Not takeover but (more) creeping influence in the European Parliament by the far-right

Not takeover but (more) creeping influence in the European Parliament by the far-right

Based on the projections by Europe Elects, the outcome of the 2024 European elections seems set to follow a similar pattern to recent national elections, with a surge in right-wing parties. The next European Parliament (EP) could end up having more members from the extreme right than from the chamber’s historically dominant force, the mainstream conservative European People’s Party (EPP). 

This is hardly surprising. Right-wing parties are in power or support the government in seven of the EU’s 27 countries, including Italy, Sweden, Hungary and the Czech Republic. The Netherlands is about to join their ranks. Austria is likely to follow later this year. Broadly speaking far-right parties, irrespective of their labeling as nativists, nationalists, conservatives and sovereigntists, have been growing in popularity in EU member-states for years, especially since the 2015 peak of the refugee and migration crisis.

However, the ability of right-wing parties to directly influence policy-making should not be overstated. The mainstream grand coalition composed by the EPP, the center-left S&D and Renew is set continue holding a majority in the 720-member chamber, albeit with a thinner margin. Moreover, there are deep divisions, both in terms of policies and personalities, between far-right parties, affecting their ability to leverage their increased presence in the EP. A merger between the two far-right groups in the EP – European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) and the Identity and Democracy (ID) – is unlikely to materialize. 

Even if a formal, wide right-of-center coalition (composed of the EPP and far-right parties) remains unrealistic, these parties might still coalesce around certain issues. Recent experience has shown that votes in the EP are no longer exclusively dominated by the “grand coalition” of centrist parties. Instead, variable coalitions are formed depending on the issue at stake. In the current EP, radical-right groups – mainly the ECR but less often the ID too – have sometimes aligned with the EPP and Renew on trade and agricultural issues. 

In a more conservative and fragmented EP, there will be more opportunities for the ECR and the ID to influence policies in the future. Looking ahead, key will be the willingness of the EPP, as the largest group in the EP, to cooperate on specific policy issues with the ECR and ID. This could be the case regarding green policies, which have become a target of right-wing parties in recent months following farmers’ protests and increased pressure from businesses across Europe. 

Collaborating rather than fighting (especially in areas where hard-right positions have most traction, such as immigration, climate action, enlargement, and cultural identity) will be essential for far-right groups not only to exert more influence on the EU’s policy agenda, but also further erode the firewall between them and the political mainstream, just like has happened at the national level in several European countries. 

Wolfango Piccoli is director of research of the geopolitical advisory service at Teneo.

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