Is Europe Headed Towards the Extreme Right?

While it is certain that the far right (by which I mean the nationalist, protectionist, Eurosceptic right) will make headway in the elections to the Strasbourg-based European parliament that will take place in early June in 27 countries, it is far less likely that they will exercise the influence that the media and some of their rivals think—or claim they believe.

In the 705-member parliament (which will be adding fifteen new seats this time), control is firmly in the hands of a loose entente among three forces: the traditional right (European People’s Party), the traditional socialists (Alliance of Socialists and Democrats) and the so-called centrists (Renew Europe). In all likelihood, these three groups will continue to represent, together, more than the sum of any political bloc in which the far right might seek to play a major role. Even if the far right gains between 30 and 50 new seats, as some polls predict, it is extremely unlikely to displace the three blocs that tend to vote together when push comes to shove. 

This matters because, apart from passing legislation and scrutinizing the European authorities, whoever dominates the European Parliament plays a role in shaping foreign policy, including trade policy, across the union. They will have a say in appointing the officials that make up that bureaucratic labyrinth that we call the European institutions, including the executive branch, the Brussels-based European Commission.

Of the four major countries of the European Union, the far right is only ahead in France. In Germany, the union’s most significant player, the Christian Democrats, is ahead, and the far right, in second place until recently, is now losing ground to the Social Democrats and may come in third. In Italy, Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni’s party is ahead. Although she shares some views with the far right, her tenure so far does not indicate that she belongs in that group outright (it would be more accurate to say that she has one foot in the center-right and the other on the left side of the far right if such a thing exists). Italy’s more clearly defined far-right representative in the European Parliament is running fourth or fifth, depending on the poll. And in Spain, the hard right is running a distant third to the center-right conservatives and the socialists. 

The two hardcore right-wing alliances in the European Parliament are the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) and Identity and Democracy (I&D). But the first of these alliances is a mix of parties that have ideological differences and don’t even agree on how Eurosceptic they are (Meloni’s party and Spain’s nationalist right are much less Eurosceptic than, say, Germany’s hard right or the hard-right French party that is a member of that alliance, and Meloni is a far cry from Germany’s far-right on several other issues). In fact, various members of the ECR want, after this election, to form some pact or entente with the traditional center-right, the single largest group in the European Parliament, in order to prevent the marginalization of the socialists. I&D would not be a part of such an entente—nor would they accept even if invited. 

An understanding between the ECR and the center-right is not entirely out of the question (the president of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, from Germany’s center-right Christian Democratic Union, has flirted with the idea), but that would force the ECR to make many compromises and tone down its “far-right” positions. More importantly, such an entente would still need a third partner to add up to a majority of votes in parliament. 

The only realistic possibility would be the centrist alliance, which would moderate the far-right’s positions even more! In any case, the odds of the centrists joining forces with ECR are not great. That would mean, for instance, Emmanuel Macron’s party dancing with the new party of Éric Zemmour, a ferocious critic of the French president.

Even if the prospects of the far right playing a dominant role in the next European parliament are slim, one thing should worry those who believe in an open, liberal-democratic, globalized Europe where the free circulation of goods, services, capital, and ideas is a substantive value. If the three traditional blocs—the center-right, the center, and the center-left—that currently have the upper hand manage, despite a reduced representation after the June elections, to keep the far right from translating their probable gains into significantly greater political power in Europe, the latter’s voters will become frustrated and perhaps more militant in various countries. And the far-right parties might be able to make their anti-systemic discourse relevant beyond those voters to an increasing number of Europeans who mistrust Brussels and Strasbourg, are fed up with politicians, and are hurting economically. 

Alvaro Vargas Llosa is a Senior Fellow at the Independent Institute. His Independent books include Global Crossings, Liberty for Latin America, and The Che Guevara Myth.
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