far-right positions during the presidential election and the UK government has also recently taken some anti-migrant measures.

The fear of foreigners swamping Europe through waves of migration is also “consistently instrumentalised a lot by extreme right bodies and increasingly there is also a kind of backlash against environmental policies,” says Gemenne.

Among other issues, the EU's Green Deal, a key part of EU’s environmental policies, which aims to decrease greenhouse gas emissions by 90 percent prior to 2040, has angered the continent’s farmers and prompted large protests against it since February.


Polish farmers and other protesters gather in downtown Warsaw to protest the European Union's climate policies and Poland's pro-EU government, in Warsaw, Poland, May 10, 2024. Credit: Czarek Sokolowski

Farmers believe the EU’s green transition will increase production costs as high inflation hits their earnings. They are also concerned that only a small percentage of farmers are able to benefit from the EU's agricultural funding programs. Currently, right-wing parties are the main voice of farmer resentment against the EU’s green policies.

Rejection of EU system

Beyond migration and the Green Deal, the key dynamic that strengthens and unites far-right groups is “their rejection of the EU as a political system”, subscribing to the idea that “things would be better handled at national level rather than EU level”, according to Gemenne.

"We are very clear that the far-right not only want to destroy the European Union but our democracy,” said Terry Reintke, European Greens' lead candidate last month.

Far-right wins will “massively impact” not only the future of EU policies but also the EU itself, hitting its enlargement projects from Ukraine to Moldova, says Gemenne, the Belgian professor. They will seek to diminish the role of the EU in the international arena that “is a uniting factor of all extreme bodies, which is their willingness to weaken the EU," he says.

“Generally, far-right parties are Eurosceptic, anti-immigration, identitarian and nation-centred,” opposing the European integration project from its political unification perspective to its economic wisdom of creating a single continental market, says Abdulaziz Ahmet Yasar, a Hamburg-based expert on the EU.

While complicated issues like migration and economic downfall require long-term complicated solutions, “far-right parties offer by contrast ‘simplistic’ solutions since they are often populist,” Yasar tells TRT World, garnering support across a large part of the European electorate.

If the far-right makes significant gains as projected, it could also weaken the EU monetary system and, essentially, the euro, the union’s popular currency. The increasing cost of living and other financial uncertainties can push the European Central Bank (ECB) to cut interest rates, which might also decrease the value of the euro, according to experts.

While Europe’s nationalist parties oppose political integration, some of them are also willing to soften some of their political positions to gain more broad support, experts say.

“The example of Italy with its Prime Minister Meloni showed us that a far-right party in power can change its positions on certain topics to gain more power and broader support to become a catch-all party, not only domestically but also on the EU level,” Yasar adds.

The rise of the far right has rung alarm bells across the EU's left-wing alliances, which support political and economic integration.

A recent bold declaration signed by Europe’s leading socialists and labour members pledged “to build a strong barrier against the far-right” and not to give up on the EU's “democratic, humanist and united principles”.

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