Europe swings further to the right

Henry

While the president of the European Commission, the German Ursula von der Leyen, announced a victory for the center-right grouping of European parties in the European Parliament on Sunday evening, the real winners of this election were rather two other women, namely Marine Le Pen, leader of the right-wing National Rally party in France, and Giorgia Meloni, leader of the right-wing Brotherhood of Italy party in Italy.

Le Pen’s party with 32% of the vote in France and Meloni’s party with 30% of the vote in Italy led the swing to the right in Europe. In Austria, the right-wing Freedom Party, with 30% of the vote, did even better than polls predicted.

In Germany, the Alternative for Germany (AfD) is the second largest German party in the European Parliament for the first time ever. Right-wing parties also enjoyed strong growth in support in the Netherlands, Belgium, Spain, Portugal and Greece.

However, von der Leyen is not entirely wrong in her confident belief that the result is also good news for her centre-right bloc. The European People’s Party, which includes numerous centre-right, moderate and Christian Democratic parties from across Europe, won even more seats than in the previous election. The largest party in this bloc, the center-right Christian Democrats of Germany, has grown precisely because their rhetoric on matters such as immigration, energy and environmental regulations that seriously affect, among other things, the agriculture and manufacturing sectors, has moved substantially to the right.

In Spain, the centre-right People’s Party also finished first for the first time in a long time.

Since the first European Parliament elections in 1979, two political groups, namely the centre-right People’s Party and the centre-left Social Democrats, have always dominated the European Union. Along with this, Germany and France have also always played a very dominant role in the EU. This may change after last week’s election.

Von der Leyen needs the support of many political groups or parties outside her centre-right bloc to be elected for another term. The center-left Social Democrats lost some seats, while the grouping of liberal parties, until recently led by the French party of Emmanuel Macron, was one of the biggest losers in the election.

Of the seven political groups in the European Parliament, the liberals and the green parties were the two biggest losers. Hard left parties, which include many former communist parties, have also lost a lot of support. This, together with the slight loss of the centre-left, means that from now on there will be far fewer members of parliament from left-wing and extreme left-wing parties in the European Parliament. The Social Democrats of Germany, which for decades were one of the largest political parties in the European Parliament, suffered a huge defeat, winning only 14% of the vote, their lowest ever.

While the center-right group grew, support for more nationalist and right-wing parties grew even more. The big question, however, is whether disparate right-wing parties will be able to work together after the election. The dividing lines between these parties on issues of national sovereignty, the right to self-determination of European communities, the war in Ukraine, economic policy that includes questions about protectionism, and the role of NATO are very difficult to overcome.

In the past year or two, center-right parties have clearly moved to the right on issues such as energy and agricultural policy. This was precisely because of the sharp increase in support for right-wing parties. European policies on immigration, energy, environmental issues, economic protectionism and national sovereignty are already moving to the right.

The two most powerful leaders in Europe, Emmanuel Macron of France and Olaf Scholz of Germany, were both called to order by their voters. Their influence in the EU will probably decrease drastically with that. Marine Le Pen of France and Giorgia Meloni of Italy will no doubt want to leave a clearer mark on European policy over the next few months.

While the parties of the political center will continue to retain power in the European Parliament, it is clear that the rise of right-wing parties is leading to a policy shift to the right. The next step for right-wing parties will be to overcome their differences and organize together in a larger political grouping in the European Parliament. Currently, two major right-wing parties, Fidesz of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and the Alternative for Germany, are not part of a political group in the EU.

Greater cooperation between right-wing parties could force Von der Leyen and her center-right People’s Party to make even more concessions on immigration, energy, agriculture and other policy areas.

It is clear that many voters in Europe last week were driven by a sense of anger, anxiety about the future and an alienation from the political elite. Ultimately, the consequences will be more obvious in the respective countries than necessarily in the European Union itself.

Emmanuel Macron has already dissolved the French parliament and called an early election for June 30. In Belgium, that country’s liberal prime minister also resigned after his party suffered a huge defeat. Whether the current, unpopular coalition government in Germany can stand is a good question. In Spain, too, the left-wing coalition government is shaky.

The recent European Parliament elections were probably just the beginning of a larger political shift in Europe. In Germany, the Alternative for Germany (AfD) finished first in every East German state. Later this year, voters in Brandenburg, Thuringia and Saxony, all East German states, will go to the polls. We can expect the AfD to achieve major victories there as well, which will increase the pressure on the current left-wing three-party coalition in Berlin.

Two-thirds of Europeans want to see immigration drastically reduced. A large majority of Europeans want to see the war in Ukraine end. Most Europeans are opposed to the energy transformation in Europe where expensive renewable energy is generated while nuclear power and the use of natural gas and coal are phased out. In many European countries there is great unhappiness about the transfer of power to the European Commission and European Parliament.

The result of the European Parliament elections sends a clear warning to the political elite in Brussels, but also to those in Paris and Berlin. Europeans are asking for change. If that change does not occur, we can expect right-wing parties across Europe to gain even more support in upcoming national elections over the next few years.