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The Far-Right on the Rise

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Photo: The political landscape of the EU is shifting to the right. Source: collage by Leonid Lukashenko
Photo: The political landscape of the EU is shifting to the right. Source: collage by Leonid Lukashenko

The European Parliament elections are set to reveal a significant increase in representation for far-right parties. Some polls even suggest that the far-right in sum could surpass the leading European People's Party (EPP) in the next European Parliament. This will undoubtedly create challenges for Ursula von der Leyen's re-election as President of the European Commission. This shift poses significant challenges for key issues currently on the European Parliament's agenda: security concerns, particularly in countering Russian aggression, the green transition, Euroscepticism, and illegal migration. However, there is hope that the established parties in the European Parliament will form a strong coalition, while the fragmented extremist forces are unlikely to unite into a powerful political bloc.


Indeed, surveys indicate that following the elections from 6-9 June, it is highly probable that far-right parties will secure more seats than even the centre-right European People's Party, of which Ursula von der Leyen is a member.


It is unlikely that the far-right will gain enough of a majority to install their candidate as the President of the European Commission, but the overall political landscape of the European Parliament will undoubtedly change. The EPP will need to exert more effort than after previous elections to ensure that their candidate leads the European Commission.


Who’s Coming In

The Politico Poll of Polls projection for the new European Parliament composition suggests that the EPP could secure 170 seats.


The European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) and Identity and Democracy (ID) — the two main far-right groups — could collectively gain 144 seats.


Other extreme parties are poised to secure at least 40 seats:


  • Alternative for Germany (AfD) - 16 seats
  • Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán's Fidesz - 10 seats
  • Reconquête (France) - 5 seats
  • Confederation (Poland) - 6 seats
  • Pro-Kremlin Revival (Bulgaria) - 3 seats.

The European Parliament has a total of 720 seats, requiring 361 members to form a majority. Thus, coalition-building around the most successful election winners is crucial. This is where the uncertainty and weakness of the far-right community in the European Parliament lie.


Photo: Who and how competed in the European Parliament elections before the 2024 elections. Source: Politico


In total, the number of far-right MEPs could be 184. However, it is far from certain that they will be able to form a working coalition in the European Parliament. Significant differences exist among the far-right parties. For instance, Italy's Brothers of Italy, led by current Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, staunchly supports Ukraine. Conversely, Hungary's Fidesz, under Viktor Orbán, has earned high praise from Vladimir Putin.


For example, in the relatively pro-Ukrainian ECR, leadership will likely fall to Giorgia Meloni's Brothers of Italy, making it the largest nationalist party. Meanwhile, in the ID group, leadership is expected to be taken by Marine Le Pen's National Rally (France). However, Marine Le Pen is plagued by scandals linking her to the Kremlin. Therefore, it is unlikely that European political blocs led by Marine Le Pen and Italy's Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni will unite in the European Parliament's session hall.


At the end of May, the Alternative for Germany (AfD) party was forced to exit the ID bloc amid a major scandal. It seems AfD proved too extreme and perhaps too pro-Russian even for this alliance. Previous voting patterns of the parties within these blocs indicate a lack of consistent unity. They often prioritise national interests over the agreed ideological positions of the pan-European blocs to which they belong.


Therefore, it is entirely possible that while ECR has a far-right orientation, it may still support Ursula von der Leyen's EPP during crucial votes. Reports suggest that ECR is already receiving proposals from the EPP.


So, the major political blocs are forecasted to secure the following number of seats in the European Parliament:


  • European People's Party (EPP), which is centre-right and conservative: 170 seats (down from 182).
  • Socialists and Democrats (S&D), centre-left and moderate: 142 seats (down from 154).
  • European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR), far-right: 76 seats (up from 62).
  • Identity and Democracy (ID), far-right: 68 seats (down from 73).
  • Renew Europe (RE), liberal and pro-European: 75 seats (down from 108).
  • Greens: 41 seats (down from 74).

If these projections hold, a coalition of the three European parties – EPP, S&D, and RE – could secure 387 seats. This coalition currently governs the European Parliament. This number of seats is sufficient to advance their values, continue the green agenda, and maintain support for Ukraine, which shields the EU's eastern flank from Russian threats. However, this is contingent on the far-right parties, particularly the new and most aggressive ones, not performing better than the Politico Poll of Polls predicts.


A Purely Right-Wing Coalition

However, there is a significant possibility of forming a majority based on a trio of EPP, ECR, and ID, which together could hold 314 seats. To reach the desired 361+ seats, they would need to invite additional parties into the coalition. But how feasible is a coalition between such diverse right-wing parties?


