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In 2024 as tens of millions go to the polls, the EU is poised to lurch to the far-right

STOCK Photo https://depositphotos.com/photo/european-union-flag-against-parliament-in-brussels-64636781.html

Staff Writer Joel Nugent discusses the upcoming EU Parliamentary elections and what may happen if the surging hard right performs well.

2024 will see the most amount of people going to the polls to vote for national and local governments in history. 7 of the 10 most populous countries in the world will have elections, over 60 in total. In many of these countries, the far-right is expected to do well. Polls show former US president Donald Trump potentially beating incumbent president Joe Biden, and the Hindu nationalist BJP in India is expected to win another term in government, giving Narendra Modi 4 more years in the position of Prime Minister.

However, from the 6-9th June 2024, around 450 million people will go to the polls. These are not citizens of one united country but instead of member states that form perhaps the most important regional political union in the world. The EU.

On these dates, citizens of the EU will have the opportunity to vote for new members of the legislative branch of the European Union, the European Parliament. This is a large undertaking. Elections are held across a space of three days in 27 different countries.

The European Parliament votes on legislative proposals drafted by the other two main organs of the EU, the Commission and the Council. The parliament is made up of 7 broad ideological groupings (excluding independents) who themselves are made up of MEPs from pre-existing parties from each member state.

Going into these elections there is an unprecedented amount of support for the far-right in Europe. This springs from widespread discontent with European incumbent governments’ handling of the economy and immigration. Since 2022 the far-right has come to power in Italy, Sweden, and Finland and won elections in the Netherlands. This suggests a big increase in overall support for the far-right on a Europe-wide scale.

The Far-Right in the EU

In the EU, the far-right manifests itself in 2 groups. Most political ideologies only have one grouping; for example, the radical left’s group is creatively called “The Left in the European Parliament.” Instead, the two far-right groupings are called “European Conservatives and Reformists” (ECR) and “Identity and Democracy” (ID).

The ECR was originally set up by David Cameron’s Conservative Party after it left the centre-right “European People’s Party” (EPP) in 2009. As such, it did not start as a far-right grouping, but instead, it was made up of soft Eurosceptics that opposed some of the EU’s incursions on state sovereignty but still supported staying in the EU. However, over time, more right-wing parties joined the group, pushing it further right. There still exists a presence of non-far-right parties in the group, such as the Belgian New Flemish Alliance party, but they are now a minority. The group performs best in Poland, thanks to the success of the Law and Justice party; Italy, where Brothers of Italy is the largest party in the country; and in Spain, due to Vox. The group is expected to gain an extra 10 seats at least from their 2019 result.

The other far-right group, ID, is much newer. It only formed after the 2019 EU elections and is the largest of the two groups. Most of the internationally famous far-right European parties sit within this group. It performs the best in France where Marine Le Pen’s National Rally party is leading the polls; Germany, where the far-right AfD party has surged to second place in the polls in recent months; and the Netherlands, where Geert Wilders’ Party For Freedom recently came first in the elections. In the current 2019-2024 parliament, the largest single party in the EU parliament was the party Lega Nord from Italy, which sits with ID though recently their vote share has collapsed due to the rise of the aforementioned Brothers of Italy. ID is also expected to gain over 10 seats

Unlike ECR, none of ID’s members have led government and the grouping is regulatly identified as the more radical of the two (in reality there is little difference–they both are broadly anti-immigration, right-wing populist and Eurosceptic). The largest substantial difference is foreign policy. ECR is broadly more pro-NATO and in favour of closer relations with the United States. In contrast, ID’s parties have occasionally been described as “pro-Russian”, particularly Le Pen and Salvini’s Lega Nord. This friendliness with the Kremlin accounts for the Finnish far-right party The Finns’ decision to leave the ID grouping for the ECR .

Opposition to the Far-right

So if the far right is expected to surge, who can stop them? The centre-right European People’s Party (EPP) usually makes up the largest grouping in the parliament due to the Christian Democratic Union usually being the largest party in Germany (Germany is particularly important within the EU Parliament’s representative dynamics as it commands the highest number of seats). But across Europe, the center-right has shown a willingness to work with the far-right. They are in government with them in Sweden, Finland, and Italy, and regional coalitions have sprung up uniting the far-right and centre-right in Spain.

While traditional right-wing forces may look to strike a deal that facilitates the far-right’s rise to power, its ideological rivals on the left are in disarray. Socialists and Democrats (S&D), The Greens and The Left in the EU (Left) are expecting pretty poor results. S&D is expected to lose even more seats after their already poor 2019 result, The Greens have lost the momentum that made them one of the big winners of 2019, and The Left in Europe has completely crashed as their vote share has dropped off in key strongholds such as Greece, and are projected to get only 33 seats compared to the 41they secured at the last election (although they will probably be the leading group in two countries, Ireland and Cyprus, which is a record for them). As a result, the upcoming elections offer an unprecedented opportunity for Europe’s hard right to gain a real presence in the halls of power.

What does unprecedented far-right support mean?

The far-right is not on track for a majority in the EU parliament, but they are likely to receive unprecedented support. What does this mean? As mentioned previously, The European Parliament cannot introduce bills, so the far-right cannot formulate policy proposals. However, it does mean that the far-right’s approval may be vital in ensuring that legislation makes it through Parliament. This means that environmentally friendly or pro-immigration policy will undergo extreme scrutiny by a more right-wing parliament, and could result in less of these types of policies being passed.

More pressingly, it will profoundly reshape domestic politics in the EU’s member states. Elections to the EU Parliament often have domestic repercussions. For example, in 2019, when his party came second in the European elections, Greece’s then-Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras organized a snap election. The momentum that would result from the far-right’s success in the European elections could similarly embolden far-right politicians operating at the national level, encouraging them to step up their campaigning.

Ultimately, it is beyond any doubt that the outcome of 2024’s European elections will have significant repercussions on the Continent’s politics for years to come. Given the fragmentation and current unpopularity of their opposition, a strong showing by the far right seems inevitable.

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