In EU polls, rise of far-Right has not eclipsed the centrists - Hindustan Times
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In EU polls, rise of far-Right has not eclipsed the centrists

Jun 16, 2024 12:10 PM IST

In fact, the European People’s Party (EPP) has actually increased its seats. Its partners, the Socialists and Democrats, have had ups and downs in different countries but have not suffered a major loss

There is consternation over the perceived Right-ward tilt in the European Union (EU) elections, which were held on June 6-9. The EU polls are the largest democratic elections globally after India: Europe has an electorate of about 361 million, of which 51% voted.

A child peers from a voting cabin during European and local elections in Baleni, Romania, Sunday, June 9 (AP)
A child peers from a voting cabin during European and local elections in Baleni, Romania, Sunday, June 9 (AP)

But the rise of the far-Right is only part of the story; the Centrists have held well. In fact, the European People’s Party (EPP) has actually increased its seats. Its partners, the Socialists and Democrats, have had ups and downs in different countries but have not suffered a major loss. It is the business-friendly Renew, of which French president Emmanuel Macron’s party is a major member, that has suffered more. The EPP-led European agenda does not see a major compromise with the perceived swing to the Right. The Right-wing party groupings, the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECFR) and Identity and Democracy (ID), gained as many seats as the EPP.

This gives the impression that Europe has swung to the far-Right. While this may be true in France, Germany and Austria, overall, it does not lead to a unified policy challenge to the centre-Right coalition that leads Europe. The biggest gainer has been Giorgia Meloni’s Brothers of Italy party, which has occupied the main space in Italy. Meloni has thus consolidated her position, both at home and in Europe. Similarly, Marine Le Pen’s National Rally in France, whose astounding victory prompted Macron to call for a national election in the hope of retrieving support that has swayed to the far-Right. In Germany, the far-Right Alternative for Democracy was second, behind the Christian Democrats, pushing the ruling Socialists into third place. The biggest losers are the Greens.

There are two points of note. The far-Right, despite its overall increase in seats, does not have a common platform. Meloni and Le Pen do not have uniformly conforming policy positions. Similarly, Viktor Orban in Hungary and the Right-wing in the Nordic countries did not do as well as expected. Most have a domestic agenda. On issues like Ukraine, Meloni’s and Le Pen’s views vary: Le Pen is softer on Russia, whereas Meloni backed the EU on Ukraine. Some of the Right-wing parties in Eastern Europe are actually pro-Russian.

On migration, there is greater cohesion among the far-Right, but the centre-Right parties often spoke in a similar vein, and do not have a major cleavage with the far-Right on this. Climate issues are likely to suffer because the Greens have lost space in Europe. This is also because the climate crisis agenda, which the EU seeks to enforce by 2030, is meeting resistance from domestic consumers of power, from legacy automobile companies that are facing the challenge of electric vehicles (EVs), and from farmers. The higher costs of energy due to the Ukraine crisis and rural agricultural protests in various countries have shaken confidence in the ability of the EU to be responsive to popular concerns. Europe’s worries about security, the rising cost of living after the Ukraine crisis, and migration have replaced environment as a key electoral issue.

The climate-friendly agenda of Europe is seen as unfriendly in many European countries, where the EU regulations are biting people who have ideals but face a hard reality check.

Does this Right-wing shift indicate a change in policy towards Russia? Unlikely. Some of the Eastern Europeans have always been pro-Russia. Le Pen may also speak for a more restrained French participation in the Ukraine crisis. However, the effort of European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen to cultivate sections of the far-Right, particularly Meloni, can perhaps help integrate them with her agenda and re-election campaign. If that is fulfilled, then the commitment of von der Leyen to a larger defence posture and budget, including the appointment of a defence commissioner in the EU, will come to the fore. This could bring Europeans together to build their own defence capability and financial strength, which will be a hedge against convulsions in Washington DC.

Gurjit Singh is former ambassador to Germany, Indonesia & ASEAN, Ethiopia & the African Union. The views expressed are personal

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