A year ago, such a coalition seemed impossible. The gap between the respectable, pro-European EPP and the far-right ID seemed too wide. Yet, much has changed in recent months. As the election date nears, the positions of the national parties within ECR and ID appear less extreme.


ID has distanced itself from the overly extreme German far-right party AfD. This has narrowed the gap between ID and the more respectable, though still far-right, ECR, which leads the coalition. In turn, ECR has ended its cooperation with the highly pro-Russian Fidesz party from Hungary.


Thus, there is a consolidation of far-right national parties around the pan-European blocs of ID and ECR, but on more moderate terms. There remain issues with the green agenda and a significant degree of Euroscepticism, but the level of pro-Russian sentiment is notably reduced. This creates interesting prospects both within and outside the European Parliament. If the far-right gains access to the ruling coalition, their influence will sharply increase domestically. In the next national elections, they could convert their strengthened position in the European Parliament into greater domestic influence.




Photo: Oleh Dunda warns of illegal Russian influence. Source: FB Oleh Dunda


Russia's Aim is Chaos – Its Goal for the Pan-European Elections

Oleh Dunda, MP of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine:

Firstly, it should be noted that the European Parliament is not a typical political body with lively political battles. The European Parliament is more about money – how to divide budgets, given the lack of close scrutiny from voters. After all, Brussels seems distant and obscure to voters (it is no surprise that the highest turnout in European Parliament elections is in Belgium). Without voter attention, political passions take a back seat.

 

Thus, any results of the European Parliament elections are unlikely to radically change the policy towards Ukraine. Moreover, the handicap of the European People's Party (essentially the party of Merkel and Ursula von der Leyen) and its satellites is too large, and losing a few dozen seats to the right-wing forces won't change much. Additionally, everyone in the European Parliament is ready to negotiate with everyone else – the budgets are too significant.

 

However, it cannot be said that there are no risks for Ukraine. The risks are substantial. After all, EU rules provide for significant influence by national states. The European Parliament elections can legally fix changes in electoral preferences at the national level. Consequently, national governments will have to act, and are already beginning to act, with an eye on such shifts in voter preferences, as everyone wants to be re-elected. This will affect Ukraine for two reasons:

 

The existing political elites in the EU have become bureaucratised and have lost touch with the voters (the European Parliament is an example of this), and voters are turning towards grassroots politicians who form right-wing parties with slogans that were not politically correct ten years ago (a kind of deferred demand). These grassroots politicians provide simple answers to local issues and are less interested in international affairs.

Changing electoral preferences creates a long-forgotten sense of intense political struggle in the EU.

The situation in Poland is indicative of this. Two parties, PiS and the Civic Platform, unequivocally support Ukraine. However, they are so deeply immersed in internal political struggle that Ukraine often becomes a target in this fight, with both parties trying to prove to the Polish people who loves Poland more. This is because power in Poland is at stake.

 

It is essential to understand that Russia is not interested in the victory of any specific party in a particular country or the EU. Russia seeks chaos, aiming for the political forces in the EU to become embroiled in internal political struggles and unable to respond cohesively to external threats. Russia is satisfied even if everyone in the EU hates it.



The Trap for the European Commission President

Despite the high chances of the European People's Party (EPP), represented by European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, securing the most seats in the European Parliament, von der Leyen faces a risk of losing her position and not being re-elected for a second term. This is due to the EPP likely losing votes to the far-right parties, which are increasing their representation in the European Parliament or entering it for the first time.


Consequently, von der Leyen’s supporters are expected to decrease, while her opponents, even within the coalition that initially elected her, might increase relative to the total number of deputies in the ruling coalition. What might happen next, despite it being an unlikely scenario?


It seems that German parties will attempt to keep a German politician in the role of European Commission President, even if it means the individual is not Ursula von der Leyen.


For instance, there is a plausible scenario where the German Green Party might try to promote their candidate. If this scenario unfolds, it could significantly strengthen the positions of both the German Green Party and the entire European green movement in the European Parliament and the European Commission.


Analysts, when presenting this scenario, refer to the "traffic light" coalition agreement among the three ruling parties in Germany — the Social Democratic Party (SPD), the Greens, and the Free Democratic Party (FDP). This agreement includes a clause that the Greens could nominate their candidate for the top European Commission post if another German candidate, like von der Leyen, is unacceptable to the European Parliament coalition.


