April 23. 2024. 7:55

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The Brief – Who’s afraid of the big bad right?

A looming hard-right shift casts a shadow on June’s EU elections and Europe’s left is using the topic to mobilise their voters, but the consequences are rather damaging.

Within a day, “the Le Pen earthquake” (Le Monde) moved all the major left-wing parties, from the Socialists to the Communists, to rally around the Conservative candidate, Jacques Chirac.

Chirac won by a landslide of 82% of the vote after 800,000 people packed the streets of Paris to protest against Le Pen – a first successful demonstration of how the threat of the hard right can help mobilise voters.

The European election is gearing up to become the umpteenth iteration of this strategy, this time deployed by the left.

As voter enthusiasm for reforms has hit rock bottom, left-wing parties appear to have identified mobilisation against the hard right as their best chance and are briefing feverishly about the danger of an impending rightward shift, both on and off the record.

The examples across the spectrum are numerous, with Spanish Socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez vowing to “stop the reactionary wave throughout Europe”, and the German Linke declaring the elections to be an epic battle against “Italy’s fascist forces”.

This is driven by a genuine threat and a genuine fear.

Projections show that the hard-right ID party group, including the Rassemblement National of Le Pen’s daughter, Marine, is bound to become the third-largest force in parliament when it is becoming ever more important to control decision-making at the EU level.

But political strategists are too clever not to have noticed that a far-right shift in pre-election polls may paradoxically benefit opposing forces at the ballot box.

The latest example was the 2023 Spanish general election, ahead of which polls showed worrying gains for the hard-right party Vox.

The threat was powerful enough to convince Spanish voters to flock to stuffy ballot bureaus in mid-July when they naturally prefer to flock to the country’s beaches.

Ultimately, Vox ended up losing, while battered Socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez miraculously held on to his office.

The left that cried right

Bright young leaders like Sánchez and French President Emmanuel Macron, a crossover product between left and right, have used this to their advantage by presenting themselves as the ultimate defenders of open-mindedness and democracy against the hard right.

Ahead of the European election, the socialists are going one step further in using the hard right to discredit the centre-right EPP, warning that they might collude with far-right figures like Italy’s Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni.

But there is a catch with this rather honourable business. By building the far-right up as the ultimate enemy, left-leaning forces are creating a polarisation that moves their opponents to rally around the hard-right rather than the centre-right.

In France, the conservative Républicains no longer play a role in presidential election run-offs. Instead, the name Le Pen has featured in the second round more often than not since the turn of the millennium, with the share of voters rallying behind it growing each time.

Even more so, much like the boy who cried wolf, leaders who constantly warn of far-right gains are ultimately wearing out their effect.

The point where voters are indifferent enough to let a hard-right victory slip has been reached in the Netherlands, where hurdles for winning an election are lower, and in Italy, where everything but the far-right had been tried, to no avail.

France could be next as the ‘Le Pen earthquake’ has become more of a ‘Le Pen yawn’ between the cafés of the Quartier Latin and the beaches of the Côte d’Azur.

Unlike the communists in 2002, French left-wing leader Jean-Luc Mélenchon would probably rather lose a hand than utter the words “vote for Macron”.

Thus, the EU elections will test how far up the I-don’t-care-if-Le-Pen-becomes-president meter European voters have moved.

It is better not to let it get to the critical zone – it is time for the European left to find ideas that make voters want to vote for them rather than against others.

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The Roundup

The Austrian government has agreed to provide an undisclosed part of €200 million for building a pipeline to boost the country’s ability to import natural gas via Germany amid growing political pressure to reduce dependence on Russia.

A broad coalition of members of the European Parliament has written to the leaders of EU institutions urging them to ban all Russian energy from Europe, including pipeline gas and LNG.

Germany takes longer than many of its peers to follow orders from Brussels, the European Commission’s single market report shows, pointing to the wider threat the bloc’s lethargic policy implementation poses to competitiveness.

The eurozone’s core inflation rate dropped to its lowest level in nearly two years in February, bolstering hopes that Europe’s inflation crisis may have permanently abated and that the European Central Bank (ECB) will cut interest rates later this year.

Prominent Italian parliamentarians committed on Thursday to “strengthening the immunity system” of their society by ensuring that global brands stop advertising with media outlets that spread disinformation.

At the next meeting of EU energy ministers on Monday, France will be represented by Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire and Minister Delegate for Energy Roland Lescure, raising questions about the division of duties between the two men.

France’s right-leaning Senate approving a bill enshrining the right to abortion in the country’s Constitution – after the National Assembly did the same at the end of January – is a defeat for the far-right and the pro-life movement, Camille Butin of the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF) told Euractiv in an interview.

For more policy news, check out this week’s Tech Brief and Agrifood Brief.

Look out for…

  • PES election congress in Rome on Saturday.
  • Justice and home affairs Council on Monday-Tuesday.
  • Transport, Telecommunications and Energy Council (Energy) on Monday.

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