HomeOpinionWhat Does Rise Of The Far Right Mean For The EU?

What Does Rise Of The Far Right Mean For The EU?

What Does Rise Of The Far Right Mean For The EU?

What Does Rise Of The Far Right Mean For The EU?

BRUSSELS, (IANS/DPA) – The far right has significant gains in the European Parliament elections, with once-fringe parties growing in influence in the European Union.

So how seismic could this shift be for the EU?

For months, political analysts had forecast center-left and green parties losing seats to the center-right and far right in the European Parliament elections. The European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR) predicted even at the start of the year that there would be a “sharp right turn” with anti-EU parties winning in nine EU countries including Belgium, Italy, and France, among others. This could threaten the majority held by parties from the three traditionally mainstream groups, namely the center-right European People’s Party (EPP), the center-left Socialists and Democrats (S&D), and the liberal-centrist Renew Europe.

The far-right nationalist Identity and Democracy (ID) and the less radical but Eurosceptic European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) were the two groups aiming to profit most at the polls. Data from poll aggregator Europe Elects at the end of May indicated that ID—which recently expelled the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD)—could win 67 seats, and the ECR 74. This would bring their total to 141 seats—a significant jump of over 23 seats compared to their total in the current parliament. The whole parliament has 720 seats.

The more centrist parties of EPP, S&D, and Renew were projected to win 407 seats together, a slimmer majority than they have with their current 417 seats, but— they hoped—still enough to preserve the working majority that has been in place since 2019.

This center versus far-right dynamic had played out already in the Netherlands. Geert Wilders’ far-right Party for Freedom (PVV)—aligned with ID in the European Parliament—was in the spotlight as voting began on Thursday. While Wilders’ party made strong gains and was on track to have secured seven of the 31 Dutch seats in the European Parliament—up from just one in the last parliament who has since defected—it was edged out by a center-left Dutch political alliance which looked set to receive eight seats, according to an exit poll from Thursday evening.

What drove the far-right surge?

A backlash against immigration, economic uncertainty, and anti-establishment anger are among a myriad of reasons put forward by analysts to explain the far-right surge. All the above, boosted by online Russian disinformation campaigns, pooled to form a potent cocktail to fuel the rise of the far right and upend the political order in national governments—such as recently in the Netherlands—as well as potentially in the EU.

European Commission Vice President Věra Jourová, quoted in the Financial Times, complained the EU was battling an “avalanche of disinformation” from Russia targeting the European elections. Investigations across the EU uncovered evidence of alleged influence operations, including a probe involving German AfD politicians allegedly acting on behalf of Russia and China. Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo in March revealed that his country’s intelligence services had uncovered Russian networks in “several European countries” to influence the European Parliament elections.

Far-right parties, meanwhile, painted the EU institutions as both dominating the daily lives of the public while being powerless at the same time to help them.

How will the far-right impact EU policy?

The influence of the far right is likely to impede EU cooperation on overarching policies such as climate and migration, in tune with their goal of reasserting the sovereign role of national capitals. Ambitious EU policies that require a high level of cooperation between member states would therefore be unlikely to see the light of day in the new European Commission term. Examples of these kinds of policies agreed in the outgoing term are the Green Deal and the EU Migration and Asylum Pact.

Jordan Bardella, leader of National Rally, for example, railed against the supremacy of EU law over France, especially in migration cases, and pushed for direct democracy policies like referendums on migration so that France could regain “control of its destiny.”

Uncertain future for Ursula von der Leyen

The shift to the right could even affect the choice of the next president of the European Commission, arguably the most powerful role in the EU and biggest symbol of the EU’s future direction. German conservative Ursula von der Leyen from the EPP is currently seeking a second term, but finding a parliamentary majority to support her could prove extremely difficult as political groups recalibrate their next moves to accommodate rising support for the right.

National Rally’s Marine Le Pen told the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera that she wanted to cooperate more closely with Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni’s Brothers of Italy. “If we are successful, we can become the second-largest group in the European Parliament. I think such an opportunity should not be missed,” Le Pen said. The two politicians belong to two different political groups in the European Parliament: National Rally sits with the right-wing ID group, while Brothers of Italy, which has neo-fascist roots, is in the ECR.

A merger between the ID and ECR could prove decisive for the appointment of the next commission president and the make-up of the next European Commission. In April, von der Leyen did not rule out cooperating with the ECR group and courted support from the Italian prime minister. This could prove a risky strategy: German Chancellor Olaf Scholz for one has warned von der Leyen not to try to secure another term with the help of right-wing extremists.

A far right divided

One important caveat to this is, however, that the far right is far from a homogeneous decision-making force. A big divider is Russia. Poland’s Law and Justice (PiS) party, in the ECR, is diametrically opposed to the Hungarian Fidesz party’s pro-Kremlin position on the Ukraine war. Meloni, meanwhile, has taken a clear pro-Ukraine position.

Another polarizing area is the far right’s attempts to appeal to the mainstream and the desire not to alienate certain groups of voters. A major rift opened in the ID group after the AfD’s lead candidate for the elections, Maximilian Krah, said that not all members of the SS, a Nazi paramilitary group, were criminals. That led to denunciations from Le Pen’s National Rally, which is trying to shake off its anti-Semitic reputation, and ultimately led to the AfD’s expulsion from the ID group.

A cordon sanitaire in tatters Neither the success of the far right nor the appointment of von der Leyen is certain. What is clear, however, is that the cordon sanitaire, an informal post-war agreement to exclude the far right from power, is well and truly in tatters, with more and more far-right parties entering government. First shunned by European governments, Italy’s Meloni now travels alongside von der Leyen to seal deals with leaders in Tunisia and Egypt to stop migrants reaching Europe. And after June 9, the far-right Italian may hold a decisive role in the future of the EU.

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