EU elections: Far-right parties have gained influence

Voters in the EU’s 27 member states cast their ballots to choose 720 representatives to the European Parliament in Brussels.  (AP)
Voters in the EU’s 27 member states cast their ballots to choose 720 representatives to the European Parliament in Brussels. (AP)


  • Eurosceptics are on the march in Europe but the politics of identity will probably be impacted more than the EU’s common market project.

Many of us didn’t notice that the world’s biggest and second-biggest democratic exercises took place back to back, as our Lok Sabha election was followed by the just-concluded European Union (EU) elections during 6-9 June, with an electorate of nearly 400 million people.

Indeed, 2024 is an electorally significant year, marked by the scheduled participation of about half of the world’s eligible voters across 60 different countries.

Voters in the EU’s 27 member states cast their ballots to choose 720 representatives to the European Parliament in Brussels. The exercise served as a political litmus test for various parties in participating nations. The results were seen as a political earthquake, the epicentre of which appears to be in France; however, tremors were felt across the EU and beyond.

A spectre of far-right neo-fascist ideology has haunted Europe for some time now. Nonetheless, ‘the centre is holding’ in the EU overall, although centrist parties suffered a serious blow. Timothy Garton Ash stated in The Guardian that “a Europe that just celebrated on the beaches of Normandy the 80-year-old D-day beginning of its liberation from war, nationalism and fascism now again faces fascism, nationalism and war."

Also read: As Britain gears up for an election, no one is talking about brexit

The impact of the extreme right’s victories was felt more strongly in Paris and Berlin than in Brussels. The most dramatic outcome was in France, where Marine Le Pen’s National Rally handed Emmanuel Macron’s Renaissance party huge defeats, and pushed the French president to take a big gamble by holding snap elections to France’s legislative body. 

Macron’s bet is that centrist parties will unite to take on Le Pen’s party, but this could pave the way for extreme-right governance in France. Who knows? In neighbouring Germany, the extreme-right Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) came in second with slightly less than 16% of the vote, more than any of the three parties in the country’s governing coalition, including Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s Social Democrats, though the centre-right CDU-CSU was the clear winner.

Meanwhile, Giorgia Meloni, Italy’s prime minister, achieved kingmaker status in Europe. Her rightist party, Fratelli d’Italia, came out on top, scoring 28%. As long predicted, FPÖ finished first in Austria with 26%. In the Netherlands, Geert Wilders’s Party for Freedom, often accused of open Islamophobia, performed only slightly less well than the centre-left.

What implications does the rise of the far right in the EU have? Eurosceptic sentiment has been brewing throughout the continent ever since the UK broke away from the EU. Still, none of these anti-EU groups may be so naive as to try Frexit, Dexit, or Nexit. 

However, by taking an even tougher stance on immigration, resolutely opposing the green policies that are desperately required to address climate change, reducing support for Ukraine, and clawing back national control from Brussels, they will probably continue to push the EU to the right from within.

Also read: Europe's right can win elections but can it govern?

The rise of rightist parties in the European Parliament may have repercussions for Europe and other regions. What about nations like China and India? The European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) secured 69 seats in the newly elected Parliament, and far-right parties like Identity and Democracy (ID) secured 49 seats. 

While the ID takes a softer approach, the ECR maintains a staunch anti-Chinese position. As a result of such fragmentation, member states will find it more difficult to come to a consensus , which could make it harder for Chinese companies and other global firms operating in China to work out how to operate in the European market.

While Italy recently withdrew from the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and at least eight member states, including France, have restricted the deployment of Chinese technology in their 5G networks, many European chief executives anticipate a worsening of relations between Europe and China over the next three years, with the EU’s de-risking strategy and Beijing’s close ties with Moscow being identified as the main points of friction.

Can India strengthen its commercial ties with the EU? With 10.8% of India’s overall trade being with the EU in 2021, the EU is the country’s third-largest trading partner. From India’s viewpoint, both the worsening of EU-China relations and progress on the India-Middle East-European Economic Corridor would be significant.

Another plausible event is a potential change in leadership in the UK after its general election due on 4 July, just three days before the second round of France’s snap elections. Following 14 years of Conservative Party control in the UK under five prime ministers, Sir Keir Starmer’s Labour Party has been outperforming the Rishi Sunak-led Conservatives by about 20 percentage points in most poll predictions. 

Also read: The European Union project remains vital to peace, prosperity and more

Starmer, however, has reiterated that there is no case for rejoining the EU. All things considered, Labour’s leader Starmer might emerge as Britain’s prime minister at a pivotal moment, coinciding with the rise of right-wing—or more precisely, ultra-right—ideas throughout mainland Europe. Will he be able to push for a balance, especially now that the UK has left the EU?

Shifts in European politics are no less significant for a far-off country like ours. And if the Republican candidate Donald Trump makes a comeback in the US presidential election this November, what then? Will we plan ‘Namaste Trump, Season 2’?

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