July 15. 2024. 7:58

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Far-right gains in Europe are worrying – but will have limited political impact

Despite the drama in France, where President Emmanuel Macron responded to Marine Le Pen’s Rassemblement national coming first with 31% of the vote by calling an early national election, the much-hyped surge of the far-right in the European elections turned out to be somewhat limited, writes Richard Corbett.

They held their positions in Italy and the Netherlands (with swings between far-right parties rather than to them), but underperformed in other countries where they were predicted to do well: Belgium, Czechia, Hungary (a set-back to Viktor Orban), Finland, and Poland.

Yes, there were gains, which is worrying, but the extra seats were fewer than predicted and will not give them significant extra leverage in the European Parliament.

The socialist S&D Group remains in key position

These were the first-ever European Parliament elections without British participation (and the first this century without me being a candidate!).

But interestingly, had Britain still been a member and if the results in Britain matched the current opinion polls, then Labour’s seats could have come close to tipping the balance to make the socialist S&D the largest group in the parliament – and within it, Labour would have been the largest national party.

Without us, our sister parties have fared less well, with the S&D Group losing some four seats overall. They tended to gain a few in countries where they are in opposition but to lose in some of the countries where they are in government, albeit just losing a single seat each in Spain, Portugal and Germany.

Encouraging was the return from their recent near-death experience of the French Socialists, who matched the 13 seats of Macron’s party and will lead the fight against the far-right in the early national elections that a defeated Macron has now called.

Also encouraging was the victory of the Dutch Labour Party, fighting in alliance with the Greens, so soon after the far-right had become the largest party in the national elections.

The S&D Group remains in a key position in the parliament, as in practice it will be very difficult to adopt EU legislation or elect a Commission President without its agreement.

Its influence will depend on how well it leverages that reality and on the skill with which it negotiates. The centre-right EPP (relatively moderate pro-European conservatives and centrists) is larger but cannot form a majority coalition with the far-right.

The far-right is fragmented and divided

Crucially, the far-right is actually fragmented and divided. They are all reactionaries, but what they are reacting to is different from one such party to another. Most are economic neoliberals, but some, such as the French RN, the Polish PiS, the Danish DPP and the Finns, are protectionist and interventionist.

Some are ‘culture warriors’ opposing women’s equality and LGBTI rights, others not (some, such as the Dutch PVV and the Swedish SD, even justifying their anti-immigration position with the argument that immigrants don’t accept equal rights).

Some (such as the German AfD and the PVV) are outright climate sceptics, and most oppose measures such as the EU’s Green Deal as too costly or inconvenient, while others (such as the Swedish SD) do accept that action against climate change is needed.

The only reliable majorities will be across the centre

Besides policy differences, they also have different strategies, some now seeking to portray themselves as mainstream parties and disassociating themselves from others.

Some have been in governing coalitions and have tempered their language and rhetoric (though not necessarily their views) and find some of the utterances of their fellow right-wing parties to be unhelpful.

Some (such as the Italian far-right parties) are in, or aiming to be in, coalition with traditional centre-right parties, while others regard such parties to be their mortal enemies.

This incoherence makes them an unreliable partner for any traditional centre-right parties in the European Parliament tempted to make a right-wing alliance. If they were to try this, they would soon find (in addition to reputational damage) that the numbers of votes actually delivered will almost always be lower than the total numbers of far-right MEPs.

The only sustainable and reliable majorities in the European Parliament will, as before, be across the centre, with deals between the EPP, the liberal Renew and the socialist S&D Groups, sometimes supplemented by the Greens. There will not be a right-wing coalition in the new parliament.

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