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EU prepares to elect its most right-wing parliament

The 2024 European elections threaten to upend the bloc’s traditional political landscape.

Sean Gallup | Getty Images

Europeans will go to the polls this week in closely watched elections that threaten to upend the bloc’s traditionally dominant political landscape.

From June 6 to 9, around 400 million people across the 27 EU member states will be able to vote for the next 720 members of the European Parliament (MEPs).

Far-right populist parties are set to see significant gains as a rising wave of Euroscepticism reverberates across the European Union, with major implications for the bloc’s future political agenda, legislation and foreign policy. wide.

“We are seeing a rise in populist sentiment in Europe and around the world, which could result in the most right-wing European Parliament in history,” said Tim Adams, president and CEO of the Institute of Finance international, to CNBC by email.

Changing the face of the European Parliament

The European Parliament, one of the three institutions at the heart of the European Union, decides on EU laws and budgets. It is made up of MEPs elected by each member state and brought together to form European party groups.

Parliament has, in the past, been led by a strong majority of centrist parties. But projected losses for the ruling “super grand coalition” – made up of the European People’s Party, Socialists and Democrats and Renew Europe – and gains for the far right have called that balance into question.

Latest opinion polls suggest big seat victories for the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR), which includes Italian Prime Minister Georgia Meloni’s Brothers of Italy and Law and Justice, and the radical right group Identity and Democracy (ID), which includes a French politician. Marine Le Pen’s National Rally in France and the Dutch Freedom Party.

While gains by these parties are unlikely to shift the balance of power out of the hands of the centrist coalition, it could make it more difficult to form a majority when voting on crucial issues such as Ukraine, defense and the bloc’s green agenda.

Campaign meeting of the French far-right party Rassemblement National (RN) ahead of the upcoming elections to the European Parliament, in Paris on June 2, 2024.

Laure Boyer | Afp | Getty Images

The expected upheaval comes against the backdrop of a broader shift to the right in Europe, as two years of war and record inflation have added to a growing sense of disillusionment with more conventional parties.

“This reflects the long-term decline in support for mainstream parties and the growing support for extremist and smaller parties across Europe, leading to increasing fragmentation of European party systems, both at national and European level,” declared the European Council. Foreign Relations said in a January report.

“In short, we expect that populist voices, particularly those from the radical right, are likely to be stronger after the 2024 elections than at any time since the European Parliament.e“NT was directly elected for the first time in 1979,” he adds.

Several key EU member states, including France, Italy, Hungary, Austria and the Netherlands, appear set to elect MEPs from anti-EU populist parties. Although the results will not influence member state governments, they could have implications in the run-up to the next national elections.

“If we don’t fill the vacuum in which the populists operate, we will never succeed,” Michael Kretschmer, prime minister of the East German state of Saxony and a member of the Christian Democratic Union, told CNBC last week. of former Chancellor Angela Merkel. .

Political divisions around Ukraine and the green agenda

Although a right-wing majority seems unlikely, a higher proportion of these MEPs could see their parties unite around certain issues, likely delaying – or even blocking – some legislation.

“Votes in the EP are no longer exclusively dominated by the ‘grand coalition’ of centrist parties. Instead, varying coalitions are formed depending on the issue at stake,” Teneo analysts said in a note on last month.

Environmental policy is a key target for the right, with an anti-climate policy agenda already undermining initiatives such as the EU Green Deal framework – the bloc’s flagship carbon neutrality program – and other climate policies . A wave of farmer protests earlier this year highlighted these growing frictions, with far-right groups presenting a green agenda against agriculture.

Tractors are parked in the Am Hagen parking lot during a farmers’ demonstration.

Armin Weigel | Alliance in pictures | Getty Images

Support for Ukraine could also suffer, with a number of current right-wing MEPs expressing frustration with the EU’s continued financial support for the war-torn country. It would also likely impact defense spending and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen’s ambitions for greater bloc-wide integration.

Elsewhere, EU enlargement could also be put on hold, with a right-wing push delaying the kind of institutional reform needed to admit potential members such as Ukraine and Moldova. And more immediately, a divided Parliament could delay the upcoming appointment of a new president of the European Commission, the EU’s legislative body.

Overcoming Internal Squabbles

Questions remain about how much power the right will be able to wield given the deep divisions between the ECR and ID – and within the groups themselves.

“The results could further complicate some policy decisions within the EU, but they will not paralyze the union, in our view,” Berenberg Economics said in a note on Friday.

Most ECR parties, for example, while highly critical of the EU, have led or been part of governments in their member states and are accustomed to working within the bloc. The ID, for its part, is much more hostile towards the EU, and its two main parties remain on the fringes of mainstream politics.

Meanwhile, deep divisions emerged within the ID itself last month when it expelled the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party following a series of scandals, including comments controversial statements made by its main candidate on Germany’s Nazi past.

“These different positions, combined with bilateral conflicts between ECR and ID members, make formal cooperation between the two groups very unlikely and will reduce their influence,” said Luigi Scazzieri, senior researcher at the independent think tank Center for European Reform. in an April note.

However, there remains a fear that the more corrosive effects of a right turn will become apparent only later.

“Their influence is likely to be felt over time, as dominant political forces feel pressure to lean right on issues such as climate policy,” Scazzieri added.

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