Anti-European populist parties predicted to top polls in 9 EU states ahead of elections

Anti-European populist parties predicted to top polls in 9 EU states ahead of elections

There are concerns that the EU will have trouble progressing the Green Deal and migration policies. Alamy

THE MORNING LEAD

A new report predicts there will be a “surge” in support for far-right or right-leaning parties during the European Elections.

ANTI-EUROPEAN, POPULIST parties are predicted to top the polls in at least nine EU member states in the upcoming European elections in June, according to a report by two political scientists. 

This prediction, based on new data from the European Council on Foreign Relations think tank, is largely down to an expected “surge” in support for far-right or right-leaning political parties aligned with Eurosceptic parliamentary groups across the continent.

The report aimed to understand the probable voting patterns of the public ahead of the next European elections. In order to achieve this, it looked at how many individual votes each party won in the 2014 and 2019 elections and compared any differences from opinion polls that were carried out six to seven months before the elections.

The findings will heighten concerns among some countries that key European pillars, such as the Green Deal, support for Ukraine and further EU enlargement, will be left behind or overturned in the aftermath of the upcoming elections.

Austria, Belgium, Czechia, France, Hungary, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland and Slovakia are all expected to see populist, anti-European candidates win seats in the European Parliament. 

Many of these member states have seen far-right politics break through into the mainstream over the past two years. 

The surge of right-wing influence domestically and the expected rise in representation in Brussels and Strasbourg should serve as a “wake-up call” for European policymakers about what is at stake for the EU, authors of the report – Simon Hix of the Europe University Institute and Ireland Thinks’ Kevin Cunningham – said.

They argue that the implications of June’s election could be “far-reaching”, hampering the next phase of the EU’s Green Deal and introducing a harder line on areas such as migration, EU enlargement and support for Ukraine.

The EU’s Green Deal aims to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, reduce emissions by 55% by 2030 and introduce policies in key areas of state infrastructure and the economy that aim to phase out the use of non-renewable energy.

Hix and Cunningham said that with a significant shift to the right, it is likely that an “anti-climate policy action” coalition will dominate beyond June, as another coalition comprising the “populist right” could also emerge with a majority.

Christian Democrats, conservatives, and radical right MEPs will compete against each other for the first time in European elections this June.

This, in part, is down to the study’s prediction that a “sharp right turn” will occur, leading to more Eurosceptic and right-wing parties – which are aligned to groups such as Identity and Democracy (ID) and the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) – gaining more seats.

Key countries

Results in Hungary will massively sway this result. If the right-leaning Fidesz party choose to join ECR, rather than to sit as a non-attached party, ECR could not only overtake other right-wing groups and be the third largest group, but could, jointly with ID, reach almost 25% of MEPs.

In October, Fianna Fáil MEPs Barry Andrews and Billy Kelleher both flagged this expected sharp turn to The Journal and suggested that their parliamentary group, Renew, will be excluded from the next parliament’s coalition.

Last month, Kelleher told reporters that a perceived drop in the Irish support for the EU could be linked to a rising cost of living across the continent, continuing environmental issues and “the issue of migration”.

Indeed, the report says that current coalition partners, Fine Gael’s parliamentary group the European People’s Party (EPP) and the Socialists and Democrats (S&D), will “continue a path of haemorrhaging seats” into the next election.

The EPP is expected to maintain its position as lead-decision makers but Hix and Cunningham believe populist voices, particularly from the far-right, will be more pronounced.

The seats held by the so-called ‘Super Coalition’ of EPP, S&D and Renew, are expected to drop from 60% of the parliament to 54%. The group might not have enough to seats to guarantee a winning majority on key votes. 

plenary-session-of-january-2021-in-the-european-parliament-presentation-of-the-programme-of-activities-of-the-portuguese-presidency-of-the-european-c
Chair of the Identity and Democracy parliamentary group Marco Zanni speaking in Brussels in 2021. Alamy Stock Photo


Alamy Stock Photo

Other potential global impacts, such as Donald Trump’s potential reelection as President of the United States, could lead to the right-leaning parties focusing on a less interdependent union – creating an inward-focused coalition, the report says. 

More ‘backsliding’ – where states are accused of withholding budget payments – and a stronger pro-Russian viewpoint on the invasion of Ukraine, with the introduction of groups such as Bulgaria’s Revival party, could also be a result of this increase, according to the fresh study. 

Andrews hinted in October that the current coalition “needs to get to the finish line with a lot of legislation” – insinuating that parties are anticipating that legislation currently being developed will be overturned if not passed by the EU before June.

However, Hix and Cunningham instead are encouraging current MEPs to examine the trends that are driving the increase in support for the right and to develop narratives that speak to the necessity of the European project.

Hix and Stein Rokkan, the chair of comparative politics at the European University Institute in Florence, said parties of the “political mainstream” need to “wake up and take clear stock of voter demands”.

The pair said: “June’s elections, for those who want to see a more global Europe, should be about safeguarding and enhancing the position of the EU. Their campaigns should give citizens reason for optimism.”

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People gathered in their hundreds-of-thousands across Germany last weekend to protest the AfD party and right-wing extremism. Alamy


Alamy

After a weekend where one million people protested against far-right politics in the streets in Germany, Austria’s interior minister on Monday warned of a “noticeable influx” in the country’s extreme right scene.

The protests began after investigative outlet Correctiv revealed that Martin Sellner, who leads the white pride ‘Identitarian Movement’ in Austria, had presented a plan at a meeting, which the far-right Alternative for Germany party attended.

The plan included ideas to “reverse the inward migration of foreigners”, and remove migrants and asylum seekers instead.

Elsewhere, the far-right leader Geert Wilders won a landslide victory in the Netherlands last year, Poland’s right-leaning, anti-EU party Law and Justice were narrowly ousted by Donald Tusk after it failed to gain a majority and Pro-Russian leader Robert Fico was elected Prime Minister of Slovakia

According to the latest Eurobarometer report, 83% of the Irish public are optimistic about the future of the EU – the highest ranking among the 27 EU member states, where the average is 61%.

MEP Barry Andrew said he believes the Irish vote will not show a shift, despite an ongoing increase in anti-immigration rallies, alleged targeted arson attacks on housing for the cohort and anti-government protests.

Hix and Rokkan said: “They [MEPs] should speak to the benefits of multilateralism. And they should make clear, on key issues relating to democracy and the rule of law, that it is they, and not those on the political fringes, who are best placed to protect fundamental European rights.”

Cunningham said the findings of the study indicates that this year’s election could have “significant implications” for the European Commission and Council’s ability to move forward with promised legislation.

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