In this context, names such as Franziska Brantner come up. She is the state secretary at the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Climate Action, headed by Robert Habeck, who is also the leader of the Green Party and the Vice-Chancellor of Germany. Brantner is considered the likely nominee since Sven Giegold, her colleague in the ministry, is deemed too essential to Habeck in the ministry.


Brantner has previously served as a Member of the European Parliament and is the German government’s special representative for an international initiative to reduce corruption related to raw material extraction. She currently oversees EU relations and trade policy in the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Climate Action and is also a member of the German Bundestag. Hence, her candidacy appears entirely relevant. However, it is worth noting that Franziska Brantner lacks the public profile and media presence of Ursula von der Leyen, who, at the time of her election as European Commission President, had been Germany's Defence Minister for many years.



Ukraine as a Unifying Force

The threat posed by Russia has heightened awareness even among parties not previously seen as pro-Ukrainian. Giorgia Meloni's position is particularly telling in this regard. However, the situation is complex. Should the European Parliament shift significantly to the right after the elections, calls within the EU to provide military aid to Ukraine may weaken. While the political groups currently setting the agenda in the European Parliament are likely to maintain their stance on Ukraine in the next assembly. And we are already witnessing a drift of the far-right towards the centre.


With the increase in far-right MEPs, there will be a need for a period of adjustment to comprehend the severity of the Russian threat. This could cause Europe's pro-Ukrainian stance to waver, considering that many far-right groups have sympathies towards Russia. The good news is that pro-Russian sympathisers are being pushed to the fringes of the European Parliament, as seen with AfD and Fidesz.


The risk of rising pro-Russian sentiments in the European Parliament is particularly dangerous because it could influence national far-right parties in their home countries.



Photo: Michal Potocki: Polish parties do not argue about security. Source: FB Michal Potocki, photo Olena Babakova.

Leaders Focused on Security Issues

Michal Potocki, the op-ed editor at the Polish daily newspaper ‘Dziennik Gazeta Prawna’

For Polish political parties, the European Parliament elections are more about internal politics than Europe itself. As international tensions continue to escalate, it is no wonder that leaders are focused on topics related to Poland's security and defense. The leading political parties are competing to demonstrate which one is more credible on this issue. Prime Minister Donald Tusk stated during his Civic Coalition's main electoral meeting on June 4 that for the Kremlin, politically taking Brussels would be even more significant than militarily taking Kharkiv. For the current governing coalition, this election is just the next stage after the 2023 parliamentary election, in which pro-European forces managed to regain power from the Law and Justice party. Law and Justice claims they were more credible and decisive in fighting the Russian threat, while the far-right Confederation criticizes both camps for what they see as a too pro-Ukrainian stance.



The Green Agenda

The fate of the Green Deal, launched in 2019 to combat climate change and achieve carbon neutrality across the EU by 2050, is also uncertain. The centre of influence in the European Parliament seems to be shifting from the Greens to a tougher right-wing community. In line with the carbon neutrality goal, the European Parliament agreed in 2023 to gradually phase out the sale of fossil fuel-powered vehicles by 2035.


MEPs are set to reaffirm this ban during a vote in 2025, according to Sebastien Maillard, an associate researcher with the European Programme at Chatham House. However, the outcome is not guaranteed: "If the Greens lose, and the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) succeed as predicted, conservatives are likely to attempt to delay or extend this deadline."


The same applies to the transition to organic farming, says Maillard. A recent wave of farmers' protests across the EU has pushed agriculture to the forefront of the political agenda. The new European Parliament will need to address this, seeking a balance between farmers' interests and minimising environmental damage from agriculture.


Incidentally, the European People's Party (EPP) nearly blocked a landmark bill aimed at restoring damaged ecosystems across the continent. The bill was narrowly approved in February 2024, with 329 MEPs voting in favour and 275 against. This law will come into effect once each EU country formally ratifies it.


"If [the far-right and conservatives] prevail, the entire decarbonisation of our economies will slow down," warns Maillard.



Migration on the Brink

It is clear that if the next coalition in the European Parliament is decisively right-wing, rather than centre-left as it is now, the EU's policies on migration and asylum will likely undergo significant changes. It is worth noting that the trend towards stricter measures is already in place. The nearly finalised asylum reform bill strengthens existing restrictions. This law was passed on 14 May by the current European Parliament. It sets framework rules for EU member states on handling unauthorised arrivals. The updated regulations, which had not been changed for two decades, have caused dissatisfaction in many countries, from Poland to Italy. This bill will come into effect in 2026, with one of its aims being to expedite the deportation process by issuing automatic removal orders following asylum denials.

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